OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Volcanoes, including Mt. Hood, can go from dormant to active quickly

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that the magma sitting 4-5 kilometers beneath the surface of Oregon’s Mount Hood has been stored in near-solid conditions for thousands of years, but that the time it takes to liquefy and potentially erupt is surprisingly short – perhaps as little as a couple of months.

The key, scientists say, is to elevate the temperature of the rock to more than 750 degrees Celsius, which can happen when hot magma from deep within the Earth’s crust rises to the surface. It is the mixing of the two types of magma that triggered Mount Hood’s last two eruptions – about 220 and 1,500 years ago, said Adam Kent, an Oregon State University geologist and co-author of the study.

Results of the research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, were published this week in the journal Nature.

“If the temperature of the rock is too cold, the magma is like peanut butter in a refrigerator,” Kent said. “It just isn’t very mobile. For Mount Hood, the threshold seems to be about 750 degrees (C) – if it warms up just 50 to 75 degrees above that, it greatly decreases the viscosity of the magma and makes it easier to mobilize.”

Thus the scientists are interested in the temperature at which magma resides in the crust, they say, since it is likely to have important influence over the timing and types of eruptions that could occur. The hotter magma from down deep warms the cooler magma stored at 4-5 kilometers, making it possible for both magmas to mix and to be transported to the surface to eventually produce an eruption.

The good news, Kent said, is that Mount Hood’s eruptions are not particularly violent. Instead of exploding, the magma tends to ooze out the top of the peak. A previous study by Kent and OSU postdoctoral researcher Alison Koleszar found that the mixing of the two magma sources – which have different compositions – is both a trigger to an eruption and a constraining factor on how violent it can be.

“What happens when they mix is what happens when you squeeze a tube of toothpaste in the middle,” said Kent, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “A big glob kind of plops out the top, but in the case of Mount Hood – it doesn’t blow the mountain to pieces.”

The collaborative study between Oregon State and the University of California, Davis is important because little was known about the physical conditions of magma storage and what it takes to mobilize the magma. Kent and UC-Davis colleague Kari Cooper, also a co-author on the Nature article, set out to find if they could determine how long Mount Hood’s magma chamber has been there, and in what condition.

When Mount Hood’s magma first rose up through the crust into its present-day chamber, it cooled and formed crystals. The researchers were able to document the age of the crystals by the rate of decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements. However, the growth of the crystals is also dictated by temperature – if the rock is too cold, they don’t grow as fast.

Thus the combination of the crystals’ age and apparent growth rate provides a geologic fingerprint for determining the approximate threshold for making the near-solid rock viscous enough to cause an eruption. The diffusion rate of the element strontium, which is also sensitive to temperature, helped validate the findings.

“What we found was that the magma has been stored beneath Mount Hood for at least 20,000 years – and probably more like 100,000 years,” Kent said. “And during the time it’s been there, it’s been in cold storage – like the peanut butter in the fridge – a minimum of 88 percent of the time, and likely more than 99 percent of the time.”

In other words – even though hot magma from below can quickly mobilize the magma chamber at 4-5 kilometers below the surface, most of the time magma is held under conditions that make it difficult for it to erupt.

“What is encouraging from another standpoint is that modern technology should be able to detect when magma is beginning to liquefy, or mobilize,” Kent said, “and that may give us warning of a potential eruption. Monitoring gases, utilizing seismic waves and studying ground deformation through GPS are a few of the techniques that could tell us that things are warming.”

The researchers hope to apply these techniques to other, larger volcanoes to see if they can determine their potential for shifting from cold storage to potential eruption, a development that might bring scientists a step closer to being able to forecast volcanic activity.

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Adam Kent, 541-737-1205

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Tyler and Alison
OSU researchers
examine rocks in
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 Adam Kent
OSU's Adam Kent

2013 Weather Roundup: Wettest September doesn’t offset dry year

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The weather couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it had in store for Oregon in 2013. The state saw drought and the wettest September on record, as well as withering heat and sub-zero temperatures in the Willamette Valley.

An early December storm dropped several inches of snow on Corvallis, yet snowpack levels in the nearby Cascades are well below normal.

The United States drought monitor listed 100 percent of the state as at least abnormally dry in 2013, according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University.

“All of Oregon is listed as dry, but southern Oregon has been historically dry in 2013,” said Dello, “and Medford and the southern coast have a chance to have their driest year on record.” As of mid-December, the Medford Airport had received just 8.97 inches of precipitation; the record dry year was set 1959 with 10.42 inches. The North Bend Airport was nearly five inches short of its driest year on record.

Despite abnormally dry conditions throughout Oregon for most of the year, it was soggy September. The month began with an enormous thunder and lightning storm that covered much of the state, triggering hundreds of fires and contributing to what Dello called a “bad wildfire year in Oregon.” The storm also dumped nearly three inches of rain on the southern Willamette Valley.

Near the end of the month, the remnants of a typhoon named Pabuk swept into the state and hammered western Oregon. Some precipitation monitors near Coos Bay recorded as much as 5.77 inches of rain on Sept. 29.

“Unfortunately, the September precipitation was not enough to offset dry conditions the rest of the year,” Dello said. “When it’s dry, that’s not how you want to receive you rainfall – in two major events. Rivers get only temporary relief and the torrential downpours can cause damage to agricultural crops.

“It’s better to have smaller, sustained rainfall events than a couple of major outbursts,” she added.

Oregon experienced a comparatively warm summer with more days than usual when temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, including the end of June and in September between the two rain events. On the other end of the spectrum, temperatures in early December plummeted to near-record lows as an Arctic front moved in.

Eugene, for example, recorded its second coldest day on record when the mercury hit minus-10 degrees on Dec. 8. Interestingly, it was not the coldest Dec. 8 on record as the all-time record low for Eugene of minus-12 degrees also occurred on Dec. 8 in 1972.

The December Arctic front hit the Corvallis area the hardest, though the weather station north of town at Hyslop Farm officially recorded just 4.5 inches of snow. Much of the area received 9-10 inches of powdery snow, forcing weeklong shutdowns of many schools and activities.

Dello said the lack of official weather recording stations in Oregon is one reason volunteers are needed for a statewide network that uses Oregon citizens to collect local data on rain, snow and even hail. The program is part of the national Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS.

The Oregon Climate Service, which is part of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, coordinates the Oregon network. Persons interested in volunteering should go to the CoCoRaHS website at http://www.cocorahs.org/ to sign up.

“Data collected by volunteers throughout the state help provide us with much more accurate data, which leads to better precipitation maps and over the long haul, more accurate forecasting,” Dello said.

Among other highlights of Oregon’s 2013 weather year:

  • As of mid-December, the Eugene Airport had recorded 21.04 inches of precipitation; the record low was set in 1944 with 23.26 inches. Records there date back to 1911.
  • The Salem Airport had logged 23.41 inches through mid-December. The driest on record, dating back to 1940, is 23.77 inches.
  • The North Bend Airport is well ahead of the record dry year, set in 1976 with 33.52 inches. Through mid-December, the station had only recorded 28.67 inches. Records date to 1928.

Dello frequently provides weather facts and historical data via Twitter at: www.twitter.com/orclimatesvc.

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Weatherford Hall in the snow

Coastal survey: Oregon beaches see more short-term erosion

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new assessment of shoreline change along the Pacific Northwest coast from the late 1800s to present found that while the majority of beaches are stable or slightly accreting (adding sand), many Oregon beaches have experienced an increase in erosion hazards in recent decades.

Since the 1960s, 13 of the 17 beach “littoral cells” – stretches of beach between rocky headlands and major inlets – in Oregon have shifted, either from a pattern of accretion to one of erosion, or to an increased amount of erosion, or they have built up less than in the past. Some of the hardest hit areas along the coast include the Neskowin littoral cell between Cascade Head and Pacific City, and the Beverly Beach littoral cell between Yaquina Head and Otter Rock, where shoreline change rates have averaged more than one meter of erosion a year since the 1960s.

The assessment is part of a series led by the U.S. Geological Survey to study shoreline change in the nation’s coastal regions to more comprehensively monitor coastal erosion and land loss.

Peter Ruggiero, an Oregon State University coastal hazards specialist and lead author on the report, said the findings provide baseline data to analyze future impacts of climate change, sea level rise and storms on the Northwest’s shorelines, he added.

“In a general sense, Oregon has faced much more erosion in the short term than has southwest Washington, which has seen more accretion as a result of sediments from the Columbia River and jetties at the mouth of the Columbia and at Gray’s Harbor,” said Ruggiero, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The Columbia has less of an influence on Oregon, and many of the state’s beaches have a relatively limited sediment supply,” Ruggiero added. “The buildup and loss of sand on our beaches is a natural process, but one that can be heavily influenced by human behavior and changes in climate.”

On a short-term basis, the study found that on average Northwest shorelines are “progradational” or growing at a rate of 0.9 meters a year. However, about 44 percent of the more than 9,000 transects the researchers studied were eroding.

Rob Thieler, a USGS scientist and leader of the agency’s coastal assessment effort, said these findings illustrate the variability of the Northwest shoreline and the factors that shape it.

“These new results help place coastal erosion in the Northwest into a local as well as national context that helps us understand how different coastlines function and which are the most vulnerable,” he said.

The lack of new sand has become a recent pattern among many beaches in Oregon, especially south of Tillamook Head because rivers are not delivering significant amounts of sand – and many estuaries trap the sediment before it reaches the ocean.

The Tillamook County area of Oregon is identified as one of the worst areas for erosion. The risk of land loss is significant from higher waves and rising sea levels, Ruggiero noted. Farther south, the impacts from these phenomena are partially countered by plate tectonics, he said.

“Over the long term, much of the shoreline is lifting because of plate tectonics,” said Ruggiero. “Along Oregon’s central coast, the uplift is only about a millimeter a year, while sea level rise has been about 2-3 mm per year. South of Coos Bay, however, the land is rising faster than the sea level is rising.”

Jonathan Allan, a researcher with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and a co-author on the report, said the Northwest coast has some “hot spots” where erosion has been significant and bluffs have failed, threatening houses.

“The beaches at Gleneden Beach and Neskowin, for example, contain coarse sand, which contrasts with the finer-grained beaches along much of the Oregon coast,” Allan said. “These beaches tend to be steeper and reflective of breaking wave energy, which makes them more dynamic. When coupled with the development of rip current embayments, it often results in hotspot erosion, which leads to the development of hazards when homes are placed too close to the beach.

“The issue is further complicated because at Neskowin, they have lost very large volumes of sand over the past 15 years, bringing the hazard even closer to the homes,” he added.

Ruggiero has been working with Tillamook County leaders and the Neskowin Coastal Hazards Committee on a response plan to erosion and climate change impacts. He and his colleagues are working to create new models predicting local impacts of sea level rise, and also incorporating socio-economic variables.

“It is important to look not only at the physical processes of sea level rise and inundation,” Ruggiero said, “but also to realistically look at the human dimension, including the cost of adaptation. Tillamook County has been actively addressing these issues.”

The USGS assessment focused on open-ocean sandy shores and did not look at Washington beaches along stretches of the Olympic Peninsula, Puget Sound or in Hood Canal because little data are available in those regions. But Ruggiero noted that many of the beaches in central and southern Washington were stable or adding sand, instead of eroding.

The study, “National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change Along the Pacific Northwest Coast,” is available online at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2012/1007/. Authors include Peter Ruggiero, OSU; Meredith G. Kratzmann, Emily A. Himmelstoss, and David Reid, USGS; Jonathan Allan, DOGAMI; and George Kaminsky, Washington Department of Ecology.

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Peter Ruggiero, 541-737-1239 (cell phone: 415-722-6722); ruggierp@science.oregonstate.edu

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Sea Clff Erosion
Sea cliff erosion near

Gleneden Beach, Ore.

 

 

Oregon littoral cells

Scientists calculate friction of Japan’s 9.0 earthquake in 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international team of scientists that installed a borehole temperature observatory following the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake in Japan has been able to measure the “frictional heat” generated during the rupture of the fault – an amount the researchers say was smaller than expected, which means the fault is more slippery than previously thought.

It is the first time scientists have been able to use precise temperature measurements to calculate the friction dynamics of fault slip.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Science.

“This gives us some unprecedented insights into how earthquakes actually work,” said Robert Harris, a geophysicist at Oregon State University and co-author on the Science article. “No one really knows how much frictional resistance there is to slip and for the first time, this gives us some idea.

“The project itself was an engineering feat and an amazing one at that,” added Harris, who is a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State. “To reach the fault, the team had to drill through 800 meters of the seafloor – at a depth of nearly 7,000 meters below the ocean’s surface. It pushed the limits of that technology as far as they can go.”

The study was funded by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, the National Science Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Sixteen months after the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, the scientists installed the borehole observatory in a section of the fault where the slippage between one section of rock and the adjacent one was a staggering 50 meters. It was that huge slip in the fault that triggered the tsunami that killed thousands of people and devastated the northern coast of Japan.

After nine months of operation, the research team successfully retrieved 55 precise temperature-sensing data loggers that extended below the seafloor through the fault zone – the deepest of which was about 820 meters below the seafloor.

Evaluation of the data showed an anomaly of 0.31 degrees (Celsius) with surrounding temperatures at the boundary of the plate’s fault. When tectonic plates rub against each other, the frictional resistance to slip creates heat. By measuring changes to the background temperature field, they can calculate how much heat, or energy, was generated at the time of the earthquake.

“This is data that we’ve never had before,” Harris said. “It will be helpful in understanding the dynamics of earthquakes in the future.”

The scientists say this 0.31 temperature anomaly corresponds to 27 million joules, or 27 megajoules, per square meter of dissipated energy during the earthquake. A joule is the amount of energy required to produce one watt of power for one second. The “friction coefficient,” or the resistance to relative motion between the blocks, was surprisingly small at 0.08, the scientists point out.

“One way to look at the friction of these big blocks is to compare them to cross-country skis on snow,” Harris said. “At rest, the skis stick to the snow and it takes a certain amount of force to make them slide. Once you do, the ski’s movement generates heat and it takes much less force to continue the movement.

“The same thing happens with an earthquake,” he added. “This is the first time we’ve been able to calculate how much frictional resistance to slip there is. This has never been done before in nature – just in the laboratory.”

Harris said the scientists hope to repeat the experiment with other earthquakes, although the logistics of such a study are daunting – requiring a large earthquake with lots of slip, the ability to quickly drill a deep borehole and then monitoring the thermal signal. Similar experiments with other earthquakes will allow the scientists to better understand the hazards associated with large earthquakes.

“This was a major accomplishment,” he added, “but there is still a lot we don’t yet know.”

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 Rob Harris, 541-737-4370; rharris@coas.oregonstate.edu

Pre-industrial rise in methane gas had natural and anthropogenic causes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For years scientists have intensely argued over whether increases of potent methane gas concentrations in the atmosphere – from about 5,000 years ago to the start of the industrial revolution – were triggered by natural causes or human activities.

A new study, which will be published Friday in the journal Science, suggests the increase in methane likely was caused by both.

Lead author Logan Mitchell, who coordinated the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University, said the “early anthropogenic hypothesis,” which spawned hundreds of scientific papers as well as books, cannot fully explain on its own the rising levels of atmospheric methane during the past 5,000 years, a time period  known as the mid- to late-Holocene. That theory suggests that human activities such as rice agriculture were responsible for the increasing methane concentrations.

Opponents of that theory argue that human activities during that time did not produce significant amounts of methane and thus natural emissions were the dominant cause for the rise in atmospheric CH4.

“We think that both played a role,” said Mitchell, who is now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Utah. “The increase in methane emissions during the late Holocene came primarily from the tropics, with some contribution from the extratropical Northern Hemisphere.

“Neither modeled natural emissions alone, nor hypothesized anthropogenic emissions alone, are able to account for the full increase in methane concentrations,” Mitchell added. “Combined, however, they could account for the full increase.”

Scientists determine methane levels by examining ice cores from polar regions. Gas bubbles containing ancient air trapped within the ice can be analyzed and correlated with chronological data to determine methane levels on a multidecadal scale. Mitchell and his colleagues examined ice cores from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide and the Greenland Ice Sheet Project and found differences between the two.

Ice cores from Greenland had higher methane levels than those from Antarctica because there are greater methane emissions in the Northern Hemisphere. The difference in methane levels between the hemispheres, called the Inter-Polar Difference, did not change appreciably over time.

“If the methane increase was solely natural or solely anthropogenic, it likely would have tilted the Inter-Polar Difference out of its pattern of relative stability over time,” Mitchell said.

Since coming out of the ice age some 10,000 years ago summer solar insolation in the Northern Hemisphere has been decreasing as a result of the Earth’s changing orbit, according to Edward Brook, a paleoclimatologist in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and Mitchell’s major professor. This decrease affects the strength of Asian summer monsoons, which produce vast wetlands and emit methane into the atmosphere.

Yet some 5,000 years ago, atmospheric methane began rising and had increased about 17 percent by the time the industrial revolution began around 1750.

“Theoretically, methane levels should have decreased with the loss of solar insolation in the Northern Hemisphere, or at least remained stable instead of increasing,” said Brook, a co-author on the Science article. “They had been roughly on a parallel track for some 800,000 years.”

Mitchell used previous models that hypothesized reasons for the methane increase – both natural and anthropogenic – and compared them to the newly garnered ice core data. None of them alone proved sufficient for explaining the greenhouse gas increase. When he developed his own model combining characteristics of both the natural and anthropogenic hypotheses, it agreed closely with the ice core data.

Other researchers have outlined some of the processes that may have contributed to changes in methane emissions. More than 90 percent of the population lived in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the lower latitudes, and the development of rice agriculture and cattle domestication likely had an influence on methane emissions. On the natural side, changes in the Earth’s orbit could have been responsible for increasing methane emissions from tropical wetlands.

“All of these things likely have played a role,” Mitchell said, “but none was sufficient to do it alone.”

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, with additional support from the Oregon National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Grant Consortium.

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Logan Mitchell, 541-207-7204; logan.e.mitchell@gmail.com; Ed Brook, 541-737-8197; brooke@geo.oregonstate.edu

Science Policy Forum: Researchers advocate for climate adaptation science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international team of researchers says in a new paper that climate science needs to advance to a new realm – more practical applications for dealing with the myriad impacts of climate variability.

The scientific capability already exists as does much of the organizational structure, they say, to begin responding to emerging climate-related issues ranging from declining snowpack, to severe storms, to sea level rise. What is missing is better engagement between the scientific community and the stakeholders they are seeking to inform.

Their paper is being published on Friday in the Policy Forum section of the journal Science.

“Adaptation is required in virtually all sectors of the economy and regions of the globe,” they wrote. “However, without the appropriate science delivered in a decision-relevant context, it will become increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to prepare adequately.”

Philip Mote, an Oregon State University climate scientist and co-author on the paper, said climate adaptation science involves trans-disciplinary research to understand the challenges and opportunities of climate change – and how best to respond to them.

“What we need is more visibility to gain more inclusiveness – to bring into play the private sector, resource managers, universities and a host of decision-makers and other stakeholders,” said Mote, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State. “The stakeholders need to know our scientific capabilities, and we need to better understand their priorities and decision-making processes.”

Oregon State is among the national leaders in climate adaptation science. In addition to the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, the university has two regional climate centers – one established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work with municipalities, utilities, emergency management organizations and state and federal agencies; the other by the Department of the Interior to work primarily with federal and state agencies, and non-governmental organizations.

Mote, who is involved with all three centers, said work with stakeholders is gaining traction, but the gap that exists between scientists and decision-makers is still too large.

“The centers here and elsewhere around the country are driven by stakeholder demands, but that needs to reach deeper into the research enterprise,” Mote said. “We’re working with some water districts, forest managers and community leaders on a variety of issues, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Richard Moss, a senior scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said the Science article grew out of a NASA-funded workshop held in 2012 at the Aspen Global Change Institute in Colorado, which focused on how to improve support for decision-making in the face of a changing climate.

“Traditionally, we think that what society needs is better predictions,” said Moss, who was lead author on the Science article. “But at this workshop, all of us – climate and social scientists alike – recognized the need to consider how decisions get implemented and that climate is only one of many factors that will determine how people will adapt.”

OSU’s Mote said examples abound of issues that need the marriage of stakeholders and climate scientists. Changing snowmelt runoff is creating concerns for late-season urban water supplies, irrigation for agriculture, and migration of fish. An increasing number of plant and animal species are becoming stressed by climate change, including the white bark pine and the sage grouse. Rising sea levels and more intense storms threaten the infrastructure of coastal communities, which need to examine water and sewer systems, as well as placement of hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

Mote, Moss and their colleagues outline a comprehensive approach to research in the social, physical, environmental, engineering and other sciences. Among their recommendations for improvement:

  • Understand decision processes and knowledge requirements;
  • Identify vulnerabilities to climate change;
  • Improve foresight about exposure to climate hazards and other stressors;
  • Broaden the range of adaptation options and promote learning;
  • Provide examples of adaptation science in application;
  • Develop measures to establish adaptation science.

One such measure could be the development of a national institution of climate preparedness in the United States comprised of centers for adaptation science aimed at priority sectors.

“More broadly,” the authors wrote in Science, “support for sustained, use-inspired, fundamental research on adaptation needs to be increased at research agencies. A particular challenge is to develop effective approaches to learn from adaptation practice as well as published research. Universities could provide support for sustained, trans-disciplinary interactions. Progress will require making a virtue of demonstrating tangible benefits for society by connecting research and applications.”

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Philip Mote, 541-737-5694; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu; Richard Moss, 301-314-6711; rhm@pnnl.gov

Climate report: Wildfires, snowmelt, coastal issues top Northwest risks

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Northwest is facing increased risks from the decline of forest health, earlier snowmelt leading to low summer stream flows, and an array of issues facing the coastal region, according to a new climate assessment report.

Written by a team of scientists coordinated by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) at Oregon State University, the report is the first regional climate assessment released since 1999. Both the 1999 report and the 2013 version were produced as part of the U.S. National Climate Assessment; both Washington and Oregon produced state-level reports in 2009 and 2010.

OSU’s Philip Mote, director of the institute and one of three editors of the 270-page report (as well as the 1999 report), said the document incorporates a lot of new science as well as some additional dimensions – including the impact of climate change on human health and tribal issues. A summary of the report is available online at: http://occri.net/reports

Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, said there are a number of issues facing the Northwest as a result of climate change.

“As we looked across both economic and ecological dimensions, the three that stood out were less snow, more wildfires and challenges to the coastal environment and infrastructure,” said Snover, who is one of the editors on the report.

The report outlines how these three issues are affected by climate change.

“Studies are showing that snowmelt is occurring earlier and earlier and that is leading to a decline in stream flows in summer,” Mote said. “Northwest forests are facing a huge increase in wildfires, disease and other disturbances that are both direct and indirect results of climate change. And coastal issues are mounting and varied, from sea level rise and inundation, to ocean acidification. Increased wave heights in recent decades also threaten coastal dwellings, roads and other infrastructure.”

OCCRI’s Meghan Dalton, lead editor on the report, notes that 2,800 miles of coastal roads are in the 100-year floodplain and some highways may face inundation with just two feet of sea level rise. Sea levels are expected to rise as much as 56 inches, or nearly five feet, by the year 2100.

Earlier snowmelt is a significant concern in the Northwest, where reservoir systems are utilized to maximize water storage. But, Dalton said, the Columbia River basin has a storage capacity that is smaller than its annual flow volume and is “ill-equipped to handle the projected shift to earlier snowmelt…and will likely be forced to pass much of these earlier flows out of the system.”

The earlier peak stream flow may significantly reduce summer hydroelectric power production, and slightly increase winter power production.

The report was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through the Oregon Legislature’s support of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, and by in-kind contributions from the authors’ institutions.

Mote said new research has led to improved climate models, which suggest that the Northwest will warm by a range of three to 14 degrees (Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. “The lower range will only be possible if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.” In contrast, the Northwest warmed by 1.3 degrees from the period of 1895 to 2011.

Future precipitation is harder to project, the report notes, with models forecasting a range from a 10 percent decrease to an 18 percent increase by 2100. Most models do suggest that more precipitation will fall as rain and earlier snowmelt will change river flow patterns.

That could be an issue for agriculture in the future as the “Northwest’s diverse crops depend on adequate water supplies and temperature ranges, which are projected to change during the 21st century,” the report notes. Pinpointing the impacts on agriculture will be difficult, said Sanford Eigenbrode of the University of Idaho, another co-author.

“As carbon dioxide levels rise, yields will increase for some plants, and more rainfall in winter could mean wetter soils in the spring, benefitting some crops,” Eigenbrode pointed out. “Those same conditions could adversely affect other crops. It is very difficult to say how changing climate will affect agriculture overall in the Northwest, but we can say that the availability of summer water will be a concern.”

Mote said there may be additional variables affecting agriculture, such what impacts the changing climate has on pests, diseases and invasive species.

“However, the agricultural sector is resilient and can respond more quickly to new conditions than some other sectors like forestry, where it takes 40 years or longer for trees to reach a harvestable age,” noted Mote, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

The Northwest has not to date been vulnerable to many climate-related health risks, the report notes, but impacts of climate change in the future are more likely to be negative than positive. Concerns include increased morbidity and mortality from heat-related illness, air pollution and allergenic disease, and the emergence of infectious diseases.

“In Oregon, one study showed that each 10-degree (F) increase in daily maximum temperature was associated with a nearly three-fold increase of heat-related illness,” said Jeff Bethel, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and one of the co-authors of the report. “The threshold for triggering heat-related illness – especially among the elderly – isn’t much.”

Northwest tribes may face a greater impact from climate change because of their reliance on natural resources. Fish, shellfish, game and plant species could be adversely affected by a warming climate, resulting in a multitude of impacts.

“When tribes ceded their lands and were restricted to small areas, it resulted in a loss of access to many species that lived there,” said Kathy Lynn, coordinator of the Tribal Climate Change Project at the University of Oregon and a co-author of the report. “Climate change may further reduce the abundance of resources. That carries a profound cultural significance far beyond what we can document from an economic standpoint.”

Snover said that the climate changes projected for the coming decades mean that many of the assumptions “inherent in decisions, infrastructure and policies – where to build, what to grow where, and how to manage variable water sources to meet multiple needs – will become increasingly incorrect.

“Whether the ultimate consequences of the climate impacts outlined in this report are severe or mild depends in part on how well we prepare our communities, economies and natural systems for the changes we know are coming,” Snover said.

Other lead co-authors on the report are Rick Raymondi, Idaho Department of Water Resources; W. Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting Group; Patty Glick, National Wildlife Federation; Susan Capalbo, OSU; and Jeremy Littell, U.S. Geological Survey.

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Philip Mote, 541-737-5694; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu; Amy Snover, 206-221-0222; aksnover@uw.edu

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Major storm Coastal issues

Melting glacier Snowmelt

Trail Creek FireWildfires

Study concludes climate change will wreak havoc on oceans by 2100

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study looking at the impacts of climate change on the world’s ocean systems concludes that by the year 2100, about 98 percent of the oceans will be affected by acidification, warming temperatures, low oxygen, or lack of biological productivity – and most areas will be stricken by a multitude of these stressors.

These biogeochemical changes triggered by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions will not only affect marine habitats and organisms, the researchers say, but will often co-occur in areas that are heavily used by humans.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal PLoS Biology. It was funding by the Norwegian Research Council and Foundation through its support of the International Network for Scientific investigation of deep-sea ecosystems (INDEEP).

“While we estimated that 2 billion people would be impacted by these changes, the most troubling aspect of our results was that we found that many of the environmental stressors will co-occur in areas inhabited by people who can least afford it,” said Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University oceanographer and co-author on the study.

“If we look on a global scale, between 400 million and 800 million people are both dependent on the ocean for their livelihood and also make less than $4,000 annually,” Thurber pointed out. “Adapting to climate change is a costly endeavor, whether it is retooling a fishing fleet to target a changing fish stock, or moving to a new area or occupation.”

The researchers say the effect on oceans will also create a burden in higher income areas, though “it is a much larger problem for people who simply do not have the financial resources to adapt.”

“What is really sobering about these findings is that they don’t even include other impacts to the world’s oceans such as sea level rise, pollution, over-fishing, and increasing storm intensity and frequency,” added Thurber, a post-doctoral fellow in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “All of these could compound the problem significantly.”

In their study, the researchers used global distribution maps of 32 marine habitats and biodiversity hotspots and overlaid that with climate models developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, presented in Stockholm, Sweden, this fall. They then compared the results with the latest available data on human use of marine goods and services to estimate the vulnerability of coastal populations worldwide.

The models had a range of outcomes, but all agreed that most of the world’s oceans would suffer negative impacts of varying intensities from the four major stressors. Only a small fraction of the oceans – mostly in Antarctica and to a lesser extent, small areas of the Atlantic – will see potential increases in oxygen or biological productivity, the study noted.

By 2100, nowhere in the world are ocean waters expected to be cooler or less acidic than they are today.

“When you look at overlapping stressors, the Northern Hemisphere appears to be in real trouble,” Thurber said. “The same grim outlook is apparent for the strong upwelling zones off Chile and southern Africa. Another ‘red spot’ is the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which already is seeing the impact of low oxygen and rising acidification.”

It is the combination of stressors that makes upwelling areas – where deep, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface to fertilize the upper water column – of greatest concern, the researchers noted. The models also suggest that marine food webs based on the production of euphausiids and other krill, or tiny marine crustaceans, are highly at-risk.

“A lot of marine animals, including many whale populations, are dependent upon krill or the other organisms that consume krill, for survival – and krill habitat has some of the greatest overlap in all the stressors we looked at,” Thurber said. “On the other hand, coral reefs – even though they didn’t rank as high as other areas for stressor overlap – are in trouble due to just two of the stressors, acidification and temperature. So a low score doesn’t necessarily mean these areas are unlikely to be affected.”

Thurber and three colleagues originally conceived of the idea of the meta-analysis of data to forecast the impact of climate change on the world’s deep sea, an idea that was re-cast when they organized an international workshop that drew many principal investigators of recent climate change studies. Notable among the researchers was Camila Mora of the University of Hawai’i at Mañoa, who spearheaded an effort to include shallow water and the human elements into the data analysis.

“The consequences of these co-occurring changes are massive,” Mora said. “Everything from species survival to abundance, to range size, to body size, to species richness, to ecosystem functioning are affected by changes in ocean biogeochemistry.”

The study is unusual because of its scope, and the analysis of multiple factors. Most previous studies have looked at one variable – such as ocean warming or increasing acidification – but not multiple stressors, or they focused on one geographic area. It also brought the human dimension into play, which few climate change studies have attempted.

“One of the real highlights of the study is its inclusion of the deep sea into our understanding of human impacts on climate,” Thurber said. “We often think of this vast habitat as immune to human activity, but we found that this largest and most stable area of our planet is likely to see multiple impacts from our activities.”

Among the possible biological responses to the four stressors:

  • Although warming off the surface waters in polar regions may lead to enhanced growth and productivity of some species, in a vast majority of the world it likely will lead to species loss, reduced animal density, and enhanced risk of disease;
  • Acidification will increase mortality of calcifying marine invertebrates and likely lead to species loss;
  • Hypoxia, or low oxygen, will cause mortality in many species and could enhance dominance by other species that are hypoxia-tolerant;
  • As productivity declines, many food web structures will be altered and reduced abundance may lead to dominance shifts from large to small species.
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 Andrew Thurber, 541-737-8251; athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu

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OSU faculty members key contributors to IPCC report

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists, issued its latest report on the state of scientific understanding on climate change. Two Oregon State University faculty members played key roles in the landmark report.

Peter Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was one of two coordinating lead authors on a chapter outlining sea level change. He and fellow coordinating lead author John Church of Australia oversaw the efforts of 12 lead authors and several dozen contributing scientists on the science of sea level change.

Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, was one of 12 lead authors on a chapter looking at the cryosphere, which is comprised of snow, river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, and frozen ground. The cryosphere plays a key role in the physical, biological and social environment on much of the Earth’s surface.

“Since the last IPCC report, there has been increased scientific understanding of the physical processes leading to sea level change, and that has helped improve our understanding of what will happen in the future,” Clark said.

“One of the things our group concluded with virtual certainty is that the rate of global mean sea level rise has accelerated over the past two centuries – primarily through the thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers,” Clark added. “Sea level rise will continue to accelerate through the 21st century, and global sea levels could rise by 0.5 meters to at least one meter by the year 2100.”

The rate of that rise will depend on future greenhouse gas emissions.

Among other findings, the sea level chapter also concluded that it is virtually certain that global mean sea level will continue to rise beyond the year 2100, and that substantially higher sea level rise could take place with the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Mote, who also is a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, said analyzing the cryosphere is complex and nuanced, though overall the amount of snow and ice on Earth is declining.

The report notes: “Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.” Other cryosphere changes include:

  • Greenland and Antarctica are not only losing ice, but the rate of decline is accelerating;
  • The amount of sea ice in September has reached new lows;
  • The June snow cover also has reached new lows and has decreased by an average of 11.7 percent per decade – or 53 percent overall – from 1967 to 2012;
  • The reduction in snow cover can formally be attributed to human influence – work done by Mote and David Rupp of OSU.

 Rick Spinrad, OSU’s vice president for research, praised the efforts of the two OSU faculty members for their contributions to the report.

 "OSU is a global leader in environmental research as reflected by the leadership roles of Dr. Clark and Dr. Mote in this seminal assessment,” Spinrad said. “The impact of the IPCC report will be felt by scientists and policy makers for many years to come."

The IPCC report is comprised of 14 chapters, supported by a mass of supplementary material. A total of 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries helped lead the effort, and an additional 600 contributing authors from 32 countries participated in the report. Authors responded to more than 54,000 review comments.

The report is available online at the IPCC site: http://www.ipcc.ch/

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Researchers describe unusual Mars rock in Science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first rock that scientists analyzed on Mars with a pair of chemical instruments aboard the Curiosity rover turned out to be a doozy – a pyramid-shaped volcanic rock called a “mugearite” that is unlike any other Martian igneous rock ever found.

Dubbed “Jake_M” – after Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Jake Matijevic – the rock is similar to mugearites found on Earth, typically on ocean islands and in continental rifts. The process through which these rocks form often suggests the presence of water deep below the surface, according to Martin Fisk, an Oregon State University marine geologist and member of the Mars Science Laboratory team.

Results of the analysis were published this week in the journal Science, along with two other papers on Mars’ soils.

“On Earth, we have a pretty good idea how mugearites and rocks like them are formed,” said Fisk, who is a co-author on all three Science articles. “It starts with magma deep within the Earth that crystallizes in the presence of 1-2 percent water. The crystals settle out of the magma and what doesn’t crystallize is the mugearite magma, which can eventually make its way to the surface as a volcanic eruption.”

Fisk, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, said the most common volcanic rocks typically crystallize in a specific order as they cool, beginning with olivine and feldspar. In the presence of water, however, feldspar crystallizes later and the magma will have a composition such as mugearite.

Although this potential evidence for water deep beneath the surface of Mars isn’t ironclad, the scientists say, it adds to the growing body of studies pointing to the presence of water on the Red Planet – an ingredient necessary for life.

“The rock is significant in another way,” Fisk pointed out. “It implies that the interior of Mars is composed of areas with different compositions; it is not well mixed. Perhaps Mars never got homogenized the way Earth has through its plate tectonics and convection processes.”

In another study, scientists examined the soil diversity and hydration of Gale Crater using a ChemCam laser instrument. They found hydrogen in all of the sites sampled, suggesting water, as well as the likely presence of sulphates. Mars was thought to have three stages – an early phase with lots of water, an evaporation phase when the water disappeared leaving behind sulphate salts, and a third phase when the surface soils dried out and oxidized – creating the planet’s red hue.

“ChemCam found hydrogen in almost every place we found iron,” Fisk said.

The third study compared grains of rock on the surface with a darker soil beneath at a site called the Rocknest Sand Shadow. Some of the sand grains are almost perfectly round and may have come from space, Fisk said.

The studies were funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, and supported by several international agencies.

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Martin Fisk, 541-737-5208; mfisk@coas.oregonstate.edu

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