OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of earth

Study traces origin of cirrus clouds primarily to mineral dust and metals

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers studying the origin of cirrus clouds have found that these thin, wispy trails of ice crystals are formed primarily on dust particles and some unusual combinations of metal particles – both of which may be influenced by human activities.

The findings are important, scientists say, because cirrus clouds cover as much as one-third of the Earth and play an important role in global climate. Depending on altitude and the number and size of ice crystals, cirrus clouds can cool the planet by reflecting incoming solar radiation – or warm it by trapping outgoing heat.

However, what the net effect is, and how humans impact it, is still unclear.

Results of the study, which was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, were published this week in the journal Science.

“Cirrus clouds are complicated but the important message is that dust and certain metals provide the seeds for a majority of the ice crystals that form the clouds,” said Cynthia Twohy, an Oregon State University atmospheric scientist and co-author on the study. “Other particle types – including bacteria and soot from human-produced combustion or natural sources – don’t seem to contribute much to the nuclei of cirrus crystals.

“These biological particles may be important in the formation of lower altitude clouds,” added Twohy, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “But they were surprisingly absent from the particles we sampled from cirrus clouds.”

During the study, led by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the researchers conducted flight missions from 2002 to 2011 over North America and Central America at 20,000 to 50,000 feet elevation, where cirrus clouds often form. As their planes flew through the clouds, researchers captured and heated the ice crystals, which then evaporated, leaving behind a tiny kernel that they analyzed using an onboard mass spectrometer.

Despite the length of the study and its different geographic locations, the researchers found similar outcomes: About 60 percent of the cloud particles they analyzed could be traced to mineral dust blown into the atmosphere, or to metallic aerosols.

“Mineral dust can occur naturally,” Twohy said, “or it can be influenced by human activities. Certainly the major deserts like the Sahara and Gobi are enormous sources of mineral dust. But agriculture, over-grazing and climate and land-use changes can also contribute.”

Twohy said the scientists have not yet traced the origin of the dust to see how much of it came from natural versus anthropogenic causes. The metallic aerosols, she added, are unusual and may be easier to trace to specific sources. Containing elements like lead, zinc, tin and copper, they appear to be from industrial activities, according to other scientists in the study.

“As the climate warms, it is possible that we will see an expansion of desert lands, which could lead to even more dust entering the atmosphere,” Twohy said. “That could create more cirrus clouds, but what that means in terms of warming or cooling is unsure and an area for future research.”

An expert in cloud formation, Twohy has been involved in some 30 different aircraft missions over the years to understand the composition and characteristics of clouds and how they are influenced by pollution. She has studied clouds in North America, Central America, South America, Africa, the Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

“At lower altitudes, clouds are known to be influenced by pollution – especially near cities,” Twohy said. “They have more droplets, they reflect more light and they rain less. The impacts of cirrus clouds on climate are much more complex. But this gives us a starting point because we now have a better understanding of the particle types and mechanisms that lead to their formation.”

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Cynthia Twohy, 541-737-5690

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College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: CEOAS is internationally recognized for its faculty, research and facilities, including state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to support real-time ocean/atmosphere observation and prediction. The college is a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system, providing scientific understanding to address complex environmental challenges

Reconstruction of temperature history shows significance of recent warming

 

Editor’s Note: In light of the many questions the authors of this study have received about their work, they have posted an FAQ that lays out how they gathered and analyzed data and reached conclusions. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/03/response-by-marcott-et-al/

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Using data from 73 sites around the world, scientists have been able to reconstruct Earth’s temperature history back to the end of the last Ice Age, revealing that the planet today is warmer than it has been during 70 to 80 percent of the time over the last 11,300 years.

Of even more concern are projections of global temperature for the year 2100, when virtually every climate model evaluated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that temperatures will exceed the warmest temperatures during that 11,300-year period known as the Holocene – under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

Results of the study, by researchers at Oregon State University and Harvard University, were published this week in the journal Science. It was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Paleoclimate Program.

Lead author Shaun Marcott, a post-doctoral researcher in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, noted that previous research on past global temperature change has largely focused on the last 2,000 years. Extending the reconstruction of global temperatures back to the end of the last Ice Age puts today’s climate into a larger context.

“We already knew that on a global scale, Earth is warmer today than it was over much of the past 2,000 years,” Marcott said. “Now we know that it is warmer than most of the past 11,300 years. This is of particular interest because the Holocene spans the entire period of human civilization.”

Peter Clark, an OSU paleoclimatologist and co-author on the Science article, said many previous temperature reconstructions were regional in nature and were not placed in a global context. Marcott led the effort to combine data from 73 sites around the world, providing a much broader perspective.

“When you just look at one part of the world, the temperature history can be affected by regional climate processes like El Nino or monsoon variations,” noted Clark. “But when you combine the data from sites all around the world, you can average out those regional anomalies and get a clear sense of the Earth’s global temperature history.”

What that history shows, the researchers say, is that over the past 5,000 years, the Earth on average cooled about 1.3 degrees (Fahrenheit) – until the past 100 years, when it warmed ̴ 1.3 degrees (F). The largest changes were in the northern hemisphere, where there are more land masses and greater human populations.

Climate models project that global temperature will rise another 2.0 to 11.5 degrees (F) by the end of this century, largely dependent on the magnitude of carbon emissions. “What is most troubling,” Clark said, “is that this warming will be significantly greater than at any time during the past 11,300 years.”

Marcott said that one of the natural factors affecting global temperatures over the past 11,300 years is gradual change in the distribution of solar insolation associated with Earth’s position relative to the sun.

“During the warmest period of the Holocene, the Earth was positioned such that Northern Hemisphere summers warmed more,” Marcott said. “As the Earth’s orientation changed, Northern Hemisphere summers became cooler, and we should now be near the bottom of this long-term cooling trend – but obviously, we are not.”

Clark said that other studies, including those outlined in past IPCC reports, have attributed the warming of the planet over the past 50 years to anthropogenic, or human-caused activities – and not solar variability or other natural causes.

“The last century stands out as the anomaly in this record of global temperature since the end of the last ice age,” said Candace Major, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which co-funded the research with NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences. “This research shows that we’ve experienced almost the same range of temperature change since the beginning of the industrial revolution as over the previous 11,000 years of Earth history – but this change happened a lot more quickly.”

The research team, which included Jeremy Shakun of Harvard University and Alan Mix of Oregon State, primarily used fossils from ocean sediment cores and terrestrial archives to reconstruct the temperature history. The chemical and physical characteristics of the fossils – including the species as well as their chemical composition and isotopic ratios – provide reliable proxy records for past temperatures by calibrating them to modern temperature records.

Using data from 73 sites around the world allows a global picture of the Earth’s history and provides new context for climate change analysis.

“The Earth’s climate is complex and responds to multiple forcings, including CO2 and solar insolation,” Marcott said. “Both of those changed very slowly over the past 11,000 years. But in the last 100 years, the increase in CO2 through increased emissions from human activities has been significant. It is the only variable that can best explain the rapid increase in global temperatures.”

Marcott received his Ph.D. in geology in 2011 from OSU.

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Shaun Marcott, 541-737-1209

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Ocean sediment collection Ice core West Antarctica

NSF selects OSU to lead project rejuvenating U.S. research fleet

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The National Science Foundation has notified Oregon State University that it will be the lead institution on a project to finalize the design and coordinate the construction of as many as three new coastal research vessels to bolster the marine science research capabilities of the United States.

OSU initially will receive nearly $3 million to coordinate the design phase of the project – and if funds are appropriated for all three vessels, the total grant is projected to reach $290 million over 10 years. The final number constructed, and the geographic positioning of these vessels, will be determined by the National Science Foundation based on geographic scientific requirements and availability of funding.

If all three vessels are built, it is likely that one would be positioned on the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast, officials say.

A project team led by Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences will finalize the design for the 175-foot long, technically enhanced Regional Class ships, select a shipyard, oversee construction, and coordinate the system integration, testing, commissioning and acceptance, and transition to operations.

“These will be floating, multi-use laboratories that are flexible and can be adapted for different scientific purposes, yet are more seaworthy and environmentally ‘green’ than previous research vessels,” said Mark Abbott, dean of the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “These ships will be used to address critical issues related to climate change, ocean circulation, natural hazards, human health, and marine ecosystems.”

OSU vice president for research Rick Spinrad, who previously directed research programs for the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the new vessels would “revitalize and transform” coastal ocean science in the United States.

“Many of the most pressing issues facing our oceans are in these coastal regions, including acidification, hypoxia, tsunami prediction, declining fisheries, and harmful algal blooms,” Spinrad said. “Because of their flexibility, these new vessels will attract a broad range of users and will become ideal platforms to training early-career scientists and mariners.”

The project had the support of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s Office, noted OSU President Ed Ray, who said the university will benefit from the process long before the first ship hits the water in 2019 or 2020.

“What is really unique about this project is that it will involve faculty from engineering and business, who will join their oceanography colleagues on the design and construction elements – and provide unbelievable training opportunities for OSU undergraduate and graduate students interested in project management, marine technology and marine science,” Ray pointed out.

The successful OSU proposal was submitted to the National Science Foundation by Clare Reimers, an oceanography professor, and Demian Bailey, the university’s marine superintendent. As part of that submission, OSU proposed to be the operator of the first vessel. Additional operating institutions will be determined once the total number of vessels to be built is known.

The university now operates the R/V Oceanus, an older research vessel scheduled for retirement about the time the new research vessels will become available.

“The National Science Foundation hasn’t authorized a multi-ship project since the 1970s,” Bailey said, “and these are likely the only ships scheduled by NSF to be built during the next decade – so this is a big deal. The endurance and size of the new ships will be similar to that of Oceanus and (former OSU vessel) Wecoma but they will be much more efficient and have far greater scientific capacity and flexibility.”

Bailey said the new vessels will have advanced dynamic positioning that will help them stay in place in the rugged Pacific Ocean. That is a benefit for launching and retrieving gliders and other autonomous or remotely operated vehicles, conducting precise seafloor mapping, and retrieving moorings and other instrumentation. They also will be much quieter, which will help researchers who use acoustics to study everything from endangered whales to undersea earthquakes and volcanoes.

Reimers said the first phase of the 10-year project will begin in early 2013 with the finalization of the vessel design. A concept design is already in place and the OSU project team will partner with two regional firms – The Glosten Associates in Seattle, Wash., and Science Applications International Corporation in Oregon City – to meet naval architecture, marine design and systems engineering requirements.

“These new vessels will allow scientists at sea to conduct state-of-the-art scientific research from the atmosphere above into the seafloor below our coastal oceans,” Reimers said. “Broader impacts will also be possible because these ships will be equipped with modern telecommunications technologies and sensors to be able to transmit a rich variety of observations to scientists, educators and the public ashore.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) praised the project and selection of OSU.

“These research ships will keep the United States in the forefront of coastal ocean science,” Wyden said. “The selection of Oregon State University to design these vessels represents an important investment in our nation’s research infrastructure and adds to the state’s already-growing reputation as a center for marine research and the place that will train the next generation of ocean scientists.”

Fellow Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) described the announcement as “great news for both Oregon State University and the state of Oregon.”

“Oregon State is on the cutting edge for marine research and it is only fitting that they have received the honor of designing these new research ships,” Merkley said. “I am excited that we will be developing top-notch research into the health of our oceans and the effects of climate change through this targeted investment right here in Oregon.”

History of OSU Research Vessels

1964 – The Department of Oceanography commissions the 180-foot Yaquina

1968 – The Department of Oceanography commissions the 80-foot Cayuse

1975 – The School of Oceanography commissions the 184-foot Wecoma

2000 – The 54-foot Elakha was funded by a Packard Foundation grant to College of Science researchers, and after construction operated by the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences

2012 – The College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences takes over operation of the 177-foot Oceanus, formerly operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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Mark Abbott, 541-737-5195

Study finds prey density more important to predators than biomass

Note: The journal article this release is based on can be found at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0053348

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Marine resource managers often gauge the health of species based on overall biomass, but a new study of predator-prey relationships in the Bering Sea found that it isn’t the total number of individuals that predators care about – it’s how densely they are aggregated.

It’s more than searching for an easy meal, the researchers say. Predators need to balance how much energy they expend in searching for food with the caloric and nutrient value of that which they consume. When prey doesn’t aggregate, however, the search for food becomes much more difficult – affecting the health of the predators’ offspring and the vitality of their overall population.

Results of the study were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. The study was part of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Project, which was funded by the North Pacific Research Board and the National Science Foundation.

“We had to think very differently about these interactions, trying to see the world from the predators’ point of view,” said Kelly Benoit-Bird, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and lead author on the study. “When we first tried to identify good foraging locations for predator species we looked at areas of high prey numbers because it makes sense that they’d be where the food is. But the results didn’t match what we might have expected.

“Predator populations that should have been doing well, based on prey numbers or biomass, were in fact not doing well,” added Benoit-Bird, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “What we discovered is that smaller aggregations of prey are more attractive to predators if they are sufficiently dense.”

The findings are particularly important, scientists say, because almost all fisheries management is based on biomass – tons of fish – and not how those fish may be distributed in the sea.

In their study, the researchers looked at the feeding behaviors of three co-occurring species in the Bering Sea, all of which consume juvenile pollock or krill – black-legged kittiwakes, thick-billed murres and northern fur seals. When they attempted to find a spatial relationship between these predators and the pollock using areal biomass and numerical abundance, they found little correlation.

However, when they began finding small patches of prey at certain depths and of sufficient density, the predators were there. And though the scientists know why – feeding efficiency – they aren’t sure how.

“To be honest, we aren’t really sure how these predators – which may travel many miles – locate the densest aggregations at depths well below the surface – and often at night,” said Scott Heppell, a fisheries ecologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the PLOS ONE paper. “You wouldn’t think murres and fur seals would have that much in common, but in this case they do.”

“In a way, they’re looking for the same thing that commercial fishing fleets look for – high-quality prey in aggregations dense enough to be economical,” added Heppell, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU.

Benoit-Bird likened the predator-prey link to locating a box of popcorn in a darkened movie theater. You may have to search for it, she noted, but if you find the popcorn box, the payoff will be much more significant than what you might get by stumbling upon individual kernels in the dark that are spread throughout the theater – even though the number of kernels is the same.

That payoff is particularly meaningful for nurturing young, the researchers point out. During their two-year study, the research group tagged and observed female fur seals from St. Paul Island and Bogoslof Island as they swam hundreds of kilometers over a period of 1-2 weeks to gorge on nutrient-rich pollock then return to their homes to nurse pups.

They also tagged and observed adult murres and kittiwakes at St. Paul, St. George and Bogoslof Islands. The birds would capture local prey to feed their chicks during the day, but make numerous long flights at night to gorge on energy-rich, deep-water prey before returning to their nests to feed their chicks.

“It is a trade-off strategy,” said Benoit-Bird, a 2010 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. “They feed themselves in one place and nourish their offspring from another.”

This concept of prey “patchiness” can change rapidly, the researchers noted. Pollock aggregated only when the number of individuals in an area reached a certain threshold; below that threshold, they swam as individuals.

“If the population is sufficiently diffuse, the pollock don’t aggregate and that could spell trouble for species that prey upon them,” Heppell said. “A 10 percent shift in the number of fish could change how the entire stock behaves – and have a major impact on the birds, seals and other predators.”

Other authors on the PLOS ONE paper include Brian Battaile, Chad Nordstrom and Andrew Trites of the University of British Columbia; Brian Hoover and Nathan Jones, University of California’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories; David Irons and Kathy Kuletz of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage; and Rosana Paredes, Robert Suryan and Chad Waluk of Oregon State University.

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Kelly Benoit-Bird, 541-737-2063

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fur seal
Northern fur seal juv pollock
Juvenile pollock murre
Thick-billed murre

2012 weather: Bookend wet spells sandwich summer drought

CORVALLIS, Ore. – 2012 will likely go down as the warmest year on record for the lower 48 states, but it may be remembered just as much for its extreme events – and Oregon was no exception.

Though the state didn’t experience anything like super-storm Sandy or major blizzards that paralyzed communities, it did experience a pronounced summer drought, sandwiched by “atmospheric river events” that drenched Oregonians in January and late November.

Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University, said the impacts from the three phenomena were significant.

“The state was really dry during the July to September period and it really extended into October,” Dello said. “In fact, it was the second driest summer period on record, which made it a big year for wildfires. Oregon (1.26 million acres) was second in the nation to Idaho (1.54 million acres) for most acres burned and many private woodland owners had to close their lands to hunters until mid-October because of fire danger. That doesn’t happen often.”

“The two wet weather events affected western Oregon to a great extent, and caused some fairly serious flooding,” added Dello, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “There were also some rather damaging windstorms.”

One series of storms in January caused major flooding in the Willamette Valley and another series in late November soaked the southwestern portion of the state. These bookend wet spells made the year wetter than normal in western Oregon, though eastern Oregon ended up drier than average. Statewide records go back 118 years.

With a couple of days left in the year, Corvallis is likely to close 2012 with the fourth wettest year on record, with 58.72 inches of precipitation through Dec. 27. The average over the past 30 years has been 42.71 inches. Totals of other Oregon cities, with data gathered in part from the National Weather Service in Portland, include:

  • Medford has received 26.67 inches through Dec. 27, well above its average of 18.35 inches. On November 29, the town received its first rainfall of more than two inches since 2005.
  • Portland has logged 50.43 inches in 2012, fourth highest on record, and well above its average of 36.1 inches.
  • Salem is in the midst of the seventh wettest year on record with 54.38 inches; its average over the past 30 years is 39.67 inches.
  • Astoria has received 91.01 inches, eighth most on record, and more than 23 inches above its average of 67.53 inches.

“Almost all of the wet weather records are from 1996, when the state experienced some rather spectacular flooding,” Dello said. “That was a ‘100-year flood event’ and the records back it up.”

Corvallis had 73.21 inches in 1996; Portland was at 63.20, Salem at 66.96, and Medford at 31.41. Astoria was one of the few places that didn’t peak that year. Its record year was 1950, when it got 113.34 inches.

The chaotic weather in 2012 was fitting in a way – this coming winter is the first time since 2003 that the western United States wasn’t affected by either El Niño or a La Niña conditions. El Niños typically result in warmer and drier winter weather; La Niñas are usually wetter, as it was in January, which was on the tail end of last winter’s La Niña.

“We are neither, for the first time in almost a decade,” Dello said. “Officially we are ENSO-neutral, or what some people call ‘La Nada.’”

Weather-lovers can learn more about Oregon weather by following Dello on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/orclimatesvc. The state is also looking for volunteers to collect precipitation data. For more information, go to http://www.cocorahs.org/.

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Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927

Study: High stream temperatures, low flow creating extreme conditions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A newly published study by researchers at Oregon State University and two federal agencies concludes that high temperatures coupled with lower flows in many Northwest streams is creating increasingly extreme conditions that could negatively affect fish and other organisms.

The study, published in the professional journal Hydrobiologia, was funded and coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey and the research branch of the U.S. Forest Service. It points to climate change as the primary reason for the extreme conditions.

“The highest temperatures for streams generally occur in August, while lowest flows take place in the early fall,” said Ivan Arismendi, a research professor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Each period is important because it is a time of potentially high stress on the organisms that live in the stream. If they occur closer in time – or together – they could create double trouble that may be greater than their combined singular effects.”

Arismendi, who was lead author on the paper, said climate change appears to play a role as snowpack levels lessen and snow begins melting earlier in the spring. Peak stream flows are coming earlier in the year, stretching out the amount of time when river flows are low.

“What results is that low flows are moving closer and closer to the time of the year when stream temperatures are highest,” Arismendi said, “and that is not good.”

The study looked at 22 “minimally human-influenced” streams from the period of 1950 to 2010, located in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Montana and Idaho. The researchers found the hydrology of the streams was complex and differed among streams; while weather extremes affected all of the streams, the impact seems to be mediated by the influence of groundwater.

“Other studies have shown that high temperatures in streams lead to less oxygen and more thermal stress,” said co-author Jason Dunham, an aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “Low flows reduce the amount of suitable habitat and may lead to high density and overcrowding, more predation, changes in predator-prey relationships, and more competition – at least, among salmonids.”

This study focused on the physical processes on the streams, Arismendi emphasized, and needs to be followed by biological studies.

“Coupling of low flow with high temperatures can have significant hydrologic implications in maintaining stream water quality,” said Mohammad Safeeq, an OSU post-doctoral researcher in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and a co-author on the paper.

Arismendi said that over the years, weather and stream flow can be influenced by climate drivers like El Nino, La Nina, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and other phenomena. But over the 60-year time frame covered by the study, the climate warmed appreciably, leading to lower flows and earlier peak flows.

“These streams have high natural variability,” Arismendi said, “but the general pattern holds true.”

Interestingly, Arismendi said that stream temperatures are not always higher on an annual scale despite a regional trend that has shown warming air temperatures. This could be because of increased snowmelt, he pointed out, or complex hydrological cycles.

“Even though our studies are showing that stream processes are much more complex than initially thought we are able to identify trends toward increasing synchrony in timing of low flows and high temperatures,” Arismendi said.

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Ivan Arismendi, 541-750-7443

OSU to co-host meeting in Tillamook on ocean acidification, low oxygen

TILLAMOOK, Ore. – A public forum on Tuesday, Oct. 23, in Tillamook will explore the current and potential future impacts of two emerging phenomena along the Oregon coast – increasing ocean acidity and seasonal incidence of low-oxygen waters, or “hypoxia.”

A series of speakers will present the latest research at the free community event, “Demystifying Coastal Hypoxia & Ocean Acidification,” which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Tillamook Bay Community College Room 214/215. A panel discussion will follow, focusing on what individuals, communities, government agencies and others can do to reduce and manage potential impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia, both globally and locally.

The event is particularly timely, organizers say, as the fishing industry, agencies and scientists are expressing increasing alarm at the trend of more acidic ocean waters that have less oxygen to support marine life. The effects already are being felt in Oregon, where acidic, low-oxygen seawater contributed to the death of a substantial fraction of the young oysters produced by the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery near Tillamook.

Oregon is a prime location at which to study these threats, scientists say, and the public will have an opportunity to learn more about them at the forum.

Hosted by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans program led by Oregon State University, the forum will feature researchers from OSU, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is supported by Oregon Sea Grant.

More information on the event is available at: http://www.piscoweb.org/node/522

Speakers and panelists include Francis Chan and Jack Barth of OSU, who have documented and explained increasing hypoxia events off Oregon; Burke Hales and George Waldbusser of OSU, who have helped Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery offset the effects of acidic and hypoxic water that had been killing juvenile oysters; Alan Barton, manager of the Whiskey Creek hatchery; Steve Rumrill, the head of ODFW’s shellfish program, Waldo Wakefield of NOAA, who studies how environmental factors like hypoxia influence fish abundance and distribution; and others.

Tillamook Bay Community College is located at 4301 3rd St. in Tillamook.

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Joe Tyburczy, 541-231-9780

Fifty years later: Legacy of Columbus Day storm still stands

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Nearly half a century after it ripped through the Pacific Northwest, people still talk about the Columbus Day storm of 1962 – and with good reason.

With wind gusts measured at 145 miles per hour – and peak velocity that may have reached as high as 175 mph, the storm demolished trees, homes and lives. As many as 46 deaths were attributed to the storm, and hundreds of Oregonians were injured, making it the second deadliest weather event in the state’s history.

Some people have called it the perfect storm, but in truth, it was three separate storms, says Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University.

“The Columbus Day storm has frequently been labeled as a typhoon, but that is somewhat erroneous,” Dello said. “It was the remnant of a typhoon that became extratropical and hit the West Coast in three waves, but they get lumped together in people’s minds as one event.”

Dello said three key things happened to create the monstrous weather event that became known as the Columbus Day storm. Remnants of Typhoon Freda, which formed in early October, regained intensity after it moved into an area where cool air from the Gulf of Alaska met warm, moist tropical air. The newly energized system moved up the coast and a low pressure system developed intensively. Finally, the combination of the west-to-east pressure gradient with the northward path of the storm funneled the system between the Coast Range and the Cascades – right up the Willamette Valley.

“If the winds had come from the west, the pressure gradient would have changed and the damage would not have been nearly as severe,” said Dello, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “We have extratropical storms visit us frequently. But the intensity of the low pressure, combined with the direction of the storm, and our topography made this one historic.”

What also made the Columbus Day storm unusual, Dello said, was that it took place in October – well before the winter storm season.

“It is the only major windstorm on record in the Pacific Northwest for October,” she said.

During the storm, the pressure level dropped to at least 960 millibars, Dello said, which is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. The contrast with the high pressure system to the north intensified the storm, which swept up the Willamette Valley leaving a swath of destruction.

The manually operated wind gauge in Corvallis recorded a gust of 127 mph, before the operator fled, leaving a note behind that merely stated, “abandoned station.” Sustained winds, of a minute or longer in duration, reached as high as 69 mph.

Cape Blanco, regarded as perhaps the windiest spot along the coast, recorded the highest official gust – 145 mph. But the entire western portion of the state was battered, Dello said, by amazingly strong gusts and sustained periods of high winds. Portland recorded a gust of 116 mph near the Morrison Street Bridge. Mount Hebo Air Force Station recorded a gust of 130 mph.

The storm reached into Washington, as well, before dissipating, battering Olympia (78 mph); McChord Air Force Base (88 mph); Renton, (100 mph); and Bellingham (98 mph).

As the storm began, it dumped heavy rain on California, forcing the postponement of a World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. As it moved into Oregon, the rain lessened but the winds intensified with the pressure change.

Some reports say the storm damaged as many trees in Oregon and Washington as the combined annual timber harvest of both states. Power was not only knocked out throughout western Oregon, but entire distribution systems were destroyed and some communities went weeks without electricity. The economic impact just in Oregon was an estimated $200 million at the time, which is equal to somewhere in the vicinity of $1.4 billion in today’s dollars, according to OSU political scientist Robert Sahr, who studies inflation conversion.

Many homes were destroyed and it was considered the worst natural disaster in the country in 1962. The only weather-related event in Oregon history that was worse, Dello said, was the Heppner Flood in 1903, which resulted in 247 fatalities.

“The Heppner Flood was different in that it was a flash flood from intense thunderstorms that in a period of minutes overwhelmed Willow Creek and its tributaries,” Dello said. “It is one of the state’s few weather disasters east of the Cascades.”

Fifty years after the Columbus Day storm, weather analysts still debate whether this is a once a century event, or something even more unusual. Dello says she often is asked if such a storm could happen again.

“It took a combination of events to create the Columbus Day storm,” Dello said, “and the cumulative effect of those events was enormous. But none of the individual factors was all that unusual, so yes, it could very well happen again. And if it does, the damage could be even more devastating because there are so many more people and houses than in 1962.

“In Oregon, we are perhaps more vulnerable to the damage because epic storms happen so rarely,” Dello pointed out. “It’s hard to prepare for a once-in-a century storm.”

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

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Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927

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Columbus Day storm photo 1

MU quad at OSU

 

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Bridge in Corvallis

OSU scientists part of intensive planning for tricky Mars landing

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If all goes according to plan, the Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL, will approach the Red Planet late on Sunday, Aug. 5, before slowing, deploying its parachutes, and lowering the rover “Curiosity” via cable to explore the surface.

Designing an autonomously controlled spacecraft to go from an initial speed of 13,000 miles per hour to almost zero in just seven minutes – on a planet where winds howl and temperatures are frigid – requires off-the-charts engineering acumen, as well as in-depth knowledge of Mars’ atmospheric conditions.

Researchers at Oregon State University have been working for the past four years with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on a computer model of the Martian atmosphere that the project engineers have used to make adjustments in the spacecraft’s control system for the landing.

“They call it ‘the seven minutes of terror’ because so much will happen in such a small window of time – and it is when the greatest risks to the mission take place,” said Jeff Barnes, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “MSL is one of the most robust space vehicles ever built but there will still be a lot of tension until those few minutes are over and we know that the landing was a good one.”

The OSU Mars atmospheric model is one of two that NASA/JPL engineers have been using to make small adjustments to the on-board software that will guide the entry, descent and landing of the Mars Science Laboratory. Based on orbital observations of atmospheric conditions gleaned from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the model calculates and predicts what conditions are likely to be. It can be adapted in different “nests” to simulate the Mars atmosphere over a very wide range of spatial scales.

And the higher the model resolution, Barnes says, the better.

“The critical atmospheric factors are wind, temperature and density,” Barnes noted. “Density is the most important because you are trying to slow the spacecraft down and enable it to land within 10 to 15 kilometers of the prime target for science.  Densities lower than expected could be real trouble, because the spacecraft will automatically ‘dive’ to lower altitudes to find higher densities in order to slow down sufficiently.  If it gets too low before the parachutes are deployed, a safe landing would be jeopardized.”

“Our Mars model has a spatial resolution that can get down to a horizontal scale of 4-5 kilometers, which provides the engineers with very good information about local atmospheric conditions,” Barnes said.

Created by Barnes and OSU research associate Dan Tyler, the Oregon State atmospheric model of Mars is a continuation of their previous research on the Red Planet. Both OSU scientists worked on the Phoenix Mission, which landed in the north polar region of Mars in 2008, and Barnes’ involvement in Mars research dates all of the way back to the historic Viking mission.  More recently, Barnes was heavily involved in the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission, which operated the first rover on the Mars surface. 

But this is the most ambitious, and expensive (at about $2.5 billion), NASA Mars mission yet. The Mars Science Laboratory is designed to descend inside the very large Gale crater, hover at about 20 meters above the surface, and lower the Curiosity rover via cables to the surface. Past missions have “bounced” rovers down inside of giant airbag padding, but this rover, weighing one ton, is much bigger and heavier than those in the past.

“It’s about the size of a Mini-Cooper,” Barnes said, “so they’ve built a sophisticated “sky-crane” system to lower it to the surface, then explosively sever the cables, and fire rockets to move the spacecraft away from the area so it doesn’t fall onto and crush the rover. This is all totally new – it’s never been done before.”

The greatest risks, Barnes said, begin at about 15-20 kilometers above the surface.

“In this altitude region, the craft begins to fly almost horizontally over the Martian surface, which buys more time to slow itself down to a reasonable speed before the parachute deployment,” Barnes said. “That’s where the automatic control adjustments based on the expected temperatures – actually the speed of sound – and the winds and densities become the most critical.” 

The craft will land just south of the Martian equator – the first time a spacecraft has landed in the planet’s southern hemisphere. It is mid-winter in the south, approaching the spring equinox and conditions are relatively mild. Predictions for the week of the landing include minimum temperatures of minus-110 degrees Fahrenheit, maximum temperatures of a balmy minus-10 degrees, and winds of about 10 miles an hour very near to the surface – though atmospheric winds will be stronger at higher altitudes. The biggest atmospheric threat to the landing is dust storm activity.

“If there are orbiter observations of a dust storm forming that could cause large changes in the dustiness of the atmosphere near Gale Crater, then there will be discussions about making last minute modifications to the onboard programming,” Tyler said. “But I think that this is unlikely. There is a good deal of confidence now that the spacecraft system is very capable of dealing with the natural variability and will be able to land safely with great accuracy.” 

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Jeff Barnes, 541-737-5685

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Mars Science Laboratory

Mars Science Laboratory