OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Study finds tropical fish moving into temperate waters

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Tropical herbivorous fish are beginning to expand their range into temperate waters – likely as a result of climate change – and a new international study documents the dramatic impact of the intrusion in the Mediterranean Sea.

Temperate waters are typically dominated by algal “forests” and have naturally low levels and limited diversity of herbivores, the researchers say. But as tropical fish move into these waters, they are consuming much of the plant life and changing the habitat as well as the manner in which different species interact.

Results of the study, which was funded primarily by the Pew Foundation, have just been published in the Journal of Ecology. It builds on a previous study documenting the move of tropical fish species into temperate waters that recently was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“The introduction of tropical fish into more temperate regions is troubling and this new study gives a vivid example of what can happen when non-native species occupy a new ecosystem,” said Fiona Tomas Nash, a courtesy professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University and a co-author on both studies.

“We now know that the arrival of tropical fish into temperate areas is occurring on an increasing basis around the world,” she added. “This is the first attempt to characterize what impacts these fish are having – and the mechanisms driving these impacts.”

In this latest study, an international research team surveyed roughly 1,000 kilometers of coastline in the eastern Mediterranean to study two species of tropical fish called rabbitfish. They were introduced to the region through the Suez Canal and now have become a dominant component of the total fish biomass in the southernmost part of the eastern Mediterranean.

This part of the Mediterranean has two distinct areas – one with warmer regions that attract abundant numbers of rabbitfish, and colder regions where they are very rare or completely absent. Where abundant, their damage has been striking: a 65 percent reduction in canopy algae, a 60 percent reduction in overall benthic biomass (algae and invertebrates) and a 40 percent decrease in the total number of plant and animal species.

“The fear is that if the colder regions warm just a bit through climate change or some other mechanism, rabbitfish will begin moving into those areas as well,” Tomas Nash said.

To learn more about how the rabbitfish changed the ecosystem, the researchers videotaped fish feeding in the Mediterranean off Turkey in two areas – one dominated by tropical rabbitfish and the other dominated by native temperate fish. They were surprised by what they found. Native temperate herbivorous fish actually had higher consumption rates than the tropical rabbitfish. “We did not expect to see that,” Tomas Nash said.

But while native fish targeted only adult macroalgae, the two species of rabbitfish fed complementarily – one targeted the mature kelps while the other fed almost exclusively on emerging algal “recruits,” or juvenile plants.

“The result is that one species denudes the forest and the other prevents it from recovering,” said Tomas Nash, who also has a faculty appointment with the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Spain.

A study off Japan by collaborators found that the introduction of tropical species there, including rabbitfish and parrotfish, resulted in the loss of kelp forests and the emergence of non-native corals in as little as 20 years.

In the first paper, the researchers outlined how tropical herbivorous fish primarily along west boundary currents are moving into temperate zones, including South Africa, Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, Australia and Japan, as well as the Mediterranean. Other areas, including the Pacific Northwest of the United States, have not seen sustained spread of tropical species likely due to prevailing currents and because surface waters are too cold due to seasonal upwelling.

The researchers found algal forests in the waters off Greece had not been severely affected because only the rabbitfish that feeds on adult algae is present and in relatively low densities. They have just begun studies of rabbitfish and chub arrivals in Australia.

“The greatest damage that we documented was off Turkey, which may be serving as the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” Tomas Nash said. “The barrenness of the underwater habitat is unique and quite striking – it is spread over hundreds of kilometers.”

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Fiona Tomas Nash, 541-737-4531; fiona.tomasnash@oregonstate.edu

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Effects of non-native fish

New study finds “saturation state” directly harmful to bivalve larvae

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The mortality of larval Pacific oysters in Northwest hatcheries has been linked to ocean acidification, yet the rate of increase in anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the decrease of pH in near-shore waters have been questioned as being severe enough to cause the die-offs.

However, a new study of Pacific oyster and Mediterranean mussel larvae found that the earliest larval stages are directly sensitive to saturation state, not carbon dioxide (CO2) or pH. Saturation state is a measure of how corrosive seawater is to the calcium carbonate shells made by bivalve larvae, and how easy it is for larvae to produce their shells.

It is important to note that increasing CO2 lowers saturation state, the researchers say, and saturation state is very sensitive to CO2; the challenge interpreting previous studies is that saturation state and pH typically vary together with increasing CO2. The scientists utilized unique chemical manipulations of seawater to identify the direct sensitivity of larval bivalves to saturation state.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, are being reported this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Bivalves have been around for a long time and have survived different geologic periods of high carbon dioxide levels in marine environments,” said George Waldbusser, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and biogeochemist and lead author on the study, “The difference is that in the past, alkalinity levels buffered increases in CO2, which kept the saturation state higher relative to pH.”

“The difference in the present ocean is that the processes that contribute buffering to the ocean cannot keep pace with the rate of anthropogenic CO2 increase,” added Waldbusser, who is in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “As long as the saturation state is high, the oysters and mussels we tested could tolerate CO2 concentrations almost 10 times what they are today.”

The idea that early bivalve development and growth is not as physiologically linked to CO2 or pH levels as previously thought initially seems positive. However, the reverse is actually true, Waldbusser noted. Larval oysters and mussels are so sensitive to the saturation state (which is lowered by increasing CO2) that the threshold for danger will be crossed “decades to centuries” ahead of when CO increases (and pH decreases) alone would pose a threat to these bivalve larvae.

“At the current rate of change, there is not much more room for the waters off the Oregon coast to absorb more CO2 without crossing the threshold we have identified with respect to saturation state,” he said. Results of the study help explain commercial hatchery failures and why improving water chemistry in those hatcheries has been successful.

What kept the system more balanced in the geologic past likely included a combination of factors, the researchers say. One factor in past increases of carbon dioxide was high levels of volcanic activity. However, greater volcanic activity also coincides with more tectonic plate activity and uplift, increasing the weathering of rock surfaces – and thus alkalinity in rivers, where it eventually flowed into the ocean to offset the CO2.

Computer models suggest that carbon dioxide is increasing through human activity some 100 to 1,000 times faster than the weathering processes that produce alkalinity can keep up, Waldbusser noted.

The Nature Climate Change study builds on previous research by Waldbusser and colleagues that outlined the mechanisms by which young bivalves create their shells after fertilization. In that study, the researchers found that young oysters and mussels had to build their shells within 48 hours to successfully begin feeding at a rate fast enough to survive, and that rate of shell-building would require a lot of energy. Thus in the presence of acidic water, they had to divert too much energy to shell-building and lacked the energy to swim and get food.

“The hatcheries call it the ‘lazy larvae syndrome’ because these tiny oysters just sink in the water and stop swimming,” Waldbusser said. “These organisms have really sensitive windows to ocean acidification – even more sensitive then we previously thought.”

In this latest study, the researchers used high-resolution images to analyze the development of oyster and mussel shells. They found that the organisms – which are about 1-100th the diameter of a human hair – actually build a complete calcium carbonate shell within six hours, about 12 hours after fertilization.

Throw off the ocean chemistry just a bit however, the researchers say, and a greater proportion of the shells do not develop normally. The ones that do are smaller, leading to potentially weaker organisms that will take longer to get to a size where they can settle into adult life.

“When the water is more saturated and has greater alkalinity it helps offset higher levels of carbon dioxide, ensuring that shell formation can proceed – and also making the shells bigger,” Waldbusser said. “This can have a significant impact on their survivability into the future.”

Shellfish hatcheries are altering their water chemistry based on the OSU research to create more favorable saturation state conditions for young bivalves; however this only helps organisms that can be cultured easily and increasing alkalinity in natural environments is a formidable challenge because of the amount required.

Other Oregon State researchers on the Nature Climate Change study included Burke Hales, Chris Langdon, Brian Haley, Paul Schrader, Elizabeth Brunner, Matthew Gray, Cale Miller and Iria Gimenez.

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George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964; waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu

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“Big Data” challenge seeks techie solution to science problem

NEWPORT, Ore. – Hatfield Marine Science Center researchers studying the marine food web have literally tens of millions of photographic images of small marine organisms called “plankton” to identify – a task that would take two lifetimes to finish manually.

Their hope is that the data science community can develop a computer algorithm that can do it automatically.

This week, Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and technology consultant firm, and Kaggle, the leading online data science competition community, announced the launch of the inaugural National Data Science Bowl to seek a solution to this “big data” challenge.

They are offering prize money totaling $175,000 to the creators of the top three algorithms – the largest such purse designated for a Kaggle competition benefitting social good. More information on the National Data Science Bowl is available at: http://www.datasciencebowl.com/

The 90-day competition will not only provide the data science community a chance to flex its creativity and brain power, it hopefully will solve a challenge facing marine science researchers who need to process massive amounts of data in hours, not decades. The winning algorithms will be donated to Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., for use by the scientific community.

“The National Data Science Bowl was born from the realization that, in order for the data science community to grow and thrive, it must be given opportunities to use its talents to benefit both business and society,” said Josh Sullivan, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategic Innovation Group. “We are extremely honored to partner with leaders such as Kaggle and the Hatfield Marine Science Center for this initiative.”

Robert Cowen, director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, admits the task is daunting. In the summer of 2014, center researchers embarked on an 18-day expedition funded by the National Science Foundation to study interactions between larval fishes, their planktonic prey, and their predators in the Straits of Florida. With their specially designed imaging system, the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), they collected 32 terabytes of images of plankton, fish and jellyfish.

That is an amount of data equivalent to 9 million MP3 songs, or enough music to listen to nonstop for 52 years.

Plankton are the fundamental biological building blocks of ocean ecosystems, yet scientists don’t know as much about them as they would like, including their diversity, interactions with other marine organisms, what triggers their blooms, and how they respond to climate change.

Advancing scientific knowledge about these tiny organisms begins with identifying and cataloguing them, Cowen pointed out.

“Many economically important animals – including fishes, crabs and other shellfish – are part of the plankton in their early life stages,” he said. “Much of what we study relates to understanding the relationship between larval fishes and their planktonic prey and predators.”

Ultimately, what scientists are interested in “is what drives variation in year-to-year population abundances of key fish species,” said Su Sponaugle, co-principle investigator on the project and a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at OSU.

Jessica Luo, a doctoral student from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences working with Cowen and Sponaugle at the Hatfield Center, said what the researchers need from the data science community is akin to “facial recognition” software for planktonic species.

“At a minimum, we’re aiming for an automatic classification system that can identify organisms to the class or order level, in general groups like fish or shrimps,” she said. “But with distinctly shaped or transparent organisms, we think it might be possible to get down to the genus or even species level. It will be difficult, because plankton are of all different sizes, shapes and orientations, and are moving in all different directions.”

Kelly Robinson, a post-doctoral researcher at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, said scientists would benefit greatly from an automated system that could provide near real-time data of plankton abundance and diversity while aboard ships.

“From a resource management perspective, it is less effective to analyze plankton abundance and diversity from four years earlier if the resource that depends on plankton responds rapidly to environmental change,” she said. “The current process of manually identifying organisms is time-consuming and laborious.  The ocean is changing rapidly and there is an urgency to learn as much as we can about plankton interrelationships to help ensure the health of our marine environments.”

For the competition, participants will be given access to nearly 100,000 underwater images and tasked with developing an algorithm that will identify and monitor them at a scale never before attempted. If successful, it will open up new doors to researchers and vastly improve the ability of resource managers to apply science to decision-making.

“The algorithms resulting from this competition will be applied to millions of images taken in a variety of marine environments, allowing cross-comparison and analysis at an unprecedented scale,” Cowen said.

Media Contact: 
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Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211; Robert.Cowen@oregonstate.edu;

Jessica Luo, 650-387-5700; Jessica.luo@rsmas@miami.edu;

Kelly Robinson, 253-232-3899, Kelly.robinson@oregonstate.edu

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No laughing matter: Nitrous oxide rose at end of last ice age

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas that doesn’t receive as much notoriety as carbon dioxide or methane, but a new study confirms that atmospheric levels of N2O rose significantly as the Earth came out of the last ice age and addresses the cause.

An international team of scientists analyzed air extracted from bubbles enclosed in ancient polar ice from Taylor Glacier in Antarctica, allowing for the reconstruction of the past atmospheric composition. The analysis documented a 30 percent increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide concentrations from 16,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago. This rise in N2O was caused by changes in environmental conditions in the ocean and on land, scientists say, and contributed to the warming at the end of the ice age and the melting of large ice sheets that then existed.

The findings add an important new element to studies of how Earth may respond to a warming climate in the future. Results of the study, which was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation, are being published this week in the journal Nature.

“We found that marine and terrestrial sources contributed about equally to the overall increase of nitrous oxide concentrations and generally evolved in parallel at the end of the last ice age,” said lead author Adrian Schilt, who did much of the work as a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University. Schilt then continued to work on the study at the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

“The end of the last ice age represents a partial analog to modern warming and allows us to study the response of natural nitrous oxide emissions to changing environmental conditions,” Schilt added. “This will allow us to better understand what might happen in the future.”

Nitrous oxide is perhaps best known as laughing gas, but it is also produced by microbes on land and in the ocean in processes that occur naturally, but can be enhanced by human activity. Marine nitrous oxide production is linked closely to low oxygen conditions in the upper ocean and global warming is predicted to intensify the low-oxygen zones in many of the world’s ocean basins. N2O also destroys ozone in the stratosphere.

“Warming makes terrestrial microbes produce more nitrous oxide,” noted co-author Edward Brook, an Oregon State paleoclimatologist whose research team included Schilt. “Greenhouse gases go up and down over time, and we’d like to know more about why that happens and how it affects climate.”

Nitrous oxide is among the most difficult greenhouse gases to study in attempting to reconstruct the Earth’s climate history through ice core analysis. The specific technique that the Oregon State research team used requires large samples of pristine ice that date back to the desired time of study – in this case, between about 16,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The unusual way in which Taylor Glacier is configured allowed the scientists to extract ice samples from the surface of the glacier instead of drilling deep in the polar ice cap because older ice is transported upward near the glacier margins, said Brook, a professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

The scientists were able to discern the contributions of marine and terrestrial nitrous oxide through analysis of isotopic ratios, which fingerprint the different sources of N2O in the atmosphere.

“The scientific community knew roughly what the N2O  concentration trends were prior to this study,” Brook said, “but these findings confirm that and provide more exact details about changes in sources. As nitrous oxide in the atmosphere continues to increase – along with carbon dioxide and methane – we now will be able to more accurately assess where those contributions are coming from and the rate of the increase.”

Atmospheric N2O was roughly 200 parts per billion at the peak of the ice age about 20,000 years ago then rose to 260 ppb by 10,000 years ago. As of 2014, atmospheric N2Owas measured at about 327 ppb, an increase attributed primarily to agricultural influences.

Although the N2O increase at the end of the last ice age was almost equally attributable to marine and terrestrial sources, the scientists say, there were some differences.

“Our data showed that terrestrial emissions changed faster than marine emissions, which was highlighted by a fast increase of emissions on land that preceded the increase in marine emissions,” Schilt pointed out. “It appears to be a direct response to a rapid temperature change between 15,000 and 14,000 years ago.”

That finding underscores the complexity of analyzing how Earth responds to changing conditions that have to account for marine and terrestrial influences; natural variability; the influence of different greenhouse gases; and a host of other factors, Brook said.

“Natural sources of N2O are predicted to increase in the future and this study will help up test predictions on how the Earth will respond,” Brook said.

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Adrian Schilt, schilta@science.oregonstate.edu;

Ed Brook, 541-737-8197, brooke@geo.oregonstate.edu

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Photo at left: Taylor Glacier in Antarctica

Science study links greenhouse gases to African rainfall

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists may have solved a long-standing enigma known as the African Humid Period – an intense increase in cumulative rainfall in parts of Africa that began after a long dry spell following the end of the last ice age and lasting nearly 10,000 years.

In a new study published this week in Science, an international research team linked the increase in rainfall in two regions of Africa thousands of years ago to an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The findings are critical, researchers say, because they provide new evidence that increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could have a significant impact on the future climate of Africa.

“This study is important not only because it explains a long-standing puzzle, but it helps to validate model predictions of how rising greenhouse gas concentrations might change rainfall patterns in a highly populated and vulnerable part of the world,” said Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and co-author on the study.

The study was led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). It used computer simulations and analysis of geologic records of past climate.

The researchers focused on the era following the last ice age. When ice sheets covering North America and northern Europe began retreating after the last glacial maximum some 21,000 years ago, there was a long dry spell in central Africa that lasted until about 14,700 years ago, when rainfall increased abruptly. Scientists have long been puzzled by the regime shift, which turned deserts into grasslands and earned the African Humid Period moniker.

Rainfall actually increased in two separate regions of Africa – one north of the equator, the other south. Some previous studies had suggested that the shift may have been triggered by changes in the Earth’s orbit, but lead author Bette Otto-Bliesner said orbital patterns alone could not explain increased rainfall of that extent in both regions.

As the Earth emerged from the ice age, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and methane increased significantly – almost to pre-industrial levels – by 11,000 years ago. As the planet continued warming, ice sheets melted and the influx of fresh water from North America and northern Europe began weakening the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which brings warm water up from the tropics and keeps Europe temperate.

This weakening of the Atlantic ocean current simultaneously moved precipitation southward toward the southernmost part of Africa, and suppressed rainfall in east Africa and northern equatorial Africa during the long dry spell, the researchers say.

When the ice sheets stopped melting, the circulation strengthened and brought precipitation back to the north. This change, coupled with the orbital shift and warming of both the atmosphere and oceans by greenhouse gases, triggered the African Humid Period.

“This study provides yet another demonstration of the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate to small changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases,” said Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

The science team recreated records of past moisture conditions by examining fossils, former lake levels and other geologic data, and simulated past climate with a power climate model developed by NCAR.

”The future impact of greenhouse gases on rainfall in Africa is a critical socioeconomic issue,” Otto-Bliesner said. “Africa’s climate seems destined to change, with far-reaching implications for water resources and agriculture in ways that may generate new conflicts.”

The study focused on the Sahel region of Africa to the north, including Niger, Chad and northern Nigeria; and the southeastern equatorial region of Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Kenya.

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Peter Clark, 541-737-1247; clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu

PNAS Commentary: Study sheds new light on sea level rise at last ice age

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculated global sea level changes over the past 35,000 years, concluding that in order to account for the amount of sea level lowering at the peak of the last ice age, much more ice would have had to have been tied up on land than previously thought.

The researchers further concluded that most of this “excess ice” – or an amount greater than today – was likely added to the present Antarctic ice sheets. Lead researcher Kurt Lambeck from Australian National University and colleagues estimated that during the last glacial maximum, these ice sheets had enough excess ice to increase global sea levels some 25 meters, much more than the 10-meter excess scientists previously estimated.

These new findings are critical to understanding the sources of sea level rise that is taking place today in response to a warming climate, according to Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist, who co-authored a commentary piece on the research in the latest edition of PNAS, which will be published this week.

“Essentially, this new study implies that the Antarctic ice sheets are losing less mass today than had previously been estimated through satellite measurements,” said Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “During the last ice age, the ice sheets were so large and heavy they pushed the entire land mass down and displaced the viscous mantle below.

“As the ice sheets began to retreat, the land mass beneath began to rise due to the area below being refilled by the mantle as it slowly flows back,” Clark added. “This process is continuing today and needs to be accounted for when estimating from satellites current mass loss from the Antarctic ice sheets. If the effect of this process is bigger than previously thought, then current mass loss is less than we thought.

“If this is the case, then at least some of the rising sea level today that is being attributed to loss of the Antarctic ice sheets must have some other source.”

The other main sources of sea level rise today are from the loss of the Greenland ice sheets, receding glaciers on a global basis, and the expansion of the ocean itself through warming.

Studies show that sea level today is rising globally at a rate of about 3.0 millimeters a year, and about 1/10th of that (0.3 mm) was thought to be from Antarctica.

“If this new study holds up, that means that the rate of contribution from Antarctica to today’s rise is less than 0.3 millimeters,” Clark said. “Learning the source of the increase will help us better understand how sea level rise may play out in the future.”

Prior to Lambeck’s study, the prevailing theory among many scientists was that Antarctic ice sheets contained enough ice to raise global sea levels about 70 meters if it had melted all at once some 21,000 years ago. These ice sheets today hold enough water to raise sea levels 60 meters – about 10 meters less than during the last glacial maximum.

But the study by Lambeck and colleagues, which was based on a comprehensive analysis of nearly 1,000 paleo-sea level markers, suggests instead that the Antarctic had enough mass during the last ice age to raise global sea levels some 85 meters if melted.

In contrast, the entire Greenland ice sheet today contains enough ice to raise global sea levels about seven meters, if melted at once.

Clark, who was a coordinating lead author on sea level rise for the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, cautioned that there may be other explanations for the “excess ice” thought to account for the lower sea levels during the last ice age. These might include a greater influence from the lateral viscosity of the Earth’s mantle fluid, the possibility of a large, grounded East Siberian ice sheet, and the influence of physical factors on organisms used as proxies to determine sea level rises.

Lev Tarasov of Memorial University of Newfoundland, co-authored the commentary with Clark.

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Peter Clark, 541-737-1247; clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu

Study: Could sleeper sharks be preying on protected Steller sea lions?

NEWPORT, Ore. – Pacific sleeper sharks, a large, slow-moving species thought of as primarily a scavenger or predator of fish, may be preying on something a bit larger – protected Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska.

A new study found the first indirect evidence that this cold-blooded shark that can grow to a length of more than 20 feet – longer than a great white shark – may be an opportunistic predator of juvenile Steller sea lions.

Results of the study have just been published in the journal Fishery Bulletin. The findings are important, scientists say, because of management implications for the protected Steller sea lions.

For the past decade, Markus Horning of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University has led a project in collaboration with Jo-Ann Mellish of the Alaska SeaLife Center to deploy specially designed “life history transmitters” into the abdomens of juvenile Steller sea lions. These buoyant archival tags record data on temperature, light and other properties during the sea lions’ lives and after the animals die the tags float to the surface or fall out ashore and transmit data to researchers via satellite.

From 2005-11, Horning and his colleagues implanted tags into 36 juvenile Steller sea lions and over a period of several years, 17 of the sea lions died. Fifteen transmitters sent data indicating the sea lions had been killed by predation.

“The tags sense light and air to which they are suddenly exposed, and record rapid temperature change,” said Horning, who is in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “That is an indication that the tag has been ripped out of the body, though we don’t know what the predator is that did this.

“At least three of the deaths were different,” he added. “They recorded abrupt temperature drops, but the tags were still dark and still surrounded by tissue. We surmise that the sea lions were consumed by a cold-blooded predator because the recorded temperatures aligned with the deep waters of the Gulf of Alaska and not the surface waters.

“We know the predator was not a killer whale, for example, because the temperatures would be much higher since they are warm-blooded animals.” Data collected from the transmitters recorded temperatures of 5-8 degrees Celsius.

That leaves a few other suspects, Horning said. However, two known predators of sea lions – great white sharks and salmon sharks – have counter-current heat exchanges in their bodies that make them partially warm-blooded and the tags would have reflected higher temperatures.

By process of elimination, Horning suspects sleeper sharks.

The Oregon State pinniped specialist acknowledges that the evidence for sleeper sharks is indirect and not definitive, thus he is planning to study them more closely beginning in 2015. The number of sleeper sharks killed in Alaska as bycatch ranges from 3,000 to 15,000 annually, indicating there are large numbers of the shark out there. The sleeper sharks caught up in the nets are usually comparatively small; larger sharks are big enough to tear the fishing gear and are rarely landed.

“If sleeper sharks are involved in predation, it creates something of a dilemma,” said Horning, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “In recent years, groundfish harvests in the Gulf of Alaska have been limited in some regions to reduce the potential competition for fish that would be preferred food for Steller sea lions.

“By limiting fishing, however, you may be reducing the bycatch that helps keep a possible limit on a potential predator of the sea lions,” he added. “The implication could be profound, and the net effect of such management actions could be the opposite of what was intended.”

Other studies have found remains of Steller sea lions and other marine mammals in the stomachs of sleeper sharks, but those could have been the result of scavenging instead of predation, Horning pointed out.

The western distinct population of Steller sea lions has declined to about 20 percent of the levels they were at prior to 1975.

Media Contact: 
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Markus Horning, 541-867-0270, markus.horning@oregonstate.edu

Study finds air temperature models poor at predicting stream temps

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Stream temperatures are expected to rise in the future as a result of climate change, but a new study has found that the correlation between air temperature and stream temperature is surprisingly tenuous.

The findings cast doubt on many statistical models using air temperatures to predict future stream temperatures.

Lead author Ivan Arismendi, a stream ecologist at Oregon State University, examined historic stream temperature data over a period of one to four decades from 25 sites in the western United States to see if increases in air temperature during this period could have predicted – through the use of statistical models – the observed stream temperatures.

He discovered that many streams were cooler than the models predicted, while others were warmer. The difference in temperature between the models and actual measurements, however, was staggering – as much as 12 degrees Celsius different in some rivers.

Results of the study have recently been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study involved scientists from Oregon State, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, and was supported by all three organizations, as well as by the National Science Foundation.

“These air-stream temperature models originated as a tool for looking at short-term relationships,” said Arismendi, a researcher in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “The problem is that people are starting to use them for long-term extrapolation. It is unreliable to apply uniform temperature impacts on a regional scale because there are so many micro-climate factors influencing streams on a local basis.”

Sherri Johnson, a U.S. Forest Service research ecologist and co-author on the study, said the findings are important because decisions based on these models may not be accurate. Some states, for example, have projected a major loss of suitable habitat for trout and other species because the models suggest increases in stream temperature commensurate with projected increases in air temperature.

“It just isn’t that simple,” Arismendi said. “Stream temperatures are influenced by riparian shading and in-stream habitat, like side channels. Dams can have an enormous influence, as can groundwater. It is a messy, complex challenge to project stream temperatures into the future.”

What made this study work, the authors say, was evaluating more than two dozen sites that had historic stream temperature data, which can be hard to find. The development about a dozen years ago of data loggers that can be deployed in streams is contributing enormous amounts of new data, but accurate historic records of stream temperatures are sparse.

Researchers at USGS and at sites like the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon, part of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research program, have compiled stream data for up to 44 years, giving Arismendi and his colleagues enough historical data to conduct the comparative study.

In many of the 25 sites examined in the study, the researchers found that the difference between model-projected stream temperatures and actual stream temperatures was as great as the actual amount of warming projected – 3.0 degrees Celsius, or 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit. And in some cases, the projections were even farther off target.

“The models predictions were poor in summer and winter, and when there are extreme situations,” Arismendi noted. “They were developed to look at Midwest streams and don’t account for the complexity of western streams that are influenced by topography, extensive riparian areas and other factors.”

Increases in air temperatures in the future are still likely to influence stream temperatures, but climate sensitivity of streams “is more complex than what is being realized by using air temperature-based models,” said Mohammad Safeeq, an Oregon State University researcher and co-author on the study.

“The good news is that some of the draconian projections of future stream temperatures may be overstated,” noted Safeeq, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “On the other hand, some may actually be warmer than what air temperature-based models project.”

Not all streams will be affected equally, Johnson said.

“The one constant is that a healthy watershed will be more resilient to climate change than one that isn’t healthy – and that should continue to be the focus of restoration and management efforts,” she noted.

Jason Dunham, an aquatic ecologist with the USGS and co-author on the study, said the study highlights the value of long-term stream temperature records in the Northwest and globally.

“Without a long-term commitment to collecting this kind of data, we won’t have the ability to evaluate existing models as we did in this work,” Dunham said. “Long-term datasets provide vital material for developing better methods for quantifying the effects of climate on our water resources.”

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Ivan Arismendi, 541-750-7443;

Sherri Johnson, 541-758-7771

Concern grows over pet pills and products, as well as those of owners

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have long been aware of the potential environment impacts that stem from the use and disposal of the array of products people use to keep themselves healthy, clean and smelling nice.

Now a new concern is emerging – improper disposal of pet care products and pills.

Dog shampoos, heartworm medicine, flea and tick sprays, and a plethora of prescription and over-the-counter medicines increasingly are finding their way into landfills and waterways, where they can threaten the health of local watersheds. An estimated 68 percent of American households have at least one pet, illustrating the potential scope of the problem.

How bad is that problem? No one really knows, according to Sam Chan, a watershed health expert with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State University.

But Chan and his colleagues aim to find out. They are launching a national survey (online at: http://tinyurl.com/PetWellbeingandEnvironment)  of both pet owners and veterinary care professionals to determine how aware that educated pet owners are of the issue, what is being communicated, and how they dispose of  “pharmaceutical and personal care products” (PPCPs) for both themselves and their pets. Pet owners are encouraged to participate in the survey.

“You can count on one hand the number of studies that have been done on what people actively do with the disposal of these products,” Chan said. “PPCPs are used by almost everyone and most wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely deactivate many of the compounds they include.”

Increasingly, Chan said, a suite of PPCPs used by pets and people are being detected at low levels in surface water and groundwater. Examples include anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogens, the insect repellent DEET, and ultraviolet (UV) sunblock compounds.

Some of the impacts from exposure to these products are becoming apparent. Fish exposed to levels of antidepressants at concentrations lower than sewage effluence, for example, have been shown to become more active and bold – making them more susceptible to predation, noted Chan, an OSU Extension Sea Grant specialist.

“Triclosan is another concern; it is a common anti-microbial ingredient in soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothing, cookware, furniture and toys to prevent or reduce bacterial contamination for humans and pets,” Chan said. “It is being linked to antibiotic resistance in riparian zones, as well as to alterations in mammal hormone regulation – endocrine disruptor – and impacts on immune systems.”

Another common endocrine disruptor, the researchers say, is coal tar, a common ingredient in dandruff shampoo for humans, and pet medicines for skin treatment.

Jennifer Lam conducted a preliminary survey of veterinary practitioners as part of her master’s thesis at Oregon State University and found awareness by veterinary professionals of the environmental issues caused by improper disposal of PPCPs was high. Yet many did not share that information with their clients.

In fact, veterinarians only discussed best practices for disposal with their clients 18 percent of the time, her survey found.

“The awareness is there, but so are barriers,” Lam said. “Communicating about these issues in addition to care instructions takes time. There may be a lack of educational resources – or a lack of awareness on their availability. And some may not think of it during the consultation process.”

The National Sea Grant program recently partnered with the American Veterinary Medicine Association to promote the reduction of improper PPCP disposal. The national survey is a first step in that process.

“Most people tend to throw extra pills or personal care products into the garbage and in fewer instances, flush them down the drain,” Chan said. “It seems like the right thing to do, but is not the most environmentally friendly method for disposing unused or expired PPCPs. Waste in landfills produce leachates and these contaminates may not be fully deactivated by current wastewater treatments. They can get into groundwater and streams, where they can cause a variety of environmental problems and create a health risk as well.”

When disposing of expired or unneeded medications, the researchers say, don’t flush them. Instead, take to them to a drug take-back event or depository. New rules to be implemented by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) later this fall will make drug take-back options more available.

Chan and Lam suggest that in areas where take-back options are not available, people should mix unused or unwanted drugs with coffee grounds or kitty litter – something that will be unpalatable to pets. Then put the mixture in a sealed container and deposit it in the trash.

Results from the national survey led by Oregon Sea Grant will provide much-needed information to guide education, watershed monitoring and improvements on ways to reduce PPCP contamination and their environmental impacts.

The survey will continue until Nov. 1.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Sam Chan, 503-679-4828, sam.chan@oregonstate.edu;

Jennifer Lam, lamj@onid.oregonstate.edu

OSU part of major grant to study Southern Ocean carbon cycle

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new six-year, $21 million initiative funded by the National Science Foundation will explore the role of carbon and heat exchanges in the vast Southern Ocean – and their potential impacts on climate change.

The Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling program will be headquartered at Princeton University, and include researchers at several institutions, including Oregon State University. It is funded by NSF’s Division of Polar Programs, with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

The Southern Ocean acts as a carbon “sink” by absorbing as much as half of the human-derived carbon in the atmosphere and much of the planet’s excess heat. Yet little is known of this huge body of water that accounts for 30 percent of the world’s ocean area.

Under this new program known by the acronym SOCCOM, Princeton and 10 partner institutions will create a physical and biogeochemical portrait of the ocean using hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica. The floats, which will be deployed over the next five years, will collect seawater profiles using sophisticated sensors to measure pH, oxygen and nitrate levels, temperature and salinity – from the ocean surface to a depth of 1,000 meters, according to Laurie Juranek, an Oregon State University oceanographer and project scientist.

“This will be the first combined large-scale observational and modeling program of the entire Southern Ocean,” said Juranek, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “It is a very important region, but difficult to access – hence the use of robotic floats to collect data. However, not everything that we need to know can be measured by sensors, so we’ll need to get creative.”

Juranek's role in this project is to develop relationships between the measured variables and those that can't be measured directly by a sensor but are needed for understanding Southern Ocean carbon dioxide exchanges. These relationships can be applied to the float data as well as to high-resolution models. To do this work she is partnering with colleagues at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

In addition to its role in absorbing carbon and heat, the Southern Ocean delivers nutrients to lower-latitude surface waters that are critical to ocean ecosystems around the world, said program director Jorge Sarmiento, Princeton's George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering and director of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. And as levels of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere, models suggest that the impacts of ocean acidification are projected to be most severe in the Southern Ocean, he added.

"The scarcity of observations in the Southern Ocean and inadequacy of earlier models, combined with its importance to the Earth's carbon and climate systems, means there is tremendous potential for groundbreaking research in this region," Sarmiento said.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Laurie Juranek, 541-737-2368; ljuranek@coas.oregonstate.edu