OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Research aims to protect eagles from wind turbines

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research from Oregon State University will aim to make eagles less likely to collide with wind-turbine blades.

The U.S. Department of Energy Wind Technology Office has awarded Roberto Albertani of the OSU College of Engineering a 27-month, $625,000 grant to develop technology for detecting and deterring approaching eagles and for determining if a blade strike has occurred.

A growing energy source in the U.S., wind power uses towers up to 300 feet tall typically equipped with three blades with wingspans double that of a Boeing 747. At their tips, the blades are moving close to 200 miles per hour.

Wind power is generally regarded as green energy, but danger to birds – particularly bald eagles and golden eagles – is a concern.

Albertani’s team will work on a three-part system for protecting the eagles. “We’re the only team in the world doing this kind of work,” said Albertani, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The team includes Sinisa Todorovic, associate professor of computer science, and Matthew Johnston, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

If successful, Albertani said, the system that he and his colleagues develop will be a major breakthrough in a safer-for-wildlife expansion of wind energy worldwide.

The system will feature a tower-mounted, computer-connected camera able to determine if an approaching bird is an eagle and whether it’s flying toward the blades. If both those answers are yes, the computer triggers a ground-level deterrent: randomly moving, brightly colored facsimiles of people, designed to play into eagles’ apparent aversion to humans.

“There’s no research available, but hopefully those will deter the eagles from coming closer to the turbines,” Albertani said. “We want the deterrent to be simple and affordable.”

At the root of each turbine blade will be a vibration sensor able to detect the kind of thump produced by a bird hitting a blade. Whenever such a thump is detected, recorded video data from a blade-mounted micro-camera can be examined to tell if the impact was caused by an eagle or something else.

“If we strike a generic bird, sad as that is, it’s not as critical as striking a protected golden eagle, which would cause the shutdown of a wind farm for a period of time, a fine to the operator, big losses in revenue, and most important the loss of a member of a protected species,” Albertani said.

Albertani’s team includes two collaborators from the U.S. Geological Survey, biological statistician Manuela Huso and wildlife biologist and eagle expert Todd Katzner. An external advisory board includes Siemens Wind Power and Avangrid Renewables.

Primary field testing will take place at the North American Wind Research and Training Center in Tucumcari, N.M., and the NREL National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colo. Field work will also be done in Oregon and California.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are roughly 143,000 bald eagles and 40,000 golden eagles in the United States.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Wind energy

Wind turbines

Engagement with natural environment a significant contributor to life satisfaction

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Looking to improve your overall life satisfaction? Try regularly hiking in a forest or otherwise engaging with the natural environment.

And then, for good measure, look for ways to build your trust in the scientists and policymakers involved in managing the forest where you like to hike.

New research at Oregon State University empirically demonstrates that a variety of mechanisms for engaging nature significantly contribute to a person’s overall well-being.

Chief among those, the study found, was whether people believed their surrounding environments were being managed well – for the earning of income and the underpinning of cultural practices as well as for the pursuit of recreation.

“Whether people feel like things are fair and they have a voice in process of making decisions and whether governance is transparent – those are the foundations of why people even can interact with nature,” said lead author Kelly Biedenweg of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Biedenweg, an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and collaborators from Colorado State University and the University of Georgia analyzed results from more than 4,400 respondents to an online survey conducted in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.

The researchers used 13 different metrics to illustrate the relationship between overall life satisfaction and engaging with the natural environment. Among those metrics were community activities, access to wild resources, stress eased by time outdoors, and trust in policymakers.

“Eleven of the 13 had a positive correlation to overall life satisfaction,” said Biedenweg, a social scientist who studies both how humans benefit from the natural environment and the impact human actions have on it. “The links between ecological conditions, like drinking water and air quality, and objective well-being have been studied quite a bit, but the connection between various aspects of engaging the natural environment and overall subjective well-being have rarely been looked at.”

“We wanted to identify the relative importance of diverse, nature-oriented experiences on a person’s overall life satisfaction assessment and statistically prove the relationship between happiness/life satisfaction and engaging with nature in many different ways.”

The researchers quantified the relationship between well-being and six common mechanisms by which nature has effects on well-being: social and cultural events; trust in governance; access to local wild resources; sense of place; outdoor recreation; and psychological benefits from time outdoors.

“Controlling for demographics, all were significantly related to life satisfaction,” Biedenweg said. “The fact that trust in governance was a significant predictor of life satisfaction – in fact, the most statistically significant predictor of the ones we looked at – it was nice to see that come out of the research. The way we manage is the gateway to people being able to get livelihoods and satisfaction from nature.”

Findings were recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. The National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency supported this research.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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70

Surf fisherman

New video shows how blue whales employ strategy before feeding

NEWPORT, Ore. – Blue whales didn’t become the largest animals ever to live on Earth by being dainty eaters and new video captured by scientists at Oregon State University shows just how they pick and choose their meals.

There is a reason for their discretion, researchers say. The whales are so massive – sometimes growing to the length of three school buses – that they must carefully balance the energy gained through their food intake with the energetic costs of feeding.

“Modeling studies of blue whales ‘lunge-feeding’ theorize that they will not put energy into feeding on low-reward prey patches,” said Leigh Torres, a principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, who led the expedition studying the blue whales. “Our footage shows this theory in action. We can see the whale making choices, which is really extraordinary because aerial observations of blue whales feeding on krill are rare.”

“The whale bypasses certain krill patches – presumably because the nutritional payoff isn’t sufficient – and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative. We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intensive, that they try to maximize their effort.”

The video, captured in the Southern Ocean off New Zealand, shows a blue whale cruising toward a large mass of krill – roughly the size of the whale itself. The animal then turns on its side, orients toward the beginning of the krill swarm, and proceeds along its axis through the entire patch, devouring nearly the entire krill mass.

In another vignette, the same whale approaches a smaller mass of krill, which lies more perpendicular to its approach, and blasts through it without feeding.

“We had theorized that blue whales make choices like this and the video makes it clear that they do use such a strategy,” explained Torres, who works out of Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. “It certainly appears that the whale determined that amount of krill to be gained, and the effort it would take to consume the meal wasn’t worth the effort of slowing down.

“It would be like me driving a car and braking every 100 yards, then accelerating again. Whales need to be choosy about when to apply the brakes to feed on a patch of krill.”

The researchers analyzed the whale’s lunge-feeding and found that it approached the krill patch at about 6.7 miles per hour. The act of opening its enormous mouth to feed slowed the whale down to 1.1 mph – and getting that big body back up to cruising speed again requires a lot of energy.

The rare footage was possible through the use of small drones. The OSU team is trained to fly them over whales and was able to view blue whales from a unique perspective.

“It’s hard to get good footage from a ship,” Torres said, “and planes or helicopters can be invasive because of their noise. The drone allows us to get new angles on the whales without bothering them.”

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Leigh Torres, 541-867-0895, leigh.torres@oregonstate.edu

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Photo at left: Blue whale feeding on a krill patch.

 

Launching Drone
Launching of the drone.

Even short-duration heat waves could lead to failure of coffee crops

CORVALLIS – “Hot coffee” is not a good thing for java enthusiasts when it refers to plants beset by the high-temperature stress that this century is likely to bring, research at Oregon State University suggests.

A study by OSU’s College of Forestry showed that when Coffea arabica plants were subjected to short-duration heat waves, they became unable to produce flowers and fruit.

That means no coffee beans, and no coffee to drink.

C. arabica is the globe’s dominant coffee-plant species, accounting for 65 percent of the commercial production of the nearly 20 billion pounds of coffee consumed globally each year.

Continually producing new flushes of leaves year-round, C. arabica grows on 80 countries in four continents in the tropics.

The OSU research investigated how leaf age and heat duration affected C. arabica’s recovery from heat stress during greenhouse testing. A major finding was that the younger, “expanding” leaves were particularly slow to recover compared to mature leaves, and that none of the plants that endured the simulated heat waves produced any flowers or fruit.

“This emphasizes how sensitive Coffea arabica is to temperature,” said lead author Danielle Marias, a plant physiologist with OSU’s Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. “No flowering means no reproduction which means no beans, and that could be devastating for a coffee farmer facing crop failure.

“Heat is very stressful to the plants and is often associated with drought. However, in regions where coffee is grown, it may not just be hotter and drier, it could be hotter and wetter, so in this research we wanted to isolate the effects of heat.”

In the OSU study, C. arabica plants were exposed to heat that produced leaf temperatures of a little over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, for either 45 or 90 minutes. That leaf temperature, Marias emphasizes, is a realistic result of global climate change and also more than the surrounding air temperature – think of how hot, for example, asphalt gets in the sunshine on a 90-degree day.

Expanding leaves subjected to the 90-minute treatment took the longest to recover physiologically as measured by photosynthesis; chlorophyll fluorescence, an indicator of photosynthetic energy conversion; and the presence of nonstructural carbohydrates, which include starch and free sugars involved in growth, reproduction and other functions.

“In both treatments, photosynthesis of expanding leaves recovered more slowly than in mature leaves, and stomatal conductance of expanding leaves was reduced in both heat treatments,” Marias said. “Based on the leaf energy balance model, the inhibited stomatal conductance reduces evaporative cooling of leaves, which could further increase leaf temperatures, exacerbating the aftereffects of heat stress under both full and partial sunlight conditions, where C. arabica is often grown.”

Regardless of leaf age, the longer heat treatment resulted in decreased water-use efficiency, which could also worsen the effects of heat stress, particularly during drought.

Results of the research were recently published in Ecology and Evolution. The National Science Foundation supported the study, co-authors of which were Frederick Meinzer of the U.S. Forest Service and Christopher Still of the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

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By Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Coffea arabica

Coffea arabica

OSU to expand sediment core collection to one of largest in the world

CORVALLIS, Ore. – One of the nation’s most important repositories of oceanic sediment cores, located at Oregon State University, will more than double in size later this year when the university assumes stewardship of a collection of sediment cores taken from the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

OSU has received a pair of grants from the National Science Foundation to assume the curatorial stewardship of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean National Collection of Rock and Sediment Cores, housed at Florida State University since the mid-1960s. Oregon State will house the expanded collection in a sophisticated new facility located just off-campus.

NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, whose logistical support and awards to researchers allowed many of the cores to be obtained.

The OSU Marine and Geology Repository will be available to scientists around the world to study the sediment cores, which provide evidence of the Earth’s climate over the past millions of years, oceanic conditions, the history of the magnetic field, plate tectonics, seismic and volcanic events, ice ages and interglacial periods, and even the origin of life.

“These cores are time capsules, allowing scientists today to compare the conditions on the Earth we live in with the way it was eons ago,” said Thom Wilch, Earth Sciences program manager at NSF. “This collection of cores and samples is an incredible resources that has yielded many important scientific findings about the past. Preservation and curation by OSU ensures that the cores are available for future research by the national and international scientific communities.”

Oregon State has operated a sediment core lab since the 1970s, but its origins were rather modest, according to Joseph Stoner, a geologist in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-director of the OSU Marine and Geology Repository. Lacking a storage facility, the first cores were kept in a cooler at a Chinese restaurant in Corvallis.

From those humble beginnings, the repository has grown into a treasure trove for scientists, storing thousands of cores – mostly from the Pacific Ocean, with a few from the Arctic, Bering Sea, and many terrestrial lakes. The collection also includes dry terrestrial cores and dredged rocks from submarine volcanoes and the ocean floor.

“The expanded collection will include some 35 kilometers, or about 22 miles, of sediment cores, more than doubling the size of our current repository at Oregon State,” Stoner said. “OSU already shares on average 5,000 subsamples of the cores with scientists each year – a number that will more than double with the expansion.”

When completed over the next two years, the expanded repository will give Oregon State the premier collection of sediment cores from the Pacific and Southern oceans. It is difficult to put a dollar value on the cores, OSU researchers say, though their worth can be calculated in a different way.

“If we had to replace the cores in our current OSU repository, it would cost roughly a half billion dollars just in ship time to go collect them,” Stoner said. “That doesn’t include the cost of the people involved. To replace the Antarctic collection would easily cost more than $1 billion, since the Southern Ocean is so remote, travel is difficult, and you can only work two or three months out of the year.”

The real worth, though, is the cores’ scientific value, noted Anthony Koppers, co-director of the OSU repository and also a faculty member in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The OSU collection includes cores that have sediments as old as 50 million years, and from as deep as a kilometer below the Earth’s surface.

The new Antarctic collection has the most complete set of cores from the Southern Ocean in the world and those cores provide an important look into the Earth’s climate history over the last few million years. The Southern Ocean collection also includes numerous cores gathered under the NSF-funded international Antarctic DRILLing Project (ANDRILL) program and provides clues to the history of the Antarctic Ice Sheet over the past 17 million years.

“This will bring a lot of researchers from around the world to Oregon State,” Koppers said. “The Antarctic research community is very active, very enthusiastic, and very diverse. With our new facility, we will have the capacity to work with researchers in numerous disciplines studying a variety of scientific questions.”

Oregon State will spend the next several months preparing the new facility, which will be unlike almost every other repository in the world. It will have a refrigerated industrial storage space of 18,000 square feet, the researchers note, providing plenty of room for the collection to grow over the next five decades.

The size of the facility likely will lead to other collections moving to Oregon State, Koppers predicted.

“Most core repositories are starving for space,” he said. “We anticipate hearing from them as word about the transfer and our new facility gets out.”

The new repository facility will occupy much of the former Nypro Building in Corvallis. In addition to the enormous refrigerated storage area, which has 28-foot-high ceilings for both cold and dry storage, it will include:

  • Up to 11 laboratory areas, including facilities for core splitters, imagery, microscopy, rock analysis, sediment analysis CT scanning and other scanning techniques;
  • Freezer storage for frozen ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica;
  • A laboratory where researchers can work on eight different cores at once while using digital imaging and data from the individual cores displayed on large-screen computer monitors;
  • A seminar room for 35 people, where cores can be brought in for classes and presentations;
  • Office space for resident scientists, staff, and visiting scientists.

Florida State University made the decision in 2015 not to compete for renewal as its Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science program was moving in a different academic direction. Koppers and Stoner submitted a bid for Oregon State to acquire the collection and were awarded two grants from NSF to transfer the Antarctic collection and to provide stewardship for it.

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Joseph Stoner, 541-737-9002, jstoner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Anthony Koppers, 541-737-5425, akoppers@coas.oregonstate.edu

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(Photo available at: https://flic.kr/p/QRcnho)

Fish and mercury: Detailed consumption advisories would better serve women across U.S.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Among women of childbearing age in the U.S., fish consumption has increased in recent years while blood mercury concentrations have decreased, suggesting improved health for women and their babies, a new study shows.

The research at Oregon State University also indicates fish consumption advisories tailored to specific regions and ethnic groups would help women of childbearing age to eat in even more healthy ways, including better monitoring of mercury intake.

Food from the ocean has a unique and valuable nutritional profile. Among seafood’s many benefits are the omega-3 fatty acids that promote neurodevelopment, and the nutrients in seafood are especially important for pregnant women to pass on to developing fetuses.

But the main way people are exposed to toxic methylmercury – a mercury atom with a methyl group, CH3, attached to it – is through eating seafood. Thus the need for precise, nuanced fish consumption advisories, said Leanne Cusack of Oregon State University, the corresponding author on the study. 

Comparatively less-toxic elemental mercury enters the ocean from natural sources such as volcanic eruptions and also from human activities like the burning of fossil fuels, which accounts for about two-thirds of the mercury that goes into the water.

Once in the ocean, the mercury is methylated, diffuses into phytoplankton and passes up the food chain, accumulating along the way.

A scallop or a shrimp, for example, can have a mercury concentration of less than 0.003 parts per million. A large predator like a tuna, on the other hand, can contain roughly 10 million times as much methylmercury as the water that surrounds it and have a concentration of many parts per million.

Exactly how the mercury in the ocean becomes methylated, scientists don’t know.

Fish advisories are usually aimed at women of childbearing age because a developing fetus has greater sensitivity to the neurotoxic effects of methylmercury. Jointly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration recommend women in that group eat two meals of low-mercury fish per week.

Using data from the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Cusack’s research group looked at fish consumption patterns with regard to blood mercury levels in U.S. women of childbearing age from 1999 to 2010.

Findings were recently published in the journal Environmental Health.

Women in the coastal regions, particularly the Northeast, were found to have the highest blood mercury concentrations; women living away from the sea, especially in the inland Midwest, had the lowest.

Coastal residents also ate fish the most frequently, with the species consumed varying by region. The type of fish most often consumed was shellfish in every part of the U.S. except for the inland West and inland Midwest.

As women’s age and household income increased, so did their fish consumption frequency and blood mercury concentrations. Among ethnic groups, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Alaska Natives and Native Americans ate fish the most often and showed the most mercury, and Mexican Americans consumed fish the least often and showed the smallest concentration of mercury.

“We also found total monthly fish consumption by women of reproductive age was higher than it had been in recent years, with women consuming more marine fish and shellfish but with no appreciable difference in the mean consumption of freshwater fish, tuna, swordfish and shark,” said Cusack, a postdoctoral scholar in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“That’s encouraging because marine and shellfish are associated with smaller increases in blood mercury. And also encouragingly, an average women who’d eaten fish nine or more times in the previous month had lower blood mercury levels than women who’d had fish at the same rate in 1999-2000.”

The differences in consumption and mercury levels by race and region illustrate the need for tailored fish advisories, she said.

“They need to have information about fish types and quantities you can safely eat,” Cusack said. “The more detailed they can be, the better.

“The main thing is we do need to increase fish consumption in this demographic,” Cusack added. “It has been increasing since 1999, but it’s still not at the level where we want to see it. People need to start consuming fish, and advisories need to focus on the benefits of consumption and not just the risks by providing a broad range of fish that are low in methylmercury and high in omega-3’s.” 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Leanne Cusack, 541-737-5565
Leanne.Cusack@oregonstate.edu

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filets

Salmon filets

More funding for long-term studies necessary for best science, environmental policy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Environmental scientists and policymakers value long-term research to an extent that far outstrips the amount of funding awarded for it, according to a study published today.

Graduate students and faculty members in the Oregon State University College of Science were part of a collaboration that evaluated the perceived benefits of long-term ecological and environmental studies – known as LTEES – to both researchers and those who determine environmental policy. 

The issue is particularly important because support for LTEES by agencies such as the National Science Foundation is declining even though such research is disproportionately valued in comparison to the one- to five-year studies the agencies tend to support.

The OSU group was among 36 researchers who collectively analyzed the perceived value of LTEES, which can run for multiple decades, in research published in BioScience. The evaluation noted the policymaking and scientific communities’ growing appreciation and demand for studies that last much longer than the ones typically being funded.

Specifically, the scientists found:

 

  • The greater a scientific journal’s impact factor – the frequency with which its articles are cited in other scholarly articles – the higher its percentage of articles dealing with long-term studies;
  • The longer a study lasts, the more an article about it is cited;
  • In the policy-informing ecological reports of the U.S. National Research Council, long-term environmental studies have representation that’s greater than their frequency in scientific journals;
  • The authors of those reports expressed more demand for LTEES than they did for short-term research.

 

“For a long time, ‘monitoring’ has been a word you never put in a grant proposal, simply because if you did your work was perceived as not being hypothesis-driven research,” said Mark Novak, assistant professor of integrative biology at Oregon State.

“But many environmental scientists have long known from personal experience that you can’t know the value of new events unless you’ve studied a system long enough. The relative investment in LTEES by ecologists and funders needs to be seriously reconsidered, because LTEES advance our understanding of ecology the most, and contribute disproportionately to informing policy.”

The collaboration also found that among the comparatively few long-term studies that do exist, most are limited to single species or pairs of species.

“It’s not that short-term research isn’t important,” said Bruce Menge, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State. “Both short- and long-term are really valuable. A shorter term can give you a more mechanistic understanding of long-term patterns. But the longer time series you have, the more power you have to understand changes.

“Ideally short- and long-term should go hand in hand,” Menge said. “We’re hoping to provide a prod to funding agencies, and give at least those in an agency who do appreciate long-term research some ammunition for reconsidering the allocation of funds.”

Menge has been studying intertidal rocky zones at numerous sites on the Oregon coast for more than three decades, analyzing ecological processes and patterns of community structure. The intertidal community includes sea stars, whose population was nearly wiped out three years ago by an epidemic of sea star wasting disease.

“One of the consequences of the disease was a huge influx of baby sea stars after the peak of the wasting was over,” Menge said. “We wouldn’t have really known the significance of that if we hadn’t been keeping track of how abundant sea stars were over the last 20-some years. The influx would have been remarkable, but we’d have had no idea how remarkable it truly was.”

Species studied by another of Menge’s OSU colleagues, assistant professor Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, are rockfishes, important commercial fishes whose long lifespan is a challenge for researchers being funded for only a few years.

“Rockfish can live for more than 100 years,” she said. “Three years doesn’t do it for us. If we want environmental research that effectively informs policy, that means we need funding cycles – and funding agencies – to help build that long-term storehouse of science. That’s how we can meet the demand for policy-relevant data.”

Graduate students and faculty from the University of California, Santa Cruz, joined the Oregon State scientists in the collaboration.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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LTEES

Intertidal invertebrate research

Reducing pressure on predators, prey simultaneously is best for species’ recovery

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Reducing human pressure on exploited predators and prey at the same time is the best way to help their populations recover, a new study indicates.

The findings about synchronous recovery are important because historically about half the attempts at species restoration have amounted to a sequential, one-species-at-a-time tactic – usually the prey species first, then the predator.

This study suggests that a synchronous approach almost always produces a recovery that is more rapid and more direct – faster than predator-first recovery and less prone to volatile population fluctuations than prey-first recovery. Just as crucial, synchronous is also better for the humans who earn a living harvesting the two species.

Findings of the research were published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

“You might think the loss of income associated with reducing harvest on both species at the same time would be greater than reducing harvest on one species after another, but our work suggests that synchronous recovery is ultimately better for recovering the ecosystem, and better from an economic perspective as well,” said Mark Novak of the Oregon State University College of Science.

Because of overharvest, declines of multiple animal populations – including at least one species that consumes other harvested species – characterize many ecosystems, Novak notes.

Examples of paired population collapses wholly or partially attributable to trophy hunting, industrial fisheries or the fur trade are lions and wildebeest; Steller sea lions and Pacific herring; and mink and muskrat.

Novak, assistant professor of integrative biology, notes that in both terrestrial and marine resources management, population restoration and the setting of harvest quotas has long been a single-species endeavor.

Even in the more holistic ecosystem-based rebuilding of food webs – the interconnected chains of who eats whom – the dominant strategy has been to release pressure at the bottom, letting prey populations return to the point where they ought to sustain the top predators more readily, Novak said.

Collaborators at the National Marine Fisheries Center, including Shannon Hennessey, now a graduate student at OSU, led the study, which points out the limitations of both of these philosophies. It also highlights the room for improvement in policy tools that synchronous recovery management could fill.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Young Steller sea lion

Steller sea lions

Scientists: Warming temperatures could trigger starvation, extinctions in deep oceans by 2100

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers from 20 of the world’s leading oceanographic research centers today warned that the world’s largest habitat – the deep ocean floor – may face starvation and sweeping ecological change by the year 2100.

Warming ocean temperatures, increased acidification and the spread of low-oxygen zones will drastically alter the biodiversity of the deep ocean floor from 200 to 6,000 meters below the surface. The impact of these ecosystems to society is just becoming appreciated, yet these environments and their role in the functioning of the planet may be altered by these sweeping impacts. 

Results of the study, which was supported by the Foundation Total and other organizations, were published this week in the journal Elementa.

“Biodiversity in many of these areas is defined by the meager amount of food reaching the seafloor and over the next 80-plus years – in certain parts of the world – that amount of food will be cut in half,” said Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and co-author on the study. “We likely will see a shift in dominance to smaller organisms. Some species will thrive, some will migrate to other areas, and many will die. 

“Parts of the world will likely have more jellyfish and squid, for example, and fewer fish and cold water corals.”

The study used the projections from 31 earth system models developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to predict how the temperature, amount of oxygen, acidity (pH) and food supply to the deep-sea floor will change by the year 2100. The authors found these models predict that deep ocean temperatures in the “abyssal” seafloor (3,000 to 6,000 meters deep) will increase as much as 0.5 to 1.0 degrees (Celsius) in the North Atlantic, Southern and Arctic oceans by 2100 compared to what they are now. 

Temperatures in the “bathyal” depths (200 to 3,000 meters deep) will increase even more – parts of this deep-sea floor are predicted to see an increase of nearly 4 degrees (C) in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

“While four degrees doesn’t seem like much on land, that is a massive temperature change in these environments,” Thurber said. “It is the equivalent of having summer for the first time in thousands to millions of years.” 

The over-arching lack of food will be exacerbated by warming temperatures, Thurber pointed out.

“The increase in temperature will increase the metabolism of organisms that live at the ocean floor, meaning they will require more food at a time when less is available.” 

Most of the deep sea already experiences a severe lack of food, but it is about to become a famine, according to Andrew Sweetman, a researcher at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and lead author on the study.

“Abyssal ocean environments, which are over 3,000 meters deep, are some of the most food-deprived regions on the planet,” Sweetman said. “These habitats currently rely on less carbon per meter-squared each year than is present in a single sugar cube. Large areas of the abyss will have this tiny amount of food halved and for a habitat that covers half the Earth, the impacts of this will be enormous.” 

The impacts on the deep ocean are unlikely to remain there, the researchers say. Warming ocean temperatures are expected to increase stratification in some areas yet increase upwelling in others. This can change the amount of nutrients and oxygen in the water that is brought back to the surface from the deep sea. This low-oxygen water can affect coastal communities, including commercial fishing industries, which harvest groundfish from the deep sea globally and especially in areas like the Pacific Coast of North America, Thurber said.

“A decade ago, we even saw low-oxygen water come shallow enough to kill vast numbers of Dungeness crabs,” Thurber pointed out. “The die-off was massive.” 

Areas most likely to be affected by the decline in food are the North and South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, and North and South Indian oceans.

“The North Atlantic in particular will be affected by warmer temperatures, acidification, a lack of food and lower oxygen,” Thurber said. “Water in the region is soaking up the carbon from the atmosphere and then sending it on its path around the globe, so it likely will be the first to feel the brunt of the changes.” 

Thurber, who is a faculty member in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and the OSU College of Science, has previously published on the “services” or benefits provided by the deep ocean environments. The deep sea is important to many of the processes affecting the Earth’s climate, including acting as a “sink” for greenhouse gases and helping to offset growing amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

These habitats are not only threatened by warm temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide; they increasingly are being used by fishing and explored by mining industries for extraction of mineral resources. 

“If we look back in Earth’s history, we can see that small changes to the deep ocean caused massive shifts in biodiversity,” Thurber said. “These shifts were driven by those same impacts that our model predict are coming in the near future. We think of the deep ocean as incredibly stable and too vast to impact, but it doesn’t take much of a deviation to create a radically altered environment.

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Andrew Thurber, 541-737-4500, athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu; Andrew Sweetman, +44 (0) 131 451 3993, a.sweetman@hw.ac.uk

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Sea pig (Image Courtesy of Ocean Networks Canada)

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New hydronium-ion battery presents opportunity for more sustainable energy storage

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new type of battery developed by scientists at Oregon State University shows promise for sustainable, high-power energy storage.

It’s the world’s first battery to use only hydronium ions as the charge carrier.

The new battery provides an additional option for researchers, particularly in the area of stationary storage.

Stationary storage refers to batteries in a permanent location that store grid power – including power generated from alternative energy sources such as wind turbines or solar cells – for use on a standby or emergency basis.

Hydronium, also known as H3O+, is a positively charged ion produced when a proton is added to a water molecule. Researchers in the OSU College of Science have demonstrated that hydronium ions can be reversibly stored in an electrode material consisting of perylenetetracarboxylic dianhydridem, or PTCDA.

This material is an organic, crystalline, molecular solid. The battery, created in the Department of Chemistry at Oregon State, uses dilute sulfuric acid as the electrolyte.

Graduate student Xingfeng Wang was the first author on the study, which has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, a publication of the German Chemical Society.

“This may provide a paradigm-shifting opportunity for more sustainable batteries,” said Xiulei Ji, assistant professor of chemistry at OSU and the corresponding author on the research. “It doesn’t use lithium or sodium or potassium to carry the charge, and just uses acid as the electrolyte. There’s a huge natural abundance of acid so it’s highly renewable and sustainable.”

Ji points out that until now, cations – ions with a positive charge – that have been used in batteries have been alkali metal, alkaline earth metals or aluminum.

“No nonmetal cations were being considered seriously for batteries,” he said.

The study observed a big dilation of the PTCDA lattice structure during intercalation – the process of its receiving ions between the layers of its structure. That meant the electrode was being charged, and the PTCDA structure expanded, by hydronium ions, rather than extremely tiny protons, which are already used in some batteries.

“Organic solids are not typically contemplated as crystalline electrode materials, but many are very crystalline, arranged in a very ordered structure,” Ji said. “This PTCDA material has a lot of internal space between its molecule constituents so it provides an opportunity for storing big ions and good capacity.”

The hydronium ions also migrate through the electrode structure with comparatively low “friction,” which translates to high power.

“It’s not going to power electric cars,” Ji said. “But it does provide an opportunity for battery researchers to go in a new direction as they look for new alternatives for energy storage, particularly for stationary grid storage.”

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Simulated PTCDA unit cell