OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Oregon State University wildfire experts

MEDIA ADVISORY

The following Oregon State University faculty members have expertise related to wildfire issues and are willing to speak with journalists. Their specific expertise, and contact information, is listed below. For help with other OSU faculty experts, contact Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu.

Oregon State University wildfire experts

John Bailey, 541-737-1497, john.bailey@oregonstate.edu

Bailey studies the role of forest management in accomplishing landowner objectives, including fire resilience, habitat and restoration. His areas of expertise include:

  • Fuels management for fire risk reduction
  • Wildland fire ecology
  • Prescribed fire

Beverly Law, 541-737-6111, bev.law@oregonstate.edu

Law is a professor of global change biology & terrestrial systems science in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. Her research is on drought-related mortality in forests, and the interactive effects of fire, climate, and management on forest carbon and water processes at the ecosystem, state and regional scales. She can comment on:

  • The role of forests in climate change mitigation, including carbon sequestration
  • Carbon emissions from fires, thinning, and bioenergy
  • Drought tolerance of different species
  • Vulnerability of forests to mortality; resilience, and sustainability of forests in the future 

Meg Krawchuk, 541-737-1483, meg.krawchuk@oregonstate.edu

Krawchuk studies fire ecology and fire patterns using data from satellites, maps, management and field collections to understand drivers of where fires occur, the fingerprints they leave behind and the ecological outcomes of burning. She can discuss:

  • How and why historical and modern fire patterns vary across environmental gradients and in different geographies
  • Ecological and social wins and losses associated with fire
  • Fire as an ecosystem process, pros and cons of fire for conservation of biodiversity

Nicole Strong, 541-829-1270, nicole.strong@oregonstate.edu

As an assistant professor in the OSU Extension Service, Strong works with landowners, communities and agencies to manage natural resources, including fire-prone forests. She can discuss:

  • Steps homeowners can take to minimize fire risks on their properties
  • The impact of prescribed burning and thinning as strategies for reducing fire severity
  • Fire’s historic role in our dry forests, forest ecology and what is causing us to experience larger and hotter wildfires

Perry Hystad, 541-737-4829, perry.hystad@oregonstate.edu

Hystad is an environmental epidemiologist who studies the health effects associated with exposure to air pollution, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer. He’s currently leading a global study of cardiopulmonary health impacts from outdoor and household air pollution. His areas of expertise include:

  • Health impacts of air pollution from wildfire smoke
  • Differences between smoke and other types of pollution
  • Ways to lessen health impacts of wildfire smoke

Amy Jo Detweiler, 541-548-6088, amyjo.detweiler@oregonstate.edu

Detweiler is a faculty member in the OSU Extension Service and a co-author of a publication, “Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes.” She can discuss the following topics:

  • Types of shrubs and trees that are less likely to burn
  • Maintenance tips for fire-resistant plantings
  • Fuel reduction around homes

Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927, kdello@coas.oregonstate.edu

Dello is the deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service and associate director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. She studies Pacific Northwest weather patterns and compiles reports for use by businesses and government agencies. She can comment on weather patterns as they influence fire risk, including:

  • Long-term trends in Pacific Northwest weather
  • The impact of landscape features (mountains, forests) on weather
  • Weather data collection by citizens

Lisa Ellsworth, 541-737-1959, lisa.ellsworth@oregonstate.edu

Oregon’s largest wildfires have occurred not in forests but in rangelands where wind-driven grass fires can spread with devastating speed. Lisa Ellsworth, assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, studies the long-term consequences of fire, invasive plants and other factors in forests and the sagebrush country of central and eastern Oregon. She can discuss:

  • How rangeland ecosystems respond to fire
  • The role of fire in creating the habitat and vegetation of western forests and rangelands
  • How invasive plants such as cheat grass and change the rangeland fire regime 

David Blunck, 541-737-7095, david.blunck@oregonstate.edu

Embers are wildfire’s emissaries. By understanding how embers form and travel through the air, scientists can more accurately predict how fire will spread. Blunck, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering is studying the process of ember formation in wind tunnel experiments. He can discuss:

  • How moisture and wood species affect the development of embers
  • How far embers can travel and set spot fires
  • The physics of ember transport

Jeff Hatten, 541-737-8720, jeff.hatten@oregonstate.edu 

Hatten, an associate professor of forest soils, studies the impact of prescribed and wild land fire on soils, soil organic matter, forest nutrition, and the erosion of soil carbon from burned watersheds. He can comment on:

  • Fire effects on soil nutrients, moisture and temperature
  • Role of fire in soil organic matter stabilization and destabilization 
  • Response of tree productivity to fire
  • Role of fire in eroding and transporting carbon from watershed

Kevin Bladon, 541-737-5482, bladonk@oregonstate.edu

Bladon, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Forestry, studies the impacts of wildfire and post-fire land management on forest hydrology, water quality and aquatic ecosystem health. His areas of expertise include:

  • Effects of fire on streamflow
  • Effects of fire on water quality, including stream temperature, sediment and nutrients
  • Wildfire threats to community drinking water supply

Daniel Leavell, 541-883-7131 x8504, daniel.leavell@oregonstate.edu

Leavell is a forest agent stationed in Klamath Falls who holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management at Oregon State University. He can address media questions related to these topics:

  • Fire science
  • Fire ecology
  • Fire management
  • Fire prevention

Rachel Houtman, 541-737-4294, rachel.houtman@oregonstate.edu

Houtman is a research assistant in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management at OSU studying the long-term implications of forest management actions and wildfire at the level of landscapes. She can comment on:

  • How actions today may shape our landscapes tomorrow, leading to resilient landscapes
  • The effect of fuel treatments and harvests on wildfire
  • Trade-offs between fire suppression costs and losses from fire
Media Contact: 

Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

Source: 

John Bailey, 541-737-1497, john.bailey@oregonstate.edu

Oregon State receives high “Cool School” ranking from Sierra Club

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Sierra Club has released its “Cool Schools” rankings based on the ‘greenness’ of participating universities, and Oregon State has the highest green ranking of any public college in the state (private college Lewis & Clark came in 5th). Oregon State is listed as 20th in the nation.

The Cool Schools ranking is open to all four-year undergraduate colleges and universities in the nation. The award honors more than 200 colleges that are helping to solve climate problems and making significant efforts to integrate sustainability into their teaching, research and engagement and to operate sustainably. Evaluations were based on survey information provided by the participating schools. The raw data for scoring came from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) STARS self-reporting tool, plus a supplemental question about fossil fuel investments.

Brandon Trelstad, sustainability officer for Oregon State, said that the university’s continued commitment to sustainability has led to a number of honors from national organizations over the years.

“We continue to prioritize our work to reduce our carbon footprint. Things like conserving energy and recycling and repurposing materials to keep them out of the landfill help support carbon emission reductions and offer numerous co-benefits,” Trelstad said. “I continue to consider myself lucky to do sustainability work at Oregon State and in the Pacific Northwest. Being green is part of OSU’s ethos, we consider ourselves good stewards of the planet and being a ‘Cool School’ highlights this work.”

The Sierra Club noted innovative research at OSU, calling out assistant professor Chad Higgins’ research into the impact on soil moisture from ground mounted solar panels, and the benefits of growing food there. Higgins’ preliminary findings indicated a co-benefit for the panels as well – cooler temperatures, which means more electricity production from the panels.

“Based on my casual summertime observations at our six-acre solar array,” Trelstad said, “it didn’t surprise me that the ground under panels might be good for some food crops. But I was elated to learn that growing crops could also increase solar production. This is the kind of synergy we look for in sustainability work; systems thinking and looking for co-benefits across those systems.”

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Brandon Trelstad, 541-737-3307; brandon.trelstad@oregonstate.edu

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solar

Solar panels at OSU

Size matters, and so do temperature and habitat, to scavengers and the carcasses they eat

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Size matters in the carrion world, and so do habitat and temperature.

New research has shed fresh light on the largely understudied area of vertebrate scavenging ecology, particularly how biotic factors – living organisms – and abiotic ones such as heat or cold influence communities of scavengers.

The findings are important because carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, is a key nutrient for vertebrates worldwide and comparatively little is known about how all of the interplay works.

“A common perception is most things are depredated and eaten quickly, but in actuality, carrion is a highly available resource that’s contributing significantly to the food web,” said Erin Abernethy, a Ph.D. student in integrative biology in Oregon State University’s College of Science and second author on the study.

“There’s been a lot of research on how much carrion invertebrates eat, and they do eat a lot, and how the size of a carcass can tell you how much goes to vertebrates or invertebrates,” Abernethy said. “But there hasn’t been much on who among the vertebrate scavengers – coyotes, vultures, hogs, foxes, etc. – is getting what and how much, and how carcass size and habitat affect all of that. The nutrients from carcasses are reaching higher levels of the food web, and that knowledge is now getting fleshed out more.”

Working at the Savannah River Site, a 78,000-hectare coastal plain in South Carolina managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers conducted scavenging trials across four habitat types: clearcut, mature hardwood forest, immature pine forest and mature pine forest.

They used carcasses of three different types and sizes – rat, rabbit and wild pig, representing small, medium and large. Scientists did trials both in a cool-weather time of year and in warm weather to measure changes in scavenger community dynamics as a result of seasonal differences in what microbes and invertebrates eat.

Hidden cameras captured “scavenging events” – an animal feeding on a carcass. Collectively, the photos – nearly 400,000 were analyzed – told a story of scavenger efficiency, scavenger species composition and carcass persistence as functions of carcass size, habitat type, and season.

“All of these photos, it’s kind of like spying on wildlife,” Abernethy said. “It’s a really nice way of communicating science, tickling people’s senses about a really integral part of the ecosystem.

“One of the most interesting aspects of this study was learning the sheer amount, the volume of carcasses, consumed by vertebrates.”

Animals with backbones partially or fully scavenged more than three-quarters of the carcasses, research showed.

“The results suggest vertebrate communities are efficient at locating varying sized carcasses, even in warmer months when invertebrate and microbial communities are most active, but not as efficiently as in cooler months when invertebrate and microbial activity isn’t as high,” Abernethy said. “We think carcass fate is ultimately determined by the scavenging community’s ability to find carrion as well as the availability of the carcass to vertebrate scavengers, both of which vary not only by season but also by habitat and carcass size.”

Abernethy said the study points out the importance of building multiple variables into carrion research.

“Not incorporating a range of carcass sizes, habitat types and air temperatures into scavenging studies can greatly diminish any potential derived insights into rates of carcass acquisition and community composition of scavengers,” she said.

The corresponding author is Kelsey Turner of the University of Georgia, and two other collaborators, Olin Rhodes Jr. and James Beasley, are from the University of Georgia as well. The research team also included L. Mike Conner of the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in Newton, Ga.

Abernethy works in the lab of David Lytle, professor of integrative biology at OSU.

The U.S. Department of Energy supported this research. Findings were recently published in Ecology.

Media Contact: 

Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Coyotes

Coyotes scavenging a pig carcass

OSU President: University remains committed to addressing climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray today reaffirmed the university’s unwavering commitment to address climate change.

Ray’s memo to faculty, staff and students was prompted by the Trump administration’s announcement last week that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

“I want to assure the Oregon State University community that we remain steadfast in our resolve to advance our institution’s commitments toward the global challenge of climate change,” Ray wrote. “We are resolute in our work to reduce the institution’s carbon footprint; to pursue world-class research that improves knowledge and informs strategic actions; and to empower our students and communities through education and capacity building.”

Ten years ago – in April, 2007 – Ray signed what was then known as the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, now known as the Carbon Commitment. It set Oregon State on an ambitious path to reduce and ultimately eliminate the university’s planet-altering institutional carbon emissions. During the last decade, OSU has reduced its annual per-student carbon emissions 38 percent.

The university has no intention to reduce or defer its commitment to climate action; instead it must continue to invest to decrease emissions further, Ray wrote.

As a sun grant university, OSU is an international leader in research efforts to develop renewable and low-carbon sources of energy including wave, wind, nuclear and solar energy systems. For example, in December, OSU’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center was awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to create the world’s premier wave energy test facility in Newport.

As the home of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, OSU also participates in a network of more than 150 researchers throughout the state, including partners in state and federal agencies, who are working to address many climate issues, including ocean acidification, rising sea levels and changes in water availability and quality.

Ray concluded his memo with these words: “Let me assure you that we are unwavering in our commitment to address climate change, one of the world’s most pressing issues. We will continue to be a strong partner and collaborate with other universities, cities, states, and key federal entities. With our collective and continued resolve in these efforts, I am confident that Oregon State will continue to be a leader in climate change research and sustainability to provide a healthy planet for all of us.”

To read Ray's full statement visit: http://bit.ly/2r3DN5T

Media Contact: 

Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

Source: 

Annie Heck, 541-737-0790, annie.heck@oregonstate.edu

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Edward J. Ray

OSU President Ed Ray

Study illuminates fate of marine carbon in last steps toward sequestration

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The ocean sequesters massive amounts of carbon in the form of “dissolved organic matter,” and new research explains how an ancient group of cells in the dark ocean wrings the last bit of energy from carbon molecules resistant to breakdown.

A look at genomes from SAR202 bacterioplankton found oxidative enzymes and other important families of enzymes that indicate SAR202 may facilitate the last stages of breakdown before the dissolved oxygen matter, or DOM, reaches a “refractory” state that fends off further decomposition.

Findings from the study by scientists at Oregon State University were recently published by the American Society for Microbiology. 

The ocean sequesters nearly as much carbon as exists in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) and the new research into deep-water bacteria’s genomes sheds key new light on how the carbon storehouse operates.

Stephen Giovannoni, OSU distinguished professor of microbiology, said that near the ocean surface, the DOM carbon goes unconsumed because the cost of harvesting the resources is too high. Currents transport the “recalcitrant” forms of DOM that remain to the deep ocean, where they are slowly broken down to compounds that can persist for thousands of years.

Zach Landry, an OSU graduate student and first author of the study, named SAR202 “Monstromaria” from the Latin term for “sea monster.”

“They’re very abundant in the dark ocean where no photosynthesis is happening and planktonic cells are living off whatever rains down from surface,” Giovannoni said. “The big carbon cycle unknown is why so much carbon accumulates as organic matter in the ocean. In principle, micro-organisms could use it as chow to make energy and build biomass – and return CO2 to the atmosphere, which would be a disaster.

“At the surface, where there’s intense competition for nitrogen and phosphorus, and grazing by bigger plankton cells, Monstromaria's activities don’t pay out well enough for them to make a living,” Giovannoni said. “It’s so difficult to break down the resistant compounds that it’s not worth the cost. It’s like trying to make a living farming in an urban area – it isn’t going to work because the cost of living is too high.

”The resistant DOM carbon is like the last thing you’d want at a buffet, but the SAR202 consumes it in the deep ocean because it's all that is left.”

The research was done in Giovannoni’s lab by Landry, then a Ph.D. candidate at OSU and now a post-doctoral scholar, and collaborators at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, the University of Vienna, and Utrecht University.

“Since SAR202 are ancient and today dominate in the dark ocean realm, we speculate their arrival in ancient oceans may have impacted the early carbon cycle,” Landry said.

Simons Foundation International, the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the European Research Council and the Austrian Science Fund supported this study.

Media Contact: 

Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

OSU

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OSU President Ed Ray

OSU President Ed Ray

 

Maness

Forestry Dean Thomas Maness

Oregon State ranked among top three universities in the world in forestry, oceanography

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University has been ranked among the top three universities in the world in forestry and oceanography on the basis of the number of research articles published in top-tier scientific journals.

Oregon State was listed as No. 2 in forestry and No. 3 in oceanography. OSU also achieved No. 8 rankings in mycology and in marine and freshwater biology.

In a report by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR), 365 universities on five continents were listed at least once in the top ten across 227 subject categories. Subjects ranged from acoustics to zoology and included a host of disciplines in the health sciences, engineering, natural resources, physical and social sciences and other fields.

“We are successfully competing on the international stage,” said Thomas Maness, dean of the College of Forestry. “The college has developed a global reputation for groundbreaking work in forest products and forest ecosystems. We attract students from around the world because our research focuses on things that matter for the environment and the economy.”

The college is building a new forest-science complex and wood products research center. Its Tallwood Design Institute focuses on new wood-based materials for high-rise and modular construction.

“Our researchers are leaders in understanding the ocean’s role in global change, and the processes that support healthy oceanic ecosystems on which society depends,” said Roberta Marinelli, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“Oregon State’s global reputation rests with our internationally recognized faculty and our state-of-the-art research facilities that serve the nation. OSU’s accomplishments in oceanography are further strengthened by the Marine Studies Initiative, a university-wide commitment to include the human dimension — social, economic, humanistic — in the study of the marine realm.”

Through partnerships with marine technology companies, the fishing industry, seafood processors and state and federal agencies, Oregon State researchers tackle topics such as sustainable fishery management, ocean acidification, marine mammals and coastal hazards.

The only other Oregon university listed by the CWUR was the Oregon Health & Science University, which was ranked No. 6 in otorhinolaryngology, or ear, nose and throat medicine.

The Center for World University Rankings provides ranking and consulting services to universities and is located in the United Arab Emirates.

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Thomas Maness, 541-737-1585, thomas.maness@oregonstate.edu; Roberta Marinelli, 541-737-5195, roberta.marinelli@oregonstate.edu

    

OSU presents ‘A Call to Life’ performance, discussion

CORVALLIS, Ore. – “A Call to Life,” a three-part event featuring music, creative writing, science and discussion about the wonder and worth of the Earth’s wild species and the responsibility to save them from extinction, will be held at 7 p.m., Friday, April 7, at Oregon State University.

The event is part of “SAC Presents,” a visual and performing arts events series sponsored by the School of Arts and Communication in the College of Liberal Arts. It will be held in The LaSells Stewart Center, 875 S.W. 26th St., and is part of SPARK, OSU’s yearlong celebration of the arts and science.

It is free and open to the public but interested attendees are encouraged to register for a free ticket online at http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/ACalltoLife. For more information and for accommodations for people with disabilities, call 541-737-5592.

In the first part of the program, Rachelle McCabe, music professor and OSU director of piano studies, and OSU philosophy Professor Emeritus Kathleen Dean Moore will present their music and spoken word program, “A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction.”

The work, a musical narrative set to the Variations on a Theme of Corelli, op. 42 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, originally premiered at The LaSells Stewart Center in 2015 and has since been performed in Portland and Eugene; Seattle, Washington; Auburn, California; Tucson, Arizona; Rockford, Illinois; and Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

In September the pair took this work to the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in Honolulu, Hawaii, where it was included on an agenda of presentations by world conservation leaders, scientists, conservation organizations, faith-based organizations and governments.

The second part of the program, “So Much Worth Saving,” will feature OSU philosopher Michael Paul Nelson facilitating a brief talk with OSU scientists Kim Bernard, Matthew Betts, Selena Heppell, Mark Hixon and Bill Ripple.

The evening will finish with “Continuing Conversations” in the Giustina Gallery. The interactive lobby fair will include conservation groups, artists, scientists, community groups, the presenters and performers. It is an opportunity for members of the audience to network, gather information, continue the discussion and create plans for action. Tables for discussion groups will be provided, and refreshments will be available for purchase.

SAC Presents is funded in part by donations made during the Cornerstone Campaign for the Arts and by OSU Friends of the Arts. The goal of SAC Presents is to bring well-known headliners, rising stars and unique, lesser known artists and ensembles to the community. The lineup of artists ranges from country music to jazz musicians, chamber music to rock, as well as visual artists, guest lecturers and special events.

Source: 

By Erin O’Shea Sneller, 541-737-5592, erin.sneller@oregonstate.edu

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Rachelle McCabe and Kathleen Dean Moore

Call to Life

Corliss, OSU to commemorate 40th anniversary of hydrothermal vents discovery

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Forty years ago, a group of scientists led by Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Corliss discovered a unique colony of sea creatures living in the depths of the eastern Pacific Ocean in an area known as the Galapagos Rift.

There was no obvious source of light or food, yet clams, huge tube worms and other creatures were thriving. Their energy source turned out to be life-giving hydrothermal vents and the discovery revolutionized marine studies. 

This March 2-3, Oregon State University will celebrate the discovery with two presentations featuring Corliss, who is traveling from his home in Budapest, Hungary, to participate. The two-day commemorative event, which is free and open to the public, is called “OSU and Hydrothermal Vents: 40th Anniversary of the Discovery that Launched 1,000 Ships.”

“It was one of the biggest, most important discoveries by OSU scientists,” noted Martin Fisk, an OSU oceanographer who is helping coordinate the events. “Jack Corliss was designated by the National Science Foundation, which funded the research, as the leader of the submersible Alvin exploration, which descended into the depths of the Galapagos fracture zone, where the team discovered the vents and this unique biological community.” 

Robert Collier, a professor emeritus at OSU, was a participant on that 1977 expedition. “The discovery changed oceanography and spawned new fields of study, in everything from marine biology and chemistry to new approaches on the origin of life,” he said.

On Thursday, March 2, OSU will host three short lectures from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Learning Innovation Center, Room 210. They include:

  • Corliss and Collier will discuss the history of the discovery and the new fields of study it spawned;
  • Bill Chadwick, an OSU researcher at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, will describe new discoveries of hydrothermal vents in the western Pacific Ocean;
  • OSU oceanographer Andrew Thurber will explain how life at hydrothermal vents can influence global climate. 

On Friday, March 3, Corliss and others from the expedition will hold an open forum on the discovery that will be taped to help create an archive on its history. It will be held in Burt Hall Room 193 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Participating will be Lou Gordon, co-principal investigator on the expedition; Mitch Lyle, a graduate student with the late Jack Dymond; Collier, who was a grad student with John Edmond, also a co-principal investigator; and Corliss. 

During the 1977 discovery, the expedition scientists dubbed the hydrothermal vent community “The Garden of Eden” and used the mechanical arm of the Alvin to carefully collect samples of worms, mussels, clams and anemones. Some of those samples are still housed today at the Smithsonian Institution.

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

Low snowpacks of 2014, 2015 may become increasingly common with warmer conditions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon experienced very low snowpack levels in 2014 and historically low snowpack levels in 2015; now a new study suggests that these occurrences may not be anomalous in the future and could become much more common if average temperatures warm just two degrees (Celsius).

The low snowpack levels were linked to warmer temperatures and not a lack of precipitation, the researchers say. Based on simulations of previous and predicted snowpack, the study suggests that by mid-century, years like 2015 may happen about once a decade, while snowpack levels similar to 2014 will take place every 4-5 years.

Results of the study, which was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation, have just been published the journal The Cryosphere.

“It is a cautionary tale,” said lead author Eric Sproles, who conducted much of the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University and has been working as a hydrologist in Chile. “California received a lot of attention for its drought, but the economic and environmental impacts from those two low-snowpack years were profound in the Pacific Northwest.”

“We set out to learn whether they were just off years, or if they would be likely to happen more often with increased warming. Unfortunately, the data show these will become more commonplace.”

The key, Sproles said, is what happened in the Cascade Mountains at an elevation of around 4,000 feet – a level that frequently is the boundary between rain and snow. In 2014, winter precipitation in the mountain region was 96 percent of normal and overall temperatures were 0.7 degrees (C) warmer than normal. But temperatures in that snow zone were 2.7 degrees (C) warmer than average.

The winter of 2014 led to drier springtime conditions and moderate to severe drought throughout western Oregon. That pattern was even stronger in 2015. A fair amount of precipitation still fell – 78 percent of normal – but temperatures in the snow zone were 3.3 degrees (C), or 5.9 degrees (F) warmer than average.

On March 1 of 2015, 47 percent of the snow monitoring sites in the Willamette River basin registered zero “snow water equivalent” – the amount of water stored in snowpack.

“The result was a significantly reduced stream flow in the summer, water quality concerns in the Willamette Valley, an increase in wildfires, high fish mortality and a dreadful season for ski resorts,” said Sproles, who worked with Anne Nolin and Travis Roth in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences on the project. “Hoodoo Ski Area was open for only a few weekends in 2013-14, and in 2015, they suspended operations in mid-January – the shortest season in their 77-year history.”

Detroit Reservoir in the adjacent Santiam basin had reservoir levels that were as much as 21 meters (or 68 feet) below capacity, and was plagued by high levels of harmful blue-green algae concentrations.

The study focused on the McKenzie River basin, which has a major influence on the Willamette River – all the way to Portland. In fact, during summer months nearly 25 percent of the water in the Willamette at its confluence with the Columbia River originates from the McKenzie. As much as 60 to 80 percent of the volume of the Willamette River in the summer originates from precipitation that fell above 4,000 feet.

“The study shows how incredibly sensitive the region’s snowpack is to increasing temperatures,” Sproles said. “The low snow years took place even though precipitation wasn’t that bad. But when it falls as rain instead of snow, it loses that ability to function as a natural reservoir in the mountains.”

The typically consistent flow of the McKenzie River in the summer of 2015 was only at 63 percent of its median flow.

“We don’t really know yet the impact of the 2015 low snowpack because some of the water takes as long as seven years to percolate through the ground and end up in the Willamette River,” Sproles said.

A comparatively cold and wet winter has made many Oregonians forget about the low-snowpack years of 2014 and 2015, Sproles said, but the region has been in a La Niña cycle – which is typically colder and wetter – and is expected to move toward neutral conditions by the end of February.

“It seems like much of the state has been socked with snow and ice this winter,” Sproles said, “but despite that, snowpack for the Sandy and Hood River basins is only 110 percent of normal and the Willamette basin snowpack is 124 percent of normal. That is certainly positive, but it seems like those numbers would be a lot higher considering what kind of winter we’ve had in the valley.”

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Eric Sproles,

510-629-1377, eric.sproles@gmail.com