environment and natural resources

Conference to Explore Hydrologic Issues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – About 100 leading hydrologists from around the world are at Oregon State University today through Oct. 19 for an international workshop, “Towards a Community Action Plan for the Hydrological Sciences.”

The workshop explores ways to improve hydrologic predictions, reduce uncertainty in how watersheds function and learn how they can be better managed.

The event is one part of a decade-long initiative of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences called “PUB: Prediction in Ungauged Basins,” an effort to more effectively predict things like stream flow, sediment and water quality in places where they are not physically measured. Improved knowledge and systems in this area should allow for more effective and sustainable river basin management, experts say.

“These issues are of special importance to Oregonians, where much of the state is poorly gauged for water resources,” said Jeffrey McDonnell, who holds the Richardson Chair in Watershed Science in the OSU Department of Forest Engineering. “In addition, it’s poorly understood how water resources will change in response to climate and land use change.”

The workshop, which is designed for science professionals, is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the OSU Institute for Water and Watersheds, and the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science.

Meetings will explore such topics as estimating uncertainty, fiber optic hydrology, watershed classifications, new modeling approaches, remote sensing, and many other issues.

For two years, McDonnell will coordinate the PUB initiative among the researchers involved in the International Association of Hydrological Sciences, including the efforts of its 3,500 members, 65 member countries and three agencies of the United Nations.

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Jeffrey McDonnell,

Researchers Discover Rich Methane Field off India, But Energy Potential Still Unknown

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international team of scientists looking for gas hydrates off the coast of India has discovered a pair of methane hydrate reservoirs buried in the sediment below the Bay of Bengal, and though the idea of a new energy source is tantalizing, researchers say the technology does not yet exist to make these reservoirs commercially feasible.

A similar field of gas hydrates was found off the coast of Oregon a few years ago, said Marta Torres, a marine geochemist at Oregon State University and an investigator on the India and Oregon expeditions.

“No one yet knows how to extract methane for energy from such sources,” said Torres, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “We’re still learning how much gas hydrate is in the sediment and we need to learn more about how much energy is required to mine it, as well as look at environmental concerns and possible hazards associated with extracting gas from these deposits.”

Since that Oregon cruise, scientists have learned a lot about the processes that form such reservoirs, according to Anne Trehu, a professor of oceanography at OSU, who was the lead scientist on the Oregon expedition.

“We now have a good understanding of how methane is generated and how it moves from deep sediments to the shallow areas where massive hydrate is formed,” Trehu said.

The India research cruise aboard the vessel JOIDES Resolution, funded by the Indian government, began in May and continued for more nearly four months. Project coordinator Timothy Collett, from the U.S. Geological Survey, assembled a team of scientists from various institutions and agencies in the United States to provide the expertise and equipment for the project. OSU, which has been involved in gas hydrate research for nearly a decade, was joined by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the University of Rhode Island and the University of New Hampshire. Some 40 U.S. scientists worked with colleagues from India, Canada and England on the research.

Gas hydrates are crystalline substances that look like packed snow, or ice. They form when water and methane are combined at high pressure and low temperature. Commonly found along the continental margins, they are created from the natural gas that occurs after decomposition of organic material deep within ocean sediments.

Though scientists remain unsure about the overall abundance of methane hydrates in the world’s marine sediments, many believe it is a significant fossil fuel reservoir – perhaps the most abundant untapped fossil fuel. However, mining of methane hydrate has been problematic because of its instability.

“When you bring it up from deep water, it just melts,” Torres said. “As soon these methane chunks get warm, or the pressure eases, they disappear and the methane escapes into the ocean or atmosphere, unless it is trapped and confined.”

Working around the temperature and pressure problems is feasible, she added, because scientists can preserve small methane hydrate samples in liquid nitrogen or cooled pressure chambers. However, finding a way to bring vast amounts of methane hydrates to the surface profitably and safely has yet to be discovered.

There are also questions about the amount of methane stored in these hydrates, scientists say. Some of the early estimates about methane content are probably too high, Torres says, because remote sensing techniques had not been calibrated. One of the goals of gas hydrate research at OSU is to use a suite of tools, including thermal imaging and measurements of electrical resistance, to identify how much methane is contained in the sediments of hydrate reservoirs.

The 9-meter sediment cores they extracted from a site near the Andaman Islands at the southern edge of the Bay of Bengal were comprised predominately of clay, which typically included 1 to 3 percent hydrate. However, in the more permeable ash layers, it wasn’t unusual to find sediment samples that contained 30 to 60 percent hydrates – and samples reached as high as 87 percent.

“The technicians had to be extremely careful with the core samples so they didn’t explode,” Torres said.

In their research, the scientists first mapped large areas of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. On the western side of India, they found little evidence of methane hydrate – in large part because there was very little organic matter. However, in the Krishna-Godawari Basin, where the margin is more fractured, they found a large area filled with hydrates that were relatively shallow. Here the methane is pushed closer to the surface through cracks and results in near-surface deposits similar to those found off the shore of Oregon and parts of Canada.

Later in the cruise, they found another site bear gas hydrate near the Andaman Islands in a volcanic arc, where layers of ash acted as a reservoir to trap the methane and form hydrates.

One of the intriguing things about methane hydrate as an energy source, Torres noted, is that in some situations it could be renewable at a much faster rate than other fossil fuels, although still in a time scale long enough to be formidable.

“The Oregon hydrate field is relatively young – about a thousand years – and produces some big chunks of methane hydrate,” Torres noted. “We’re just beginning the work on the data from India. But organic material is being buried at a fast rate, so the process of creating methane is continual.”

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Marta Torres,

Cougar Predation Important in Wildland Ecosystems

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The general disappearance of cougars from a portion of Zion National Park in the past 70 years has allowed deer populations to dramatically increase, leading to severe ecological damage, loss of cottonwood trees, eroding streambanks, and declining biodiversity.

This “trophic cascade” of environmental degradation, all linked to the decline of a major predator, has been shown in a new study to affect a broad range of terrestrial and aquatic species, according to scientists from Oregon State University.

The research was just published in the journal Biological Conservation and – like recent studies outlining similar ecological ripple effects following the disappearance of wolves in the American West – may cause land managers to reconsider the importance of predatory species in how ecosystems function.

The findings are consistent, researchers say, with predictions made more than half a century ago by the famed naturalist Aldo Leopold, often considered the father of wildlife ecology.

“When park development caused cougar to begin leaving Zion Canyon in the 1930s, it allowed much higher levels of deer browsing,” said Robert Beschta, an OSU professor emeritus of forest hydrology. “That set in motion a long cascade of changes that resulted in the loss of most cottonwoods along the streambanks and heavy bank erosion.”

“But the end result isn’t just loss of trees,” he said. “It’s the decline or disappearance of shrubs, wetland plants, amphibians, lizards, wildflowers, and even butterflies.”

Until recently, ecologists had a poor understanding of how the loss of an important predator, such as wolves or cougar, could affect such a broad range of other plant and animal species. But the evidence is now accumulating that primary predators not only have direct effects in influencing the population sizes of native grazing animals such as deer and elk – they also have indirect effects in changing their foraging behavior, in what has been called “the ecology of fear.”

That phenomenon, the scientists say, has been shown as vividly in Zion National Park as any other location they have ever studied. In Zion Canyon, which since the early 1900s has been a popular tourist attraction, cougars are virtually absent, mostly just scared off by the huge influx of human visitors.

With their natural enemy gone, growing and ravenous deer populations ate young cottonwood trees almost as quickly as they sprouted, robbing streambanks of shade and erosion protection.

As a result, the soils and vegetation of floodplains began to erode away. Other types of vegetation and the animal species dependent on them suffered. And unless something is done, cottonwoods in Zion Canyon may ultimately disappear in areas accessible to deer, the researchers said.

By contrast, a nearby roadless watershed has similar native ecology but is sufficiently remote that it still has an intact cougar population and far fewer mule deer. In contrast to Zion Canyon, streambanks in this watershed have nearly 50 times more young cottonwood trees as well as thriving populations of flowers, lizards, butterflies, and several species of water-loving plants that help stabilize stream banks, provide food-web support, and protect floodplains for use by many other animal species.

“The documentation of species abundance that we have in this study is very compelling,” said William Ripple, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Resources and lead author on the study. Researchers did a systematic survey of channel dimensions, streambank condition, vegetation and species presence along each study site.

“These two canyons, almost side by side, have a similar climate and their ecosystems should be quite similar,” Ripple said. “But instead they are very different, and we hypothesize that the long-term lack of cottonwood recruitment associated with stream-side areas in Zion Canyon indicates the effects of low cougar and high deer densities over many decades.

"It's a great research setting and a great opportunity to assess the potential importance of a key predator,” he said. “We hope to conduct additional research in Zion National Park to further explore the findings of this initial study."

It’s important to remember, the researchers said, that the ultimate driver behind all of these changes is humans – in the case of Zion Canyon, simply by their presence. That canyon receives nearly three million human visitors a year, the adjacent North Creek a stray handful of hikers. Cougars in Zion Canyon were not intentionally killed or removed, they just left due to the increased presence of humans.

As findings such as this – the way cougars affect deer and wolves affect elk – continue to mount, land managers may have to acknowledge the potentially enormous impact of these grazing animals on other ecosystem processes, scientists say. This could open the way to new management options once the role of herbivores such as deer, elk, or other grazing animals is more fully understood.

In systems with wild ungulates, the sustainability of riparian habitats and biodiversity may require both predation on these herbivores as well as the fear of predation to further affect their behavior, the researchers concluded.

Ripple and Beschta considered other factors that may have played a role in loss of cottonwood trees in Zion Canyon, such as climate fluctuations or human interventions to stream channels, but concluded that those impacts could not have caused the enormous loss of trees and associated impacts to other biota that were found in the canyon.

The findings of this study may be relevant to other ecosystems in the U.S. and around the world where key predators have been removed, the researchers said, and high populations of native herbivores such as deer or elk – or domestic grazers such as cattle or sheep – affect native biodiversity.

This research was funded by the National Park Service.

Story By: 

Robert Beschta,

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A new study by researchers from Oregon State University found that cougars in Zion National Park have a profound impact on other aspects of the ecosystem, primarily by controlling deer populations and the ecosystem alterations related to deer browsing. (Photo by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Cougar effect graphic

Cougars are a top predator in this ecosystem, and their impact is outlined in this graphic

Wealthy Weekend “Amenity” Ranchers Taking Over The West

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that in many parts of the American West, the grizzled, leathery rancher riding the range to take care of his cattle and make a buck is being replaced by wealthy “amenity” owners who fly in on weekends, fish in their private trout ponds, and often prefer roaming elk to Herefords. They don’t much care whether or not the ranch turns a profit.

And many of them think that wolves are neat.

In a 10-year survey of ranchland ownership change on private lands around Yellowstone National Park, scientists found only 26 percent of the large ranches that changed hands went to traditional ranchers, while “amenity buyers” snapped up 39 percent of the properties, and another 26 percent went to investors, developers or part-time ranchers.

The study was done by researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Colorado and the University of Otago in New Zealand, and published in Society and Natural Resources, a professional journal. It was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Yellowstone Heritage.

This phenomenon, scientists say, is a reflection of forces affecting many parts of the American West, in which ranchlands become get-away retreats for the rich, or vehicles to fulfill a childhood fantasy. Livestock production often takes a back seat to scenic enjoyment, fishing and solitude. In a number of cases, wealthy owners are experimenting with restoration of native ecosystems, large scale conservation projects, and innovative approaches to blend conventional ranching with non-lethal predator control.

Traditional ranchers are finding themselves priced out of business, while a whole new cottage industry is emerging of managers who jokingly call themselves “ranch butler,” “ranch ambassador,” or simply “mouse trapper.” They are well-trained professionals responsible for the complex operations of a modern ranch, but also are required to keep it looking nice for when the owner comes to visit.

The research included analysis of sales and ownership data in 10 counties, and numerous interviews with ranchers, local residents, rural appraisers, real estate agents, conservationists, and others.

“This trend has been going on for a while, but people repeatedly point to the 1990s as when this ownership transition really picked up speed,” said Hannah Gosnell, an assistant professor of geography at OSU. “A weak agricultural economy combined with the increasing age of the average rancher and the reluctance of most ranch kids to take over the operation, making it hard for many ranchers to resist selling out when land prices skyrocketed due to increased demand for high-amenity ranch properties.”

Adding to the temptation, Gosnell said, was the fact that “ranchers could sell a relatively small operation near Yellowstone and upgrade to a larger, more profitable livestock ranch in South Dakota or Nebraska, much like the equity refugees fleeing California for Oregon.”

Money made in the booming 90s and nostalgic movies such as “A River Runs Through It,” which showed a family growing up fly fishing along scenic rivers in western Montana, helped spur a huge demand for ranches where you could get away from it all and get back to nature, Gosnell said. A few areas had ranch turnover rates during the 90s of almost 50 percent, and in the most sought-after landscapes, like the Madison Valley and Paradise Valley in Montana, and the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, more than 60 percent of the acres sold during the 1990s went to amenity buyers.

In many cases that ownership shift brought with it a very different set of attitudes, belief systems, land use plans and goals, and is changing the way of life in many parts of the West.

In particular, the new study examined the effects that these changes may have on conservation efforts, since land fragmentation and wildlife habitat protection are key concerns.

“Contrary to some concerns, we found that many of the new owners did not develop their lands into smaller fragments, in ways that would put critical habitats at risk,” Gosnell said. “Many large ranches tended to stay intact when they changed hands. And some traditional conflicts, such as between predators and livestock, are being lessened by amenity owners who count wildlife, even wolves and other predators, as just another amenity. Many new owners would rather see deer and elk than cattle or sheep.”

In many places these differing priorities have resulted in social conflicts between the new owners and more traditional ranchers. In the past, ranchers commonly allowed neighbors and other community members access to their land for hunting and other forms of recreation - now there are more “no trespassing” signs and hunting is often discouraged. Some of the modern owners, Gosnell said, are unaware of the threat that invasive weeds can pose to neighboring properties. And water that used to be allocated for irrigation is increasingly being sought for trout ponds and instream flow protection.

Although some new owners become integral parts of nearby communities, many newcomers are not big socializers – they want the land for privacy, and are more apt to donate money to a local cause than show up at a community meeting. Their management style may still include ranching, but usually not hands-on and rarely with a mandate for large profits. “As long as the place looks nice, the owner is happy,” is something Gosnell said she often heard from managers. “One owner wanted his cattle kept from grazing near the main drive into the ranch because he thought they were unsightly.”

The shift under way is so large, the researchers said, that some real estate agents now specialize in recreational ranches, and not just in resort areas. Although this study looked at desirable lands near Yellowstone, it omitted large resort areas and urban areas such as Jackson Hole and Bozeman.

The various changes will affect local politics, economics, water management, wildlife conservation, livestock management practices, and a multitude of other issues, scientists said.

“These are powerful and fundamental forces that show no sign of slowing down,” Gosnell said. “Traditional ranching in the American West is under a great deal of pressure, and we have land use and water laws that were set up a century ago for a completely different lifestyle. We need to understand what is going on so we can develop land management policies and institutions that work.”

Story By: 

Hannah Gosnell,

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The study

OSU researchers find cause of 2008 offshore earthquake swarms

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of Oregon State University scientists has solved the mystery behind an unusual swarm of earthquakes that occurred off the Oregon coast in the spring of 2008 – a series of faults in the Juan de Fuca plate that they didn’t know existed.

The discovery of these faults about 140 miles off the central Oregon coast, in association with the earthquake activity, suggests that the tectonic plate off the Oregon shore is still actively deforming, said Robert Dziak, an OSU marine geologist who works at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“This pattern of earthquakes demonstrates that the Juan de Fuca plate is continually moving and converging with North America at the Cascadia Subduction Zone,” Dziak said. “It isn’t clear if the swarms that occurred in 2008 represent normal stress release within the plate, or if they are from deformation related to the Cascadia Subduction Zone. We simply don’t yet know.”

Most of the earthquakes were of magnitude 3.0 to 4.0, the scientists said, but there were a handful that exceeded magnitude 5.0. Few, if any, of these earthquakes would be felt on shore, Dziak said, because they originate offshore within the deep ocean floor. The Cascadia Subduction Zone is of particular interest because the region has experienced several enormous earthquakes over the past 10,000 years – the last of which occurred about 300 years ago.

The intense earthquake swarm last year began on March 30 about 140 miles southwest of Newport and was one of the more unusual events detected by Dziak and his colleagues in 17 years of monitoring using sensitive undersea hydrophones. The swarm was considered unusual because it began inside the Juan de Fuca plate and not along the boundary between the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plates, where most earthquake activity takes place.

Then after 10 days, the swarm stopped – but not for long. Three distinct clusters of quakes soon followed, beginning with a series of small tremors along the Blanco Transform Fault – the boundary between the two plates – and concluding with a frenzy of seismic activity along the Gorda Ridge, which produced more than 1,000 earthquakes in just five days. This swarm was of special interest to scientists, not just because of the sheer volume of quakes, but because of its proximity to an eruption on the seafloor discovered in 1996.

Dziak said the two-month swarm represented a plate motion event, beginning within the Juan de Fuca plate, then moving east and south, and finally culminating in seafloor spreading activity that likely produced magma intruding beneath the seafloor.

“We were able to monitor the spatial progression of the swarm within the plate and along its boundaries,” Dziak said, “but we don’t yet completely understand how they are related and what triggers the sequence. But it is interesting that the stress release within the plate could trigger swarms of earthquakes on the plate boundaries.”

During the two-month spree last spring, the OSU scientists recorded more than 1,600 earthquakes using an array of hydrophones called the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), made available by the U.S. Navy. This SOSUS network originally was used during the decades of the Cold War to monitor submarine activity in the northern Pacific Ocean. As the Cold War ebbed, these and other unique military assets were offered to civilian researchers performing environmental studies, Dziak said.

When the researchers first detected the swarm, they mobilized the OSU research vessel Wecoma on a trip led by Ron Greene to take water samples in the earthquake zone and look at the chemical signature of the water for signs of volcanic activity. In September, Hatfield researcher Susan Merle returned aboard the R/V Melville and performed a multi-beam sonar survey to produce new maps of the seafloor and it was during this cruise that the new fault system was discovered.

“From aboard the ship, we discovered one area where there was a 20-meter displacement of the seafloor and deformed sediments, which is a direct indication of faulting,” said Merle, a senior faculty research assistant at OSU. Merle, Greene and Dziak are all affiliated with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS), a joint OSU/NOAA venture.

An additional high-resolution seafloor survey of the eastern Blanco Transform Fault was performed last summer by the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer.

This isn’t the first time the researchers have recorded earthquake swarms off the Oregon coast. There have been a total of eight swarms over the past dozen years, Dziak said, the first seven of which likely were the result of volcanic activity on the Juan de Fuca and Gorda ridges. The 2008 swarm originated within the plate, where the newly discovered faults lie and affected a large area of the plate and its boundaries.

“The discovery sheds some new light on the structure and seismic processes of the region,” Dziak said, “and suggests that deformation within the plate and earthquakes along its boundaries may be more interrelated than we though. It also underscores the importance of having ships available to go to normally inaccessible areas of the deep-ocean for research that addresses societal concerns.”

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Bob Dziak, 541-867-0175

Fighting Pollution with Seaweeds? Perhaps, Sea Grant Research Indicates

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon Sea Grant researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) are testing a novel approach to reducing chemical pollution: They’re using lowly seaweeds.

In an ongoing Sea Grant project, Gregory L. Rorrer, a professor in OSU’s Department of Chemical Engineering, is studying whether the metabolic processes of certain marine seaweeds can be harnessed to break down a class of pollutants into less toxic constituents.

“We’re trying to understand how these pollutants interact with a large class of marine macro-organisms in the environment,” Rorrer said.

The pollutants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are naturally released into the environment by forest fires and volcanic eruptions. However, a greater volume is formed by the incomplete combustion of petroleum fuels.

PAHs are commonly found in low concentrations in the sediment of coastal and estuarine waterways, Rorrer explained, but they often occur at harmful levels in areas of concentrated maritime activity, such as shipping ports, harbors and in other industrial areas where fuel oil or coal is burned. Not only are high concentrations of some PAHs toxic to marine invertebrates, particularly clams and oysters, but several compounds within the class are known carcinogens.

Unlike many other byproducts of human activity, PAHs do not readily degrade in the environment but instead persist by binding with organic materials found in marine sediment, Rorrer said. Current options for treating areas of PAH contamination involve either dredging and removal of the affected sediment or “capping” contaminated deposits with a layer of PAH-free material. Both methods of remediation are extremely costly and often ultimately ineffective in keeping PAH compounds out of the environment, according to the researcher.

Seaweeds are known to take up and tolerate a wide variety of the organic compounds normally found in sea water, and related research in Rorrer’s laboratory demonstrates that a tropical red seaweed (Portieria hornemannii) was effective in taking up and metabolizing another compound, which is also an aromatic hydrocarbon, the explosive substance TNT. Preliminary results by Rorrer and graduate student Kristi Christensen using a green Oregon seaweed (Acrosiphonia coalita) and the red seaweed Portieria strongly suggest that seaweeds are indeed capable of removing PAH compounds from sea water.

Whether they break PAHs down into environmentally acceptable compounds or merely sequester the intact compounds within their tissues is not yet known.

“The next question is, ‘Where are the PAHs?” said Rorrer. “We’re trying to find out if they’re metabolized, or where they’re hiding in the organism.”

PAHs are fat-soluble and tend to accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. When one animal is consumed by another, the PAH molecules become part of the higher organism. In this way, the PAH concentration increases, or biomagnifies, within the food chain. While it appears unlikely that PAHs are broken down completely by the marine seaweeds, Rorrer hopes to find that the compounds degrade into forms that are less harmful to marine organisms.

The results of this Sea Grant study may have far-reaching implications for seaweed’s role as a component of engineered bioremediation systems and PAH monitoring programs. While field applications using seaweed as a bioremediation tool are beyond the scope of Rorrer’s current Sea Grant project, he speculates that seaweeds could be deliberately cultivated near PAH-contaminated “hotspots,” or grown near PAH-sensitive aquaculture facilities.

Further research will also be needed to explore how seaweeds interact synergistically with other microorganisms in the environment to metabolize PAHs. But for now, it’s a primary question that is being investigated in the controlled systems of Rorrer’s lab.

“Are these materials being remediated by these organisms? Nobody knows at present,” said Rorrer. “This is the first step that will address that.”


Gregory Rorrer,

Antarctic glacier named after OSU prof in honor of NSF stint

CORVALLIS, Ore. – After serving for more than two years as the National Science Foundation’s first program director for integrated Antarctic research, Kelly Falkner tried to get out of her own going-away party.

Now the Oregon State University oceanographer is glad she attended.

Her colleagues in Washington, D.C., presented her with a framed photo of a coastal glacier in Antarctica, which they had named after her in recognition of her efforts to coordinate and broaden Antarctic research. “Falkner Glacier” is an east-flowing valley glacier stretching four miles long through the Mountaineer Range in Victoria Land.

“I was stunned,” she said. “One tradition for the Antarctic program appointments is to get a white boot signed by people in the office – just before they ‘boot you’ out. That’s what I expected, a boot. Instead, I got a glacier.”

The glacier officially was named by the United States Board on Geographic Names, following the recommendation of the advisory committee on Antarctic names in 2009.

A citation included in a framed photo of the glacier reads: “Dr. Falkner’s leadership, working with the community and with NSF, was critical to developing and implementing plans for this new research program that has significantly broadened the scientific opportunities within the U.S. Antarctic Program.”

In 2007, Falkner, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, was appointed the first program director of the “Antarctic Integrated System Science Program” in the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs. The irony is that Falkner, who essentially was on a two-year “loan” from OSU to the agency, is an expert on the Arctic Ocean, not Antarctica.

“I considered directing in the Arctic program or the Antarctic, and there would have been more of a conflict of interest doing the Arctic because of all my connections and those of other OSU researchers,” she pointed out. “Even though I had a steep learning curve with Antarctica, it brought a whole new realm to my understanding of polar science that I found fascinating.”

Her job as first director of integrated research was essentially to look at the literally hundreds of different research projects involving Antarctica and see what was being done right – and what was missing. What she found was that although many of the projects had some interdisciplinary components, few went far enough – or were broad enough – to begin answering questions about large-scale issues such as climate change or the causes and mechanisms behind the melting of sea ice.

As part of her duties, she went to Antarctica for a familiarization visit at the beginning of her appointment, and then later spent six weeks at the McMurdo base coordinating the science programs. In her final year, she traveled to the United States station on the Palmer Peninsula to assist with science and gain first-hand experience with U.S. Antarctic ship operations.

“It was truly an international experience,” she said. “I had to draw on every language skill I have.”

During her appointment she briefed the National Science Board on the latest research involving levels of sea ice, which have retreated dramatically in the Arctic, yet are comparatively stable in Antarctica. The difference, Falkner said, seems to be in how the ozone hole and atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide are affecting atmosphere and ocean circulation in the southern hemisphere.

“For now, these factors are promoting a longer season and larger geographic area where a fresh layer in the ocean surface, from increased precipitation, insulates the ice from the heat below,” Falkner said.

Now back at OSU, Falkner has returned her attention to the Arctic, where she has a five-year grant to continue studies at the North Pole Environmental Observatory. The focus of her research in that program is how various sources of water entering the Arctic contribute to ocean circulation – and how changing circulation patterns relate to the other major environmental changes in the north.

Falkner said she would like to return to Antarctica some day, knowing that a piece of it bears her name. Two years ago, en route to McMurdo from New Zealand, Falkner flew over the vast ice-covered expanse that is Antarctica. And though she didn’t know it at the time, at one point she was directly over Falkner Glacier.

“It’s not immediately accessible to anyone from land and, in fact, you’d have to mount quite an expedition to get to it,” she said. “It is an amazing place and I am incredibly honored that it’s named after me. But the odds are, I’ll never get to go there.”

Story By: 

Kelly Falkner, 541-737-3625 

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Falkner Glacier

Falkner Glacier is located in the Mountaineer Range of Antarctica and descends steeply to Lady Newnes Bay, where it forms a floating glacier tongue.

Kelly Falkner

Kelly Falkner, an OSU oceanography professor, directed the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Integrated System Science Program.

Grant to allow exploration of animal use, other issues

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will sponsor a five-part symposium this year on Animal Care and Use in Education, as part of the university's commitment to public discourse and exploration of alternatives on this topic that has often been the source of conflict and social activism.

The analysis of animal use issues, which will begin Jan. 16 and conclude in April, is also the first product of a three-year, $250,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that OSU has received to develop forums, seminars and other educational events analyzing many important social, ethical and political issues that affect modern higher education.

"Starting with the animal use issue and continuing later on other topics, this Kellogg grant represents a huge opportunity for OSU to provide growth and learning for our faculty, students and the community relevant to some of the most critical concerns facing higher education today," said Larry Roper, OSU vice provost for Student Affairs.

The funding is part of the Kellogg Foundation's Leadership for Institutional Change initiative. A second topic to be analyzed at OSU will be the challenges and opportunities of cultural diversity. Roper said more issues will be chosen in coming years.

Leading off is an exploration of animal use issues that represents months of collaboration and work between OSU; its Program for Ethics, Science and the Environment; members of the Vegetarian Resource Network; and other community activists.

"This forum will help everyone who is involved in it teach and learn, which is the strength of a great university such as OSU," Roper said. "We'll explore issues from every perspective, consider all the viewpoints, and not tell people what to think. For that they have to consider what they've learned and how it fits with their own value systems."

The series will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 16, in the Agricultural Production Room of the LaSells Stewart Center from 7-9 p.m., with a discussion of animal use and acquisition at the university. A featured speaker will be Alex Ojerio, director of OSU's Laboratory Animal Resources facility. There will be opportunities for questions and probably small group discussions.

On Thursday, Jan. 25, at the Corvallis Public Library from 7-9 p.m., the series will continue with a discussion of veterinary surgical education. A featured speaker will be Dr. Jill Parker, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine.

Later events and topics include:

  • Feb. 8: Corvallis Public Library, 7-9 p.m., a discussion of revising the Animal Welfare Act; 
  • March 8: LaSells Stewart Center, 7-9 p.m., ethics in the veterinary profession; 
  • April 20-21: a "capstone" international conference that will include exploration of "best practices" regarding animal use in education and research, location to be announced.

This educational initiative is also supporting the travel of three faculty members in the College of Veterinary Medicine at OSU to travel to other universities and analyze alternative approaches that are sometimes used in veterinary medical education, reporting their findings back to interested groups at the university for further discussion.

Other invited speakers to these meetings may include government agency regulators in the field of animal care and use, academic representatives and social activists who oppose the traditional use of animals for education and research at a university.

Story By: 

Larry Roper, 541-737-3626

Conservation battle faces long odds in Brazilian Amazon

CORVALLIS - A $40 billion onslaught of highways, railroads, hydroelectric projects and burgeoning population is overwhelming efforts to promote conservation in the Amazon Forest of Brazil. If left unchecked, it will soon destroy the greatest tropical rainforest on Earth, experts say.

A new study to be published Friday in the journal Science shows that the well-intentioned conservation programs now under way in the Amazon are wholly inadequate to offset the destruction from agriculture, timber and mining that are taking place in the name of economic development.

"We've heard a lot about ecotourism, sustainable forestry and other conservation efforts in the Amazon," said Scott Bergen, a forest scientist at Oregon State University and co-author of the report.

"But if these development plans go through, we'll lose the largest remaining wilderness on Earth and a huge amount of the world's remaining biodiversity. And that, of course, doesn't even consider the enormous impacts on the carbon cycle, global climate and greenhouse warming."

The stakes are extremely high and the battle is being lost, say researchers from OSU, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Michigan State University, and National Institute for Amazonian Research.

Problems with deforestation in the Amazon are not new. But this study, the experts say, is one of the first to look at the wider range of causes, ranging from population growth to economic policies, pipeline construction, roads, power lines, an influx of multi-national timber companies, slash-and-burn farming, ranching, mining, oil exploration, and many other issues. It projects the real impact of those causes on the Amazon landscape 20 years into the future.

The results of allowing current trends to continue, the study concludes, are devastating. Non-indigenous populations in the Brazilian Amazon have increased about 10-fold since the 1960s, from two million people to 20 million. Investments totaling $40 billion are planned just in the next seven years under the huge new "Avanca Brasil," or Advance Brazil economic development program. Key environmental agencies in Brazil are largely excluded from the planning of these developments.

Roads that once were more confined to the perimeter of the Amazon Forest are now penetrating the heart of the basin, and the many land uses made possible by these roads are destroying the forests. Two models were developed to assess the future impacts of these trends, one somewhat optimistic and the other less so. Both suggest that the Brazilian Amazon will be drastically altered by current development schemes.

Under the less optimistic scenario, less than 5 percent of the land will survive as pristine forest, and 42 percent of the region will either be totally deforested or heavily degraded by the year 2020. The rate of forest destruction is now almost 5 million acres per year - the highest in the world. As a result of the planned highways and infrastructure projects during the next 20 years, that rate is expected to increase more than 25 percent per year under the least optimistic scenario, and about 14 percent even under the most favorable scenario.

Bergen, a specialist in geographic information systems, remote sensing and spatial ecology, recently spent about a year working in the Amazon as part of a larger project funded by NASA. He and his colleagues studied development patterns in Brazil in recent decades and used information from those trends to project the future impacts of current plans.

"Part of what's important about this report is we tried to tie together a lot of different components that often are not considered, but have long-term impacts on land use," Bergen said. "The ultimate conclusion is that despite the best efforts of many people and hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on conservation, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has not decreased and in some places in still increasing."

It's not too late to pursue a solution, the researchers said, but it will probably require a new approach from the government and people of Brazil.

The cash payments for "carbon credits" available under the Kyoto Protocol as part of the effort to address global warming are clearly one option, they say. Under this approach, nations and companies around the world literally pay for the rights to continue some of their development plans that would inject carbon into the atmosphere, so long as development plans elsewhere are shelved. The Brazilian Amazon offers an ideal site to sell such carbon credits, which might provide up to $2 billion per year to Brazil while keeping the Amazon forests intact.

Besides the cash they might provide through this mechanism, the researchers said, Brazil must also consider the benefits of intact forests for reducing floods, conserving soils, maintaining stable regional climates, preserving biodiversity and supporting both local populations and ecotourism. Also, they suggest that agricultural land in Brazil could be used intensively rather than extensively, favoring high-value agroforestry and perennial crops over fire-maintained cattle pastures and slash-and-burn farming plots.

"Such a model is very unlikely to develop, however," the researchers say in their report, "when land is cheap, destructive wildfires are common, and vast new frontiers are being continually opened for colonization."

Story By: 

Scott Bergen, 541-750-7364

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Figure A - Amazon Forest

Figure A


Figure B - Amazon Forest

Figure B

Figure C - Amazon Forest
Figure C

Researchers at Oregon State University and other agencies have published a new report in the journal Science outlining the risks facing the Brazilian Amazon Forest during the next 20 years. Figure A shows some of the types of aggressive deforestation done in recent years in Brazil in the name of economic development. Figure B shows the current level of forest cover now remaining in the Brazilian Amazon. Figure C relates to the study just concluded, and provides an optimistic scenario, above, and non-optimistic scenario, below, that predicts forest degradation by the year 2020. In this image, black is heavily degraded, including savannas and other non-forested areas; while red is moderately degraded; yellow is lightly degraded; and green is pristine.

Prepare now to survive a West Coast tsunami

ASTORIA, Ore. – Two weeks after tsunamis in Sumatra and American Samoa initiated by powerful earthquakes killed hundreds of people, a growing number of Oregonians are wondering how people living along the West Coast will fare when a large – and possibly overdue – quake shakes our own soil.

"Unfortunately, our fascination with the physical phenomena eclipses our interest in preparing to survive our next big earthquake and tsunami," said Patrick Corcoran, a hazards outreach specialist with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State University.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches more than 700 miles from northern California to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, has experienced several major earthquakes during its long history.

"The release of pressure between two overlapping tectonic plates along the subduction zone regularly generates massive 9.0 magnitude earthquakes – including five over the last 1,400 years," Corcoran said. "The last 'Big One' was 309 years ago. We are in a geologic time when we can expect another ‘Big One,’ either in our lives or those of our children.

"Prudence dictates that we overcome our human tendencies to ignore this inevitability," he added.

Corcoran teaches people who live in or visit Oregon coastal areas three key things they need to know about tsunamis.

The first, he says, is to know the difference between local and distant earthquakes. A local earthquake feels powerful and lasts up to five minutes. Duck, cover your head and hold on until the shaking stops, he advises, and then run for higher ground. You'll have 15 to 30 minutes to get to a height of 50 to 100 feet above sea level to be safe.

"The tsunami is a series of surges, and often the first one is not the biggest," Corcoran warned. "Wait 12 hours to return to the area and do not expect to be able to drive or use telephones or cell phones."

If you hear an official warning but do not feel an earthquake, you have more time: an earthquake happened somewhere else and you should have a few hours to evacuate the beach, lowlands and waterways. Turn on local television and radio stations to find more information and wait 12 hours to return to the beach or lowlands.

A second key piece of information is to know the location of local earthquake and tsunami “danger zones,” which Corcoran says can be surprisingly large. They are defined on official maps from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, online at http://www.oregongeology.com/sub/earthquakes/Coastal/Tsubrochures.htm
Evacuation zones for the Oregon coast also can be found at http://www.nanoos.org/data/products/oregon_tsunami_evacuation_zones/index.php

Use the maps to identify not only the dangerous areas where you live, but also where you work, shop and play, Corcoran advised, and note what routes will take you to safety. Maps also are available at fire departments and city halls.

"For distant tsunamis, as a general guideline, consider the inundation to be similar to a severe winter storm at high tide," Corcoran said. Distant tsunamis are more frequent but much less dangerous. Most people won't need to go anywhere; and staying put will greatly help local officials.

A third key piece of preparedness is planning how to reconnect with loved ones. Have a family plan for what to do if separated in a disaster. For a local event, Corcoran suggests teaching everyone to get to safety, stay there and reconnect when it's over. Messages for children might include, "Don't try to return home between waves. We'll find each other when it is safe."

Identify a non-local person in another state for everyone to call as soon as possible. You may have to try alternative communication tactics to landlines – and even cell phones – such as texting, satellite phones or HAM radio. If the tsunami is from a distant earthquake, phone lines will be undamaged, but likely overloaded.

Among other safety tips:
•    Sirens do not mean run. Ironically, sirens indicate a distant tsunami and three or more hours to evacuate the inundation zone;
•    Don't plan on driving your vehicle to safety after a major earthquake. Damage to your garage door, a tree across the driveway, a power line across the road, broken bridges and landslides likely will make driving to safety impossible – and a waste of precious time;
•    In addition to buying an emergency kit, which could get covered with rubble, take CPR and first aid classes;
•    Consider buying a NOAA all-hazards radio, which will give immediate information on where a distant earthquake is located and how soon a tsunami might arrive.

"The next ‘Big One’ is imminent," Corcoran said, "but education can vastly improve our odds of surviving the earthquake and tsunami. Education also can save us from unnecessary chaos from distant, smaller events."


Patrick Corcoran, 503-325-8573

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Patrick Corcoran's job is to educate Oregonians about how to stay safe when the next "Big One" earthquake and tsunami reach our shores. He is a hazards outreach specialist with the OSU Extension Sea Grant program and lives in Astoria.