environment and natural resources

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.

Open house features renovated greenhouse at Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers using Oregon State University's west greenhouse no longer need to avoid dripping water or worry about slivers of glass falling from rotting wood casings over their heads.

New tempered glass and aluminum framing have replaced deteriorating wood, rust and whitewash buildup as part of a recently completed renovation. The public is invited to an open house on Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at the facility, located at 3201 S.W. Campus Way. (Note: this is the west greenhouse, between 30th and 35th streets across from the OSU Motor Pool.)

Safety was the number one concern when a decision was made seven years ago to renovate the 70,000 square-foot west greenhouse, which is at least 50 years old. "The old facilities were decrepit and dangerous," said Patrick Hayes, an OSU professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Science. "The new facilities are a world-class place to do research.”

When discussions about renovation began, Jim Ervin, manager of greenhouse operations for the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station, sent inquiries to greenhouse manufacturers but yielded only one interested in renovating an existing facility. "We placed an order and received a pile of aluminum in May 2002, and the project began," he said.

Ervin, colleague Courtney Russell and a crew of student workers did the entire project over seven summers, removing approximately 35,000 old pieces of glass and installing more than 19,000 pieces of tempered glass. The do-it-yourself project cost $15.61 per square foot, Ervin said, compared to an estimate of $125 per square foot to build a new research greenhouse.

OSU's greenhouses provide optimum growing space primarily for researchers in botany, horticulture and crop science. Projects include vegetable, wheat, barley and hazelnut breeding, as well as potatoes grown for seed certification tests.

Ervin also said that energy consumption has dropped from 10 million units of steam to heat and cool the greenhouses in 2001 to six million units in 2009.


Jim Ervin, 541-737-2381

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Greenhouse operations supervisor Courtney Russell (left) and manager Jim Ervin walk through the bright, and safer, west greenhouse they renovated over seven summers.

OSU program teaches stream health

SALEM - When Jim Castle of west Salem bought his dream retirement home a few years ago, he acquired a nightmare in the back yard: a little stream that was fighting for its life amid a tangle of ivy and several year's worth of trash.

But thanks to Oregon State University Extension's Watershed Stewardship Educational Program (WSEP), everything is now flowing much more smoothly.

Essentially, WSEP is a series of workshops designed to help people like Castle manage Oregon's watersheds, no matter the size, and bring them back to optimum health where need be.

In many cases, WSEP students, who learn in the field as well as the classroom, know something about a particular facet of watershed ecology, but are seeking to learn more about all phases. Many of the students have also volunteered to be members of a local watershed council.

Watershed councils were enacted by the Legislature during the early 1990s as part of the state's watershed health program. The program is now a part of Gov. John Kitzhaber's Oregon Plan, which empowers local communities to take responsibility for watershed health in their areas.

OSU may be the first university in the country to offer a comprehensive educational watershed program and Master's recognition for the lay public, said Derek Godwin, one of three WSEP team leaders and one of the program developers.

Each workshop runs about six hours and is split between evening classes and practical instruction in the field. Individual workshops deal with different aspects of watershed management, such as erosion control and water temperature monitoring.

The first WSEP classes were offered on a pilot basis on the Oregon Coast in 1997 and 1998. Today, the program is operating throughout the state. "We've got classes running in Albany now for Linn and Benton counties and it's just packed," Godwin said.

This spring, five areas in the state will be offering classes: Linn-Benton counties, Coos County, Lane County, Clackamas County and Columbia County.

Those attending the instruction have two options, Godwin said. They can take any or all of the classes "just for the fun of it," or, they can complete all the classes and undertake an actual watershed improvement project. Those electing to go the latter route, as Castle did, are recognized as Master Watershed Stewards.

Projects take 30 to 40 hours, and may include work on a workshop participant's property or liaison with volunteer organizations like watershed councils.

"Like the OSU Master Gardner Program, watershed stewards are points of contact for the community to get help to work on stream enhancement," Godwin said.

There are about 60 major watersheds in Oregon, with most of those being fed by smaller tributaries that also must be managed. Godwin estimated the number of watershed councils at 85. "There's not much of Oregon not represented by a watershed council," Godwin said.

Castle, who is on the Glenn-Gibson Creek Watershed Council, is a vocal supporter of WSEP. "If anyone wants to understand all the factors that make up a watershed, it's by far one of the most challenging programs I've ever been in. It touches on just about everything."

Castle has spent countless hours cleaning up his little watershed and considers it an ongoing project. "I've cleaned it up, got a lot of debris out of it, cleared the ivy out of trees and off the ground. The two and a half acres is being transformed from an overgrowth, jungle type of environment to more of a natural one."

In addition to ridding the area of ivy and trash, Castle, a former school administrator, has planted several tree and grass species he learned about that grow well in wet areas.

He believes that if he hadn't taken action, the clogged-up stream would have turned the area into a soggy marsh and the trees would have been killed by the ivy.

According to OSU's Tara Nierenberg, who coordinates the WSEP workshops throughout the state, about 200 people have taken the courses to date.

"Our target audience is watershed council members, and also Soil & Water Conservation District employees and volunteers. Secondarily, our target audience is the community at large, anyone interested in watershed issues."

There is a fee for attending the watershed classes. "It varies from place to place," Derek said, "but generally runs around $60."

Those wanting more information on the WSEP classes can call Nierenberg at (541) 737-8715. There's also a website.


Derek Godwin, 503-566-2909

OSU researcher predicts end to dry weather

CORVALLIS - Studying data in his Oregon State University lab, state climatologist George Taylor ventures to predict a wet spring for the Pacific Northwest.

That's good news for a region that has been woefully short on rainfall this winter.

Since November, successive high pressure ridges have stood guard over the region, sending wet Pacific storms northward into Alaska and Canada and leaving much of the Northwest dry.

"What seems to happen with these winters with a ridge of high pressure is that sooner or later the jet stream breaks through and opens the door to those Pacific storms. The chances are good that we will have a normal or wetter than normal spring," said Taylor, who is a faculty member with OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

"Even getting a normal spring would help out quite a bit." The region normally gets about one-third of it's annual total of rain between February and the end of June, he said.

Taylor is making his prediction based on historical patterns and cautions that while history often repeats itself, there is a chance that spring rains could bypass the region, leaving the state in a moderate drought. "Right now, we're drier than normal or pre-drought," he said.

For example, from October through January, Klamath Falls has received only 31 percent of normal rainfall. The picture isn't much brighter in other regions: Medford has 46 percent of normal; Grants Pass 36 percent; the Portland Airport, 55 percent; Salem 48 percent and Roseburg 52 percent. But some regions in the eastern half of the state are actually at or above normal for the period. Pendleton's rate of precipitation is at 100 percent; Enterprise and Joseph are both at 109; and portions of Malheur County are touching 120 percent.

"So far, February looks promising," Taylor said, "with the snow pack in the Central Cascades jumping from 65 percent of normal to 69 percent, and indications that storms will continue to bring rain and snow to the area.

"If those conditions continue," he added, "our summer water situation will be much better."

The dry Pacific Northwest winter caught forecasters across the country by surprise, Taylor said. "No one predicted this dry winter. It was really wet in October." Rainfall dropped below normal in November, but "it really looked as if it would break in December."

The region's last sustained drought was 1985 to 1994 when nine out of 10 years were drier than normal. That period included severe statewide droughts in 1992 and 1994.


George Taylor, 541-737-5705

Eastern Oregon's pea growers fighting for survival

MILTON-FREEWATER - These are tough times for Eastern Oregon's pea growers and processors. Low prices and over-supply continue to plague the industry as it struggles to remain economically viable.

"If you are involved in agriculture, it's hard to be upbeat. It's really tough out there," said Tom Darnell, Milton-Freewater, of the seemingly persistent, across-the-board low markets farmers are receiving for many of their crops.

Darnell, an Oregon State University Extension agent in Umatilla County, is one of several university and federal employees in the area working with pea growers in a search for farming practices that will help them weather the hard times.

Peas have been grown in rotation with winter wheat since the mid-1930s in the Blue Mountain region of northeast Oregon and southeast Washington, which centers around Milton-Freewater, according to Darnell.

"Year in and year out this region raises about 40,000 to 45,000 acres of green peas, primarily as freezer peas, with a portion going into canned peas," he explained. "Currently, however, the crop is marginally economical for both growers and processors."

Darnell, who has studied pea varieties for 20 years, said the crop is an ideal fit as a rotation crop for winter wheat growers in the region. "There are no other crops really to replace peas," he said, noting that the area's cool, moist spring weather favors an annual, spring crop of peas.

Growers generally plant peas in early spring, from early March until mid-May, depending on the weather. Using early, mid-, and late-maturing varieties to spread out harvest dates, pea harvest runs from early June into July.

From agronomic to economic, there are many benefits associated with a crop of peas.

"The region's pea crop employs a lot of people from farmers, to processors, and truckers," Darnell pointed out. "The crop brings growers some annual income and agronomically, peas help keep weeds in check between crops of winter wheat, they increase soil fertility, and help cut down soil erosion."

Darnell, and others, are working to find growers new and improved varieties. If a new pea variety is released, it's likely Darnell has grown it. "I test about 50 new varieties a year in variety trials," he said. "Peas are a significant area crop, so it's important that we, as researchers, continue to test new and improved varieties for our growers."

"Testing a variety takes about three to four years," explained Darnell. "After a new variety looks good in the variety trials, it is tested commercially on a limited acreage before it is widely planted in the region. We must be sure it's adapted to the region's growing conditions before it's released to growers. All varieties look good in wet, cool years. It's the dry and hot years that separate out the poor varieties.

"Today's new pea varieties can't only be sensational yielders, they need to taste good," said Darnell. Size and color are still important, but new, consumer-linked considerations are being given to the pea's internal qualities, like taste.

"We are trying to get some good early season varieties," Darnell added. "In order to successfully harvest the area's 40,000-plus acres of peas, growers need more early season varieties, along with the mid- and later maturing varieties, because they can't harvest every field at once.

"A fun thing we've got going this spring is looking at peas in reduced tillage farming systems in rotation with winter wheat," he said. "Reduced tillage is good for the environment, because it reduces soil erosion, and it's good for growers, because it lowers their production costs with fewer trips across a field."

Working closely with both the OSU and USDA-ARS branches of the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center at Pendleton, Darnell and other scientists plan to look at stand establishment, uniformity of plant stands and weed control in plots to be set out this spring.

"When you start changing tillage systems, in our case by going from a conventional tillage system to a minimum tillage system, you change lots of things," Darnell explained, "like soil moisture conditions and soil temperatures. There is a big unknown over time for peas grown in minimum tillage conditions. There could be new soil diseases and we would need new disease-resistant varieties."


Tom Darnell, 541-938-5597

OSU researcher prepares for journey to North Pole ice camp

CORVALLIS - An international research team is preparing for a return trip to a North Pole ice camp to study the Arctic Ocean's influence on, and response to, global climate.

A key focus will be the mixing of the currents from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which can affect preservation of the region's ice cover, said Kelly Falkner, an associate professor in Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. Falkner will be traveling to the ice camp on April 1.

Scientists are in agreement that the Arctic sea ice cover has diminished about 7 percent in area during the last few decades. At the same time there have been dramatic shifts in atmosphere and ocean circulation in the region. While some scientists speculate global warming is causing the changes, other researchers say the shift may be the result of a combination of factors.

"We know we are looking at a system in transition," Falkner said. "The Arctic Ocean is different today than in the late 1980's and early 1990's when large changes were first reported."

The changes could be cyclical or part of a long-term fundamental change in the environment, Falkner said.

The ice camp, which is run by the University of Washington for the National Science Foundation, is in its second year of a five-year program. The $3.9 million project includes scientists from the Japanese Marine Science and Technology Center in Yokosuka City, the University of Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle and OSU.

Falkner, a chemical oceanographer, will focus on mapping where the various waters from the Atlantic and Pacific meet to form the Arctic Ocean. Her team plans to conduct a hydrographic survey to collect ocean data from five areas, starting at the pole and traveling for 300 miles toward Alaska. Traveling by small plane, the scientists will land on the ice, drill a hole and use instruments to measure temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen. Falkner will also take water samples to assess ocean chemistry.

The information will be used to plot a vertical slice of the ocean waters that compares measurements across a wide area. The data will help scientists evaluate broad changes in ocean circulation and determine where the currents in the area are originating.

Last year, researchers surveyed a 350-mile area from the North Pole toward Ellesmere Island, Canada - the first ever conducted in that area of the Arctic. Preliminary data indicates the mixing zones where the Atlantic and Pacific meet, which shifted significantly in the past 10 to 15 years, are on the move again.

One key factor in the success of the field program will be the weather, Falkner said. The researchers only have a small window of time to conduct their studies and travel by small plane throughout the region can be treacherous, she said. She expects to depart the ice for her return to OSU by April 14.


Kelly Falkner, 541-737-3625