environment and natural resources

Well, Septic System Class and Water Testing Offered

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two free community classes to help people take the mystery out of maintaining and managing their private wells and septic systems will be held in May, sponsored by the OSU Extension Well Water Program.

“If you have a household drinking water well and septic system, chances are that they didn’t come with an owner’s manual,” said Gail Andrews, director of the program and instructor of this class. “And for most rural residents, the opportunity and motivation to learn about these water systems usually comes when something goes wrong. But we can help people protect their homestead investment, their family’s health, and the groundwater resource that supplies drinking water.”

The class, called “Rural Living Basics: Well Water and Septic Tanks,” will be offered twice at the Corvallis Public Library – on either Tuesday, May 22 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., or Wednesday, May 23, from 9-11 a.m.

The class is free, but pre-registration is requested to ensure that adequate materials are available. To register for the class or for more information, contact the Benton County OSU Extension Service at 541-766-3556 or chrissy.lucas@oregonstate.edu

Class participants may also have their water screened for nitrates by bringing about a half a cup of untreated well water in a clean, water-tight container. Nitrate has been associated with a type of blue-baby syndrome, and there are emerging concerns about additional health problems associated with nitrate in drinking water. The areas at greatest risk in the southern Willamette Valley are those with well-drained soils on the valley floor.

Coliform bacteria is the other test recommended for all drinking water wells. This must be done by a laboratory, but under a special arrangement, coliform bacteria testing by Pacific Analytical Labs will be offered to class participants at a reduced cost of $20.

To take advantage of this offer, participants must pick up a special bottle at one of the drop points, return it on the designated day, and test results will be distributed at the class. Sample bottles with instructions are available at: Benton County and Linn County OSU Extension Service offices; LBCC Lebanon Center registration desk; Oregon Department of Forestry in Philomath, and Dari Marts in Monroe and Harrisburg. There are a limited number of bottles.

More information on these topics can be obtained on the web at http://wellwater.oregonstate.edu

Story By: 

Gail Andrews,

OSU faculty to hold global climate change symposium

CORVALLIS - Four faculty members from Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences will present a public symposium called "Explaining Global Climate Change" that runs from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church at 2945 NW Circle Blvd. in Corvallis.

In their presentation, three OSU oceanographers and one atmospheric scientist will discuss scientific evidence suggesting recent, progressive warming of the oceans and atmosphere. They also will look at how global warming has affected the Arctic regions, how "greenhouse" gases work, cycles of glaciation and related levels of carbon dioxide, and the future of Earth's climate.

Presenting will be James Coakley, a professor of atmospheric sciences; Kelly Falkner, a marine chemist who has conducted several research projects in the Arctic Ocean; Charlie Miller, a professor emeritus and marine ecologist who studies plankton and other biological life; and Alan Mix, a geological oceanographer who looks at climate change over thousands of years.


Story By: 

Charlie Miller, 541-737-4524

Shift in deer, elk populations prompts conference

CORVALLIS - A professional conference on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at Oregon State University will explore a significant change that has taken place in deer and elk populations in western Oregon - and the implications this has for forest and wildlife management decisions.

The key issue, organizers say, is that elk populations in this region of Oregon have exploded in recent years at the same time that blacktail deer numbers have crashed, in part due to an epidemic of hair loss syndrome. Experts attending the conference will examine how this dramatic shift in large wildlife numbers might be related to changing forest management practices and also how it might have an impact on future forest operations.

The event is titled "Relationships Between Forestry, Deer and Elk in Western Oregon."

"These are important issues from both a wildlife and forest management perspective," said Rick Fletcher, a professor of forestry Extension at OSU. "We're bringing in leading experts from all over the region to help biologists and forestry professionals understand what is going on, what is causing these changes and what may be some of the options for dealing with them."

Some people point to recent changes in forest management practices on both public and private lands that may be having an impact on these population trends in deer and elk, said Fletcher. As timber harvesting has declined on U.S. Forest Service and other public lands in western Oregon over the past 20 years, deer and elk have moved onto adjacent private lands that are being intensively managed for younger forests.

"Elk in western Oregon tend to travel more in large herds than deer do, and they can step on small trees, they even pull newly planted trees out of the ground," Fletcher said. "In general elk are far more destructive than deer when it comes to forestry plantings. This has led to major concerns by private landowners about the destruction of young forests on lands they are trying to manage."

Meanwhile, an invasive form of deer lice that first appeared several years ago in the Puget Sound area has moved into Oregon, causing catastrophic mortality of up to 50 percent in deer populations. Called deer hair loss syndrome, the exotic lice cause deer to literally pull their hair out, get hypothermia and often die. They are also being displaced from some lands by elk herds.

"Right now, hair loss syndrome is mostly just a problem for the blacktail deer on the west side, but recent studies have shown it can also affect mule deer that are more common in eastern Oregon, so we're very concerned about what may happen to those herds in the future," Fletcher said. "This is a pretty serious issue and a huge change in the historical makeup of our large wildlife."

The conference will explore such topics as:

  • Scientific knowledge about deer and elk in western Oregon;
  • "Forest landscape trends over time, including age class, vegetation and ownership trends;
  • "Interactions between deer and elk and forest management;
  • "Forage species by time of year and age of stand, under different management objectives;
  • "Browse damage and wildlife control measures;
  • "Options for partnerships and management actions.

The event is sponsored by OSU, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Forest Industries Council and Oregon Department of Forestry. It will be at the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center on the OSU campus, beginning at 8 a.m. The conference is designed for professionals but the public may attend, and there is a $30 registration fee. Call 541-737-2329 for more information.

A lunch presentation on "Forests, Deer and Elk: Where Are We Headed?" will be presented by Marla Rae, chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Many other presentations will be made by university researchers, agency management experts and representatives of private industry, and a panel discussion with questions from the audience will be held in the afternoon.

"We have a forest products industry that's trying to survive economically and provide for the needs of public wildlife on their lands," Fletcher said. "At the same time, we have some wildlife with serious disease issues that need to be considered.

"The goal of this meeting is not to find fault," he said. "There are likely no quick and easy solutions to this situation. But we can and definitely need to find some answers, and a future that works for all involved."

Story By: 

Rick Fletcher, 541-766-3554

“Surface Faults” Raise Ante for Pacific Northwest Earthquake Risks

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Much of Puget Sound and some other parts of the Pacific Northwest are vulnerable to “surface faulting” from earthquakes, researchers say, based on studies done with LiDAR – an aerial mapping technology that reveals what landforms would look like if buildings and vegetation were stripped away.

Surface ruptures, aside from the ground shaking associated with earthquakes, are the actual lines where an underlying fault breaks through the Earth’s surface. Surface faulting can send part of a building surging up or sideways, literally ripping a structure in two and causing massive destruction or loss of life.

Until the development of this powerful new technology by the U.S. Geological Survey, it had not been possible to locate surface ruptures precisely and learn how frequently they take place. The evidence of past surface faults is often hidden by dense vegetation or urbanization. But the ability to locate surface ruptures accurately and take steps to mitigate damage should prompt a new public awareness and building codes to deal with the issue, say researchers from Oregon State University.

“Most earthquake codes in Washington and Oregon consider and prepare for the damage that earthquakes can cause from ground motion or soil liquefaction,” said Robert Yeats, a professor emeritus of geosciences at OSU, and one of the nation’s leading experts on earthquakes. “In many areas, that’s adequate. But the discovery of a large earthquake about a thousand years ago on the Seattle fault, which extends beneath downtown Seattle, changed all that.”

“Now, our recent LiDAR studies have made it clear that surface faulting has been common in many parts of Puget Sound and other places in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “This includes the Seattle Fault system, Tacoma Fault and Southern Whidbey Island Fault between Seattle and Everett. We have no codes that take this into account, no real awareness of the potential problems. We are building structures, including a wastewater treatment plant north of Seattle, which literally straddle these fault lines and could be completely destroyed or heavily damaged by ground ruptures during a future earthquake.”

Yeats will outline these problems this weekend in a presentation at a regional meeting of the Geological Society of America at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Yeats says that he sees this as the third major step in the public and policy approach to earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest - a region once thought to be largely devoid of major earthquake potential. The first step, begun in the 1980s and led by the U.S. Geological Survey, was the realization that the entire area is vulnerable to massive Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquakes along a line from northern California to British Columbia.

“The second step we took during the 1990s was to restructure our building codes to recognize the potential for earthquake shaking, and start to build in ways that could save lives,” Yeats said. “Now, we need to take the final step, which is to realize that we can often identify the actual surface faults and better protect ourselves from ground movements directly on the fault line.”

Not all earthquakes manifest themselves with faults that cause ruptures in the Earth’s surface, Yeats said.

But some do. And when the surface is affected, the amount of ground shaking near it is even stronger, not to mention that the ground may move in two different directions beneath a building. On a thrust fault the movement might be up and down – one part of a building would get lifted while the other collapsed. On a strike-slip fault, the movement would be more sideways, literally tearing the building apart. In either case, the destruction is often catastrophic.

Awareness of this concern developed in California as far back as 1971 during the San Fernando Valley earthquake, leading that state to pass the Alquist-Priolo Act. It requires special geological studies prior to placement of certain structures on earthquake surface faults that have moved within the last 11,000 years. Oregon and Washington have no such laws or regulations.

A key in this evolving story, Yeats said, has been the growing use of LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging laser systems. This sophisticated airborne sensing technique can view the land from above and use technology to see the bare ground while “removing” the overlying vegetation or buildings. With it, surface faults can often be clearly seen on a map, and then ground trenching used to verify the fault and its dates of movement – similar to investigations at an archaeological site.

This technology was used, among other places, to discover the previously unknown Toe Jam Hill Fault on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Trenching by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed it had several episodes of surface rupture between 3,500 and 1,000 years ago. Significant earthquakes on this, or seven other Seattle-area surface faults that have been identified, could cause tens of billions of dollars in damages, Yeats said, and large loss of life.

“At this point, we still argue a little bit over the details, but this is not new science,” Yeats said. “It’s proven technology, and we can use it anywhere we want to outline risks from surface faults and do something about it, either by avoidance or earthquake engineering.”

However, Yeats said, progress on this issue is very slow, due to a lack of public awareness, government inaction and the need for new building policies.

“It may seem like common sense that you would not want to build a public school or hospital or other large building on top of an active fault that could split it in two,” Yeats said. “Unfortunately, history suggests that money will trump common sense every time.”

In places where such risks are taken far more seriously, Yeats said, building codes have been adapted and changes are already under way. Several school buildings at San Bernardino College in California are now being torn down and replaced, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, because it’s become clear that they straddle the San Jacinto Fault.

“Seattle and other parts of Puget Sound clearly have some of the most pressing concerns, because the U.S. Geological Survey has identified more surface faults that are active,” Yeats said. “But there are issues in Oregon, too. There are active surface faults in Klamath Falls that are very visible, anyone could see them. Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis straddles a fault line that may or may not be active.”

Of particular interest, he said, is the Portland Hills Fault which runs through downtown Portland. It’s not known for sure whether or not the fault is active or has caused surface disruption. Depending on the exact location of the fault, many downtown structures and the new multi-million-dollar tram may be near or actually straddle it, Yeats said.

According to Yeats, avoiding construction on a surface fault line is the easiest and most obvious solution.

But modern building and engineering techniques being developed by Jonathan Bray at the University of California, Berkeley may create other options. It may be possible, Yeats said, to design structures with special techniques that would reduce loss of life, if not completely protect a building.

Story By: 

Robert Yeats,

Multimedia Downloads

Puget Sound map
Dotted lines on this map of Puget Sound reveal many other surface faults – places in which the ground may actually rupture during an earthquake and cause catastrophic destruction to any building that straddles the fault.

Toe Jam Hill Fault
Researchers at Oregon State University say that “surface faults” pose an earthquake risk in the Pacific Northwest that is poorly understood or planned for. The Toe Jam Hill Fault on Bainbridge Island was unknown until recently, when special LiDAR images revealed it as the dark horizontal line running through the middle of this image.

OSU Researchers to Visit Site of 2004, 2005 Indonesian Quakes on Groundbreaking Project

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers from Oregon State University and an Indonesian science center are collaborating on a pioneering project to analyze the history of great earthquakes and tsunamis on the Sunda subduction zone, along the western margin of Sumatra and Java – site of one of the most devastating tsunamis in modern history.

Led by OSU marine geologist Chris Goldfinger, the expedition will travel this May to the site of a 2004 Indonesian earthquake and its resulting tsunamis, which devastated nearby Banda Aceh and other coastal cities in the Indian Ocean. They also will visit the site of a second major earthquake that struck west of nearby Nias Island in 2005.

The 43-day research project is funded by the National Science Foundation. It is based on an agreement and collaborative research plan recently developed by Goldfinger and Yusuf S. Djadjadihardja, an official with the Agency for Assessment of Application of Technology in Indonesia.

The project “continues the important cooperation between Indonesia and the United States on potential tsunami and earthquake related natural disasters” that was embodied in a previous hazards research agreement, said John Heffern, United States Embassy Charge d’Affaires.

This will be the first research ship from the United States allowed in Indonesian waters in nearly 30 years, said Goldfinger, a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. The researchers will take a series of piston core samples from aboard the R/V Roger Revelle, operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The 32-member scientific team will include at least eight scientists from Indonesia, who will collaborate closely on the analysis of the findings from the cruise.

“The region has had many, many earthquakes in its past, yet we know very little about its seismic history because of its remoteness and access issues,” said Goldfinger, one of the world’s leading experts on subduction zone earthquakes. “Historical records indicate that there were major earthquakes in Padang in 1797 and 1833 in addition to the two more recent quakes, but the evidence beyond that is a little spotty.”

The researchers will leave Phuket, Thailand, on May 7 and cruise to an area in the Indian Ocean west of Banda Aceh, which is on the northern tip of Sumatra, the largest island in Indonesia. From there, they will begin taking a series of core samples – about five to six meters in length – from the seafloor, which is about 4,000 to 6,000 meters below the surface.

They will collect roughly 50 core samples from the ocean along the west coast of Sumatra. From those cores, they will be looking for coarse sediments called “turbidites” that provide evidence of past earthquakes.

When a major offshore earthquake occurs, Goldfinger says, the disturbance causes mud and sand to begin streaming down the continental margins and into the undersea canyons. Sediments run out onto the abyssal plain. The coarser turbidites stand out distinctly from the fine particulate matter that accumulates on a regular basis between major tectonic events.

By dating the fine particles through carbon-14 analysis and other methods, they can estimate with a great deal of accuracy when major earthquakes have occurred.

Goldfinger has used the technique to recreate the seismic history of the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, where he has documented 34 major earthquakes during the past 10,000 years. At least 19 of those quakes, he says, ruptured along the entire length of the subduction zone – requiring an event of magnitude 8.5 or larger.

Going back further than 10,000 years has been difficult in the Cascadia Subduction Zone because the sea level used to be lower and West Coast rivers emptied directly into offshore canyons, Goldfinger pointed out. Because of that, it was difficult to distinguish between storms debris and earthquake turbidites.

“We hope to create the same kind of history for the Indian Ocean region, which is surprisingly similar to the Cascadia Subduction Zone in structure,” Goldfinger said. “If anything, the Indian Ocean is even better suited for this analysis because there is a huge basin between the rivers and the deep ocean that keeps the terrestrial sediments close to land.”

The researchers will further hone in on the dates of the deposits by studying the fossil record and variations in magnetic north that are recorded in the sediments.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a massive undersea earthquake centered west of Sumatra shook the entire region, generating a series of tsunamis that swamped low-lying coastal areas. Nearly 230,000 persons were killed or are still missing – one of the most devastating natural disasters in history. The earthquake’s magnitude was estimated between 9.1 and 9.3.

In March of 2005, a magnitude 8.7 quake struck an area just to the south, killing an estimated 1,300 people – most on the Indonesian island of Nias. Scientists are unsure whether the second quake was an aftershock or took place because the entire fault has been weakened.

“That’s why it is so important to gather the seismic history of the region,” Goldfinger said.

Eight researchers from OSU – including faculty, technicians and graduate students – will join colleagues from Indonesia as well as researchers from Germany and Japan on the study.

Story By: 

Chris Goldfinger,

Scientists Link Volcanic Eruption with Historic Major Global Warming Period

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of scientists announced today confirmation of a link between massive volcanic eruptions along the east coast of Greenland and in the western British Isles about 55 million years ago and a period of global warming that raised sea surface temperatures by five degrees (Celsius) in the tropics and more than six degrees in the Arctic.

The findings were reported in this week’s edition of Science.

The study is important, experts say, because it documents the Earth’s response to the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and methane – into the atmosphere, and definitively links a major volcanic event with a period of global warming.

“There has been evidence in the marine record of this period of global warming, and evidence in the geologic record of the eruptions at roughly the same time, but until now there has been no direct link between the two,” said Robert A. Duncan, a professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and one of the authors of the study.

Other authors are Michael Storey, from Roskilde University in Denmark, and Carl C. Swisher, from Rutgers University.

The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, or PETM, was a period of intense warming that lasted roughly 220,000 years. In addition to the warming of sea surface waters, this event – characterized by scientists as a “planetary emergency” – also greatly increased the acidification of the world’s oceans and led to the extinction of numerous deep-sea species.

Warming periods in Earth’s history are of interest as analogs to today’s climate change, Duncan said.

The international science team was able to link the PETM with the breakup of Greenland from northern Europe through analyzing the ash layers deposited toward the end of the peak of the volcanic eruptions. Using chemical fingerprints and identical ages, they were able to positively match ash layers in east Greenland with those in marine sediments in the Atlantic Ocean.

“We think the first volcanic eruptions began about 61 million years ago and then it took another 5 million years for the mantle to weaken, the continent to thin and the molten material to rise to the surface,” Duncan said. “It was like lifting a lid. The plate came apart and gave birth to the North Atlantic Ocean.”

The link from the volcanism to the warming period came through correlations with the marine fossil record. Dramatic changes in the carbon-isotopic composition of the ocean, corroded plankton shells, and the extinction of some bottom-dwelling organisms characterize the PETM. This interval occurred about 300,000 years before the ash layer, at the peak of volcanic activity in east Greenland.

The scientists speculate that massive release of greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and methane – from the “out-gassing” of the lava flows and heating of organic-rich sediments in basins along the east Greenland margin were responsible for the global warming and changes in ocean chemistry.

The breakthrough came from being able to find a marker – the ash eruption – that was distributed all over the North Atlantic, and showed up in the marine record as well, Duncan said.

The volcanic activity that took place in Greenland 55 to 61 million years ago brought up some 10 million cubic kilometers of magma from below the Earth’s surface. These lava flows can be plainly seen today in Greenland, western Scotland and the Faeroe Islands, where they cooled, leaving a layered sequence of lava flows as deep as six kilometers in some places. Duncan said the eruptions are similar in scale with the well-known Deccan Flood Basalts in India.

“They are also about 40 times as big as the Columbia River basalts in Oregon and Washington,” he said.

The Columbia River basalts likely had few global impacts, but the Deccan Flood Basalts, the Siberian Traps, and the Parana Flood Basalts in South America all coincide with periods of global warming or changes in the ocean chemistry, Duncan pointed out. No conclusive links have been established, however, he added.

“Similarly large submarine volcanic events correlate with major marine anoxic events – periods of no oxygen in the deep-ocean water – which we think are triggered by high surface productivity of plankton that have responded to nutrients released into the ocean by hydrothermal activity,” Duncan said.

Story By: 

Bob Duncan,

Book Explores Modern Western Silviculture

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists from Oregon State University and the U.S. Forest Service have produced a comprehensive new book on modern silviculture in the West, one of the only books of its type to focus on this specific region, incorporate the newest research findings and explore changing social values.

Titled “Silviculture and Ecology of Western U.S. Forests,” the 440-page book has been published by the Oregon State University Press. It costs $35, and is available at most major web retailers or on the OSU Press website at http://oregonstate.edu/dept/press

“This was written with forest practitioners, students and policy makers in mind, with a clear focus on the forests of the American West,” said John Tappeiner, professor emeritus of forest resources at OSU. “It should be understandable to the lay reader but provide very useful information for forest land owners and managers of all types.”

The book contains chapters on silvicultural systems, differences between federal and private lands, basic ecological principals, ecology of shrubs and hardwoods, tree growth, measures of stand density, use of controlled fire, insects, water stress, and many other topics. It addresses some of the changes in forest values, such as ways to manage lands for timber while maintaining forest health, reducing fire potential, benefiting wildlife and protecting aesthetics.

“This is a solid synthesis of 40 years of modern forestry research on western forests, which has never before really been pulled together in this way,” Tappeiner said. “People are now considering different types of silviculture and new options in land management. This text should be invaluable for those purposes.”

Authors of the book include Tappeiner; Douglas Maguire, associate professor of forest science at OSU; and Timothy Harrington, a research forester for the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service.

Story By: 

John Tappeiner,

Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Deep Mud Seafloors Face Quiet Destruction

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first study ever done of the effects of bottom trawling on mud seafloors off the West Coast of North America – a huge area that comprises thousands of square miles – suggests that trawling not only reduces fish numbers, but also severely alters communities of organisms inhabiting these deep-sea habitats.

The research compared trawled to untrawled areas 600 to 1,200 feet deep off the southern Oregon coast, and found nearly 20 percent fewer fish overall in the trawled areas, and 30 percent fewer fish species. Certain seafloor dwellers in this type of marine terrain, including sea pens and crabs, were six times more abundant in areas that had not been trawled.

In trawled areas, numerous scavenging species largely replaced the marine life common on undisturbed seafloors.

The study, made by direct observation from small two-person submarine, was just published by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

This report is the first of its type, scientists say, to examine the effects of a common fishing practice on a rather ordinary but vast ocean floor ecosystem off Washington, Oregon, and California – the mud flats that dominate more than 75 percent of the outer continental shelf.

Bottom trawling, in which large nets are dragged by ships along the seafloor and scoop up pretty much everything in their path, has been done in much of this area. This is one common source, among others, of the sole, lingcod, rockfish and other fish that are common seafood staples in grocery stores and restaurants. In recent years, 94 percent of the continental shelf and slope off Oregon and Washington that was trawled was swept less than once per year, and 6 percent more than once annually, according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences.

Regulatory approaches, including gear modifications and closed areas, have actually steered trawl fisheries toward the mud seafloors, keeping them out of rock or coral areas, because trawls cause less environmental damage on mud. But the long-term implications of fishing with this technology over such a broad area are a concern, according to study authors Mark Hixon, a professor of zoology at OSU, and Brian Tissot, a professor of environmental science at WSU.

“This ecosystem shows striking differences between trawled and untrawled areas,” said Tissot, an expert in seafloor organisms. “Areas that had obviously not been trawled were covered by forests of sea pens and other marine life, and the trawled areas looked like a desert, crisscrossed with trawl tracks.”

Untrawled mud seafloors were dominated by slow-growing but long-lived sea pens in forest-like stands inhabited by crabs, other invertebrates, and 27 species of fish, including soles, poachers, ratfish, and sablefish. In trawled areas, a very different range of scavenger species dominated the disrupted environment – including hermit crabs, sea stars, eelpout, hagfish, and others. These scavenger species may have been attracted to burrowing prey exposed by trawling, Tissot suggested.

“Past overfishing has already led to large and costly cutbacks in the trawl fishing industry,” said Hixon, an expert in marine fishes. “Some have compared bottom trawling to hunting elk by bulldozing forests. It’s very tough on seafloor habitats and larger organisms.

“We really don’t know much about how these systems work, how much trawling they can take, and how resilient they are to this type of damage,” he said. “Mud seafloor ecosystems of the continental shelf may not seem that important, and in the past they have been completely off the radar screen.

“But a question that must be asked is whether we want to sacrifice these ecological communities, not even knowing what the long-term effects of bottom trawling might be, or whether some mud areas on the continental shelf deserve permanent protection.”

The very deep ocean beyond the continental shelf is already protected from bottom trawling, as are certain rocky areas on the shelf. There are also temporary trawl closures on the shelf for rebuilding populations of over-fished rockfishes.

Hook and line, and trap fisheries are far less destructive to seafloor habitat, Hixon noted, but all fishing gears have their pluses and minuses. Bottom trawling has been an efficient means of gathering a huge amount of sea life off the ocean floor, but at the cost of seafloor alteration and wasted bycatch, or discarded, non-seafood species.

Among the species most directly reduced by trawling on deep mud seafloors were sea pens, the research found. Also known as sea whips, these are soft-bodied, erect organisms that anchor in the seafloor and project upwards as much as 3 feet, forming forest-like stands. Sea pens, which can live up to 50 years, were nearly absent on trawled bottoms.

Off Oregon and most of the rest of the West Coast, the continental shelf extends up to 30 miles offshore – a comparatively shallow area before the ocean drops into very deep waters – and is subject to state or federal regulations. Most of the continental shelf is dominated by mud seafloor, with smaller parts covered by rock or sand. A very small number of studies previously had looked at the effects of trawling in other types of marine terrain off Alaska and California, but none studied deep mud floors.

Numerous studies of bottom trawling done elsewhere in the world have concluded that this fishing practice often reduces habitat complexity, alters seafloor communities, reduces productivity, and has particular impact on fragile species that inhabit the still waters of the deep sea. Although the findings of the Oregon research are based on comparisons of limited scope that are less definitive than experimental studies, the observed patterns are entirely consistent with broader studies worldwide, Hixon said.

This study was funded by the U.S. Minerals Management Service, as part of a regional survey to see what type of sea life was living on rocky seafloors of the outer continental shelf of Oregon. Some of the submarine transects, by coincidence, ran onto mud seafloor areas instead of rocky areas.

Story By: 

Mark Hixon,

Multimedia Downloads

Mud Seafloors
Mud Seafloors
Mud Seafloors

Mud Seafloors

Arsenic Contamination in Wells Raises Concerns

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Public concerns about high levels of arsenic in well water have prompted a recent and continuing testing program in the area around Sweet Home, Ore., and may raise a warning flag for other areas of the state that could also face problems with this toxin due to geology or land use practices.

In a recent round of testing done near Sweet Home, almost one-fourth of the well water samples showed levels of arsenic now considered unsafe by EPA standards.

Some areas in the Tualatin Basin near Portland; the Ontario region in Eastern Oregon; areas around Creswell and Cottage Grove south of Eugene; and much of the Puget Sound area are also known to have some concerns about high groundwater levels of arsenic.

Officials at Oregon State University who operate the Extension Well Water Program say people should avoid a panic or emotional reaction to the issue of arsenic in water. Levels considered safe have been tightened recently and health risks are still unclear, said Gail Andrews, an assistant professor of bioengineering and OSU water quality educator – but consumers still should be aware and informed on the safety of their water and take action if necessary.

“Arsenic, in particular, is a poison that tends to have an emotional stigma attached to it,” Andrews said. “Probably a third of the calls I get are about this one issue. But there are ways water can be treated, people can drink bottled water, it’s not a problem using this water for bathing and many other uses, and the science is still somewhat uncertain about just how much of a danger arsenic is at very low levels.”

The health concern about arsenic is primarily related to its role as a carcinogen, even at extremely low levels, causing skin and possibly other cancers. Safety levels for public water supplies are measured in parts per billion – a level that’s about 1,000 times more stringent than some other common water contaminants such as nitrates. Recently, the allowed level for public water supplies was lowered from 50 to 10 parts per billion.

“Worth noting is that these are standards for accumulated lifetime exposure, meaning you drink primarily just that water from a single source for your entire life,” Andrews said. “Needless to say, if you moved a lot or had slightly higher levels at something like a vacation home you just visited occasionally, that would be much less of a concern.”

Arsenic is found naturally in some geologic formations, especially in wells that tap into deeper formations, and can vary over time. Sometimes levels are also related to past agricultural practices and use of pesticides. Maps are available outlining areas in the state where arsenic tends to be more of a concern, and it’s been known for some time that the Sweet Home area was one of the hot spots.

At the recent testing around Sweet Home, which was done with the collaboration and support of the local Rotary Club, 84 well water samples were submitted. Arsenic was not detected in 53 samples; found at levels between 4-10 parts per billion in 11 samples; was more than 10 ppb in 15 samples and more than 50 ppb in five samples. The highest level detected was 175 parts per billion.

As a follow up, another program is planned for community education and bringing in well water samples in Sweet Home on Thursday, May 10, from 6-8 p.m. in the meeting room of the Sweet Home School Board. Tests will be done for arsenic, nitrate levels and bacteria.

More information on this and many other well water issues can be obtained on the web at http://wellwater.oregonstate.edu or by calling 541-737-6294.

Many people do not realize, Andrews said, that there are no laws regulating standards for private wells – and often homeowners are not even aware they may have water problems with arsenic or other common contaminants such as nitrates or E coli. The burden is on the individual home owner, landlord or renter to be aware of potential well water risks and take steps to monitor or prevent them. Testing for arsenic is inexpensive, done by many private companies for about $25.

Treatments for arsenic contamination are available but often expensive – they can range from $3,000 to $8,000 for treatments with existing technology. Some new systems for treatment that are far less expensive may soon be available when testing is complete, Andrews said.

Story By: 

Gail Andrews,

OSU’s Ed Ray Signs “Presidents Climate Commitment” for Sustainability

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has joined a growing number of universities around the United States in an initiative to make its campus “climate neutral” by establishing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its energy usage.

OSU President Ed Ray this week signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment pledge.

“This is a commitment that we take quite seriously,” Ray said. “We have on our faculty international leaders in research and education on climate change and its impacts, so we have a sense of responsibility as an institution to become leaders in the operational aspects of sustainability as well.

“We have made some important strides already,” Ray added, “but we can do more.”

The commitment requires OSU to launch a two-year planning process to outline its path toward becoming “climate neutral,” which essentially means that the university will either emit no greenhouse gases, or it will offset its emissions through energy credits and other methods, said Brandon Trelstad, OSU’s campus sustainability coordinator. The most likely solutions, according to Trelstad, will come through a combination of conservation, offsets, and local renewable energy sources.

Part of the planning process will be to determine a realistic date in the future by which this may be accomplished, Trelstad added, and establishing goals for achieving and tracking progress.

“There are a number of interim steps the university can take toward increasing our sustainability, from construction guidelines to travel and purchasing policies,” Trelstad said. “Part of the planning process will be to solicit ideas from students, faculty and staff, and then determine how these might best fit in with the university’s goals and missions.”

The planning process will be led by a university-wide Sustainability Council, which already is in place.

OSU’s primary energy consumption sources are through its antiquated heating plant and electricity usage. Construction is just beginning on a new energy center for the university, which will reduce the amount of energy used to heat and power the campus by an estimated 38 percent, Trelstad pointed out. Much of the university’s electricity originates in Utah from coal-fired power plants.

“By making electricity on campus and efficiently using natural gas, we’ll reduce our global warming gases extensively,” Trelstad said. “The Energy Center also will be configured to easily transition to renewable fuels – like biodiesel, and perhaps someday, even biomass – when these fuels become more financially competitive.”

Trelstad said that OSU’s participation in the Presidents Climate Commitment positions the university to deal with potential future taxes on carbon emissions.

OSU is engaged in several other energy-reducing projects:

  • A project in Bexell Hall, home of the College of Business, will reduce the amount of energy consumed by lighting by approximately 50 percent. Lighting typically represents about 25 percent of the energy used in an office building. Bexell also is implementing new computer use policies and practices that could contribute to a goal of reducing energy use in the building by 50 percent.
  • The university is exploring new software products that would reduce the energy used by campus computers. The idea, Trelstad said, is to adjust the power settings on individual computers to match the needs of users.
  • OSU has a successful sustainability audit program for campus buildings that not only looks at energy consumption, but water and paper use, and even office furniture.
  • The university also is conducting an audit of its outdoor lighting to make sure that lighting is safe for pedestrians at night, but that lights don’t come on too early – especially since the change to daylight savings.
  • Recent campus buildings have been constructed in a more environmentally sustainable manner, exemplified by the 153,000-square-foot Kelley Engineering Center. Designed to be extremely energy efficient, and constructed using sustainable materials and techniques, it received a “Gold” LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Oregon State also has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a ‘Best Workplace for Commuters’ because we have great support for a variety of alternative transportation modes,” Trelstad said. “Since transportation has an obvious and significant impact on global warming, this is important to us as a university – and we’ve been a leader in this area for a long time.”

OSU’s faculty are actively involved in a number of research efforts related to sustainability, including the development of wave energy, passively safe nuclear power, biofuels and other new forms of energy under the Sun Grant initiative; and incorporating these and other new findings into sustainability education throughout the curriculum.

More information on the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment program is available online at: http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/index.php. Information on OSU’s efforts on sustainability is available at: http://oregonstate.edu/sustainability/

Story By: 

Brandon Trelstad,