environment and natural resources

Sea Level Rise Could Be Worse Than Anticipated

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If global warming some day causes the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to collapse, as many experts believe it could, the resulting sea level rise in much of the United States and other parts of the world would be significantly higher than is currently projected, a new study concludes.

The catastrophic increase in sea level, already projected to average between 16 and 17 feet around the world, would be almost 21 feet in such places as Washington, D.C., scientists say, putting it largely underwater. Many coastal areas would be devastated. Much of southern Florida would disappear.

The report will be published Friday in the journal Science, by researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Toronto. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and other agencies from the U.S. and Canada.

“We aren’t suggesting that a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is imminent,” said Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. “But these findings do suggest that if you are planning for sea level rise, you had better plan a little higher.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that a collapse of this ice sheet would raise sea levels around the world by about 16.5 feet, on average, and that figure is still widely used. However, that theoretical average does not consider several key forces, such as gravity, changes in the Earth’s rotation or a rebound of the land on which the massive glacier now rests, scientists say in the new study.

Right now, this ice sheet has a huge mass, towering more than 6,000 feet above sea level over a large section of Antarctica that’s about the size of Texas. This mass is sufficient to exert a substantial gravitational attraction, researchers say, pulling water toward it – much as the gravitational forces of the sun and moon cause the constant movement of water on Earth commonly known as tides.

“A study was done more than 30 years ago pointing out this gravitational effect, but for some reason it became virtually ignored,” Clark said. “People forgot about it when developing their sea level projections for the future.”

Aside from incorporating the gravitational effect, the new study adds further wrinkles to the calculation – the weight of the ice forcing down the land mass on which it sits, and also affecting the orientation of the Earth’s spin. When the ice is removed, it appears the underlying land would rebound, and the Earth’s axis of rotation defined by the North and South Pole would actually shift about one-third of a mile, also affecting the sea level at various points.

When these forces are all taken into calculation, the sea level anywhere near Antarctica would actually fall, the report concludes, while many other areas, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, would go up.

If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet completely melted, the East Coast of North America would experience sea levels more than four feet higher than had been previously predicted – almost 21 feet – and the West Coast, as well as Miami, Fla., would be about a foot higher than that. Most of Europe would have seas about 18 feet higher.

“If this did happen, there would also be many other impacts that go far beyond sea level increase, including much higher rates of coastal erosion, greater damage from major storm events, problems with ground water salinization, and other issues,” Clark said. “And there could be correlated impacts on other glaciers and ice sheets in coastal areas that could tend to destabilize them as well.”

It’s still unclear, Clark said, when or if a breakup of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might occur, or how fast it could happen. It may not happen for hundreds of years, he said, and even then it may not melt in its entirety. Research should continue to better understand the forces at work, he said.

“However, these same effects apply to any amount of melting that may occur from West Antarctica,” Clark said. “So many coastal areas need to plan for greater sea level rise than they may have expected.”

A significant part of the concern is that much of the base of this huge ice mass actually sits below sea level, forced down to the bedrock by the sheer weight of the ice above it. Its edges flow out into floating ice shelves, including the huge Ross Ice Shelf and Ronne Ice Shelf. This topography makes it “inherently unstable,” Clark said.

“There is widespread concern that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is characterized by extensive marine-based sectors, may be prone to collapse in a warming world,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Both digital images and video of the impact around the world of sea level increases up six meters can be obtained at this web site: https://www.cresis.ku.edu/research/data/sea_level_rise/index.html

A digital image of what Antarctica would look like if it consisted only of land actually above sea level is also available at this URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/4254316349/

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Peter Clark,

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More information and a video interview with the principal investigators can also be obtained from the National Science Foundation

Book on Old Growth Forests Combines Views of Different Stakeholders

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore looks at an old growth forest and sees a sanctuary, a place that has spiritual value. Timber company chairman Howard Sohn sees the value in old growth for its ecological characteristics, and wants to remove the guilt associated with forest management.

“Old Growth in a New World: A Pacific Northwest Icon Reexamined” is a new collection of essays just released by Island Press. The collection, edited by Thomas Spies and Sally Duncan, brings together perspectives on Northwest old growth forests from a variety of sources, from ecologists and sociologists to forest industry leaders and economists.

Spies is a research ecologist at the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis and has a courtesy appointment at Oregon State University. Duncan is policy research manager with the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU.

Spies said the origins for the book came from a 2005 conference where social, ecological scientists and policy makers were invited to have a conversation about the future of old growth forests – how we should view them, what kind of management should take place.

“The early debates about old growth were extremely polarized,” Spies said. “Once that fervor died down a bit, it was a good time to step back and see what we learned from that experience.”

Spies and Duncan wanted the book to represent a broad spectrum of views intrinsic to the old growth forest debate: perspectives from ecologists, economists, conservationists, social scientists and industry all were included.

Duncan said part of what resulted over the old growth issues in the 1990s was what she calls an “inflexible” view of old growth that rendered it as an icon, rather than as a living, changing ecosystem.

“Most natural resource issues are multi-faceted and do not have easy resolution, single answers, clear definitions or a manageable time frame,” she said, pointing to the fact that a definition of what constitutes the term “old growth” has never really been decided.

As climate change continues to change forest ecosystems, Spies said a constant reexamining of the issues confronting our forests will be needed.

“This isn’t a cookbook with recipes for solutions to the problems of old growth forests, but rather a guide to old growth that may lead toward a richer understanding of the issues and ultimately more effective policies and practices for our forests,” Spies said. “This has been a major issue in the Northwest for a long time, and it will continue to be.”

Some of the contributors to “Old Growth in a New World” include:

• Andy Kerr, senior counselor to Oregon Wild and a conservationist who lives in Ashland, writes on the early efforts of environmentalists to team up with scientists on forest policy initiatives;
• Denise Lach, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at OSU, on the “wicked problems” of old-growth forest management and clumsy solutions to “solving” such a complex system;
• Ross Mickey, manager with American Forest Resource Council in Portland and advocate for forest products industry, writes about the many different definitions of the term “old growth” and the need to actively manage and plant new forests;
• Kathleen Dean Moore, distinguished professor of philosophy at OSU and founding director of Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word, reflects on the value of an old growth forest for itself, rather than its value as a human commodity;
• Robert G. Lee, retired professor of sociology of natural resources from University of Washington, analyzes the question of what kind of spiritual values a forest holds, and ponders a new approach to nature that would be built on a new sense of science and religion;
• Gordon Reeves and Peter Bisson, research fisheries biologists with the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, write on the need for a management strategy that allows forests in other watersheds to attain old-growth stand properties as existing old growth stands are lost to natural disturbances;
• Hal Salwasser, dean of the College of Forestry at OSU, on the need for a broad perspective on old growth forests variability and the need to place these forests in the context of how human existence inevitably changes these ecosystems and permanently alters the landscape.

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Thomas Spies,

OSU Hires Texas A&M Entomologist to Study Honeybee Health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has hired a honeybee researcher from Texas A&M University as part of an initiative to help ensure that there are enough healthy honeybees to pollinate Oregon's crops.

The appointment of Ramesh Sagili, who will start his new job as an assistant research professor in OSU’s horticulture department on Feb. 27, means that Oregon State now has the first honeybee expert on its faculty since Michael Burgett retired in 2002.

Sagili's position was created at the request of Oregon agricultural groups worried about the health and supply of honeybees, which are crucial pollinators for many of the state's crops, including blueberries, pears, cherries, apples and vegetable seeds.

The funding for his salary comes from a $215,000 appropriation approved last year by the state legislature's Emergency Board. That money will also support a faculty research and extension assistant to aid Sagili in gathering and analyzing data about honeybee health, diseases and pests in Oregon. Their positions are funded for one year, but the university is working to identify additional funding to extend their employment.

Sagili, who earned a doctorate in entomology from Texas A&M, has two main duties: helping the honeybee industry through the OSU Extension Service and conducting research.

Sagili said his first action as Extension's honeybee specialist will be to meet with beekeepers and industry representatives to find out what problems they face. He also plans to provide educational workshops at locations convenient for agricultural producers and to develop a Master Beekeeper program that would provide training to novice and experienced beekeepers. Furthermore, he plans to create a honeybee Web site that will provide the latest information on research, management practices and pest control.

As for research, Sagili said he intends to investigate how honeybee health is affected by Varroa mites, pesticides and stress resulting from the migration of hives. He also plans to compare how locating hives near only one source of pollen (like an apple orchard) versus several different sources affects their physiology, learning behavior and colony growth. Additionally, he aims to design a field test that beekeepers can use to determine if their bees are consuming enough protein.

As part of his research, Sagili plans to investigate the use of brood pheromone, which is secreted by honeybee larvae, to stimulate bees' consumption of protein supplements during the winter so they're strong and healthy when the busy days of spring pollination roll around.

He also plans to explore the use of brood pheromone to decrease infestations of Varroa mites, which are parasites that suppress the immune systems of drone and worker honeybees, thus making them more susceptible to diseases and possible death.

Sagili said Varroa mites, nutritional deficiencies or other factors might be the cause of colony collapse disorder, which occurs when adult honeybees abandon a hive. The phenomenon came to light in 2006 when beekeepers on the East Coast began to see their honeybee colonies dwindle.

"Colony collapse disorder is so complex that it will be a long time before we arrive at a conclusion as to what is causing it,” Sagili said. “But meanwhile, beekeepers need to take steps to maintain healthy and strong colonies.”

It's unclear if the disorder has spread to Oregon, said OSU entomologist James Young. Young mailed voluntary surveys to beekeepers last year to find out what diseases and pests were affecting their honeybees. Of the 43 beekeepers who returned surveys, 12 reported losing 2,036 hives to what they thought was colony collapse disorder between January 2006 and March 2008.

Young emphasized, however, that this doesn’t mean that colony collapse disorder exists in Oregon. An apiary inspector would need to visit the hives and verify the beekeepers' self-diagnoses, said Young, who oversees OSU Extension's Honey Bee Diagnostic Service. The service was added to OSU's Insect ID Clinic last year in response to concerns from farmers, apiculturists and the general public about honeybee health. It checks for the presence of non-viral diseases and pests, including American and European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood and Varroa mites.

Young’s survey did confirm that American foulbrood and Varroa mites continue to be what he called "a serious threat" to apiculture in Oregon. Young and Sagili plan to conduct a more comprehensive examination of the health of Oregon's honeybees.


Ramesh Sagili,

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Ramesh Sagili

Ramesh Sagili

Study Finds Oldest Trees Grow Slowest – Even as Youngsters

NEWPORT, Ore. – A newly published study has found that the oldest trees in the forest also grow the slowest – and they likely aren’t the prettiest.

These ancient trees, whether they are evergreens or hardwoods, often are stunted and may be growing in a harsh micro-climate, such as in poor soil, in the shade of larger neighbors, or on a slope. Slow-growing trees “co-mingle” with faster-growing trees, the study found, and why the trees grow at different rates likely is a combination of genetics and environment.

“It has always been suspected but never proven that within a species, old trees grow slower,” said Bryan Black, an assistant professor of forestry at Oregon State University, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “The oldest trees, though, are not necessarily the biggest. Even though they have longer lifespans, the long-lived trees grow so slowly that they rarely get as big as their faster-growing, shorter-lived counterparts.

“That creates implications for management because this slow growth is apparent within the first 50 years,” Black added. “If the goal for a certain forest is timber production, resource managers may want to develop strategies to enhance fast-growing trees. The flip side would be logical if the goal was to produce an old-growth forest.”

Results of the meta-analysis study were published in the recent issue of the journal Ecoscience.

Black, who often works with marine scientists, said the study was inspired by his collaboration with fisheries research, where slow growth among long-lived individuals has long been accepted. A dendrochronologist, he began his research looking at how tree rings might contain clues to climate change and has studied similar age rings in the shells of clams and other bivalves and in the otoliths (ear bones) of long-lived fish.

In his analysis of old trees, Black combed through tree-ring studies looking at Douglas-fir, white oak, ponderosa pine and eastern hemlock and found the same held true regardless of species or location – old trees grow more slowly, and it begins early in their lives.

“Faster growing trees may put all of their energy into growth and burn out before they can achieve really old age,” he said. “Slow-growing trees may invest a lot in producing strong wood and defense mechanisms against insects and disease and never rise above the forest canopy.”

Why these different trees co-mingle is something of a mystery, Black admits. It may be a “tortoise-and-hare” situation.

Rapidly growing trees may occupy space more quickly, reach sexual maturity earlier, and are more prone to frequent, catastrophic disturbances, including flood, fire and windstorms, Black said. They also die at a younger age. Meanwhile, the slower growing trees channel their energy into structural support and defense compounds, don’t burn out from reproducing, and slowly-but-surely outpace their mercurial cousins.

These Methuselah-like trees are, in a word, “rugged,” Black said.

“These long-lived trees grow slowly – but not too slow,” Black said. “It seems to be some kind of balance that the trees grow at just the right pace for their environment and the conditions stop just short of causing them to die. The lesson is that there may be even greater diversity to our forests than we had realized.

“Moreover, this study adds to the growing body of research that links slow growth with longevity,” Black added. “It’s certainly true of animal species and apparently it is a phenomenon also shared by trees.”

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Bryan Black,

OSU Oceanographer, Forest Hydrologist Named AGU Fellows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Clare Reimers, a professor of chemical oceanography at Oregon State University, and Jeffrey McDonnell, an OSU forest hydrologist, have been elected fellows of the American Geophysical Union.

The international scientific organization focuses on the understanding of the Earth and space, and promotes research, education and outreach in fields including geology, oceanography, atmospheric sciences, hydrology, seismology, and others.

Acceptance as AGU fellows is restricted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the association’s members.

Reimers is on the faculty of OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, and also works out of the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Her research has focused on the biogeochemistry of ocean sediments and the development of chemical sensors for quantifying ocean chemical distribution and fluxes. Most recently she received attention for her efforts to develop long-term power sources for ocean sensors that harness energy from marine sediments and phytoplankton.

These power sources are similar to batteries but they are fueled with decaying plankton and catalyzed by bacteria. “The ocean is rich in microorganisms adept at shuttling electrons to fuel cell electrodes,” Reimers said.

Reimers also is leading a research program aimed at developing the capability to assess from ocean observatories how the benthic component of the coastal carbon cycle may vary over time and contribute or respond to human impacts and climate variability. Her studies have been funded by the National Science Foundation, NOAA, the Department of Defense and other sources.

McDonnell is a professor of forest engineering and holder of the Richardson Chair in Watershed Science in OSU’s College of Forestry. He is an expert on watershed hydrology, runoff processes and modeling, isotope hydrology and watershed theory. He leads the hill slope and watershed hydrology group at OSU, which tries to gain a general understanding of runoff generation processes in diverse watersheds. It answers basic questions such as where water goes when it rains, or what path it takes to the stream channel.

An OSU faculty member since 1999, McDonnell has received many career awards and honors, and authored more than 150 professional journal articles. He has received the Dalton Medal from the European Geophysical Union, the Gordon Warwick Award from the British Geomorphological Research Group, the Nystrom Award from the Association of American Geographers and the DSc from the University of Canterbury.

Last year, three OSU faculty members were elected as AGU fellows – all from the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences – Dudley Chelton, Robert Duncan and Anne Trehu. Nick Pisias, a professor in the college, was named a fellow in 1999. Emeritus faculty John Allen, Brent Dalrymple and Bernd Simoneit also are members.

Reimers and McDonnell will be honored at the association’s general assembly May 24-27 in Toronto, Canada.

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Clare Reimers,

Experts Explore Pathways to Salmon Resilience in New Journal Issue

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Is there anything really new to be said about the prospects for salmon in the Pacific Northwest? Yes, says a group of experts, including several from Oregon State University, in a series of perspectives collected in a special feature issue of the online journal Ecology and Society.

The special feature issue is titled “Pathways to Resilient Salmon Ecosystems”; access to the journal is free and open to the public (http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/).

Scientists, politicians, pundits and the public have been discussing the future of salmon since at least the 1870s, said Dan Bottom, an editor of the special issue and a research fisheries biologist for both NOAA Fisheries and courtesy faculty in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“The special issue of Ecology and Society offers on the one hand a critique of traditional command-and-control management of natural resources and on the other a search for scientific, political, and institutional alternatives for salmon conservation,” said Bottom.

“Unlike previous assessments of the ‘salmon problem,’ our special feature proposes an alternative conceptual framework for understanding human and natural interactions with salmon and for designing conservation approaches that will strengthen salmon ecosystem resilience.”

Resilience – the ability of a system to absorb disturbance without losing its characteristic structure or function – is the key idea that links articles in the issue together. The articles arose from a 2007 Oregon Sea Grant conference that assembled a broad range of experts for an unprecedented exchange about social-ecological resilience.

Among the OSU co-editors and authors of the “Pathways” special feature, besides Bottom, is Courtland Smith, professor emeritus of anthropology. Susan Hanna, an OSU Professor of agricultural and resource economics, is a contributing author, as are Carmel Finley of the history department and Gordon Reeves, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and courtesy faculty in the OSU fisheries and wildlife department.

Seven articles are online and several more papers will be added soon. The editors introduce the issue with an overview of key features of ecosystems that have been overlooked by conventional fishery management approaches but that become a focal point when resilience thinking is applied to salmon. Case studies in salmon ecosystem resilience and articles that synthesize a range of research and case studies follow.

Contemporary gillnetters on the Columbia River have adapted their own strategies for resilience, but as author Irene Martin explains, depleted salmon populations and recent listings under the Endangered Species Act have taken a severe toll on local communities and could threaten their continued advocacy on behalf of salmon.

Yet, as several of the papers discuss, an adequate accounting of social and ecological resilience has far-reaching implications for natural resource management. Historian Finley concludes that historical entrenchment of the maximum sustained yield concept in fisheries policy, science, and law has made it difficult for scientists and policy makers to implement new policies that enhance ecological resilience.

OSU economist Hanna discusses the challenge of designing institutions to promote ecosystem and human system resilience, emphasizing two critical elements of salmon ecosystem management that are missing from the existing institutional infrastructure – incentives and transaction costs.

For more news about science, marine education and related activities on the Oregon coast, subscribe to “Breaking Waves,” the Oregon Sea Grant news blog, at: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/blogs/.


Dan Bottom,