OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Study illuminates fate of marine carbon in last steps toward sequestration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

OSU

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OSU President Ed Ray

OSU President Ed Ray

 

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Forestry Dean Thomas Maness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

OSU presents ‘A Call to Life’ performance, discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rachelle McCabe and Kathleen Dean Moore

Call to Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eric Sproles,

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

AAAS and Oregon State University announce 2016 Fellows

WASHINGTON D.C.— Three Oregon State University professors have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

The OSU honorees are: Peter Clark, a distinguished professor of geosciences in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences; Alan Mix, a professor of geological oceanography in CEOAS; and Michael A. Osborne, a professor of history of science in the College of Liberal Arts.  

Clark and Mix were selected as part of the section geology and geography. Clark was elected for his seminal contributions toward understanding linkages among climate, ice sheets, and sea level over the past 100,000 years.

Mix was elected for distinguished contributions to the field of paleoceanography and paleoclimatology, particularly for improvement of proxy applications and understanding of the Quaternary ocean and climate dynamics.

Osborne was selected as part of the history and philosophy of science section. He was elected for distinguished contributions to the fields of the history of science and medicine with particular attention to the role of French colonialism and natural history.

This year 391 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. The Fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science Nov. 25.

New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Feb. 18, 2017, during the 2017 AAAS annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank of Fellow if nominated by the steering groups of the Association’s 24 sections, or by any three Fellows who are current AAAS members or by the AAAS chief executive officer.

Fellows must have been continuous members of AAAS for four years by the end of the calendar year in which they are elected. Each steering group reviews the nominations of individuals within its respective section and a final list is forwarded to the AAAS Council, which votes on the aggregate list.

 


 

About the American Association for the Advancement of Science: AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert! (www.eurekalert.org), the premier science news website, a service of AAAS. See www.aaas.org.

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Nkongho Beteck, 202-326-6434, nbeteck@aaas.org

West Coast record low snowpack in 2015 influenced by high temperatures

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The western-most region of the continental United States set records for low snowpack levels in 2015 and scientists, through a new study, point the finger at high temperatures, not the low precipitation characteristic of past “snow drought” years.

The study suggests greenhouse gases were a major contributor to the high temperatures, which doesn’t bode well for the future, according to authors of a new study published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters

In 2015, more than 80 percent of the snow measurement sites in the region – comprised of California, Oregon, Washington, western Nevada and western Idaho – experienced record low snowpack levels that were a result of much warmer-than-average temperatures. Most of the previous records were set in 1977, when there just wasn’t enough moisture to generate snow, according to Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study.

“The 2015 snowpack season was an extreme year,” Mote said. “But because of the increasing influence of greenhouse gases, years like this may become commonplace over the next few decades.” Impacts of the snow drought in California, Oregon and Washington led the governors of those states to order reductions in water use and saw many ski areas, particularly those in lower elevations, struggle. 

California has been in a drought since 2011 and this multi-year period of low precipitation, by some measures, is the state’s most severe in 500 years. In 2015, higher temperatures combined with low precipitation, leading to one of its lowest snowpack levels on record.

Oregon and Washington experienced much higher-than-average temperatures during the 2014-15 winter but were not as dry overall as California. Oregon, in fact, was 6.5 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than average during that period. 

“The story of 2015 was really the exceptional warmth,” said Dennis Lettenmaier, distinguished professor of geography at University of California Los Angeles and co-author of the study. “Historically, droughts in the West have mostly been associated with dry winters, and only secondarily with warmth. But 2015 was different. The primary driver of the record low snowpacks was the warm winter, especially in California, but in Oregon and Washington as well.”

The 2015 year was an eye-opener for the scope of the snow drought:

  • A total of 454 sites in the western United States (or 81 percent of the total sites) recorded record-low snowpack levels that year;
  • For 111 of the sites, the April 1 value was zero for the first time ever, essentially indicating that there was no snow left;
  • The overall snowpack level on April 1 in California and Oregon was 90 percent below average.

To determine the impact of greenhouse gases, the researchers used tens of thousands of citizen computers, each running a regional climate simulation in a sort of crowd-sourced supercomputer. The researchers ran one set of simulations using actual sea surface temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions from December 2014 to September 2015. 

Then they ran a series of simulations with lower greenhouse gas levels corresponding to the pre-industrial era, and teased out the impacts. A third set of simulations used modern greenhouse gases but removed the unusual pattern of sea surface temperatures in 2014-15.

“The data showed that both greenhouse gases and sea surface temperature anomalies contributed strongly to the risk of snow drought in Oregon and Washington,” said Mote, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “The contribution of sea surface temperatures was about twice that of human influence for Oregon and Washington.” 

Higher sea surface temperatures led to a huge patch of warm water, dubbed “The Blob,” that appeared in the northern Pacific Ocean more than two years ago. Scientists aren’t sure why the blob formed, though many blame a ridge of high pressure that brought sunnier weather and less mixing of surface water with colder, deeper water.

“Some recent studies suggest that a high pressure ridge that caused warmer temperatures over land also created the blob, but our results suggest that the blob itself may also have contributed to the warm winter here,” Mote said.

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Phil Mote, 541-913-2274, pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu; Dennis Lettenmaier, 310-794-4327; dlettenm@ucla.edu

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The year 2015 was the warmest on record for Oregon, resulting in low snowpacks and less water in many lakes and rivers. Pictured is Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon.

Wallowa Lake

‘State of the Coast’ conference set for Oct. 29

GLENEDEN BEACH, Ore. – Registration has opened for Oregon Sea Grant’s annual State of the Coast conference, which will be held Oct. 29 at the Salishan Spa and Golf Resort.

The event is designed to bring together the public, scientists, business and community leaders, fishermen, resource managers, teachers, students and conservationists so they can learn about current marine research and issues facing the coast. There are fees for attendance.

The keynote speaker will be Emmy-winning Michael Bendixen, a videographer and editor with Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Field Guide. Bendixen, who has worked with Oregon Sea Grant, has spent his career focusing on communicating science through art. He’ll talk about how he learns the science, crafts a story and produces a video.

Presentations will include the following topics:

  • an update on coastal legislation
  • what’s happening with wave energy
  • how and why the changing oceans are being monitored
  • the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s beach bill
  • innovations in coastal planning
  • harmful algal blooms
  • innovative approaches to engage youth in marine science, industry and issues in their communities
  • the effect of ocean oddities on fish ecology, such as “The Blob,” a huge patch of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean

Additionally, students from various universities in Oregon, including Oregon State University, will talk about their coastal research. Also, cooking demonstrations will teach participants how to prepare various types of seafood.

Registration in advance is recommended as space is limited. Cost is $35 for the public and $25 for students and includes lunch and a reception. Doors open at 8 a.m. and the conference starts at 9 a.m. For more information and to register, visit www.stateofthecoast.com. Salishan is at Gleneden Beach, about five miles south of Lincoln City.

Source: 

Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1339, fconway@coas.oregonstate.edu; Jamie Doyle, 541-572-5263, Jamie.Doyle@oregonstate.edu

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Sara Shaw Roberts, a former master’s student at Oregon State University, talks about her research at the 2015 State of the Coast Conference in Coos Bay. (Photo by Anne Farrell-Matthews)
2015 State of the Coast


Marie Kowalski, a former master’s student at Oregon State University, talks about her research on mitigating microplastics at the 2015 State of the Coast Conference in Coos Bay. (Photo by Anne Farrell-Matthews)

2015 State of the Coast

Tours available on OSU research vessel to dock in Portland at end of STEM cruise

NEWPORT, Ore. – For three days this week, Oregon high school students and teachers are joining scientists at Oregon State University aboard the research vessel Oceanus to gain at-sea research experience off the Oregon coast as part of a project to enhance their STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math skills.

This Friday, the young scientists and their professional partners will journey up the Columbia River aboard the R/V Oceanus and dock at Riverplace Marina in Portland, where they will spend the weekend doing a series of activities, including tours for K-12 students and the public.

The public tours will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. Space is limited and advance registration is required. For more information or to register for a tour, visit: http://bit.ly/2bTKyQ0.

The project is a collaborative effort from Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, which serves educators, students and communities along the Oregon coast and is located at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The students and high school teachers participating in the cruise are from Bandon, North Bend, Waldport, Newport and Warrenton.

“This is an opportunity for Oregon high school students and teachers to work with marine researchers and really dig into investigative scientific methods,” said Tracy Crews, marine education manager for Oregon Sea Grant. “It also provides an opportunity for graduate students to work as mentors with these young students alongside top scientists addressing some very real issues facing our oceans.”

Leigh Torres, a principal investigator with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, will serve as chief scientist on the cruise, which will include line transect surveys for marine mammals and seabirds off the Oregon coast.

“We will record where and when we observe different species assemblages of marine mammals and seabirds off the Oregon coast, and link this data with habitat and prey data collected during the cruise,” Torres said. “This will demonstrate the patchiness of ocean resources and how species are distributed differently relative to their particular needs.”

“We’re really hoping that this hands-on experience will trigger interest in STEM and enthusiasm for working on environmental challenges,” added Stacia Fletcher, director for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

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Tracy Crews, 541-867-0329, tracy.crews@oregonstate.edu

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Research vessel Oceanus; photos by Pat Kight

R/V Oceanus

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