OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Northwest residents should channel fear of earthquake into pragmatic action

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A national news article suggesting that everything in Oregon west of Interstate-5 “would be toast” in a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake certainly drew attention to the seismic reality facing the Pacific Northwest.

The concern, though, is that people are focusing on the most draconian or extreme scenarios, experts say, which can lead to a sense of fatalism. The reaction illustrates the state of earthquake and tsunami preparedness – or lack thereof – in the United States, said Patrick Corcoran, a Sea Grant education and outreach specialist at Oregon State University who works with coastal communities on disaster preparedness.

It’s a matter of feast or famine.

“The Cascadia Subduction Zone has shifted from a science project to a social studies project,” Corcoran said. “We need to find a sweet spot between fear and action. What I try to do is temper the tendency of people to toggle between the poles of ‘it won’t happen here’ and ‘it will be so bad that there’s no use worrying about it.’”

Oregon has been taking some of the first serious steps toward earthquake mitigation, said Scott Ashford, dean of OSU’s College of Engineering and chair of governor-appointed task force on preparation. Recent legislation has resulted in a large increase in funding for K-12 and emergency facility seismic retro-fitting, as well as the creation of a new position – the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer.

Oregon is also working on some of the first tsunami building codes, which likely will be implemented over the next few years.

Oregon State University scientists have been warning Pacific Northwest citizens for more than a quarter of a century about the potential of a major earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The subduction of a tectonic plate beneath North America has the potential to trigger an earthquake ranging from  magnitude 8.0, as happened in Chile in 2010, to 9.0 (or greater), which took place in Japan in 2011.

Scientists believe that a magnitude 9.0-plus earthquake, which Corcoran calls “the largest of the large,” would likely trigger a tsunami that could devastate coastal communities, while the earthquake could destroy infrastructure throughout western Oregon and Washington, including roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, and the power grid.

However, he added, the more probable scenario is an earthquake on “the average side of large,” where the damage is less. The best response isn’t necessarily to flee the region, Corcoran said, but to become pro-active in preparing for a disaster.

As residents in Japan, Nepal, Chile and other countries have done, Northwesterners need to learn to live with the realistic threat of an earthquake and tsunami – not ignore the threat and hope they don’t happen.

The best approach, Corcoran says, is to prepare for the “most likely next event” – and that doesn’t necessarily mean the destruction of western Oregon as we know it.

“We don’t insist on the worst-case scenario with driving vehicles,” Corcoran said. “We don’t have a zero-tolerance for car fatalities. We try to do our best to identify and mitigate the risks, but we assume a great deal of risk. We don’t require that all cars be able to hit a brick wall at 100 miles per hour and have passengers unharmed. That’s impractical. We need to consider a similar approach with earthquakes.”

Chris Goldfinger, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and a leading expert on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, estimates that the chances of a major earthquake off the coast from northern California to just south of Astoria are about 24 percent in the next 50 years. “South of Cape Blanco, Ore., the chances increase to about 37 percent,” he added.

Goldfinger said the furor in news reports and on social media about western Oregon becoming “toast” have been misconstrued. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has to prepare for a worst-case scenario as the starting point for its planning, he said, but that doesn’t mean that experts think western Oregon will be destroyed.

So, how big will the next Northwest earthquake be? No one knows. Thus outreach specialists like Corcoran say the prudent thing to do is plan for a range of events. “Discussing the range and likelihood of the next event can bring some air into the room.”

Corcoran said preparation helped save 90 percent of the 200,000 people in the inundation zone during Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Northwest has a much smaller coastal population, he added. On the other hand, Japan was much more prepared for disaster.

“We have to prepare commensurate with the risk,” Corcoran said. “Our society tends to be dismissive of preparation, especially evacuation drills. They are silly, they are embarrassing and it’s usually raining. The only people who actually do drills are high schools and hospitals because they are required to. But drills save lives, as they learned in Japan.”

Communities and individuals can prepare for natural disasters by understanding that they eventually will happen. Once you accept that and actually expect it, Corcoran said, preparation becomes second nature. Strap down water heaters, learn where the shutoff valve for natural gas may be in your house, and have several days of food and water available, he added.

People on the coast living in inundation zones should identify areas of high ground near their homes, work and recreation areas. “Work locally to make them accessible,” Corcoran said, “then conduct practice drills on how to get to them.”

OSU engineering dean Ashford is spearheading an initiative called the Cascadia Lifeline Project that is organizing public utilities, transportation agencies, and others to begin work on how to prepare for life after a major earthquake. Communities need to think about restoring vital services after an earthquake, including power, water, sewer and others.

Ashford testified to Congress in May about the need for public agencies, private businesses and individuals to develop the resilience to withstand an earthquake. He urged Congress to support three federal initiatives:

  • Invest in more resilient transportation networks that will be critical to rescue, relief and recovery efforts following a natural disaster;
  • Partner with states to require seismic resilience of federally regulated utilities that transport liquid fuel through pipelines and supply the majority of a state’s population, such as in Oregon;
  • Invest in applied research to improve earthquake resilience.

“It will take 50 years for us to fully prepare for this impending earthquake,” Ashford said. “We can’t simply go out and replace all of our existing infrastructure. But we can start now, and we can begin to find ways to better retro-fit, replace or repair things after an earthquake.”

Corcoran said most people are not tuned into long-term threats like300-year earthquake cycles. Since people in the Pacific Northwest only recently learned about this major recurring natural disaster, it is natural for some to feel blindsided by the knowledge and not fully embrace it, he added.

Recent media attention has wakened some people to the idea of an earthquake, but it is critical to channel that awareness into positive action, he said.

“As good as our local emergency officials are, they will be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the circumstances when a major earthquake takes place,” Corcoran said. “Preparation must begin with the individual, then focus on mutual aid among neighbors, and finally on public aid and assistance. Businesses, too, must support the safety of their employees and customers.”

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Pat Corcoran, 503-325- 8573, Patrick.corcoran@oregonstate.edu;

Chris Goldfinger, 541-737-5214, gold@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Scott Ashford, 541-737-5232, scott.ashford@oregonstate.edu

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Scott Ashford measures ground upheaval in Japan.

 

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An earthquake-toppled building in Chile.

 

 

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Patrick Corcoran works with coastal communities.

 

 

OSU researchers discover the unicorn – seaweed that tastes like bacon!

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have patented a new strain of a succulent red marine algae called dulse that grows extraordinarily quickly, is packed full of protein and has an unusual trait when it is cooked.

This seaweed tastes like bacon.

Dulse (Palmaria sp.) grows in the wild along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. It is harvested and usually sold for up to $90 a pound in dried form as a cooking ingredient or nutritional supplement. But researcher Chris Langdon and colleagues at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have created and patented a new strain of dulse – one he has been growing for the past 15 years.

This strain, which looks like translucent red lettuce, is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants – and it contains up to 16 percent protein in dry weight, Langdon said.

“The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia,” Langdon pointed out. “We were able to grow dulse-fed abalone at rates that exceeded those previously reported in the literature. There always has been an interest in growing dulse for human consumption, but we originally focused on using dulse as a food for abalone.”

The technology of growing abalone and dulse has been successfully implemented on a commercial scale by the Big Island Abalone Corporation in Hawaii.

Langdon’s change in perspective about dulse was triggered by a visit by Chuck Toombs, a faculty member in OSU’s College of Business, who stopped by Langdon’s office because he was looking for potential projects for his business students. He saw the dulse growing in bubbling containers outside of Langdon’s office and the proverbial light went on.

“Dulse is a super-food, with twice the nutritional value of kale,” Toombs said. “And OSU had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”

Toombs began working with OSU’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, where a product development team created a smorgasbord of new foods with dulse as the main ingredient. Among the most promising were a dulse-based rice cracker and salad dressing.

The research team received a grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to explore dulse as a “specialty crop” – the first time a seaweed had made the list, according to Food Innovation Center director Michael Morrissey.

That allowed the team to bring Jason Ball onto the project. The research chef previously had worked with the University of Copenhagen’s Nordic Food Lab, helping chefs there better use local ingredients.

“The Food Innovation Center team was working on creating products from dulse, whereas Jason brings a ‘culinary research’ chef’s perspective,” said Gil Sylvia, director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “The point that he and other chefs make is that fresh, high-quality seaweed is hard to get. ‘You bring us the seaweed,’ they say, ‘and we’ll do the creative stuff.’”

Several Portland-area chefs are now testing dulse as a fresh product and many believe it has significant potential in both its raw form and as a food ingredient.

Sylvia, who is a seafood economist, said that although dulse has great potential, no one has yet done a full analysis on whether a commercial operation would be economically feasible. “That fact that it grows rapidly, has high nutritional value, and can be used dried or fresh certainly makes it a strong candidate,” he said.

There are no commercial operations that grow dulse for human consumption in the United States, according to Langdon, who said it has been used as a food in northern Europe for centuries. The dulse sold in U.S. health food and nutrition stores is harvested, and is a different strain from the OSU-patented variety.

“In Europe, they add the powder to smoothies, or add flakes onto food,” Langdon said. “There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing. When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

The vegan market alone could comprise a niche.

Langdon, a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU and long-time leader of the Molluscan Broodstock Program, has two large tanks in which he can grow about 20-30 pounds of dulse a week. He has plans to up the production to 100 pounds a week. For now, they are using the dulse for research at the Food Innovation Center on dulse recipes and products.

However, Toombs’ MBA students are preparing a marketing plan for a new line of specialty foods and exploring the potential for a new aquaculture industry.

“The dulse grows using a water recirculation system,” Langdon said. “Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation. You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”

The background of how Langdon and his colleagues developed dulse is outlined in the latest version of Oregon’s Agricultural Progress at : http://bit.ly/1fo9Doy

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Chris Langdon, 541-867-0231, chris.langdon@oregonstate.edu;  Chuck Toombs, 541-737-4087, Charles.Toombs@oregonstate.edu;

Michael Morrisey, 503-872-6656, Michael.Morrissey@oregonstate.edu;  Gil Sylvia, 541-867-0284, gil.sylvia@oregonstate.edu

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Dulse in its seaweed form

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Dulse prepared in a dish

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Chris Langdon near a vat of growing dulse

OSU makes plans for expansion at Hatfield Marine Science Center

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon Legislature has approved $24.8 million in state bonding to help fund a new building at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport that will be a centerpiece for research and education on critical issues facing coastal communities.

The $50 million, 100,000-square-foot facility is an integral part of OSU’s ambitious Marine Studies Initiative, designed to educate students and conduct research on marine-related issues, from rising sea levels and ocean acidification to sustainable fisheries and economic stability.

Oregon State officials plan to begin construction on the new building in 2016/17 and open as early as 2018. The OSU Foundation will raise an additional $40 million in private funding for the Marine Studies Initiative – $25 million to match state funds for the new building and another $15 million to support related programs. Donors have pledged more than 75 percent of the total to date.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will need to sign the legislation before it becomes official.

“This is an investment that will benefit not only higher education, but the research needs and the economic vitality for the entire coast,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “The support and leadership of the coastal legislators has been invaluable.”

Coastal legislators include senators Betsy Johnson, Arnie Roblan, and Jeff Kruse; and representatives Wayne Krieger, Caddy McKeown, Deborah Boone and David Gomberg.

“This new building is essential to the university’s goals of expanding education and research on marine-related issues,” said Bob Cowen, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center. “There are so many critical issues facing coastal communities today – from economic stress tied to variable fish stocks to concerns over tsunamis, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, erosion and others.”

“The expansion is long overdue,” added Cowen, who is co-leader of the Marine Studies Initiative. “Although we’ve added a couple of buildings earmarked for state or federal agencies, it’s been decades since Oregon State has added capacity at the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus.”

Cowen said one area of focus for expansion will the overarching theme of coastal resilience.

“Geology students may come here to study coastal erosion, oceanography students may explore sea level rise, engineers might look at options for coastal buildings that are resistant to tsunamis or tidal surge, and sociologists could lead the way on how communities respond to a disaster,” Cowen said.

The new facility will be located adjacent to the Guin Library on the HMSC campus, which is just east of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay in Newport. The location places the facility in close proximity to critically important saltwater laboratories and other HMSC research facilities. It is within the tsunami inundation zone, OSU officials say, though careful consideration went into the siting.

“We are very much aware of the various geological hazards the Pacific Ocean presents and we choose to use the siting as an educational and design opportunity,” Cowen said. “Our focus is on life safety. We believe we can be a model for anticipating a seismic event, and for how to live safely and productively in a tsunami zone. We want to be a showcase for earthquake and tsunami preparedness.”

OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative has set a goal to teach 500 students at the Hatfield center by 2025, and expand research at the facility, which is run by Oregon State and shared by several agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The multiple agencies, along with Hatfield’s saltwater research laboratories and ship operations, make it one of the most important marine science facilities in the country – and the combination provides unique opportunities for OSU students.

“One of the goals of the Marine Studies Initiative is to really broaden various disciplines across the university,” said Jack Barth, associate dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-leader of the Marine Studies Initiative. “We’ll still focus on fisheries, marine biology, ocean processes and other science-related issues, but we see some exciting areas into which we could expand including economics, social and public policies, ocean engineering and others.

“In fact, the new marine studies degree will be housed in the College of Liberal Arts,” Barth added.

Cowen said the new facility will enable OSU to expand its teaching and research capacity at Hatfield by 20-25 faculty members. On the research side, principal investigators will work with graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and technicians, further expanding the center’s capacity. “Right now, OSU has about 12-14 research faculty on-site,” Cowen said, “so we’re talking about a significant increase.”

The new building will have several large spaces that will accommodate scientific talks and community workshops focused on marine issues.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center celebrates its 50th anniversary in August. More information on the event is available at http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/main/50th-anniversary-hmsc

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211, robert.cowen@oregonstate.edu;

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

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OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. (click to open)

Researchers measure giant “internal waves” that help regulate climate

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Once a day, a wave as tall as the Empire State Building and as much as a hundred miles wide forms in the waters between Taiwan and the Philippines and rolls across the South China Sea – but on the surface, it is hardly noticed.

These daily monstrosities are called “internal waves” because they are beneath the ocean surface and though scientists have known about them for years, they weren’t really sure how significant they were because they had never been fully tracked from cradle to grave.

But a new study, published this week in Nature Research Letter, documents what happens to internal waves at the end of their journey and outlines their critical role in global climate. The international research project was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Taiwan National Science Council.

“Ultimately, they are what mixes heat throughout the ocean,” said Jonathan Nash, an Oregon State University oceanographer and co-author on the study. “Without them, the ocean would be a much different place. It would be significantly more stratified – the surface waters would be much warmer and the deep abyss colder.

“It’s like stirring cream into your coffee,” he added. “Internal waves are the ocean’s spoon.”

Internal waves help move a tremendous amount of energy from Luzon Strait across the South China Sea, but until this project, scientists didn’t know what became of that energy. As it turns out, it’s a rather complicated picture. A large fraction of energy dissipates when the wave gets steep and breaks on the deep slopes off China and Vietnam, much like breakers on the beach.

But part of the energy remains, with waves reflecting from the coast and rebounding back into the ocean in different directions.

The internal waves are caused by strong tides flowing over the topography, said Nash, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The waves originating in Luzon Strait are the largest in the world, based on the region’s tidal flow and topography. A key factor is the depth at which the warm- and cold-water layers of the ocean meet – at about 1,000 meters.

The waves can get as high as 500 meters tall and 100-200 kilometers wide before steepening.

“You can actually see them from satellite images,” Nash said. “They will form little waves at the ocean surface, and you see the surface convergences piling up flotsam and jetsam as the internal wave sucks the water down. They move about 2-3 meters a second.”

The waves also have important global implications. In climate models, predictions of the sea level 50 years from now vary by more than a foot depending on whether the effects of these waves are included.

“These are not small effects,” Nash said.

This new study, which was part of a huge international collaboration involving OSU researchers Nash and James Moum – as well as 40 others from around the world – is the first to document the complete life cycle of these huge undersea waves.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Jonathan Nash, 541-737-4573, nash@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Large "internal waves" are generally not seen at the surface, but their signature is - visible slicks and changes in surface roughness and color.

Solomon Islands dolphin hunts cast spotlight on small cetacean survival

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new study on the impact of ‘drive-hunting’ dolphins in the Solomon Islands is casting a spotlight on the increasing vulnerability of small cetaceans around the world.

From 1976 to 2013, more than 15,000 dolphins were killed by villagers in Fanalei alone, where a single dolphin tooth can fetch the equivalent of 70 cents ($0.70 U.S.) – an increase in value of five times just in the last decade.

Results of the Solomon Islands study are being reported this week online in the new journal, Royal Society Open Science.

“In the Solomon Islands, the hunting is as much about culture as economic value,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and co-author on the study. “In other parts of the world, however, the targeting of dolphins and other small cetaceans appears to be increasing as coastal fishing stocks decline.

“The hunting of large whales is managed by the International Whaling Commission,” added Baker, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “But there is no international or inter-governmental organization to set quotas or provide management advice for hunting small cetaceans. Unregulated and often undocumented exploitation pose a real threat to the survival of local populations in some regions of the world.”

The drive-hunting of dolphins has a long history in the Solomon Islands, particularly at the island of Malaita, according to Marc Oremus, a biologist with the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium and lead author on the study. In 2010, the most active village, Fanalei, suspended hunting in exchange for financial compensation from an international non-governmental organization. The villagers resumed hunting in 2013.

“After the agreement broke down in 2013, a local newspaper reported that villagers had killed hundreds of dolphins in just a few months,” Oremus said. “So we went to take a look.”

Oremus and co-author John Leqata, a research officer with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, visited Fanalei in March of 2013 to document the impact on the population, and examine detailed records of the kills. During the first three months of that year, villagers killed more than 1,500 spotted dolphins, 159 spinner dolphins, and 15 bottlenose dolphins.

This is one of the largest documented hunts of dolphins in the world, rivaling even the more-industrialized hunting of dolphins in Japan, noted Baker, whose genetic identification research was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary on dolphin exploitation, “The Cove.”

“It is also troubling that teeth are increasing in cash value, apparently creating a commercial incentive for hunting dolphins,” Baker said.

In drive-hunting, the hunters operate in close coordination from 20 to 30 traditional canoes. When dolphins are found, the hunters used rounded stones to create a clapping sound underwater. The hunters maneuver the canoes into a U-shape around the dolphins, using sound as an acoustic barrier to drive them toward shore where they are killed.

“The main objective of the hunt is to obtain dolphin teeth that are used in wedding ceremonies,” Oremus said. “The teeth and meat are also sold for cash.”

Oremus said the Solomon Island hunters understand the risk of exploiting the population.

“The government of the Solomon Islands has contributed substantially to research in recent years, but is not well-equipped to undertake the scale of research needed to estimate abundance and trends of the local dolphin population,” Oremus said. “This problem exists in many island nations with large ‘Exclusive Economic Zones.’”

The research was supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Pew Environmental Group and the International Whaling Commission.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Scott Baker, 541-272-0560, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu

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Dolphin teeth are sold for necklaces

Researchers think Axial Seamount off Northwest coast is erupting – right on schedule

NEWPORT, Ore. – Axial Seamount, an active underwater volcano located about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon and Washington, appears to be erupting – after two scientists had forecast that such an event would take place there in 2015.

Geologists Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Scott Nooner of the University of North Carolina Wilmington made their forecast last September during a public lecture and followed it up with blog posts and a reiteration of their forecast just last week at a scientific workshop.

They based their forecast on some of their previous research – funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which showed how the volcano inflates and deflates like a balloon in a repeatable pattern as it responds to magma being fed into the seamount.

Since last Friday, the region has experienced thousands of tiny earthquakes – a sign that magma is moving toward the surface – and the seafloor dropped by 2.4 meters, or nearly eight feet, also a sign of magma being withdrawn from a reservoir beneath the summit. Instrumentation recording the activity is part of the NSF-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative. William Wilcock of the University of Washington first observed the earthquakes.

“It isn’t clear yet whether the earthquakes and deflation at Axial are related to a full-blown eruption, or if it is only a large intrusion of magma that hasn’t quite reached the surface,” said Chadwick, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and also is affiliated with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “There are some hints that lava did erupt, but we may not know for sure until we can get out there with a ship.”

In any case, the researchers say, such an eruption is not a threat to coastal residents. The earthquakes at Axial Seamount are small and the seafloor movements gradual and thus cannot cause a tsunami. Nor is the possible eruption tied to a possible Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

“I have to say, I was having doubts about the forecast even the night before the activity started,” Chadwick admitted. “We didn’t have any real certainty that it would take place – it was more of a way to test our hypothesis that the pattern we have seen was repeatable and predictable.”

Axial Seamount provides scientists with an ideal laboratory, not only because of its close proximity to the Northwest coast, but for its unique structure.

“Because Axial is on very thin ocean crust, its ‘plumbing system’ is simpler than at most volcanoes on land that are often complicated by other factors related to having a thicker crust,” said Chadwick, who is an adjunct professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Thus Axial can give us insights into how volcano magma systems work – and how eruptions might be predicted.”

Axial Seamount last erupted in 2011 and that event was loosely forecast by Chadwick and Nooner, who had said in 2006 that the volcano would erupt before 2014. Since the 2011 eruption, additional research led to a refined forecast that the next eruption would be in 2015 based on the fact that the rate of inflation had increased by about 400 percent since the last eruption.

“We’ve learned that the supply rate of magma has a big influence on the time between eruptions,” Nooner said. “When the magma rate was lower, it took 13 years between eruptions. But now when the magma rate is high, it took only four years.”

Chadwick and Nooner are scheduled to go back to Axial in August to gather more data, but it may be possible for other researchers to visit the seamount on an expedition as early as May. They hope to confirm the eruption and, if so, measure the volume of lava involved.

Evidence that was key to the successful forecast came in the summer of 2014 via measurements taken by colleagues Dave Caress and Dave Clague of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Mark Zumberge and Glenn Sasagawa of Scripps Oceanographic Institution. Those measurements showed the high rate of magma inflation was continuing.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Bill Chadwick, 541-867-0179, bill.chadwick@oregonstate.edu

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Axial Seamount vent taken in 2011


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Longest mammal migration raises questions about distinct species

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of scientists from the United States and Russia has documented the longest migration of a mammal ever recorded – a round-trip trek of nearly 14,000 miles by a whale identified as a critically endangered species that raises questions about its status.

The researchers used satellite-monitored tags to track three western North Pacific gray whales from their primary feeding ground off Russia’s Sakhalin Island across the Pacific Ocean and down the West Coast of the United States to Baja, Mexico. One of the tagged whales, dubbed Varvara (which is Russian for Barbara), visited the three major breeding areas for eastern gray whales, which are found off North America and are not endangered.

Results of their study are being published this week by the Royal Society in the journal Biology Letters.

“The fact that endangered western gray whales have such a long range and interact with eastern gray whales was a surprise and leaves a lot of questions up in the air,” said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “Past studies have indicated genetic differentiation between the species, but this suggests we may need to take a closer look.”

Western gray whales were thought to have gone extinct by the 1970s before a small aggregation was discovered in Russia off Sakhalin Island – with a present estimated population of 150 individuals that has been monitored by scientists from Russia and the U.S. since the 1990s.

Like their western cousins, eastern gray whales were decimated by whaling and listed as endangered, but conservation efforts led to their recovery. They were delisted in 1996 and today have a population estimated at more than 18,000 animals.

Not all scientists believe that western gray whales are a separate, distinct species. Valentin Ilyashenko of the A.N Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution, who is the Russian representative to the International Whaling Commission, has proposed since 2009 that recent western and eastern gray whale populations are not isolated and that the gray whales found in Russian waters are a part of an eastern population that is restoring its former historical range. He is a co-author on the study.

“The ability of the whales to navigate across open water over tremendously long distances is impressive and suggests that some western gray whales might actually be eastern grays,” Mate said. “But that doesn’t mean that there may not be some true western gray whales remaining.

“If so, then the number of true western gray whales is even smaller than we previously thought.”

Since the discovery that western and eastern gray whales interact, other researchers have compared photo catalogues of both groups and identified dozens of western gray whales from Russia matching whale photographs taken in British Columbia and San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, Mexico.

Protecting the endangered western gray whales has been difficult – five whales have died in Japanese fishing nets within the last decade. Their feeding areas off Japan and Russia include fishing areas, shipping lanes, and oil and gas production – as well as future sites oil sites. Their largely unknown migration routes may include additional hazards.

The study was coordinated by the International Whaling Commission, with funding provided by Exxon Neftegas Limited, the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, the U.S. Office of Naval Research, and OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

 Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202, bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu; Ladd Irvine, 541-867-0394, ladd.irvine@oregonstate.edu

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Western Gray Whale - Sakhalin Island, Russia

 

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Photos by Craig Hayslip, OSU Marine Mammal Institute

OSU to host Marine Science Day at Hatfield Marine Science Center

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 11, commemorating the 50th anniversary of this unique Oregon State University facility.

Dedicated in 1965, the center has become an integral part of coastal development, education, research, tourism and economics. Marine Science Day runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, located southeast of the Hwy. 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay in Newport.

“Marine Science Day is how we give back to the coastal, statewide and international communities we serve, but it is also a way to honor the past and celebrate the future in this, our 50th year,” said Bob Cowen, director of the center. “We will have many of our former faculty, staff and students at HMSC for a reunion that weekend, which will be very meaningful.

“We will get to see the shoulders we are standing on and harness 50 years of momentum as we look to the future,” he added.

Marine Science Day, which is free and open to the public, will also feature special exhibits about OSU’s new Marine Studies Initiative, which calls for OSU to host 500 students-in-residence at the Oregon coast by the year 2025 for a new, highly experiential undergraduate and graduate program in marine studies.

Oregon State is raising funds for a new teaching and research facility on the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus.

Among the events during Marine Science Day are:

  • Interactive displays by researchers from Oregon State and its federal and state government agency partners;
  • Demonstrations from the OSU acoustics research group, where you will be able to “see” your voice on a spectrogram;
  • An opportunity to become a citizen scientist and learn how to monitor sea star wasting disease with researchers from PISCO – the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans;
  • Tidal touch pools with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s shellfish program;
  • Tours of the OSU animal husbandry program and the Oregon Coast Community College aquarium science program.

Several research groups at HMSC will offer unprecedented access to their studies, facilities and instruments during the event.

In addition to a see-your-voice exhibit, the acoustics group will have a display with a large hydrophone and sub-woofers so participants can hears actual sounds from the ocean. The Earth-Ocean interactions program will show video of undersea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. The Plankton Portal program will show beautiful, fascinating images of plankton as part of a major international initiative to learn more about these small marine creatures.

OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute will help participants identify whales through binoculars, and the Molluscan Broodstock program will show its oyster and seaweed research projects.

Marine Science Day events:

  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Open house and tours of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, hosted by Oregon Sea Grant and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;
  • 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. – “Pumped up for Pinnipeds,” an presentation in the Visitor’s Center Auditorium by the Oregon Coast Aquarium for children and others interested in seals and sea lions;
  • 1 p.m. – A feeding of the octopus in the HMSC Visitors Center;
  • 3 to 4 p.m. – “Buy a Fish, Save a Tree,” a presentation in the Visitor’s Center Auditorium by Tim Miller-Morgan of OSU on fish health management and sustainable ornamental fisheries.

More information on Marine Science Day can be found at: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday/

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234; maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu

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New research reveals low-oxygen impacts on West Coast groundfish

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When low-oxygen “dead zones” began appearing off the Oregon Coast in the early 2000’s, photos of the ocean floor revealed bottom-dwelling crabs that could not escape the suffocating conditions and died by the thousands.

But the question everyone asked was, “What about the fish?” recalls Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth.

“We didn’t really know the impacts on fish,” Barth said. “We couldn’t see them.”

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State have begun to answer that question with a new paper published in the journal Fisheries Oceanography. The paper finds that low-oxygen waters projected to expand with climate change create winners and losers among fish, with some adapted to handle low-oxygen conditions that drive other species away.

Generally the number of fish species declines with oxygen levels as sensitive species leave the area, said Aimee Keller, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new paper. But a few species such as Dover sole and greenstriped rockfish appear largely unaffected.

“One of our main questions was, ‘Are there fewer species present in an area when the oxygen drops?’ and yes, we definitely see that,” Keller said. “As it goes lower and lower you see more and more correlation between species and oxygen levels.”

Deep waters off the West Coast have long been known to be naturally low in oxygen. But the new findings show that the spread of lower oxygen conditions, which have been documented closer to shore and off Washington and California, could redistribute fish in ways that affect fishing fleets as well as the marine food chain.

The lower the oxygen levels, for example, the more effort fishing boats will have to invest to find enough fish. “We may see fish sensitive to oxygen levels may be pushed into habitat that’s less desirable and they may grow more slowly in those areas,” Keller said.

Researchers examined the effect of low-oxygen waters with the help of West Coast trawl surveys conducted every year by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to assess the status of groundfish stocks. They developed a sturdy, protective housing for oxygen sensors that could be attached to the trawl nets to determine what species the nets swept up in areas of different oxygen concentrations.

The study combined the expertise of fisheries scientists such as Keller who assess fish stocks with oceanographers such as Barth who track ocean conditions to look at the relationship between the two.

“Initially, we would tell them where the low oxygen was, and they would trawl within areas ranging from low to high oxygen,” explained Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Later, oxygen sensors were deployed on all tows during the groundfish survey. They would look at the catch and the species richness.

“We tried to get it down to the individual species level, where we could tell which fish correlated with which oxygen levels.”  

Low-oxygen waters appear off the West Coast in two ways, Barth said. The first is the eastward movement of deep, oxygen-poor water that laps up against the West Coast. The second occurs when wind-driven upwelling brings nutrients to the surface, fueling blooms of phytoplankton that eventually die and sink to the bottom. Their decay then consumes the oxygen, leaving what scientists call hypoxic conditions where oxygen levels are low enough to adversely affect marine organisms.

The scientists examined the effects of varying oxygen levels on four representative species: spotted ratfish, petrale sole, greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole.

Spotted ratfish and petrale sole were the most sensitive to changes in oxygen levels, with their presence declining sharply as the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water declines. But greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole were largely unaffected by dissolved oxygen levels.

Dover sole is adapted to low-oxygen waters, with gill surface areas two to three times larger than other fish of similar size that allow it to absorb more oxygen from the same amount of water. Dover sole also are among a few fish species that can reduce their oxygen consumption to very low concentrations, probably an adaptation to low-oxygen conditions.

The research is continuing, with trawl survey vessels carrying oxygen sensors on all of their tows since 2009, Keller said. Further data should provide insight into the response of additional fish species to low oxygen conditions, Keller said.

Media Contact: 

Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries, 503-231-6268

Mark Floyd, OSU, 541-737-0788

Source: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

Warm winter wraps up – concern about low snowpack continues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If it seemed like Oregon has had a lot of unseasonably warm days this winter, well, it’s because we have. Now the focus is on a very low snowpack – and the implications that may have later this year.

The meteorological winter – which is comprised of December, January and February – recently wrapped up and depending on where you live in Oregon, it was one of the warmest – if not the warmest – winters on record.

“It has been a very, very warm winter – almost historically so,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. “On one hand, the warm temperatures have made for a rather pleasant winter. On the other hand, the snowpack situation has been atrocious, and that really raises concerns for water levels in many streams later this summer.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook calls for “significantly enhanced likelihood” for a warm spring – especially in western Oregon and western Washington – and a “somewhat reduced likelihood” for a wet spring.

“That’s not a hopeful outlook for the kind of late recovery of snowpack that we have seen in some previous low-snow winters,” Mote noted.

How warm has this winter been? Mote said that each winter month was warmer than average at almost every recording station in Oregon. More than a hundred high temperature records were broken in Oregon – just in December. Another 114 high temperature records were broken in February.

Overall, Mote said, this should go down as the second warmest winter for the Pacific Northwest behind 1933-34, according to data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. That was the Dust Bowl era - and 2014-15 wasn’t far behind. NOAA reports that parts of eastern and southern Oregon were more than eight degrees warmer than average for the meteorological winter.

Along the coast, temperatures in some places reached the low 70s, amazingly mild for mid-February.

In many other places in western Oregon, temperatures in the 60s were not uncommon. In fact, Roseburg reported 12 days of 60-degree-plus temperatures in February alone, according to National Weather Service data.

Although temperatures were warm, it wasn’t unusually dry, Mote said.

“The precipitation levels were unremarkable – just a bit lower than usual,” he pointed out. “However, a lot more of the precipitation fell as rain instead of snow – and that could have a major impact down the road. California, Oregon and Washington hardly have any snow – less than 10 percent of normal in some basins.”

On a regional basis, the winter temperatures looked like this:

  • Astoria: December was 4.4 degrees warmer than average; January was 2.5 degrees warmer; and February was 5.1 degrees warmer.
  • Eugene was 4.6 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.9 degrees warmer in January, and 5.3 degrees in February. Eugene reached a high of 62 degrees in December, 68 in January (a record for the month), and 65 in the month of February, which had five days of temperatures in the 60s.
  • McMinnville recorded a record high temperature of 66 degrees on Feb. 17, breaking the old mark of 65 set in 1996.
  • Portland was 3.7 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.0 degrees warmer in January, and 5.4 degrees warmer in February. The Rose City had seven days of 60-degree-plus weather in February alone.
  • Roseburg was 6.1 degrees warmer than average in December, 3.5 degrees warmer than average in January, and 4.8 degrees warmer than average in February. Roseburg had a total of 12 days of temperatures in the 60s in February.
  • Pendleton wasn’t as warm as the rest of the state early in the winter, but February was 5.5 degrees warmer than average and Pendleton recorded a high of 66 degrees on Feb. 6.
  • Salem set a new record high for February on Feb. 16, when the mercury reached 66 degrees, breaking the old record of 65 set in 1902.

More weather information is available on the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute website at: http://occri.net/. The institute is housed in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu

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A barefoot toddler at the Oregon Coast in January reflects the warm winter in the Northwest this year. (photo by Theresa Hogue)

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