OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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2013 Weather Roundup: Wettest September doesn’t offset dry year

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The weather couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it had in store for Oregon in 2013. The state saw drought and the wettest September on record, as well as withering heat and sub-zero temperatures in the Willamette Valley.

An early December storm dropped several inches of snow on Corvallis, yet snowpack levels in the nearby Cascades are well below normal.

The United States drought monitor listed 100 percent of the state as at least abnormally dry in 2013, according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University.

“All of Oregon is listed as dry, but southern Oregon has been historically dry in 2013,” said Dello, “and Medford and the southern coast have a chance to have their driest year on record.” As of mid-December, the Medford Airport had received just 8.97 inches of precipitation; the record dry year was set 1959 with 10.42 inches. The North Bend Airport was nearly five inches short of its driest year on record.

Despite abnormally dry conditions throughout Oregon for most of the year, it was soggy September. The month began with an enormous thunder and lightning storm that covered much of the state, triggering hundreds of fires and contributing to what Dello called a “bad wildfire year in Oregon.” The storm also dumped nearly three inches of rain on the southern Willamette Valley.

Near the end of the month, the remnants of a typhoon named Pabuk swept into the state and hammered western Oregon. Some precipitation monitors near Coos Bay recorded as much as 5.77 inches of rain on Sept. 29.

“Unfortunately, the September precipitation was not enough to offset dry conditions the rest of the year,” Dello said. “When it’s dry, that’s not how you want to receive you rainfall – in two major events. Rivers get only temporary relief and the torrential downpours can cause damage to agricultural crops.

“It’s better to have smaller, sustained rainfall events than a couple of major outbursts,” she added.

Oregon experienced a comparatively warm summer with more days than usual when temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, including the end of June and in September between the two rain events. On the other end of the spectrum, temperatures in early December plummeted to near-record lows as an Arctic front moved in.

Eugene, for example, recorded its second coldest day on record when the mercury hit minus-10 degrees on Dec. 8. Interestingly, it was not the coldest Dec. 8 on record as the all-time record low for Eugene of minus-12 degrees also occurred on Dec. 8 in 1972.

The December Arctic front hit the Corvallis area the hardest, though the weather station north of town at Hyslop Farm officially recorded just 4.5 inches of snow. Much of the area received 9-10 inches of powdery snow, forcing weeklong shutdowns of many schools and activities.

Dello said the lack of official weather recording stations in Oregon is one reason volunteers are needed for a statewide network that uses Oregon citizens to collect local data on rain, snow and even hail. The program is part of the national Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS.

The Oregon Climate Service, which is part of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, coordinates the Oregon network. Persons interested in volunteering should go to the CoCoRaHS website at http://www.cocorahs.org/ to sign up.

“Data collected by volunteers throughout the state help provide us with much more accurate data, which leads to better precipitation maps and over the long haul, more accurate forecasting,” Dello said.

Among other highlights of Oregon’s 2013 weather year:

  • As of mid-December, the Eugene Airport had recorded 21.04 inches of precipitation; the record low was set in 1944 with 23.26 inches. Records there date back to 1911.
  • The Salem Airport had logged 23.41 inches through mid-December. The driest on record, dating back to 1940, is 23.77 inches.
  • The North Bend Airport is well ahead of the record dry year, set in 1976 with 33.52 inches. Through mid-December, the station had only recorded 28.67 inches. Records date to 1928.

Dello frequently provides weather facts and historical data via Twitter at: www.twitter.com/orclimatesvc.

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Weatherford Hall in the snow

Coastal survey: Oregon beaches see more short-term erosion

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new assessment of shoreline change along the Pacific Northwest coast from the late 1800s to present found that while the majority of beaches are stable or slightly accreting (adding sand), many Oregon beaches have experienced an increase in erosion hazards in recent decades.

Since the 1960s, 13 of the 17 beach “littoral cells” – stretches of beach between rocky headlands and major inlets – in Oregon have shifted, either from a pattern of accretion to one of erosion, or to an increased amount of erosion, or they have built up less than in the past. Some of the hardest hit areas along the coast include the Neskowin littoral cell between Cascade Head and Pacific City, and the Beverly Beach littoral cell between Yaquina Head and Otter Rock, where shoreline change rates have averaged more than one meter of erosion a year since the 1960s.

The assessment is part of a series led by the U.S. Geological Survey to study shoreline change in the nation’s coastal regions to more comprehensively monitor coastal erosion and land loss.

Peter Ruggiero, an Oregon State University coastal hazards specialist and lead author on the report, said the findings provide baseline data to analyze future impacts of climate change, sea level rise and storms on the Northwest’s shorelines, he added.

“In a general sense, Oregon has faced much more erosion in the short term than has southwest Washington, which has seen more accretion as a result of sediments from the Columbia River and jetties at the mouth of the Columbia and at Gray’s Harbor,” said Ruggiero, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The Columbia has less of an influence on Oregon, and many of the state’s beaches have a relatively limited sediment supply,” Ruggiero added. “The buildup and loss of sand on our beaches is a natural process, but one that can be heavily influenced by human behavior and changes in climate.”

On a short-term basis, the study found that on average Northwest shorelines are “progradational” or growing at a rate of 0.9 meters a year. However, about 44 percent of the more than 9,000 transects the researchers studied were eroding.

Rob Thieler, a USGS scientist and leader of the agency’s coastal assessment effort, said these findings illustrate the variability of the Northwest shoreline and the factors that shape it.

“These new results help place coastal erosion in the Northwest into a local as well as national context that helps us understand how different coastlines function and which are the most vulnerable,” he said.

The lack of new sand has become a recent pattern among many beaches in Oregon, especially south of Tillamook Head because rivers are not delivering significant amounts of sand – and many estuaries trap the sediment before it reaches the ocean.

The Tillamook County area of Oregon is identified as one of the worst areas for erosion. The risk of land loss is significant from higher waves and rising sea levels, Ruggiero noted. Farther south, the impacts from these phenomena are partially countered by plate tectonics, he said.

“Over the long term, much of the shoreline is lifting because of plate tectonics,” said Ruggiero. “Along Oregon’s central coast, the uplift is only about a millimeter a year, while sea level rise has been about 2-3 mm per year. South of Coos Bay, however, the land is rising faster than the sea level is rising.”

Jonathan Allan, a researcher with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and a co-author on the report, said the Northwest coast has some “hot spots” where erosion has been significant and bluffs have failed, threatening houses.

“The beaches at Gleneden Beach and Neskowin, for example, contain coarse sand, which contrasts with the finer-grained beaches along much of the Oregon coast,” Allan said. “These beaches tend to be steeper and reflective of breaking wave energy, which makes them more dynamic. When coupled with the development of rip current embayments, it often results in hotspot erosion, which leads to the development of hazards when homes are placed too close to the beach.

“The issue is further complicated because at Neskowin, they have lost very large volumes of sand over the past 15 years, bringing the hazard even closer to the homes,” he added.

Ruggiero has been working with Tillamook County leaders and the Neskowin Coastal Hazards Committee on a response plan to erosion and climate change impacts. He and his colleagues are working to create new models predicting local impacts of sea level rise, and also incorporating socio-economic variables.

“It is important to look not only at the physical processes of sea level rise and inundation,” Ruggiero said, “but also to realistically look at the human dimension, including the cost of adaptation. Tillamook County has been actively addressing these issues.”

The USGS assessment focused on open-ocean sandy shores and did not look at Washington beaches along stretches of the Olympic Peninsula, Puget Sound or in Hood Canal because little data are available in those regions. But Ruggiero noted that many of the beaches in central and southern Washington were stable or adding sand, instead of eroding.

The study, “National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change Along the Pacific Northwest Coast,” is available online at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2012/1007/. Authors include Peter Ruggiero, OSU; Meredith G. Kratzmann, Emily A. Himmelstoss, and David Reid, USGS; Jonathan Allan, DOGAMI; and George Kaminsky, Washington Department of Ecology.

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Peter Ruggiero, 541-737-1239 (cell phone: 415-722-6722); ruggierp@science.oregonstate.edu

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Sea Clff Erosion
Sea cliff erosion near

Gleneden Beach, Ore.

 

 

Oregon littoral cells

New study identifies five distinct humpback populations in North Pacific

NEWPORT, Ore. – The first comprehensive genetic study of humpback whale populations in the North Pacific Ocean has identified five distinct populations – at the same time a proposal to designate North Pacific humpbacks as a single “distinct population segment” is being considered under the Endangered Species Act.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Marine Ecology – Progress Series. It was supported by the National Fisheries and Wildlife Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Marine Mammal Endowment at Oregon State University.

The scientists examined nearly 2,200 tissue biopsy samples collected from humpback whales in 10 feeding regions and eight winter breeding regions during a three-year international study, known as SPLASH (Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks).  They used sequences of maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA and “microsatellite genotypes,” or DNA profiles, to both describe the genetic differences and outline migratory connections between both breeding and feeding grounds.

“Though humpback whales are found in all oceans of the world, the North Pacific humpback whales should probably be considered a sub-species at an ocean-basin level – based on genetic isolation of these populations on an evolutionary time scale,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and lead author on the paper.

“Within this North Pacific sub-species, however, our results support the recognition of multiple distinct populations,” Baker added. “They differ based on geographic distribution and with genetic differentiations as well, and they have strong fidelity to their own breeding and feeding areas.”

Humpback whales are listed as endangered in the United States under the Endangered Species Act, but had recently been downlisted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on a global level. However, two population segments recently were added as endangered by the IUCN – one in the Sea of Arabia, the other in Oceania – and it is likely that one or more of the newly identified populations in the North Pacific may be considered endangered, Baker said.

How management authorities respond to the study identifying the distinct North Pacific humpback populations remains to be seen, Baker said, but the situation “underscores the complexity of studying and managing marine mammals on a global scale.”

The five populations identified in the study are:  Okinawa and the Philippines; a second West Pacific population with unknown breeding grounds; Hawaii, Mexico and Central America.

“Even within these five populations there are nuances,” noted Baker, who frequently serves as a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. “The Mexico population, for example, has ‘discrete’ sub-populations off the mainland and near the Revillagigedo Islands, but because their genetic differentiation is not that strong, these are not considered ‘distinct’ populations.”

The SPLASH program has used photo identification records to estimate humpback whale populations. The researchers estimate that there are approximately 22,000 humpbacks throughout the North Pacific – about the same as before whaling reduced their numbers. Although recovery strategies have been successful on a broad scale, recovery is variable among different populations.

“Each of the five distinct populations has its own history of exploitation and recovery that would need to be part of an assessment of its status,” said Baker, who is a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “Unlike most terrestrial species, populations of whales within oceans are not isolated by geographic barriers. Instead, migration routes, feeding grounds and breeding areas are thought to be passed down from mother to calf, persisting throughout a lifetime and from one generation to the next.

“We think this fidelity to migratory destinations is cultural, not genetic,” he added. “It is this culture that isolates whales, leading to genetic differentiation – and ultimately, the five distinct populations identified in the North Pacific.”

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Scott Baker, 541-867-0255 (cell phone: 541-272-0560), scott.baker@oregonstate.edu

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Science Policy Forum: Researchers advocate for climate adaptation science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international team of researchers says in a new paper that climate science needs to advance to a new realm – more practical applications for dealing with the myriad impacts of climate variability.

The scientific capability already exists as does much of the organizational structure, they say, to begin responding to emerging climate-related issues ranging from declining snowpack, to severe storms, to sea level rise. What is missing is better engagement between the scientific community and the stakeholders they are seeking to inform.

Their paper is being published on Friday in the Policy Forum section of the journal Science.

“Adaptation is required in virtually all sectors of the economy and regions of the globe,” they wrote. “However, without the appropriate science delivered in a decision-relevant context, it will become increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to prepare adequately.”

Philip Mote, an Oregon State University climate scientist and co-author on the paper, said climate adaptation science involves trans-disciplinary research to understand the challenges and opportunities of climate change – and how best to respond to them.

“What we need is more visibility to gain more inclusiveness – to bring into play the private sector, resource managers, universities and a host of decision-makers and other stakeholders,” said Mote, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State. “The stakeholders need to know our scientific capabilities, and we need to better understand their priorities and decision-making processes.”

Oregon State is among the national leaders in climate adaptation science. In addition to the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, the university has two regional climate centers – one established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work with municipalities, utilities, emergency management organizations and state and federal agencies; the other by the Department of the Interior to work primarily with federal and state agencies, and non-governmental organizations.

Mote, who is involved with all three centers, said work with stakeholders is gaining traction, but the gap that exists between scientists and decision-makers is still too large.

“The centers here and elsewhere around the country are driven by stakeholder demands, but that needs to reach deeper into the research enterprise,” Mote said. “We’re working with some water districts, forest managers and community leaders on a variety of issues, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Richard Moss, a senior scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said the Science article grew out of a NASA-funded workshop held in 2012 at the Aspen Global Change Institute in Colorado, which focused on how to improve support for decision-making in the face of a changing climate.

“Traditionally, we think that what society needs is better predictions,” said Moss, who was lead author on the Science article. “But at this workshop, all of us – climate and social scientists alike – recognized the need to consider how decisions get implemented and that climate is only one of many factors that will determine how people will adapt.”

OSU’s Mote said examples abound of issues that need the marriage of stakeholders and climate scientists. Changing snowmelt runoff is creating concerns for late-season urban water supplies, irrigation for agriculture, and migration of fish. An increasing number of plant and animal species are becoming stressed by climate change, including the white bark pine and the sage grouse. Rising sea levels and more intense storms threaten the infrastructure of coastal communities, which need to examine water and sewer systems, as well as placement of hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

Mote, Moss and their colleagues outline a comprehensive approach to research in the social, physical, environmental, engineering and other sciences. Among their recommendations for improvement:

  • Understand decision processes and knowledge requirements;
  • Identify vulnerabilities to climate change;
  • Improve foresight about exposure to climate hazards and other stressors;
  • Broaden the range of adaptation options and promote learning;
  • Provide examples of adaptation science in application;
  • Develop measures to establish adaptation science.

One such measure could be the development of a national institution of climate preparedness in the United States comprised of centers for adaptation science aimed at priority sectors.

“More broadly,” the authors wrote in Science, “support for sustained, use-inspired, fundamental research on adaptation needs to be increased at research agencies. A particular challenge is to develop effective approaches to learn from adaptation practice as well as published research. Universities could provide support for sustained, trans-disciplinary interactions. Progress will require making a virtue of demonstrating tangible benefits for society by connecting research and applications.”

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Philip Mote, 541-737-5694; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu; Richard Moss, 301-314-6711; rhm@pnnl.gov

Climate report: Wildfires, snowmelt, coastal issues top Northwest risks

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Northwest is facing increased risks from the decline of forest health, earlier snowmelt leading to low summer stream flows, and an array of issues facing the coastal region, according to a new climate assessment report.

Written by a team of scientists coordinated by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) at Oregon State University, the report is the first regional climate assessment released since 1999. Both the 1999 report and the 2013 version were produced as part of the U.S. National Climate Assessment; both Washington and Oregon produced state-level reports in 2009 and 2010.

OSU’s Philip Mote, director of the institute and one of three editors of the 270-page report (as well as the 1999 report), said the document incorporates a lot of new science as well as some additional dimensions – including the impact of climate change on human health and tribal issues. A summary of the report is available online at: http://occri.net/reports

Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, said there are a number of issues facing the Northwest as a result of climate change.

“As we looked across both economic and ecological dimensions, the three that stood out were less snow, more wildfires and challenges to the coastal environment and infrastructure,” said Snover, who is one of the editors on the report.

The report outlines how these three issues are affected by climate change.

“Studies are showing that snowmelt is occurring earlier and earlier and that is leading to a decline in stream flows in summer,” Mote said. “Northwest forests are facing a huge increase in wildfires, disease and other disturbances that are both direct and indirect results of climate change. And coastal issues are mounting and varied, from sea level rise and inundation, to ocean acidification. Increased wave heights in recent decades also threaten coastal dwellings, roads and other infrastructure.”

OCCRI’s Meghan Dalton, lead editor on the report, notes that 2,800 miles of coastal roads are in the 100-year floodplain and some highways may face inundation with just two feet of sea level rise. Sea levels are expected to rise as much as 56 inches, or nearly five feet, by the year 2100.

Earlier snowmelt is a significant concern in the Northwest, where reservoir systems are utilized to maximize water storage. But, Dalton said, the Columbia River basin has a storage capacity that is smaller than its annual flow volume and is “ill-equipped to handle the projected shift to earlier snowmelt…and will likely be forced to pass much of these earlier flows out of the system.”

The earlier peak stream flow may significantly reduce summer hydroelectric power production, and slightly increase winter power production.

The report was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through the Oregon Legislature’s support of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, and by in-kind contributions from the authors’ institutions.

Mote said new research has led to improved climate models, which suggest that the Northwest will warm by a range of three to 14 degrees (Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. “The lower range will only be possible if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.” In contrast, the Northwest warmed by 1.3 degrees from the period of 1895 to 2011.

Future precipitation is harder to project, the report notes, with models forecasting a range from a 10 percent decrease to an 18 percent increase by 2100. Most models do suggest that more precipitation will fall as rain and earlier snowmelt will change river flow patterns.

That could be an issue for agriculture in the future as the “Northwest’s diverse crops depend on adequate water supplies and temperature ranges, which are projected to change during the 21st century,” the report notes. Pinpointing the impacts on agriculture will be difficult, said Sanford Eigenbrode of the University of Idaho, another co-author.

“As carbon dioxide levels rise, yields will increase for some plants, and more rainfall in winter could mean wetter soils in the spring, benefitting some crops,” Eigenbrode pointed out. “Those same conditions could adversely affect other crops. It is very difficult to say how changing climate will affect agriculture overall in the Northwest, but we can say that the availability of summer water will be a concern.”

Mote said there may be additional variables affecting agriculture, such what impacts the changing climate has on pests, diseases and invasive species.

“However, the agricultural sector is resilient and can respond more quickly to new conditions than some other sectors like forestry, where it takes 40 years or longer for trees to reach a harvestable age,” noted Mote, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

The Northwest has not to date been vulnerable to many climate-related health risks, the report notes, but impacts of climate change in the future are more likely to be negative than positive. Concerns include increased morbidity and mortality from heat-related illness, air pollution and allergenic disease, and the emergence of infectious diseases.

“In Oregon, one study showed that each 10-degree (F) increase in daily maximum temperature was associated with a nearly three-fold increase of heat-related illness,” said Jeff Bethel, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and one of the co-authors of the report. “The threshold for triggering heat-related illness – especially among the elderly – isn’t much.”

Northwest tribes may face a greater impact from climate change because of their reliance on natural resources. Fish, shellfish, game and plant species could be adversely affected by a warming climate, resulting in a multitude of impacts.

“When tribes ceded their lands and were restricted to small areas, it resulted in a loss of access to many species that lived there,” said Kathy Lynn, coordinator of the Tribal Climate Change Project at the University of Oregon and a co-author of the report. “Climate change may further reduce the abundance of resources. That carries a profound cultural significance far beyond what we can document from an economic standpoint.”

Snover said that the climate changes projected for the coming decades mean that many of the assumptions “inherent in decisions, infrastructure and policies – where to build, what to grow where, and how to manage variable water sources to meet multiple needs – will become increasingly incorrect.

“Whether the ultimate consequences of the climate impacts outlined in this report are severe or mild depends in part on how well we prepare our communities, economies and natural systems for the changes we know are coming,” Snover said.

Other lead co-authors on the report are Rick Raymondi, Idaho Department of Water Resources; W. Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting Group; Patty Glick, National Wildlife Federation; Susan Capalbo, OSU; and Jeremy Littell, U.S. Geological Survey.

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Philip Mote, 541-737-5694; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu; Amy Snover, 206-221-0222; aksnover@uw.edu

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Major storm Coastal issues

Melting glacier Snowmelt

Trail Creek FireWildfires

OSU faculty members key contributors to IPCC report

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists, issued its latest report on the state of scientific understanding on climate change. Two Oregon State University faculty members played key roles in the landmark report.

Peter Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was one of two coordinating lead authors on a chapter outlining sea level change. He and fellow coordinating lead author John Church of Australia oversaw the efforts of 12 lead authors and several dozen contributing scientists on the science of sea level change.

Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, was one of 12 lead authors on a chapter looking at the cryosphere, which is comprised of snow, river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, and frozen ground. The cryosphere plays a key role in the physical, biological and social environment on much of the Earth’s surface.

“Since the last IPCC report, there has been increased scientific understanding of the physical processes leading to sea level change, and that has helped improve our understanding of what will happen in the future,” Clark said.

“One of the things our group concluded with virtual certainty is that the rate of global mean sea level rise has accelerated over the past two centuries – primarily through the thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers,” Clark added. “Sea level rise will continue to accelerate through the 21st century, and global sea levels could rise by 0.5 meters to at least one meter by the year 2100.”

The rate of that rise will depend on future greenhouse gas emissions.

Among other findings, the sea level chapter also concluded that it is virtually certain that global mean sea level will continue to rise beyond the year 2100, and that substantially higher sea level rise could take place with the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Mote, who also is a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, said analyzing the cryosphere is complex and nuanced, though overall the amount of snow and ice on Earth is declining.

The report notes: “Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.” Other cryosphere changes include:

  • Greenland and Antarctica are not only losing ice, but the rate of decline is accelerating;
  • The amount of sea ice in September has reached new lows;
  • The June snow cover also has reached new lows and has decreased by an average of 11.7 percent per decade – or 53 percent overall – from 1967 to 2012;
  • The reduction in snow cover can formally be attributed to human influence – work done by Mote and David Rupp of OSU.

 Rick Spinrad, OSU’s vice president for research, praised the efforts of the two OSU faculty members for their contributions to the report.

 "OSU is a global leader in environmental research as reflected by the leadership roles of Dr. Clark and Dr. Mote in this seminal assessment,” Spinrad said. “The impact of the IPCC report will be felt by scientists and policy makers for many years to come."

The IPCC report is comprised of 14 chapters, supported by a mass of supplementary material. A total of 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries helped lead the effort, and an additional 600 contributing authors from 32 countries participated in the report. Authors responded to more than 54,000 review comments.

The report is available online at the IPCC site: http://www.ipcc.ch/

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Melting glacier
A shrinking glacier

Coastal waves
Rising sea levels

Researchers going public on quest to identify plankton species

NEWPORT, Ore. – Researchers using an innovative underwater imaging system have taken millions of photos of plankton ranging from tiny zooplankton to small jellyfish – and now they are seeking help from the public to identify the species.

The “Plankton Portal” project is a partnership between the University of Miami, Oregon State University and Zooniverse.org to engage volunteers in an online citizen science effort.

“One of the goals of the project is discovery,” said Robert Cowen, new director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., who led the project to capture the images while at Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “Computers can take pictures and even analyze images, but it takes humans to identify relationships to other organisms and recognize their behavior.

“Computers don’t really care about context – whether something is up or down in the water column and what else might be in the neighborhood,” he added. “People can do that. And we hope to have thousands of them look at the images.”

Interested persons may sign up for the project at www.planktonportal.org, which goes online this week (the official launch is Sept. 17).

Zooniverse.org is a popular citizen science website that engages millions of participants to study everything from far-away stars, to whale sounds, to cancer cells – and aid scientists with their observations. It works by training volunteers and validating their credibility by how often their observations are accurate.

“It is an increasingly popular pursuit for people interested in science and nature – from high school students to senior citizens,” said Jessica Luo, a University of Miami doctoral student working with Cowen.

“Each image is looked at by multiple users and identification is done by a weighting system,” said Luo, who is now working at OSU’s Hatfield center. “The system not only looks for consensus, but rapidity of conclusion. It works amazingly well and the data from this project will help us better begin to explore the thousands of species in the planktonic world.”

With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Geosciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Cowen developed the “In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System,” or ISIIS, while at Miami – along with Cedric Guigand of UM and Charles Cousin of Bellamare, LLC.

ISIIS combines shadowgraph imaging with a high-resolution line-scan camera to record plankton at 17 images per second. Cowen and his colleagues have used the system to study larval fish, crustaceans and jellyfish in diverse marine systems, including the Gulf of Mexico, the mid-Atlantic Ocean, the California coast, and the Mediterranean Sea.

At the same time ISIIS is capturing images, he says, other instruments are recording oceanographic conditions, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other measurements. These data, coupled with the images, are available to the public via Zooniverse.org.

“In three days, we can collect data that would take us more than three years to analyze,” Cowen said, “which is why we need the help of the public. With the volume ISIIS generates, it is impossible for a handful of scientists to classify every image by hand, which is why we are exploring different options for image analysis – from automatic image recognition software to crowd-sourcing to citizen scientists.”

Luo said the researchers hope to secure future funding to study plankton – which includes a variety of crustaceans and jellyfish in the water column – off the Pacific Northwest coast.

“Most images of plankton are taken in a laboratory, or collected from nets on a ship,” said Cowen, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “ISIIS gives us the rare ability to see them in their natural environment, which is a unique perspective that will enable us to learn more about them and the critical role they play in the marine food web.”

Other researchers on the project include graduate student Adam Greer, and undergraduate students Dorothy Tang, Ben Grassian and Jenna Binstein – all at the University of Miami.

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Jessica Luo, 650-387-5700; Jessica.luo@rsmas@miami.edu;

 

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

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Plankton Portlal

plankton_crew

Plankton Portal

Oregonians can sign up for new gray whale license plate vouchers to support research, education

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregonians may now purchase a voucher for a new license plate featuring a gray whale and her calf, with proceeds going to support the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute.

The voucher can be purchased for $40 through the institute at whaleplate.com. Once 3,000 vouchers have been sold, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles will begin manufacturing the plates, which will take approximately 12 weeks. The Marine Mammal Institute will notify purchasers when their vouchers may be redeemed for license plates at DMV offices.

The OSU Marine Mammal Institute will receive $35 for each pair of license plates sold. The money will directly support whale research, graduate student education and public outreach, according to Bruce Mate, who directs the institute.

“Since we first announced the program in December 2016, we’ve heard a lot of enthusiastic support for the design of the plates and the concept of supporting whale conservation,” Mate said. “We hope a lot of Oregonians will embrace the phrase ‘put a whale on your tail’ and purchase license plates for their vehicles.”

Mate said the initiative has received strong support from public officials and the Oregon Legislature, with leadership from Rep. David Gomberg of District 10 on the central coast, who has endorsed the idea for several legislative sessions.

Mate is an internationally recognized expert in marine mammal research who pioneered some of the earliest research into tracking tagged whales by satellite. The Marine Mammal Institute was established in 2006 at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, as an expansion of a program founded by Mate in the 1970s at OSU. Program highlights include:

  • The work of Mate and the institute was featured prominently in a 2009 documentary, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which was narrated by Tom Selleck and became the most widely viewed documentary on the National Geographic Channel;
  • Genetic research by Scott Baker, associate director of the institute, was featured in “The Cove,” which won an Academy Award for documentaries in 2010 for its unveiling of dolphin exploitation in a small Japanese fishing village;
  • In 2015, researchers from the Marine Mammal Institute and their Russian colleagues documented the longest migration of a mammal ever recorded – a round-trip trek of nearly 14,000 miles by a gray whale named Varvara;
  • Marine Mammal Institute researchers also have worked on sperm whale ecology in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; analyzed whales’ response to shipping traffic and sonar noise; revolutionized new tags for tracking whales; and studied whale behavior and ecology from the Arctic Ocean to Antarctica;
  • In collaboration with Oregon State Parks, the institute trains volunteers for the “Whale Watch Spoken Here” program, which annually helps up to 40,000 tourists spot migrating gray whales during winter and spring breaks. 

“Whales are wonderful creatures and the world is better with them in it,” Mate said. “This license plate program will directly help the Marine Mammal Institute achieve its goals of conservation-oriented research, graduate student education and public outreach.”

The new Oregon license plate was designed by well-known wildlife illustrator Pieter Folkens, who originally created the image for a poster. It depicts a whale cow and calf on a two-toned background that emulates the sea and sky. In the upper left corner is a lighthouse, and across the bottom it reads “Coastal Playground.”

For more information on the Marine Mammal Institute, go to: https://mmi.oregonstate.edu/.

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Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu and Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

Source: 

Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202, Bruce.Mate@oregonstate.edu

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Non-native species from Japanese tsunami aided by unlikely partner: plastics

To view a 40-second animated video about this research visit:  https://youtu.be/Tgc9OKBUp4M

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new study appearing this week in Science reports the discovery of a startling new role of plastic marine debris -- the transport of non-native species in the world's oceans.

Co-authored by Oregon State University marine scientists John Chapman and Jessica Miller, the study also suggests that expanded coastal urbanization and storm activity, including the recent hurricanes and floods around the world, as well as predicted future enhanced storm activity due to climate change, could mean that the role of marine debris as a novel vector for invasive species may be increasing dramatically.

Between 2012 and 2017, scientists documented nearly 300 species of marine animals arriving alive in North America and Hawaii on hundreds of vessels, buoys, crates, and many other objects released into the ocean by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Unexpected was that coastal species from Japan would not only survive the trip through the hostile environment of the open North Pacific Ocean, but continue to survive for many years -- four or more years longer than any previous observations of species found living on what are called "ocean rafts."

Tsunami debris items continued to land in North America and Hawaii as late as spring 2017 with living Japanese species.

Between 2012 and 2014, wood from homes and other buildings in Japan landed in Oregon and other locations bearing Japanese species that included dense populations of wood burrowing marine clams known as shipworms. Shipworms destroy wood. Wood landings declined dramatically after 2014.

The declining wood landings early in the study brought the researchers' attention to the fact that it was the non-biodegradable debris -- plastics, fiberglass, and styrofoam -- that was permitting the long-term survival and transport of non-native species.

“Given that more than 10 million tons of plastic waste from nearly 200 countries can enter the ocean every year – an amount predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025 – and given that hurricanes and typhoons that could sweep large amounts of debris into the oceans are predicted to increase due to global climate change, there is huge potential for the amount of marine debris in the oceans to increase significantly,” James Carlton, an internationally known invasive species expert with the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport, and lead author the study, said.

Chapman said that scientists thus far have not documented any Japanese species transported by tsunami debris becoming established on the West Coast.  But, Chapman said, it can take years for species to establish and become detected. 

“One thing this event has taught us is that some of these organisms can be extraordinarily resilient,” he said. “When we first saw species from Japan arriving in Oregon, we were shocked. We never thought they could live that long, under such harsh conditions. It would not surprise me if there were species from Japan that are out there living along the Oregon coast. In fact, it would surprise me if there weren’t.”

Miller, an OSU marine ecologist who also works at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, noted that “not only were new species still being detected on tsunami debris in 2017 but nearly 20 percent of the species that arrived were capable of reproduction. We were able to not only identify this unique suite of species but, in some cases, examine their growth and ability to reproduce which provides useful information on how they fared during their transoceanic voyage.” 

Carlton added: “These vast quantities of non-biodegradable debris, potentially acting as novel ocean transport vectors, are of increasing concern given the vast economic cost and environmental impacts documented from the proliferation of marine invasive species around the world,” Carlton said.

Chapman added: “This has turned out to be one of the biggest, unplanned, natural experiments in marine biology, perhaps in history.”

The research was funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan through the North Pacific Marine Science Organization, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and Oregon Sea Grant. 

Other authors include Jonathan B. Geller, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories; Deborah A. Carlton and Megan I. McCuller, Williams College; Nancy C. Treneman, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; Brian P. Steves and Gregory M. Ruiz, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Portland State University. 

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Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu; Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

Source: 

John Chapman, 541-867-0235, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu; Jessica Miller, 541-867-0381, Jessica.miller@oregonstate.edu; Jim Carlton, 860-572-7804, james.t.carlton@williams.edu

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Marine researchers invade Southern California for one of largest field studies of near-shore ocean

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A large, diverse team of researchers will invade the California coast near San Luis Obispo in early September to launch an intense study of the Pacific Ocean’s inner shelf – a little-studied region between the surf zone and the mid-Continental Shelf.

As many as 100 scientists from 13 institutions and agencies will use a wide array of tools to monitor this stretch of ocean that runs roughly from shoulder-deep water out to 50 meters deep. Their goal is to understand the complex currents, how water moves between the shore and deeper ocean, the origin of rapid changes in temperature, and how ocean energy is dissipated near the shore. These processes, in turn, can drive sediment transport and primary biological production.

“We’re going to give this inner shelf region a complete physical,” said Jack Barth, an Oregon State University oceanographer and a principal investigator on the project.

The study, one of the largest of its kind, is funded by an $11 million grant from the Office of Naval Research. The researchers will use satellites, airplane surveillance, camera-equipped drones, ground-based radar, five ships, anchored moorings and seafloor-based platforms with instrument arrays, oceanic profilers, and even floating “drifters” to record physical data in the ocean along the inner shelf.

The stretch of Pacific Ocean just south of San Luis Obispo was chosen because it has both a simple, straight stretch of coastline and prominent points jutting out into the ocean, which adds complexity to the currents and mixing, the researchers say. Surprisingly, this inner shelf area has not been studied comprehensively because parts of it are too shallow for larger ships, yet it extends beyond where surf zone researchers typically work. 

This massive study was conceived five years ago and has been in the planning and development stages for two years, allowing scientists and technicians to develop and perfect the instrumentation they will deploy in September and early October. It is reminiscent of two other major efforts in the United States – the Coastal Ocean Dynamics Experiment, or CODE, along the northern California coast in 1981-82, and a comprehensive study of the surf zone in Duck, North Carolina, in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The observational data that will emerge from this concentrated study will challenge and inform oceanic models for decades,” Barth said. “We are still using data from the CODE project 35 years ago.” 

Jim Lerczak, an Oregon State scientist specializing in the physics of the ocean and atmosphere, said one reason the U.S. Navy is interested in the study is to improve its ability in assessing currents, navigation, and optics in regions without actually going there. The researchers will use satellites, ground-based radar and airplanes to analyze the waters from above, Lerczak said, and compare those observations with actual measurements taken in the ocean.

“This is a very complex region that not only is influenced by wind, currents and tides, but also by large ‘internal’ waves that propagate along the Continental Shelf because of the tides and stratified water,” Lerczak said. “These waves bring cold water up into the surf zone and back, usually twice a day. They not only have a significant physical impact, but a biological one as well because they bring to shore cold, upwelled water that is nutrient-rich.” 

James Moum, an Oregon State University oceanographer, received a separate grant from the Office of Naval Research to develop a series of turbulence sensors (or “mixing meters”) designed to measure where energy from currents and waves goes in the inner shelf region. In one of the largest efforts of its kind, Moum and his colleagues will deploy dozens of these sensors on the seafloor, on moorings and on instrument platforms towed behind research vessels to better understand how the Pacific Ocean “works.” 

“We’re basically studying fluid mechanics on a huge scale,” Moum said. “We’ll be taking a host of measurements from scales of hundreds of meters – instabilities created by currents and winds – down to scales of millimeters and centimeters, where mixing actually takes place. We’ve only recently learned that there is a daytime peak for turbulence, but we’re not sure why. We’re just beginning to discover things.” 

The findings from the study will inform not only scientists, but recreational boaters, fishermen, beach-goers and the U.S. Navy.

“The water between the surf zone and the mid-shelf is where rip currents take place, and where crabbers and fishermen and other boaters spend a lot of time,” Barth said. “It is also critical from an ecological standpoint, where larval organisms propagate offshore, and then return to the surf zone. It is where plankton bloom and fuel the marine food web.

“Yet we know little about the physics of how this inner shelf works.”

Other institutions and agencies involved in the study include Naval Postgraduate School, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Washington, Georgia Tech University, Naval Research Laboratory/Stennis Space Center, University of Miami, Spoondrift, University of California Los Angeles, Delft University of Technology, Florida State University, University of Michigan and University of Southern Mississippi. 

Barth, Lerczak and Moum are in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

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Media Contact: 

Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu; Mark Floyd, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-0788

Source: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu; Jim Lerczak, 541-737-6128, jlerczak@coas.oregonstate.edu; Jim Moum, 541-737-2553, moum@coas.oregonstate.edu