OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

Subduction zone earthquakes off Oregon, Washington more frequent than previous estimates

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis suggests that massive earthquakes on northern sections of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, affecting areas of the Pacific Northwest that are more heavily populated, are somewhat more frequent than has been believed in the past.

The chance of one occurring within the next 50 years is also slightly higher than previously estimated.

The findings, published this week in the journal Marine Geology, are based on data that is far more detailed and comprehensive than anything prior to this. It used measurements from 195 core samples containing submarine landslide deposits caused by subduction zone earthquakes, instead of only about a dozen such samples in past research.

The work was done by researchers from Oregon State University, Camosun College in British Columbia and Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra in Spain. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“These new results are based on much better data than has been available before, and reinforce our confidence in findings regarding the potential for major earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone,” said Chris Goldfinger, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, and one of the world’s leading experts on tectonic activity of this subduction zone.

“However, with more detailed data we have also changed somewhat our projections for the average recurrence interval of earthquakes on the subduction zone, especially the northern parts. The frequency, although not the intensity, of earthquakes there appears to be somewhat higher than we previously estimated.”

The Cascadia Subduction Zone runs from northern California to British Columbia, and scientists say it can be roughly divided into four segments. There have been 43 major earthquakes in the past 10,000 years on this subduction zone, sometimes on the entire zone at once and sometimes only on parts of it. When the entire zone is involved, it’s believed to be capable of producing a magnitude 9.1 earthquake.

It’s been known for some time, and still believed to be accurate, that the southern portions of the subduction zone south of Newport, Oregon, tend to rupture more frequently – an average of about every 300-380 years from Newport to Coos Bay, and 220-240 years from Coos Bay to Eureka, California.

The newest data, however, have changed the stakes for the northern sections of the zone, which could have implications for major population centers such as Portland, Tacoma, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

A section of the zone from Newport to Astoria, Oregon, was previously believed to rupture on average about every 400-500 years, and that average has now been reduced to 350 years. A section further north from Astoria to Vancouver Island was previously believed to rupture about every 500-530 years, and that average has now been reduced to 430 years.

The last major earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone – pinpointed in time because it caused a tsunami that raced all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Japan – occurred in January, 1700, more than 315 years ago.

“What this work shows is that, contrary to some previous estimates, the two middle sections of the Cascadia Subduction Zone that affect most of Oregon have a frequency that’s more similar than different,” said Goldfinger, who directs the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at OSU.

Based on these findings, the chances of an earthquake in the next 50 years have also been slightly revised upwards. Of the part of the zone off central and northern Oregon, the chance of an event during that period has been changed to 15-20 percent instead of 14-17 percent. On the furthest north section of the zone off Washington and British Columbia, the chance of an event has increased to 10-17 percent from 8-14 percent.

The study also increased the frequency of the most massive earthquakes, where the entire subduction zone ruptures at once. It had previously been believed this occurred about half the time. Now, the data suggest that several partial ruptures were more complete than previously thought, and that complete ruptures occur slightly more than half the time.

“Part of what’s important is that these findings give us more confidence about what’s coming in our future,” Goldfinger said.

“We believed these earthquakes were possible when the hypothesis was first developed in the late 1980s. Now we have a great deal more certainty that the general concern about earthquakes caused by the Cascadia Subduction Zone is scientifically valid, and we also have more precise information about the earthquake frequency and behavior of the subduction zone.”

Based in part on the growing certainty about these issues, OSU has developed the Cascadia Lifelines Program, an initiative working with Pacific Northwest business and industry to help prepare for the upcoming subduction zone earthquake, mitigate damage and save lives. Many other programs are also gaining speed.

The new measurements in this research were made with cores that showed the results of massive amounts of sediments released by subsea landslides during a subduction zone earthquake – a catastrophic event beneath the sea as well as on land. New technology is helping researchers to actually simulate these underwater landslides, better understand their behavior, and more accurately identify the “turbidite” or sediment layers they leave behind.

The large amounts of additional data, researchers say, has helped refine previous work, fill holes in the data coverage, and also to rule out other possible causes of some sediment deposits, such as major storms, random landslides or small local earthquakes.

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About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: CEOAS is internationally recognized for its faculty, research and facilities, including state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to support earth/ocean/atmosphere observation and prediction. The college is a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system, providing scientific understanding to complex environmental challenges.

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Chris Goldfinger,541-737-9622

gold@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Oregon samples
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OSU announces location for new marine studies building in Newport

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray announced today that a new $50 million center for global marine studies research and education will be built at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The 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.

“Following broad consultation with numerous individuals and groups, as well as analysis of several separate reports, I have determined that the Hatfield Marine Science Center is the best site for Oregon State’s new Marine Studies Initiative building,” Ray said.

“Throughout the evaluation process, which included two upland sites, the safety of those who work, study and visit this building and HMSC during a potential catastrophic seismic event has been my overriding concern.”

Ray said that he believed the new facility can be built to sustain a 9.0 earthquake and an associated tsunami. He also concluded that the new building can provide a safe, accessible, vertical roof-top evacuation alternative for those who are injured, disabled or otherwise unable to reach the preferred evacuation site on nearby Safe Haven Hill.

“In my view, by locating this new building at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, life and safety prospects and services for employees, students and visitors will be much improved, relative to locating the marine studies building somewhere else,” Ray said. “The building might also serve as a safe destination for others who work at or visit nearby businesses or attractions, but who could not physically reach Safe Haven Hill.”

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

To assess the prospects of major catastrophic natural events, such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone event along the Oregon coast, Ray convened a committee of university academic, research and administrative leaders. They conducted comprehensive internal and independent third-party assessments of building this facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus or at alternative, higher-ground sites in Newport.

Based on its comprehensive evaluation of the alternative sites, the committee recommended that the new building be constructed at the HMSC site. Meanwhile, OSU plans to build student housing on higher ground in Newport.

OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative has set a goal by 2025 to teach 500 students annually in Newport and expand marine studies research. Oregon State officials plan to open the building as early as 2018. The Oregon Legislature approved $24.8 million in state bonding last year to help fund the new building, which will become the centerpiece of OSU’s marine studies initiative. Meanwhile, the OSU Foundation is raising 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.

HMSC, which is run by Oregon State, is also 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.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center celebrated its 50th anniversary in August 2015.

 

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Steve Clark, 541-737-3808

steve.clark@oregonstate.edu

OSU Press publishes book on Northwest dunes by George Poinar

CORVALLIS, Ore. – George Poinar Jr. has developed an international reputation for his discovery and analysis of a variety of organisms trapped in amber, but the Oregon State University scientist is also a storehouse of knowledge on another topic – sand dunes.

A new book by Poinar, “A Naturalist’s Guide to the Hidden World of Pacific Northwest Dunes,” outlines the unique habitat these features provide for plants, animals and insects from northern California to British Columbia.

The 288-page paperback has just been published by the Oregon State University Press. It is available at bookstores or can be ordered online at: http://osupress.oregonstate.edu

“George Poinar’s in-depth knowledge of this hidden world is unsurpassed – and his enthusiasm for it is infectious,” said Marty Brown, marketing manager for the OSU Press. “He has been investigating and photographing specimens along the Pacific Coast for more than four decades, and presents this trove of knowledge to the reader in a clear, engaging style.”

Nature lovers, beachcombers, naturalists and others will benefit from Poinar’s description of the oft-neglected world of Pacific Northwest sand dunes. He begins the book at the water’s edge, where kelp and seaweed communities foster an entire “web of life,” from the detritivores that feed on dead and decaying material to beach hoppers, kelp flies,  beach rove beetles and others.

Driftwood that washes ashore creates its own community, with detritivores including white worms, termites, a variety of beetles, borers and weevils. They are preyed upon by gulls, the American crow, numerous spider species and larger beetles.

Strand plant communities encompass the furthest reach of the tides – from the lowest minus tide to the high-water mark. Plants living there not only have to survive intermittent seawater, but offshore winds that “test the strength of their stems, leaves, and roots, grind abrasive sand particles against them, and occasionally bury them entirely,” Poinar writes.

Then there are the dune communities, where Poinar focuses much of his book. These regions of windblown sand have few nutrients, little available freshwater, and can be heated by the sun – even in Oregon – to 120 degrees, or cooled by a marine fog layer virtually any month of the year.

Yet despite these challenges, they harbor a vast array of plants and animals, from beach strawberries, grasses and the beautiful blooming beach pea, to deer, lizards, garter snakes,  ground squirrels and, of course, a host of insects.

Writes Poinar: “These ecosystems are the result of thousands of years of plate tectonics, glaciation, ocean currents, and wind and water erosion. While some organisms occur along the entire coastline, different physical and climatic conditions result in different biota occurring at various locations and during different seasons….

“While exploring this sandy realm, remember the ancient Indian proverb: ‘Treat the Earth well; it is not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.’”

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Marty Brown, 541-737-3866, marty.brown@oregonstate.edu

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dunescover

Pacific Storm operations transferred to OSU college

NEWPORT, Ore. – Operations of the 85-foot-long Oregon State University research vessel Pacific Storm have been transferred from the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU to the university’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS).

The transfer will put the university’s three major research vessels under the same unit; CEOAS also operates the 177-foot R/V Oceanus and the 54-foot R/V Elakha.

The transfer will make the Pacific Storm available for year-round cruises – weather permitting – and improve access to the sea for OSU scientists, students and collaborators across the university, said Bruce Mate, director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.

“The Pacific Storm has been a great vessel for us, but it makes more sense logistically to operate all the vessels under a single unit,” Mate said. “We’ll continue to use the ‘Storm’ but this will allow many other researchers access to her.”

In the past decade, the R/V Pacific Storm has hosted 52 cruises, including one that culminated in the National Geographic documentary, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which featured Mate’s research on the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth. The vessel has been used for a variety of whale research, as well as to deploy wave energy buoys, conduct seafloor mapping off the Oregon Coast, and deploy and recover undersea gliders.

The Pacific Storm originally was a commercial trawler that was donated to the OSU Marine Mammal Institute by Scotty and Janet Hockema, and refitted for research. The fish hold was converted into three bunk rooms, two toilets and a shower, and the vessel was outfitted with a research laboratory. Private donations paid for the refitting of the $1.5 million vessel.

The Pacific Storm will be housed and operated by OSU Ship Operations at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, said Stewart Lamerdin, OSU’s marine superintendent.

“As the university moves forward with its Marine Studies Initiative, there will be an increasing demand for access by students and scientists to research vessels,” Lamerdin said. “Managing all three vessels in a single operation will help OSU maximize their usage.”

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Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202, bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu;

Stewart Lamerdin, 541-867-0225, slamerdin@coas.oregonstate.edu

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This photo is available at: https://flic.kr/p/9VCUfV

Study finds native Olympia oysters more resilient to ocean acidification

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Native Olympia oysters, which once thrived along the Pacific Northwest coast until over-harvesting and habitat loss all but wiped them out, have a built-in resistance to ocean acidification during a key shell-building phase after spawning, according to a newly published study.

Unlike the commercially raised Pacific oysters, Olympia oysters don’t begin making their shells until 2-3 days after fertilization and make them far more slowly, which helps protect them from corrosive water during this critical development phase, said Oregon State University’s George Waldbusser, principal investigator on the project.

Pacific oysters, on the other hand, only have a six-hour window to develop their calcium carbonate shell, and when exposed to acidified water, their energy stores become depleted. The larval oysters may get through the shell-building stage, Waldbusser said, but they often will not have enough energy to survive.

Results of the study are being published this week in the Journal of Limnology and Oceanography.

“This is a unique trait that allows native oysters to survive surprisingly high levels of acidification,” said Waldbusser, a marine ecologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “But they didn’t develop that trait in response to rising acidification. It has been there for some time. It does make you wonder if there may be traits in other organisms that we’re unaware of that may be beneficial.”

In their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, the OSU researchers measured the calcification rates of both Olympia and Pacific oysters for five days after spawning, taking measurements every three hours. Although other studies have looked at the effects of acidified water on adult oysters, this is the first time researchers have been able to pinpoint its effect on larval oysters in the shell-building stage.

What they found was a seven-fold difference in the calcification rate. Pacific oysters put all of their energy into rapidly developing a shell, but the price of that investment is huge.

Native Olympia oysters developed their shells much more slowly, but seemingly at a lower cost.

“Pacific oysters churn out tens of millions of eggs, and those eggs are much smaller than those of native oysters even though they eventually become much larger as adults,” Waldbusser said. “Pacific oysters have less energy invested in each offspring. Olympia oysters have more of an initial energy investment from Mom, and can spend more time developing their shells and dealing with acidified water.”

The OSU researchers found that relative energy stores of young Pacific oysters declined by 38.6 percent an hour, and only 0.9 percent in Olympia oysters.

The study noted other interesting differences between Pacific and Olympia oysters. Native Olympia oyster larvae develop in a brood chamber, where the embryos take longer to develop. However, these brood chambers don’t necessarily protect the young oysters from acidified water, since water is continually pumped through the chamber.

To test how the oysters would do when raised like Pacific oysters – outside the chamber – the researchers conducted an experiment raising the larval Olympia oysters outside their brood chamber and exposing them to acidified water.

“Brooding was thought to provide several advantages to developing young, but we found it does not provide any physiological advantage to the larvae,” said Matthew Gray, a former doctoral student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Maine. “They did just as well outside the brood chamber as inside.

“Brooding does help guard the larvae from predators and some adverse environmental changes – such as low-salinity events.”

The research highlights this robust response to ocean acidification at this critical life-history stage of Olympia oyster larvae, a period which has not previously been studied. Past studies conducted by Annaliese Hettinger, a post-doctoral researcher in Waldbusser’s lab, found that the Olympia oyster larvae are sensitive to acidification in the later swimming stage, and those effects can carry over to adult stages.

The current research may, however, have implications for the future of the commercial oyster industry, given that many of the problems seem to originate at this very early developmental stage. Cultivation of native oysters could help guard against catastrophic Pacific oyster losses due to acidification, the researchers say, or it may be possible to breed some of the Olympia oysters’ beneficial traits into Pacific oysters – either slowing the calcification rate of early larvae or producing fewer and bigger eggs.

The Olympia oyster, which is smaller than the commercially grown Pacific oyster, is prized for its distinctive flavor. Originally, Olympia oysters grew from Baja California to Vancouver Island, and are found sparingly in three Oregon bays – Yaquina, Netarts and Coos Bay. During the height of these harvests in the 1890s, some 130,000 bushels of oysters were annually shipped from the Pacific Northwest to California and within 20 years, 90 percent of these native oysters had disappeared.

Researchers speculate that the remaining Olympia oyster populations may have succumbed to increased silt generated by 20th-century logging and mill operations, which either killed them outright or covered their beds and destroyed their habitat. They have not returned in discernible numbers to Oregon estuaries.

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George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964

waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Olympia oyster cluster

Olympia oysters



Olympia oysters
Olympia oysters
from Yaquina Bay

PNAS Study: Eddies enhance survival of coral reef fish in sub-tropical waters

NEWPORT, Ore. – Swirling eddies in the ocean have long been thought to be beneficial to organisms such as larval fishes residing within them because of enhanced phytoplankton production. However, direct evidence for this hypothesis has been hard to come by.

A new study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which sequentially sampled tropical fish from their larval stages to their settlement in reefs, confirms the critical role of these oceanographic features.

Researchers found that young fish reared in nutrient-rich eddies in the Straits of Florida grew faster and had a survival advantage compared to their counterparts outside eddies, and were more likely to populate nearby reefs because of their more robust upbringing.

“Eddies upwell nutrients and provide a high-productivity environment that gives larval fishes growing there a head start on survival,” said Su Sponaugle, a marine biologist and principal investigator on the study who is affiliated with both Oregon State University and the University of Miami. “In cooler springtime waters, when larval fish are growing more slowly, the difference between fish raised inside or outside of eddies is small.

“But by August, when warm waters elevate fish growth rates, food becomes scarce and larval fishes residing inside eddies are more likely to survive.”

The study is important because it provides resource managers and fish population modelers with valuable new data, said Robert Cowen, director of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, and a co-author on the PNAS paper.

“If there are areas where eddies predictably occur, these could be considered pelagic nursery areas that would warrant higher levels of protection from human interference,” Cowen said. “Further, the role of theses eddies should be incorporated into modeling efforts, which inform decision-makers. The influence of eddies may become even more important with warming oceans.”

In their study, the researchers collected larval fishes both inside and outside of eddies, focusing on three species – bluehead wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum), bluelip parrotfish (Cryptotomus roseus) and bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus). They determined the daily growth rates of the fish through examination of their otoliths, or ear stones, and found that those raised within the eddies had substantially higher growth rates than fish captured outside the eddies.

A few weeks later, they sampled young juveniles that had settled to nearby reefs and again using otoliths to chart daily growth rates of the fish were able to determine that almost all of those that survived to the juvenile stage had growth patterns similar to larvae from eddies.

Fish raised inside of eddies have different growth signatures in their otoliths than those raised outside eddies, explained Kathryn Shulzitski, lead author and assistant scientist at the University of Miami. “This is the first time we have been able to sample fish throughout their larval upbringing offshore to their life as juveniles on the reef and see which fish had a survival advantage.

“It was overwhelmingly slanted toward eddy-raised fish.”

The researchers theorize that larval fish residing outside of eddies either starve to death or become sufficiently weak that they are more susceptible to predators.

“Although we were focusing on three species of smaller reef fish, it is likely that the importance of eddies for larger species – including those sought by people for food – are the same,” Cowen said. “Likewise, this probably is not unique to the Florida Straits. Eddies are ubiquitous in waters around the globe and their role in mixing and stirring up nutrients is critical.”

Other authors on the PNAS study include Martha Hauff and Kristen Walter of the University of Miami. Hauff also is affiliated with Stonehill College in Massachusetts.

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Su Sponaugle, 541-867-0314, su.sponaugle@oregonstate.edu;

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

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Bluehead wrasse (Photo by Evan D’Alessandro)
bluehead wrasse

Hydrothermal vents, methane seeps play enormous role in marine life, global climate

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The hydrothermal vents and methane seeps on the ocean floor that were once thought to be geologic and biological oddities are now emerging as a major force in ocean ecosystems, marine life and global climate.

However, even as researchers learn more about their role in sustaining a healthy Earth, these habitats are being threatened by a wide range of human activities, including deep-sea mining, bottom trawling and energy harvesting, scientists say in a report published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Researchers from Oregon State University first discovered these strange, isolated worlds on the ocean bottom 40 years ago. These habitats surprised the scientific world with reports of hot oozing gases, sulfide chimneys, bizarre tube worms and giant crabs and mussels – life forms that were later found to eat methane and toxic sulfide.

“It was immediately apparent that these hydrothermal vents were incredibly cool,” said Andrew Thurber, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, and co-author on the new report.

“Since then we’ve learned that these vents and seeps are much more than just some weird fauna, unique biology and strange little ecosystems. Rather than being an anomaly, they are prevalent around the world, both in the deep ocean and shallower areas. They provide an estimated 13 percent of the energy entering the deep sea, make a wide range of marine life possible, and are major players in global climate.”

As fountains of marine life, the vents pour out gases and minerals, including sulfide, methane, hydrogen and iron – one of the limiting nutrients in the growth of plankton in large areas of the ocean. In an even more important role, the life forms in these vents and seeps consume 90 percent of the released methane and keep it from entering the atmosphere, where as a greenhouse gas it’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“We had no idea at first how important this ecological process was to global climate,” Thurber said. “Through methane consumption, these life forms are literally saving the planet. There is more methane on the ocean floor than there are other forms of fossil fuels left in the oceans, and if it were all released it would be a doomsday climatic event.”

In reviewing the status of these marine geological structures and the life that lives around them, a group of researchers from 14 international universities and organizations have outlined what’s been learned in the past four decades and what forces threaten these ecosystems today. The synthesis was supported by the J.M. Kaplan fund.

These vents and seeps, and the marine life that lives there, create rocks and habitat, which in some settings can last tens of thousands of years. They release heat and energy, and form biological hot spots of diversity. They host extensive mussel and clam beds, mounds of shrimp and crab, create some prime fishing habitat and literally fertilize the ocean as zooplankton biomass and abundance increases. While the fluid flows from only a small section of the seafloor, the impact on the ocean is global.

Some of the microorganisms found at these sites are being explored for their potential to help degrade oil spills, or act as a biocatalytic agent for industrial scrubbing of carbon dioxide.

These systems, however, have already been damaged by human exploitation, and others are being targeted, the scientists said. Efforts are beginning to mine them for copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver. Bottom trawling is a special concern, causing physical disturbance that could interfere with seeps, affect habitat and damage other biologic linkages.

Oil, gas or hydrate exploitation may damage seeps. Whaling and logging may interfere with organic matter falling to the ocean floor, which serves as habitat or stepping stones for species reliant on chemosynthetic energy sources. Waste disposal of munitions, sewage and debris may affect seeps.

The range of ecosystem services these vents and seeps provide is just barely beginning to be understood, researchers said in their report. As many of these habitats fall outside of territorial waters, vent and seep conservation will require international collaboration and cooperation if they are going to continue to provide ecosystem benefits.

Contributors to this report included researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Florida State University, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, University of the Azores, Temple University, Universidade de Aveiro, the U.S. Geological Survey, University of the West Indies, Dalhousie University, University of Victoria, Duke University, Ghent University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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Editor’s note: Downloadable high resolution video; online “view only” video; live streamed video; and still photos are all available to illustrate this story. Please credit "Courtesy of D. Kelley, University of Washington, NSF/Ocean Observatories Initiative/Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility."

  • Video: Downloadable hydrothermal vents b-roll (Length 1:50)

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_nEpHVYyPtpM2F4bWxiY1dXeEU&usp=sharing

  • Video: Online view only hydrothermal vents b-roll (Length 1:50)

http://www.interactiveoceans.washington.edu/file/Inferno_Vent_at_Axial

  • Video: Live HD imagery streamed to shore 8 times/day. Every 3 hours, day and night, on this site you can watch live streaming video from about a mile below the oceans' surface, on the top of a submarine volcano known as Axial Seamount. Axial is located nearly 400 kilometers (~250 miles) due west of Astoria, Oregon on a mid-ocean ridge spreading center called the Juan de Fuca Ridge.  http://novae.ocean.washington.edu/story/Ashes_CAMHD_Live 
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Andrew Thurber, 541-737-4500

athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Tube worms
Tube worms

Sea star juveniles abundant, but recovery is anything but guaranteed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An unprecedented number of juvenile sea stars have been observed off the Oregon coast over the past several months – just two years after one of the most severe marine ecosystem epidemics in recorded history nearly wiped the population out.

The appearance of the juveniles does not mean the threat of “sea star wasting disease” is over, researchers caution. A second round of the disease could be disastrous to the purple ochre (Pisaster ochraceus) and other sea stars, some of which are considered “keystone” species in marine habitats because of their influence on the ecosystem.

A team of Oregon State University scientists who have been monitoring the sea stars for years reported on their status this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

“When we looked at the settlement of the larval sea stars on rocks in 2014 during the epidemic, it was the same or maybe even a bit lower than previous years,” said Bruce Menge, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “But a few months later, the number of juveniles was off the charts – higher than we’d ever seen – as much as 300 times normal.”

“It wasn’t a case of high settlement, or more sea stars being born. They just had an extraordinary survival rate into the juvenile stage. Whether they can make it into adulthood and replenish the population without succumbing to sea star wasting disease is the big question.”

Menge and his colleagues believe the reason for the high survival rate is the availability of more food. The young sea stars feed on larval and juvenile mussels and barnacles, competing with adult sea stars for the same food source. The scarcity of adults provided a temporary smorgasbord for the juveniles.

Sea star wasting disease first appeared in Oregon in the summer of 2014. In rocky intertidal habitats, disease rapidly depleted populations of the dominant sea star, Pisaster ochraceus. The sea stars first developed twisted arms, then showed deflation and lesions, and eventually lost arms and the ability to grip onto the substrate before finally disintegrating completely.

Over a period of about 15 months, the disease reduced the overall sea star population by 63 to 84 percent at different site along the Oregon coast, and reduced the Pisaster ochraceus population by 80 to 99 percent. The epidemic ranged from Alaska to Baja California.

Scientists from Cornell University attributed the epidemic to a Sea Star-associated Densovirus and researchers in Washington say warmer water may have provided the trigger for the disease in that state.

But Menge’s research group found no association between water temperature and the disease outbreak in Oregon.

“The sea temperatures were warmer when the outbreak first began,” he said, “but Oregon wasn’t affected as early as other parts of the West Coast, and the outbreak reached its peak here when the sea temperature plummeted and was actually cooler than normal.”

The Cornell researchers found evidence of densovirus in the sea stars, the water column and in sediments. It occurs naturally and can become virulent, possibly as a result of stress.

“Something triggered that virulence and it happened on a coast-wide basis,” said Menge, a distinguished professor in the Department of Integrative Biology in OSU’s College of Science. “We don’t think it was a result of warming because conditions were different in Oregon than they were, for example, in Washington and likely other parts of the West Coast. Ocean acidification is one possibility and we’re looking at that now. Ultimately, the cause seems likely to be multi-faceted.”

Menge and his research team have been studying these intertidal rocky zones at different sites for as long as 32 years and analyzing the community structure. Historical research has shown that the ochre star is a “keystone” species because of its influence in these ecosystems, suggesting that the absence of so many adults could have a significant impact.

Ochre sea stars prey on barnacles and mussels and keep their populations under control. When left unchecked, mussel populations can explode, covering up algae and small invertebrates.

“The longer-term ecological consequences of this (disease) event could include wholesale elimination of many low zone species and a complete change in the zonation patterns of rocky intertidal communities along the West Coast of North America,” the authors wrote in their study.

Among the other findings the OSU researchers reported in PLOS One:

  • Sea stars that were continuously submerged, such as those in tidepools, had a higher rate of the disease than sea stars on rocks outside of tidepools where periodically they were above water;
  • During the last two years, the number of gooseneck barnacles has exploded along the coast – likely because they are not being preyed upon as heavily by adult sea stars;
  • Adult sea stars are much more likely to be affected by sea star wasting disease than juveniles, which may be because of longer exposure or some other factor.

The OSU research has been funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Kingfisher Foundation, and the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation.

Other authors on the study, all from OSU, include Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, Angela Johnson, Jenna Sullivan, Sarah Gravem and Francis Chan.

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Bruce Menge, 541-737-5358, mengeb@oregonstate.edu

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This photograph of a disintegrating adult purple sea star, Pisaster ochraceus, is available at: https://flic.kr/p/nzd81S

“Eve” and descendants shape global sperm whale population structure

NEWPORT, Ore. – Although sperm whales have not been driven to the brink of extinction as have some other whales, a new study has found a remarkable lack of diversity in the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA within the species.

In fact, the mitochondrial DNA from more than a thousand sperm whales examined during the past 15 years came from a single “Eve” sperm whale tens of thousands of years ago, the researchers say.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology.

While the exact origins of this sperm whale “Eve” remain uncertain, the study shows the importance of her female descendants in shaping global population structure, according to Alana Alexander, a University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute researcher who conducted the study while a doctoral student at Oregon State University.

“Although the male sperm whale is more famous in literature and cinema through ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘In the Heart of the Sea,’ the patterns in mitochondrial DNA show that female sperm whales are shaping genetic differentiation by sticking close to home,” Alexander said.

Working in the genetic lab of Scott Baker, associate director of Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute, Alexander combined DNA information from 1,091 previously studied samples with 542 newly obtained DNA profiles from sperm whales. The new samples were part of a global sampling of sperm whale populations made possible by the Ocean Alliance’s “Voyage of the Odyssey,” a five-and-a-half year circumnavigation of the globe, including some of the most remote regions of the world.

The new sampling, including sperm whales from the previously un-sampled Indian Ocean, revealed global patterns of genetic differentiation and diversity.

“Sperm whales have been in the fossil record for some 20 million years,” said Baker, a co-author on the study, “so the obvious question is how one maternal lineage could be so successful that it sweeps through the global population and no other lineages survive? At this point, we can only speculate about the reasons for this success, but evolutionary advances in feeding preferences and social strategies are plausible explanations.”

The researchers say female sperm whales demonstrate strong fidelity to local areas, and both feeding habits and social structure are important to determine to better manage the species. “There is a real risk of long-term declines in response to current anthropogenic threats, despite the sperm whale’s large worldwide population,” the authors wrote.

“One concern is that this very strong local fidelity may slow expansion of the species following whaling,” said Baker, a professor of fisheries and wildlife who works at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. “The Sri Lanka sperm whales, for example, don’t seem to mix with the Maldives whales, thus local anthropogenic threats could have a negative impact on local populations.”

The researchers note that while males are important for describing patterns in the nuclear DNA of sperm whales, ultimately the females shape the patterns within the species’ mitochondrial DNA.

“Although there is low mitochondrial DNA diversity there are strong patterns of differentiation, which implies that the global population structure in the sperm whale is shaped by females being ‘home-bodies’ – at the social group, regional and oceanic level,” Alexander said.

The study was funded by a Mamie Markham Award and a Lylian Brucefield Reynolds Award from the Hatfield Marine Science Center; a 2008-11 International Fulbright Science & Technology award to Alexander; and co-funded by the ASSURE program of the Department of Defense in partnership with the National Science Foundation REU Site program. Publication of the paper was supported in part by the Thomas G. Scott Publication Fund.

Other authors include Debbie Steel of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute; Kendra Hoekzema, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Sarah Mesnick, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center; Daniel Engelhaupt, HDR Inc.; and Iain Kerr and Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance.

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Scott Baker, 541-867-0255, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu;

Alana Alexander, 785-864-9886, alana.alexander@ku.edu

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This photo of a sperm whale pod was taken by Gabriel Barathieu: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_pod.jpg

Study finds limit on evaporation to ice sheets, but that may change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Although the coastal regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet are experiencing rapid melting, a significant portion of the interior of that ice sheet has remained stable – but a new study suggests that stability may not continue.

Researchers found that very little of the snow and ice on the vast interior of the ice sheet is lost to the atmosphere through evaporation because of a strong thermal “lid” that essentially traps the moisture and returns it to the surface where it refreezes.

However, there are signs that this lid is becoming leaky as global temperatures increase. The researchers say there may be a threshold at which warming becomes sufficient to turn on a switch that will destabilize the snow surface.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, are being published in Science Advances. New measurements from a research tower atop the Greenland ice sheet helped uncovered the mystery of how much snow piles up on this ice sheet.

“Normally, the air temperature goes down as you climb, but near the surface in Greenland, it gets warmer,” said David Noone, an Oregon State University professor who is an atmospheric scientist and principal investigator on the study. “The surface is very cold, but it can be as much as 20 degrees warmer just 30 to 40 feet up in the air. It’s enough that you can feel the difference between your nose and your toes.”

“The temperature difference effectively forms a lid so that there is hardly any evaporation. Warm air likes to rise, but if it is already warmer up above the air is trapped nearer the ground. One consequence is that layers of fog form from water that had recently evaporated. Eventually the small fog water-drops drift back down to the very cold surface where it refreezes onto the ice sheet.”

“It’s a handy little trick of nature.”

Max Berkelhammer, a researcher at the University of Illinois and lead author on the study, said scientists have been aware of “accumulation zones” in high-altitude areas of the ice sheet, but they haven’t been comprehensively measured because of the difficulty in analyzing evaporation and condensation over time.

“Instruments capable of doing this are pretty new and while they have been used before on the ice sheet, they have never been able to run during an entire winter,” said Berkelhammer, who did his post-doctoral work with Noone when both were at the University of Colorado. “I think at this point we are still the only group who has been able to run this type of instrument for an entire year on top of an ice sheet.”

The research aims to better understand how ice cores capture information about past temperatures in Greenland. The snow and ice on Greenland’s interior originated from ocean water far to the south and is transported northward by weather systems and storms, and finally falls as snow on the pristine ice sheet.

The researchers are able to track the origins and fate of the water by the ratio of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in the water.

Variations in the isotope ratios in layers of snow piled up on the ice sheet provide the team a history of Green climate that helps put recent warming into historical context, the researchers say.

To understand past climate, scientists must know how much precipitation fell and how much evaporated. Without the team’s analysis, what fraction of falling snow accumulates and what fraction evaporates was difficult to determine. When they began to explore evaporation rates, they discovered this unique thermal lid, which effectively “recycles” water back onto the Greenland Ice Sheet.

This finding will allow previous estimates of Greenland’s past water balance to be re-evaluated.

“When thinking about climate change, one often thinks about rising global temperatures,” Noone said. “However in Greenland, as like here in Oregon, climate change is also a story of the changing water cycle and how we lose water because evaporation rates are increasing.

“Climate models suggest that as temperatures increase, more precipitation may actually fall in Greenland because warmer air can hold more water. Taken by itself, that could indicate that parts of the ice sheet may grow. However, if the lid becomes increasingly leaky, the evaporation process has become more effective and moisture will escape to the atmosphere.

“The fate of the ice sheet is in the balance,” Noone said. “It becomes a question of which influence is stronger.”

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David Noone, 541-737-3629, dcn@coas.oregonstate.edu

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This photo of fogbows can be downloaded at: https://flic.kr/p/FM1utW

 

 

 

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Summit Station in Greenland

 

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David Noone, OSU, in a snow pit.

 

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Max Berkelhammer measures ice crystals