marine science and the coast

Open house set for OSU’s Port Orford field station

PORT ORFORD, Ore. – For the past two years, Oregon State University has operated a field station on the coast at Port Orford – a site where researchers could set up shop, public meetings were held, and OSU outreach specialists could interact with the public.

The facility is expanding its role in supporting coastal research, outreach and education.

An open house will be held on Saturday, Nov. 14, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the station, located at 444 Jackson St. in Port Orford. The event is designed to introduce the public to the station and to the research that is performed there. It is free and open to the public; light refreshments will be provided.

The field station is supported by numerous programs at OSU that have a role in marine studies, including  Oregon Sea Grant, the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES), the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the OSU Research Office.

Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, a local fish processor, is also located in the building and its staff will be on-hand during the open house to describe its operation.

The station has a number of external partners, including the Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership, the Redfish Rocks Community Team, The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Port Orford Ocean Resources Team, The Surfrider Foundation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and others. ODFW uses the field station as a base of operations in support of the ecological monitoring efforts at the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and Marine Protected Area.

“The field station has been a place that professional scientists, students and citizen scientists can use as a base of operation to study topics ranging from the ecology of marine reserves to gray whale foraging behavior,” said Cynthia Sagers, OSU’s vice president for research. “The field station provides two laboratories, classroom and office space, and housing for visiting researchers.”

Station manager Tom Calvanese said that in June, the station installed a SCUBA air fill station to support scientific divers conducting underwater surveys. “Recently, we began to make this service available to recreational divers seeking to explore the rocky reefs in the area – a known diver destination,” he said.

Funding for the facility was launched with a $425,000 allocation by the Oregon Legislature in 2011 to purchase the building. OSU has funded its operation since.

Media Contact: 

Tom Calvanese, 541-366-2500; tom.calvanese@oregonstate.edu

Scuba fill station opens in Port Orford, as diving increases in popularity

PORT ORFORD, Ore. – Scientific and recreational scuba divers wanting to study or explore the rocky, subtidal reefs of the southern Oregon coast will be able to breathe a little easier with the opening this month of a scuba fill station at Oregon State University’s Port Orford Field Station.

Divers can call the field station at 541-366-2500 to arrange an air fill, and a dive flag will fly during hours of operation to alert divers when the fill service is available. The station is located at 444 Jackson St. in Port Orford.

The work to secure a scuba fill station to help support research and ecotourism was coordinated by Tyson Rasor, coordinator for the Redfish Rocks Community Team, in partnership with OSU and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Reserves Program. The project was funded primarily through a grant from Travel Oregon, with support from ODFW and the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance.

Funds to maintain the fill station are expected to come largely from donations collected for cylinder fills, according to Kevin L. Buch, the diving and small boat safety officer with OSU’s Research Office.

“Scuba fills will be available to approved scientific divers and to recreational divers with proof of certification, valid identification, and a cylinder meeting appropriate industry standards,” Buch said. “Advance notice of fill needs is appreciated, since staff members are often in the field.”

The fill station, from Syphers of Lummi Island, Washington, is operated under the auspices of the OSU Scientific Diving Program, and administered by Port Orford Field Station manager Tom Calvanese. The station produces certified air up to 3,500 pounds per square inch, and features a four-whip, DIN-compatible fill panel and more than 2,000 cubic feet of gas storage.

Staffing the station will be Oregon State University employees and volunteers from OSU, Redfish Rocks Community Team, and Oregon Coast Aquarium. All operators are certified in high-pressure cylinder HAZMAT and fill station operations.

More information is available by emailing diving.safety@oregonstate.edu, or by calling 541-737-6893.

Media Contact: 

Kevin Buch, 541-737-6893, kevin.buch@oregonstate.edu;

Tom Calvanese, 541-366-2500, tom.calvanese@oregonstate.edu

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“State of the Coast” conference set Oct. 24 in Coos Bay

COOS BAY, Ore. – The annual State of the Coast conference, sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 24, at Southwestern Oregon Community College’s Hales Center.

The event is designed to bring coastal and noncoastal Oregonians – including scientists, business and community leaders, fishermen, resource managers, teachers, students, recreationists and conservationists – together to learn, network, and talk about Oregon’s marine environment.

Registration in advance is recommended as space is limited. Registration, which is $35 for the general public and $25 for students, includes lunch, a reception and refreshments. Doors open at 8 a.m.; the conference begins at 9 a.m.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.stateofthecoast.com

Oregon Sea Grant is a coastal science, outreach and education program based at Oregon State University. The conference will explore several marine-related issues, including changing ocean conditions such as “The Blob” – a huge patch of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean; innovations in fishing, new approaches to ocean conservation, marine debris, water quality, a potential Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and others.

The conference will include talks, displays and hands-on activities.

Keynote speaker Wallace J. Nichols, author of the book, “Blue Mind: the Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do,” will discuss some of the themes in his book. His talk will weave in neuroscience, psychology, biology and ecosystem analysis, as well as personal stories.

Media Contact: 

Jamie Doyle, 541-297-4227;

Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1339 or 541-543-4854

OSU Board of Trustees to meet Oct. 14-16

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Oregon State University Board of Trustees will hold a retreat on Wednesday, Oct. 14, to discuss the 10-year outlook for the university.  The retreat is open to the public and will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Guin Library Seminar Room of Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), 2030 S.E. Marine Science Drive in Newport. 

Each of the board’s three standing committees will meet on Thursday, Oct. 15, in the Guin Library Seminar Room at HMSC. These meetings are open to the public:

  • The Executive and Audit Committee will meet from 8 to 10:15 a.m. to review the quarterly audit report; hear a presentation on the university’s compliance and ethics program; and consider the 2016 committee work plan, a trustee recommendation policy, the FY2015 presidential assessment, and revised standards for foundations.
  • The Academic Strategies Committee will meet from 10:30 a.m. to noon to consider new graduate degree programs in psychology, athletic training, and environmental arts and humanities; and the committee’s work plan for 2016.
  • The Finance and Administration Committee will meet from 12:45 to 2:45 p.m. to consider quarterly reports, changes to the public university funds investment policy, and the committee’s work plan for the fiscal year ahead. The committee will also hear pro forma results for an information technology systems infrastructure project and an OSU-Cascades residence hall and dining/academic center.

Following the committee meetings, the board will meet at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, to hear a presentation on the university’s Marine Studies Initiative and to participate in a tour of HMSC. 

The board will meet again on Friday, Oct. 16, in Corvallis. The meeting will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Willamette Room of the CH2M Hill Alumni Center, 725 S.W. 26th St. in Corvallis. It is open to the public. The board will consider adoption of a trustee recommendation policy and new graduate degree programs in psychology, athletic training, and environmental arts and humanities. 

The board will also act on the FY2015 presidential assessment, changes to the public university fund investment policy, and revisions to the standards for foundations.  In addition, the OSU board will receive a legislative update and discuss results from the annual board assessment survey.

The board will meet in executive session on Friday, Oct. 16, at approximately 11:30 a.m. (pursuant to ORS 192.660(2)(h) ) for the purpose of consulting with legal counsel in regard to current litigation or litigation likely to be filed.

A public comment period is provided at each board meeting. Commenters are allowed up to five minutes and may register by e-mail before the meeting by contacting Marcia Stuart at marcia.stuart@oregonstate.edu; or they may register at the meeting itself. Commenters must sign up prior to the public comment period of the meeting.

More information on the meetings is available online at: http://leadership.oregonstate.edu/trustees. If special accommodation is required, contact Stuart at 541-737-3449 or marcia.stuart@oregonstate.edu at least 72 hours in advance.

Media Contact: 

Steve Clark, 541-737-3808, steve.clark@oregonstate.edu

Impacts of El Niño, La Niña on Pacific Ocean communities, beaches could expand in 21st century

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A coastal hazards analysis of 48 Pacific Ocean beaches in three continents, using data from 1979 to 2012, found the biggest factor influencing communities and beaches in all regions was the impact of El Niño and La Niña events.

The study also found their influence had alternate impacts in different parts of the Pacific basin. When one side of the Pacific experienced extreme coastal erosion and flooding because of El Niño the other side often experienced these hazards during La Niña. Some climate projections suggest that these events may occur more frequently in the 21st century, meaning that populated regions could experience more severe flooding or erosion.

Results of the study, which was funded by a variety of organizations, are being published this week in Nature Geoscience.

“There are many factors that can influence coastal vulnerability yet many future projections of coastal hazards focus only on sea level rise and  neglect the influence of seasonal water level anomalies, storm surges, wave-driven processes and other factors,” said Peter Ruggiero, an Oregon State University coastal hazards expert and co-author on the study.

“We knew that climate cycles play a major role in what happens to our coastlines, but the fact that El Niño and La Niña significantly affect coastal hazards throughout the Pacific in a fairly coherent manner was a bit of a surprise,” added Ruggiero, who is an associate professor of geology and geophysics in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.

The analysis also confirmed what scientists had suspected – the most dominant impacts on beaches and communities through climate cycles takes place in the boreal (northern) winter. Some projections suggest that the worst-case scenarios for sea level rise could displace up to 187 million people by the end of the 21st century, with flood losses exceeding $1 trillion (in U.S. dollars) for the world’s major coastal cities.

More frequent, and potentially more severe, El Niño and La Niña events could worsen the situation.

The researchers also looked specifically at the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which experiences extreme water level anomalies during major El Niño events – on the order of tens of centimeters, and changes in both wave height and direction. Storms reaching the coast from more steep southern approach angles cause significant “hotspots” of erosion, Ruggiero pointed out.

“The El Niño winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98 resulted in the most extreme coastal flooding and erosion hazards along the Oregon and Washington coast in recent decades – oftentimes taking many years to recovery, if at all,” the authors wrote in their analysis.

In 2013, Ruggiero led a study of Pacific Northwest beaches that found Washington’s beaches, on average, were more stable than those in Oregon, which had experienced an increase in erosion hazards in recent decades. His study found that since the 1960s, 13 of the 17 Oregon beach “littoral cells” – stretches of beach between rocky headlands and major inlets – have either experienced an increase in erosion, or less of a buildup in sand during beach-building months.

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.

“We’re in the midst of a strengthening El Niño right now,” Ruggiero said, “and we already seeing some significant water level anomalies through tide gauge readings. Some people project that this 2015-16 El Niño could match those significant events of 1982-83 and 1997-98.

“If we get significant storms this winter during times of elevated water levels, the region could experience erosion and hazards not seen in some years.”


Media Contact: 

Peter Ruggiero, 541-737-1239; ruggierp@science.oregonstate.edu

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Erosion at the central Oregon coast.

OSU names Haggerty interim dean of college

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Roy Haggerty, the Hollis M. Dole Professor of Environmental Geology at Oregon State University, has been named interim dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

He succeeds Mark Abbott, who earlier this summer accepted a position as president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, effective Oct. 1. Oregon State will launch a national search for a new dean in September, according to Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president.

“I am delighted that Roy has agreed to serve as interim dean,” Randhawa said. “He is known as a leader with integrity and as a bridge builder, and his candidacy generated a great sense of enthusiasm across the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.”

Haggerty has been on the OSU faculty since 1996 and served as head of the geology program from 2003-06 in the Department of Geosciences, before it was merged with the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. With more than 100 faculty members and nearly a thousand graduate and undergraduate students the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences is one of the largest and strongest programs of its kind in North America.

An expert in hydrology, Haggerty’s research has addressed transport of nutrients, carbon and heat in streams, nuclear waste disposal issues in the United States and Sweden, and other forms of groundwater contamination.

In his two decades at OSU, his work has been supported by more than $9 million in grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and other organizations. He has taught at all levels, from introductory earth sciences to advanced classes in hydrology.

He is the principal investigator for the Willamette Water 2100 project, sponsored by the NSF, and involving 20 faculty members at OSU, University of Oregon, Portland State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The project seeks to understand how climate change, population growth and human activity may affect water scarcity in the Willamette Basin throughout the 21st century.

Haggerty is a graduate of the University of Alberta and has master’s and doctoral degrees in hydrogeology from Stanford University.

Media Contact: 

Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111, Sabah.Randhawa@oregonstate.edu;

Roy Haggerty, 541-737-1210, roy.haggerty@oregonstate.edu

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    Interim dean Roy Haggerty

Survey: Oyster industry more sold on ocean acidification impacts than public

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Although some people in the general public remain skeptical about the impacts of ocean acidification, a growing number of professionals who make their living off the ocean have become believers.

A newly published survey found that more than 80 percent of respondents from the United States shellfish industry on the West Coast are convinced that acidification is having consequences – a figure more than four times higher than that of public perception, researchers say. About half of the people in the industry report having already experienced some impact from acidification.

Results of the study, led by researchers at Oregon State University, are being published this week in the Journal of Shellfish Research. It was funded by Oregon Sea Grant.

“The shellfish industry recognizes the consequences of ocean acidification for people today, people in this lifetime, and for future generations – to a far greater extent than the U.S. public,” said Rebecca Mabardy, a former OSU graduate student and lead author on the study. “The good news is that more than half of the respondents expressed optimism – at least, guarded optimism – for the industry’s ability to adapt to acidification.”

The mechanisms causing ocean acidification are complex and few in the shellfish industry initially understood the science behind the issue, noted George Waldbusser, an OSU marine ecologist who has worked with Northwest oyster growers on mitigating the effects of ocean acidification. However, he added, many have developed a rather sophisticated understanding of the basic concepts of carbon dioxide impacts on the ocean and understand the risks to their enterprise.

“Many have seen the negative effects of acidified water on the survival of their juvenile oysters – and those who have experienced a direct impact obviously have a higher degree of concern about the issue,” Waldbusser pointed out. “Others are anticipating the effects of acidification and want to know just what will happen, and how long the impacts may last.”

“Because of some of the success we’ve had in helping some hatcheries adapt to changing conditions, there is a degree of optimism that the industry can adapt,” added Waldbusser, who was Mabardy’s mentor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU.

Waldbusser’s colleague Burke Hales has worked with the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery and others to create a chemical monitoring and treatment regimen for seawater. Waldbusser’s research has shown there is a fine line in how quickly larval oysters must develop their shell at a stage when they are most vulnerable to the corrosiveness of acidified water.

Shellfish industry leaders were asked who should take the lead in responding to the challenges of acidification and their strong preference was the shellfish industry itself, followed by academic researchers. A majority said that any governmental regulations should be led by federal agencies, followed by the state and then local government.

“As a whole, the industry felt that they should be working closely with the academic community on acidification issues,” Waldbusser said. “In the spirit of full disclosure, there were some people who reported a distrust of academics – though without any specifics – so we clearly have some work to do to establish credibility with that subset of the industry.”

Among the other findings:

  • Of those respondents who said they have been affected by ocean acidification, 97 percent reported financial damage, while 68 percent cited emotional stress.
  • The level of concern reported by industry was: 36 percent, extremely concerned; 39 percent, very concerned; 20 percent, somewhat concerned; 4 percent, not too concerned; and 1 percent, not at all concerned.
  • Most respondents felt that ocean acidification was happening globally (85 percent), along the U.S. West Coast (86 percent), and in their local estuary (84 percent).

“One thing that came out of this survey is that we learned that not only is the shellfish industry experiencing and acknowledging ocean acidification,” Mabardy said, “they are committed to learning about the issue and its implications for their business. They want to share their insights as they are forced into action.”

“The next step is to continue shifting conversations about ocean acidification from acknowledgement of the problem, toward solution-oriented strategies,” she added.

Since graduating from OSU, Mabardy has worked at Taylor Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Washington and is now beginning a position as the outreach and project coordinator for the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

Media Contact: 

George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964, waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Becky Mabardy, beckymabardy@gmail.com

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George Waldbusser (near) and Burke Hales of OSU work with the oyster industry on acidification monitoring and mitigation. Photo link: https://flic.kr/p/xn83LK









George Waldbusser (left) and Burke Hales.



Industry leaders are concerned about the impact of ocean acidification on oysters.

OSU ranked third nationally in best places to study natural resources

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is ranked third by College Factual in its ranking of “Best Places to Study Natural Resources and Conservation.”

OSU is the only Northwest school on the list. Virginia Tech is ranked No. 1 nationally, followed by the University of Florida at No. 2. Fellow Pacific-12 Conference institution University of California is ranked seventh, while nearby University of California-Davis is eighth.

Oregon State has a national reputation for it natural resource programs. In recent years, it was ranked No. 1 in the nation in conservation biology by the journal, Conservation Biology. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently has ranked the university’s wildlife science program at tops in the nation, and its fisheries science program, second nationally.

The university also has been ranked ninth in the world by QS World University Rankings for its agriculture and forestry programs, which are a significant part of OSU’s natural resources curriculum.

College Factual is a ranking service begun in 2013 that uses outcomes-based data to help guide students in their college selection process. It uses data from the Department of Education and elsewhere to rank programs on overall excellence, affordability, graduation rates, and success of graduates finding jobs.

“Being ranked so highly at a national level is validation for the strong programs we have across the university that educate students and conduct research in the natural resources and conservation areas,” said Selina Heppell, interim head of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“It’s important to recognize the numerous partners we have – on campus and at our Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport,” she added. “Many of the scientists from state and federal agencies teach and mentor OSU students, providing invaluable experiential learning that really separates Oregon State from many other universities.”


Media Contact: 

Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039

Researchers studying Oregon’s “resident population” of gray whales

NEWPORT, Ore. – Every year, some 20,000 gray whales migrate between the breeding lagoons of Baja, Mexico, and the bountiful feeding grounds off British Columbia and Alaska, often passing close to shore along the Northwest coast – creating a popular tourist attraction.

For some reason, however, about 200 of these whales annually cut short their northern migration, opting instead to cavort along the coastline from northern California to Washington throughout much of the summer. Although they don’t live year-round off the Northwest coast, they are known informally as Oregon’s “resident” gray whales.

Scientists don’t know as much as they’d like about our ocean-dwelling neighbors, thus a team of researchers from Oregon State University, led by master’s student Florence van Tulder, aims to learn more. She is leading a project this summer to spot gray whales that like to frequent the Oregon coast, track their movements and behavior, and compare them with photo archives in an attempt to identify individual whales.

As part of the study, the OSU researchers will also monitor activities of commercial, charter and recreational fishing boats – as well as whale-watching vessels – to determine if they have an effect on the whales’ behavior.

“Our goal is not to curtail boat use in waters near whales, but to develop a list of best-practices that we can share with the fishing and whale-watching industries,” said van Tulder, who is a student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We’d like to learn more about these whales and better understand how and where they feed along the Oregon coast.”

For the next several weeks, van Tulder and her research team will set up viewing locations at two popular waysides – Port Orford and Boiler Bay State Park near Depoe Bay. There they will use a surveyor’s instrument called a theodolite to track and map the movement of individual whales at a fine scale as they forage. The data collected will tell them how the whales use different areas, how they search for food patches, and how they interact with vessels.

During the team’s first week at Boiler Bay, they spotted a whale with overlapping spots on its tail that they nicknamed ‘Mitosis.’ The whale did a quick “drive-by” and left the study area, but returned two days later and foraged for more than three hours in one small area of just a few hundred yards. The following day, Mitosis arrived again and didn’t stay as long, but covered a much broader area.

“We think the reason they’re attracted to these foraging hotspots along the Oregon coast is an abundance of mysid shrimp,” van Tulder said. “During summer months, the mysid can be really dense, from the seafloor to the surface, and really close to the shore. We want to know if this wealth of foraging is enough to get them to disrupt their migration north. Or is there some other mechanism at work that makes 200 whales act differently than the other 20,000? That’s what we hope to find out.

“There’s also the question of how they even locate the shrimp,” she added. “Gray whales don’t use echo-location, so how do these whales search for and find dense prey patches? It may be possible that this knowledge is passed along from mother to calf among this population subset.”

Gray whales are one of the few endangered species success stories, scientists say. The population of eastern gray whales has recovered from the exploitation of 20th-century whaling to become robust. Their near-shore migration has spawned a new industry of whale-watching along the Oregon coast that in 2009 was worth an estimated $29 million – a figure likely higher today.

Leigh Torres, an OSU whale specialist with the Marine Mammal Institute who is van Tulder’s mentor for the project, said the work done this summer by the student research team will help scientists learn more about how the whales use their habitat – and interact with humans.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about these whales, so the fine-scale tracking of their feeding behavior, with concurrent tracks of vessels, will be very enlightening,” Torres said. “We’d like to know more about how gray whale foraging strategies differ between the two study sites or when there is a dependent calf, or multiple whales are around.

“We’re also interested in how the whales behave when there are boats in the vicinity,” Torres added. “Are there behavior differences based on boat traffic and composition? Whales might react to some boats, but perhaps not others based on speed, approach, motor type, etc. We hope to give back to the whale and fishing industries what we’ve learned so they can establish their own guidelines about how close to get to whales so they can maintain a profitable business and the whales can continue to utilize the habitat.”

Federal law prohibits boats from approaching within 100 yards of whales.

The researchers also are interested in whether other gray whales may be joining the group of 200.

“It’s possible that other gray whales historically did what this population subset is doing now, but got away from it for some reason,” she said. “Or it may be that some whales are just opportunistic and want to stick around and chow down on the shrimp. With a long-term study, we hope to find out.”

van Tulder and her research team will alternate between Port Orford and Boiler Bay through mid-September and welcome interaction from the public.

Media Contact: 

Florence van Tulder, 206-491-1166, vantuldf@onid.oregonstate.edu;

Leigh Torres, 541-867-0895, leigh.torres@oregonstate.edu 

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Photo link: https://flic.kr/p/wCuxYM










The OSU research team at Port Orford.

Northwest residents should channel fear of earthquake into pragmatic action

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

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

It’s a matter of feast or famine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Contact: 

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

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

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

Multimedia Downloads


Scott Ashford measures ground upheaval in Japan.


Toppled building in Concepcion

An earthquake-toppled building in Chile.



Patrick Corcoran works with coastal communities.