marine science and the coast

Researchers conclude popular rockfish is actually two distinct species

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis confirms that the Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus), a popular and commercially significant rockfish sought by anglers primarily off the California and Oregon coasts, is actually two separate and distinct species.

Previous studies had discovered some genetic differences between two groups of Blue Rockfishes, but their status as distinct species had never been proven until researchers at Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California State University, Los Angeles, demonstrated distinguishing differences in anatomy, coloration, geographic distribution and genetics.

Results of the study have been published in the Fishery Bulletin.

“Various researchers have written about the Blue Rockfish for years but it has never been morphologically described as two separate species,” said Ben Frable, an OSU graduate student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and lead author on the study.  “There are physical, genetic, and apparent behavioral differences between the two species.”

Frable and his team named the newly described species Deacon Rockfish (Sebastes diaconus) – a tribute to the nickname given Blue Rockfish by Portuguese fishermen around San Francisco in the 19th century. They called it the “priest fish” because the white bands around its head resembled a clerical collar.

D. Wolfe Wagman, a marine biologist with ODFW and co-author on the study, said the discovery may in the future alter how resource managers approach rockfish harvest regulations, which have been partially restricted in 2015.

Under a federally established management system, Blue Rockfish are counted as a single species belonging to the “minor near-shore rockfish complex,” which saw significant reductions in allowable harvest in 2015. In addition to Blue Rockfish, this complex of 11 species includes China, Quillback and Copper rockfishes – all three of which cannot be legally harvested by recreational fishers in Oregon this year – thus concentrating angling efforts on Black and Blue rockfishes, Wagman said.

“Black Rockfish are the major target of the complex and have a separate quota, set at 440 metric tons,” Wagman said. “But the Blue Rockfish quota is much lower and ODFW is concerned that if fishing efforts exceed that quota, then all groundfish fishing would have to stop in Oregon because even incidental catch and release of Blue Rockfish would exceed the quota.”

However, the discovery of the new Blue Rockfish species throws a different wrinkle into the equation. The original species, Sebastes mystinus, is more prevalent in California, while the newly identified Deacon Rockfish is found from northern California all the way to the Salish Sea near Vancouver, B.C.

Both groups are found off the Oregon coast.

“This may eventually lead to separate quotas, but as of now – as long as they are still categorized in the ‘minor near-shore rockfish complex’ – they have to be managed as one group with China, Quillback, Copper and other rockfishes in the complex,” Wagman said.

Brian Sidlauskas, an OSU ichthyologist and the university’s Curator of Fishes, said there is no reason to believe that either species of Blue Rockfish is endangered, but that population surveys need to be done.

“The original Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus) is considered exploited in parts of California, but the Deacon Rockfish seems fairly robust from Oregon northward,” Sidlauskas said. “In some areas, you find the two species together, yet we haven’t seen any evidence of hybridization.”

Wagman approached Sidlauskas in 2012 and asked him to formally study the taxonomy of the Blue Rockfish. Andres Aguilar, a fish scientist from California State University, Los Angeles, who had participated in some of the earlier genetic analysis, joined the team as did Frable, who was tasked with examining the historical record, including preserved specimens housed in ichthyological collections throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Those records date back to the 1800s and Frable examined 130 museum specimens collected from Vancouver Island to northern Baja Mexico to look for differences and similarities in fish caught over the past century. To formally “describe” the two species, Frable and colleagues measured their spines, scales, eye width, dorsal fin length, tip-to-tail length, and other characteristics; and quantified differences in body shape, proportion and growth. Some of the 35 measurements were clearly distinct between the species.

“There are also some possible differences that may require more research,” Frable said. “In talking with port samplers, it seems like Deacon Rockfish are caught in slightly deeper waters, while the original Blue Rockfish is more often found closer to shore. That could prove to be helpful from a management standpoint.”

Sidlauskas said the research underscores the importance of preserving historical collections of fishes and other species.

“Ben had access to a network of ichthyology collections that provide a wealth of data over time and space,” he pointed out. “Some of these fish were preserved 120 to 130 years ago, and that historical perspective is invaluable in providing context for what we see today.”

Media Contact: 

Ben Frable, 240-401-9858, bwfrable@gmail.com;

Brian Sidlauskas, 541-737-6789, brian.sidlauskas@oregonstate.edu;

Wolfe Wagman, 541-867-0300, ext. 289, david.w.wagman@state.or.us

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Old species alive

Original species of Blue Rockfish



Newly identified Deacon Rockfish

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

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

This seaweed tastes like bacon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vegan market alone could comprise a niche.

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

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

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

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

Media Contact: 

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

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

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Dulse in its seaweed form


Dulse prepared in a dish


Chris Langdon near a vat of growing dulse

Study: Global sea levels have risen six meters or more with just slight global warming

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new review analyzing three decades of research on the historic effects of melting polar ice sheets found that global sea levels have risen at least six meters, or about 20 feet, above present levels on multiple occasions over the past three million years.

What is most concerning, scientists say, is that amount of melting was caused by an increase of only 1-2 degrees (Celsius) in global mean temperatures.

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

“Studies have shown that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets contributed significantly to this sea level rise above modern levels,” said Anders Carlson, an Oregon State University glacial geologist and paleoclimatologist, and co-author on the study. “Modern atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are today equivalent to those about three million years ago, when sea level was at least six meters higher because the ice sheets were greatly reduced.

“It takes time for the warming to whittle down the ice sheets,” added Carlson, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, “but it doesn’t take forever. There is evidence that we are likely seeing that transformation begin to take place now.”

Co-author Peter Clark, an OSU paleoclimatologist, said that because current carbon dioxide, or CO2, levels are as high as they were 3 million years ago, “we are already committed to a certain amount of sea level rise.”

“The ominous aspect to this is that CO2 levels are continuing to rise, so we are entering uncharted territory,” Clark said. “What is not as certain is the time frame, which is less well-constrained. We could be talking many centuries to a few millennia to see the full impact of melting ice sheets.”

The review, which was led by Andrea Dutton of the University of Florida, summarized more than 30 years of research on past changes in ice sheets and sea level. It shows that changes in Earth’s climate and sea level are closely linked, with only small amounts of warming needed to have a significant effect on seal levels. Those impacts can be significant.

Six meters (or about 20 feet) of sea level rise does not sound like a lot. However, coastal cities worldwide have experienced enormous growth in population and infrastructure over the past couple of centuries – and a global mean sea level rise of 10 to 20 feet could be catastrophic to the hundreds of millions of people living in these coastal zones.

Much of the state of Florida, for example, has an elevation of 50 feet or less, and the city of Miami has an average elevation of six feet. Parts of New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana were overcome by Hurricane Katrina – by a surging Gulf of Mexico that could be 10 to 20 feet higher in the future. Dhaka in Bangladesh is one of the world’s 10 most populous cities with 14.4 million inhabitants, all living in low-lying areas. Tokyo and Singapore also have been singled out as extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.

“The influence of rising oceans is even greater than the overall amount of sea level rise because of storm surge, erosion and inundation,” said Carlson, who studies the interaction of ice sheets, oceans and the climate system on centennial time scales. “The impact could be enormous.”

The Science review is part of the larger Past Global Changes, or PAGES, international science team. A working group known as PALSEA2 (Paleo constraints on sea level rise) used past records of local change in sea level and converted them to a global mean sea level by predicting how the surface of the Earth deforms due to changes in ice-ocean loading of the crust, along with changes in gravitational attraction on the ocean surface.

Independently, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet volumes were estimated by observations from adjacent ocean sediment records and by ice sheet models.

“The two approaches are independent of one another, giving us high confidence in the estimates of past changes in sea level,” Carlson said.  The past climates that forced these changes in ice volume and sea level were reconstructed mainly from temperature-sensitive measurements in ocean cores from around the globe, and from ice cores.

The National Science Foundation supported the research.

Media Contact: 

Anders Carlson, 541-737-3625, acarlson@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Peter Clark, 541-737-1247, clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu

OSU makes plans for expansion at Hatfield Marine Science Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Contact: 

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

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

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

OSU’s Abbott named president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, has been appointed president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution effective Oct. 1.

Abbott, who has been dean of the OSU college since 2001, is a national leader in marine science research and education. He has been a member of the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation and advises Congress and the president on science issues; and he is past-president of The Oceanographic Society.

“Oregon State has developed into a highly regarded marine science institution with an international reputation in coastal processes, ocean mixing, paleoclimate, geohazards, and ocean biogeochemistry, among other fields,” Abbott said. “The faculty here are extraordinary and it will be difficult to leave.

“Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is one of the top institutions in the world in ocean science and engineering, and I’m looking forward to this new challenge and opportunity.”

Abbott came to Oregon State in 1988 with a background in using satellites and remote sensing techniques to study biological processes in the oceans. With a 10-year, $10 million grant from NASA, he helped the college create one of the world’s most sophisticated supercomputer networks dedicated to marine science, capable of analyzing enormous amounts of data.

He was named dean of what was then the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences in 2001 and led significant growth in research funding, graduate education and overall impact. The college has developed a reputation for its work in understanding climate change, analyzing the near-shore oceans, paleoclimatology, and other fields.

“Mark Abbott has led the phenomenal growth of marine sciences at Oregon State and helped establish the university as one of the top such programs in the world,” said Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president. “His leadership will be greatly missed, but the foundation that he helped build will serve the university going forward.”

In 2009, the National Science Foundation announced that OSU would be one of the lead institutions on the $386.4 million Ocean Observatories Initiative that since has established a system of surface moorings, seafloor platforms and undersea gliders to monitor the ocean. One such array is off the coast of Oregon and Washington.

In 2013, the NSF selected Oregon State as the lead institution on a project to finalize the design and coordinate the construction of as many as three new coastal research vessels to bolster the marine science research capabilities of the United States – a project that could bring in as much as $290 million over 10 years if all three vessels are built.

Abbott was appointed in 2006 by President George W. Bush to a six-year term on the National Science Board; and appointed in 2008 by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski as vice chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. He is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Consortium for Ocean Leadership as well past member of the Board of Trustees for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

He also is a member of the Board of Trustees for NEON, Inc., which is constructing the National Ecological Observatory Network for the National Science Foundation.

In 2011, Microsoft Research awarded him the Jim Gray eScience Award, which recognizes innovators whose research on data-intensive science – sometimes known as “big data” – is revolutionizing scientific approaches to a wide range of issues.

Prior to joining the OSU faculty, Abbott spent six years as a member of the technical staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Jolla, Calif., and was an adjunct faculty member at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

He is a 1974 graduate of the University of California-Berkeley, where he received a bachelor’s degree in conservation of natural resources. He also has a Ph.D. in ecology from University of California-Davis.

Randhawa said OSU will begin the process to identify an interim dean and launch a national search for Abbott’s successor in August.

Media Contact: 

Mark Abbott, 541-737-5195, mark.abbott@oregonstate.edu

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

WHOI Media Relations, 508-289-3340

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Scientists recruit public to help study “The Blob”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A huge mass of unusually warm water that scientists have dubbed “The Blob” has lurked off the West Coast for much of the past two years and speculation is growing that it may be connected in some way with the drought plaguing West Coast states.

So researchers are planning a new study to see what role The Blob – as well as human-induced climate change – may have played in creating the parched conditions in California, Oregon and Washington.

And they are looking for your help.

The research team plans to run hundreds of variations of computer models to disentangle these causes. The amount of data such a process creates is staggering and could require as many as three supercomputers to generate. Instead, the team will rely on thousands of citizen science volunteers that will let the researchers run simulations during idle times on their personal computers.

This study is part of an umbrella project, climateprediction.net, originally launched by Oxford University in 2003, and joined by researchers at Oregon State University in 2010 to use the combined power of thousands of individual computers to run climate modeling simulations. This latest project is supported by Climate Central, a non-profit climate research and journalism organization.

Anyone interested in participating in the project – or just following the analysis in real-time – can go to http://www.climateprediction.net/weatherathome/western-us-drought

 “It’s a great way for the general public to help the scientific community investigate some of the climate variations we’re seeing,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. “It takes about a week to run a year-long unit of climate data and the program is set up to automatically feed the results back to the scientists.”

Scientists don’t yet know “what the answer will be at this point,” said Friederike Otto, who leads the study at Oxford University. “But anyone can go online and watch as the causes of the drought emerge.”

The West Coast drought has ranged from pesky to severe. In California, it has lasted four years and this is the most severe dry spell during the instrumental record, dating back to the late 1800s. Much of the state has suffered a double-whammy of near-record high temperatures and extremely low precipitation. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency in January.

Oregon is in its second year of drought, and in both years, the issue has been very low snowpack because of warm, mild winters. Almost every county in the state has had a governor-declared drought at some time during the two years.

“It’s been a one-two-three punch here,” Mote said. “We’re getting warm winters, followed by a dry February through April period, and fairly warm but unusually dry summers. In the past, when we’ve had droughts, things look bad initially from a snowpack standpoint, but cool, wet March and April months bailed us out. We’re haven’t gotten those the past two years.”

Washington is in its first year of drought – a result almost exclusively tied to warmer winter temperatures. Just last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought.

This past period of December 2014 through February 2015 was the warmest on record in western Oregon and Washington. Mountain snowpack was at record low levels throughout much of the past six months in all three states.

“Scientists sometimes call this a ‘wet drought’ because the extremely low snowpack in the Northwest has been caused by unusually high temperatures, not abnormally low precipitation,” said Heidi Cullen, chief scientist with Climate Central and a former climate expert with the Weather Channel. “Winter rain has replaced snow during much of the past two winters.”

Is “The Blob” the culprit in the West Coast drought? No one seems to know for sure whether this warm-water mass, which is hundreds of miles long, is to blame. The Blob, which is about 4 degrees (F) warmer than normal, has appeared during the last two late winters/early springs and lingered for months.

“Four degrees may not sound like much, but that kind of anomaly in the ocean is huge,” said Mote, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “It has many implications, from physical processes in the ocean to biological impacts.”

In mid-June, for example, thousands of red crabs washed ashore in southern California – a phenomenon attributed to The Blob. Oregon and Washington are in the throes of a shutdown on shellfish harvesting, due to domoic acid accumulation. Caused by toxic algal blooms, the spike in domoic acid is thought to be caused by some kind of physical stress to the plankton, though it is uncertain if it is related to The Blob.

To test the connection between climate change, The Blob, and the drought, the research team will compare computer simulations of possible weather from an 18-month stretch (Dec. 1, 2013 to May 31, 2015) – including observed sea surface temperatures – with other 18-month stretches from 1981 to 2010. By running hundreds of computer models with slight variations, they hope to be able to determine what impacts The Blob and its swath of warm water have had on West Coast climate.

“Since we began involving citizen science volunteers, we’ve been able to address a wide range of climate-related issues throughout the world,” noted Myles Allen of Oxford University. “The public has a great opportunity to help researchers find out if there is a connection between The Blob and the West Coast drought, to what extent climate change may have contributed, and whether other factors are behind it.”

Media Contact: 

Phil Mote, 541-737-5694, (cell 541-913-2274)  pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu

Researchers to complete final deployment of OOI instrumentation this week

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University scientists this week will deploy a sophisticated research buoy and two undersea gliders, all fitted with a suite of oceanographic instruments – a final piece of the “Endurance Array,” a major component of the National Science Foundation’s $386 million Ocean Observatories Initiative.

This major marine science infrastructure project was launched in 2009 to better monitor the world’s oceans and the impacts of climate change. It is the largest single investment in ocean monitoring in United States history.

The Endurance Array off the Pacific Northwest coast has become a focal point for scientists because of emerging issues including hypoxia and marine “dead zones,” climate change impacts, subduction zone earthquakes, tsunamis, harmful algal blooms, wave energy potential, ocean acidification and dramatic variations in some upwelling-fed fisheries.

“This observatory opens up a new type of window to the sea, with environmental data available in ‘real time’ to researchers, educators, policy makers and ocean users,” said Ed Dever, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and project manager for the Endurance Array. “In the short term, it will be a laboratory for the study of processes in one of the great coastal upwelling systems on our planet.

“In the long term, the information it collects will allow us, our children, and our grandchildren to better understand the impacts of global climate change on the coastal ocean off Oregon and Washington.”

The deployment this week of an inshore surface buoy about a mile off Nye Beach in Newport – in waters about 25 meters deep – is the third and final platform location in the array’s “Newport Hydrographic Line.”  The line includes a shelf surface buoy in 80 meters of water, about 10 miles off the coast; and an off-shore surface buoy in 500 meters of water, about 35 miles out.

The in-shore surface buoy is designed to be battered by severe Pacific Ocean waves that hit the coast in winter, yet stay in place and continue making important measurements, noted Jack Barth, an OSU oceanographer who has been a lead scientist on the Ocean Observatories Initiative since the early planning stages more than a decade ago.

“For the first time, the science community will be able to monitor and assess all components of the ocean simultaneously, from the physics to the biology to the chemistry,” Barth said. “The OOI is not just about measuring the ocean in different ways – it is a way to understand how ocean processes affect things like plankton production and how that in turns fertilizes the marine food web, affects acidification, leads to harmful algal blooms, and affects oxygen in the water that may lead to dead zones.”

The researchers say the proximity of the buoy to the coast is critical to understanding ocean wave and coastal river responses to winter storms.

The buoy will have an impressive array of instruments – at the surface, on the seafloor where it is anchored, and attached to a cable running up and down the water column. Various sensors will measure water velocity, temperature, salinity, pH, light intensity, carbon dioxide, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll, backscatter (or the measure of particles in the water), light absorption – and even populations of zooplankton and fish.

“This will provide an absolutely incredible amount of data,” Barth said. “The biggest difference is that these instruments will be out there constantly monitoring the oceans. Before, we had to rely on shipboard data, which is very hit-and-miss. As we began to use undersea gliders, we picked up more information – but gliders are limited by their power supply, so you can only load so many instruments on them.

“These buoys are game-changers,” he added. “We will be able to better monitor emerging hypoxia threats, toxic plankton blooms and ocean acidification. Fishermen can match oceanographic data with catch records and look at how temperature, salinity and other factors may affect fishing. The possibilities are endless.”

The other two buoys in the Newport Hydrographic Line will have a similar array of instruments. They will be paired with seafloor instruments that will be plugged into an underwater cable operated by the University of Washington. The cable will provide additional power for the instrumentation and high-bandwidth, two-way communications.

Oregon State also deployed a similar transect of three buoys off Grays Harbor, Wash. Together, the two east-west lines of buoys will give scientists an idea of what is happening in the ocean north and south of the influential Columbia River.

“As conditions change, we will have the ability to add new sensors and address questions that we may not be considering right now,” Dever said.

Undersea gliders represent another critical component of the Ocean Observatories Initiative. Oregon State will operate 12 gliders as part of the program, with six in the water patrolling the Northwest coast, and six more to rotate in after maintenance and reprogramming. Three gliders are operating now; two additional gliders will be deployed off Oregon this week, and a sixth glider off Washington later this month.

“The Pacific Northwest coast is becoming one of the most closely monitored ocean regions in the world,” Barth said.

Media Contact: 

Ed Dever, 541-737-2749, edever@coas.oregonstate.edu 

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

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New study: Iceberg influx into Atlantic during ice age raised tropical methane emissions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study shows how huge influxes of fresh water into the North Atlantic Ocean from icebergs calving off North America during the last ice age had an unexpected effect – they increased the production of methane in the tropical wetlands.

Usually increases in methane levels are linked to warming in the Northern Hemisphere, but scientists who are publishing their findings this week in the journal Science have identified rapid increases in methane during particularly cold intervals during the last ice age.

These findings are important, researchers say, because they identify a critical piece of evidence for how the Earth responds to changes in climate.

“Essentially what happened was that the cold water influx altered the rainfall patterns at the middle of the globe,” said Rachael Rhodes, a research associate in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and lead author on the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. “The band of tropical rainfall, which includes the monsoons, shifts to the north and south through the year.

“Our data suggest that when the icebergs entered the North Atlantic causing exceptional cooling, the rainfall belt was condensed into the Southern Hemisphere, causing tropical wetland expansion and abrupt spikes in atmospheric methane,” she added.

During the last ice age, much of North America was covered by a giant ice sheet that many scientists believe underwent several catastrophic collapses, causing huge icebergs to enter the North Atlantic – phenomena known as Heinrich events. And though they have known about them for some time, it hasn’t been clear just when they took place and how long they lasted.

Rhodes and her colleagues examined evidence from the highly detailed West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide ice core (http://www.waisdivide.unh.edu). They used a new analytical method perfected in collaboration with Joe McConnell at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, to make extremely detailed measurements of the air trapped in the ice.

“Using this new method, we were able to develop a nearly 60,000-year, ultra-high-resolution record of methane much more efficiently and inexpensively than in past ice core studies, while simultaneously measuring a broad range of other chemical parameters on the same small sample of ice,” McConnell noted.

Utilizing the high resolution of the measurements, the team was able to detect methane fingerprints from the Southern Hemisphere that don’t match temperature records from Greenland ice cores.

“The cooling caused by the iceberg influx was regional but the impact on climate was much broader,” said Edward Brook, an internationally recognized paleoclimatologist from Oregon State University and co-author on the study. “The iceberg surges push the rain belts, or the tropical climate system, to the south and the impact on climate can be rather significant.”

Concentrating monsoon seasons into a smaller geographic area “intensifies the rainfall and lengthens the wet season,” Rhodes said.

“It is a great example of how inter-connected things are when it comes to climate,” she pointed out. “This shows the link between polar areas and the tropics, and these changes can happen very rapidly. Climate models suggest only a decade passed between the iceberg intrusion and a resulting impact in the tropics.”

The study found that the climate effects from the Heinrich events lasted between 740 and 1,520 years.

Media Contact: 

Rachael Rhodes, 541-737-1209, rhodesra@geo.oregonstate.edu; Ed Brook, 541-737-8197, brooke@geo.oregonstate.edu

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Antarctic Ice Core

Core from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Researchers measure giant “internal waves” that help regulate climate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These are not small effects,” Nash said.

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

Media Contact: 

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

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

Solomon Islands dolphin hunts cast spotlight on small cetacean survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Contact: 

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

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Dolphin teeth are sold for necklaces