OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

Large study shows pollution impact on coral reefs – and offers solution

CORVALLIS, Ore. – One of the largest and longest experiments ever done to test the impact of nutrient loading on coral reefs today confirmed what scientists have long suspected – that this type of pollution from sewage, agricultural practices or other sources can lead to coral disease and bleaching.

A three-year, controlled exposure of corals to elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus at a study site in the Florida Keys, done from 2009-12, showed that the prevalence of disease doubled and the amount of coral bleaching, an early sign of stress, more than tripled.

However, the study also found that once the injection of pollutants was stopped, the corals were able to recover in a surprisingly short time.

“We were shocked to see the rapid increase in disease and bleaching from a level of pollution that’s fairly common in areas affected by sewage discharge, or fertilizers from agricultural or urban use,” said Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an assistant professor in the College of Science at Oregon State University.

“But what was even more surprising is that corals were able to make a strong recovery within 10 months after the nutrient enrichment was stopped,” Vega-Thurber said. “The problems disappeared. This provides real evidence that not only can nutrient overload cause coral problems, but programs to reduce or eliminate this pollution should help restore coral health. This is actually very good news.”

The findings were published today in Global Change Biology, and offer a glimmer of hope for addressing at least some of the problems that have crippled coral reefs around the world. In the Caribbean Sea, more than 80 percent of the corals have disappeared in recent decades. These reefs, which host thousands of species of fish and other marine life, are a major component of biodiversity in the tropics.

Researchers have observed for years the decline in coral reef health where sewage outflows or use of fertilizers, in either urban or agricultural areas, have caused an increase in the loading of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. But until now almost no large, long-term experiments have actually been done to pin down the impact of nutrient overloads and separate them from other possible causes of coral reef decline.

This research examined the effect of nutrient pollution on more than 1,200 corals in study plots near Key Largo, Fla., for signs of coral disease and bleaching, and removed other factors such as water depth, salinity or temperature that have complicated some previous surveys. Following regular injections of nutrients at the study sites, levels of coral disease and bleaching surged.

One disease that was particularly common was “dark spot syndrome,” found on about 50 percent of diseased individual corals. But researchers also noted that within one year after nutrient injections were stopped at the study site, the level of dark spot syndrome had receded to the same level as control study plots in which no nutrients had been injected.

The exact mechanism by which nutrient overload can affect corals is still unproven, researchers say, although there are theories. The nutrients may add pathogens, may provide the nutrients needed for existing pathogens to grow, may be directly toxic to corals and make them more vulnerable to pathogens – or some combination of these factors.

“A combination of increased stress and a higher level of pathogens is probably the mechanism that affects coral health,” Vega-Thurber said. “What’s exciting about this research is the clear experimental evidence that stopping the pollution can lead to coral recovery. A lot of people have been hoping for some news like this.

“Some of the corals left in the world are actually among the species that are most hardy,” she said. “The others are already dead. We’re desperately trying to save what’s left, and cleaning up the water may be one mechanism that has the most promise.”

Nutrient overloads can increase disease prevalence or severity on many organisms, including plants, amphibians and fish. They’ve also long been suspected in coral reef problems, along with other factors such as temperature stress, reduced fish abundance, increasing human population, and other concerns.

However, unlike factors such as global warming or human population growth, nutrient loading is something that might be more easily addressed on at least a local basis, Vega-Thurber said. Improved sewage treatment or best-management practices to minimize fertilizer runoff from agricultural or urban use might offer practical approaches to mitigate some coral reef declines, she said.

Collaborators on this research included Florida International University and the University of Florida. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and Florida International University.

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Rebecca Vega-Thurber, 541-737-1851

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Pre-industrial rise in methane gas had natural and anthropogenic causes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For years scientists have intensely argued over whether increases of potent methane gas concentrations in the atmosphere – from about 5,000 years ago to the start of the industrial revolution – were triggered by natural causes or human activities.

A new study, which will be published Friday in the journal Science, suggests the increase in methane likely was caused by both.

Lead author Logan Mitchell, who coordinated the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University, said the “early anthropogenic hypothesis,” which spawned hundreds of scientific papers as well as books, cannot fully explain on its own the rising levels of atmospheric methane during the past 5,000 years, a time period  known as the mid- to late-Holocene. That theory suggests that human activities such as rice agriculture were responsible for the increasing methane concentrations.

Opponents of that theory argue that human activities during that time did not produce significant amounts of methane and thus natural emissions were the dominant cause for the rise in atmospheric CH4.

“We think that both played a role,” said Mitchell, who is now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Utah. “The increase in methane emissions during the late Holocene came primarily from the tropics, with some contribution from the extratropical Northern Hemisphere.

“Neither modeled natural emissions alone, nor hypothesized anthropogenic emissions alone, are able to account for the full increase in methane concentrations,” Mitchell added. “Combined, however, they could account for the full increase.”

Scientists determine methane levels by examining ice cores from polar regions. Gas bubbles containing ancient air trapped within the ice can be analyzed and correlated with chronological data to determine methane levels on a multidecadal scale. Mitchell and his colleagues examined ice cores from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide and the Greenland Ice Sheet Project and found differences between the two.

Ice cores from Greenland had higher methane levels than those from Antarctica because there are greater methane emissions in the Northern Hemisphere. The difference in methane levels between the hemispheres, called the Inter-Polar Difference, did not change appreciably over time.

“If the methane increase was solely natural or solely anthropogenic, it likely would have tilted the Inter-Polar Difference out of its pattern of relative stability over time,” Mitchell said.

Since coming out of the ice age some 10,000 years ago summer solar insolation in the Northern Hemisphere has been decreasing as a result of the Earth’s changing orbit, according to Edward Brook, a paleoclimatologist in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and Mitchell’s major professor. This decrease affects the strength of Asian summer monsoons, which produce vast wetlands and emit methane into the atmosphere.

Yet some 5,000 years ago, atmospheric methane began rising and had increased about 17 percent by the time the industrial revolution began around 1750.

“Theoretically, methane levels should have decreased with the loss of solar insolation in the Northern Hemisphere, or at least remained stable instead of increasing,” said Brook, a co-author on the Science article. “They had been roughly on a parallel track for some 800,000 years.”

Mitchell used previous models that hypothesized reasons for the methane increase – both natural and anthropogenic – and compared them to the newly garnered ice core data. None of them alone proved sufficient for explaining the greenhouse gas increase. When he developed his own model combining characteristics of both the natural and anthropogenic hypotheses, it agreed closely with the ice core data.

Other researchers have outlined some of the processes that may have contributed to changes in methane emissions. More than 90 percent of the population lived in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the lower latitudes, and the development of rice agriculture and cattle domestication likely had an influence on methane emissions. On the natural side, changes in the Earth’s orbit could have been responsible for increasing methane emissions from tropical wetlands.

“All of these things likely have played a role,” Mitchell said, “but none was sufficient to do it alone.”

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, with additional support from the Oregon National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Grant Consortium.

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Logan Mitchell, 541-207-7204; logan.e.mitchell@gmail.com; Ed Brook, 541-737-8197; brooke@geo.oregonstate.edu

Science Policy Forum: Researchers advocate for climate adaptation science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Study concludes climate change will wreak havoc on oceans by 2100

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study looking at the impacts of climate change on the world’s ocean systems concludes that by the year 2100, about 98 percent of the oceans will be affected by acidification, warming temperatures, low oxygen, or lack of biological productivity – and most areas will be stricken by a multitude of these stressors.

These biogeochemical changes triggered by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions will not only affect marine habitats and organisms, the researchers say, but will often co-occur in areas that are heavily used by humans.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal PLoS Biology. It was funding by the Norwegian Research Council and Foundation through its support of the International Network for Scientific investigation of deep-sea ecosystems (INDEEP).

“While we estimated that 2 billion people would be impacted by these changes, the most troubling aspect of our results was that we found that many of the environmental stressors will co-occur in areas inhabited by people who can least afford it,” said Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University oceanographer and co-author on the study.

“If we look on a global scale, between 400 million and 800 million people are both dependent on the ocean for their livelihood and also make less than $4,000 annually,” Thurber pointed out. “Adapting to climate change is a costly endeavor, whether it is retooling a fishing fleet to target a changing fish stock, or moving to a new area or occupation.”

The researchers say the effect on oceans will also create a burden in higher income areas, though “it is a much larger problem for people who simply do not have the financial resources to adapt.”

“What is really sobering about these findings is that they don’t even include other impacts to the world’s oceans such as sea level rise, pollution, over-fishing, and increasing storm intensity and frequency,” added Thurber, a post-doctoral fellow in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “All of these could compound the problem significantly.”

In their study, the researchers used global distribution maps of 32 marine habitats and biodiversity hotspots and overlaid that with climate models developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, presented in Stockholm, Sweden, this fall. They then compared the results with the latest available data on human use of marine goods and services to estimate the vulnerability of coastal populations worldwide.

The models had a range of outcomes, but all agreed that most of the world’s oceans would suffer negative impacts of varying intensities from the four major stressors. Only a small fraction of the oceans – mostly in Antarctica and to a lesser extent, small areas of the Atlantic – will see potential increases in oxygen or biological productivity, the study noted.

By 2100, nowhere in the world are ocean waters expected to be cooler or less acidic than they are today.

“When you look at overlapping stressors, the Northern Hemisphere appears to be in real trouble,” Thurber said. “The same grim outlook is apparent for the strong upwelling zones off Chile and southern Africa. Another ‘red spot’ is the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which already is seeing the impact of low oxygen and rising acidification.”

It is the combination of stressors that makes upwelling areas – where deep, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface to fertilize the upper water column – of greatest concern, the researchers noted. The models also suggest that marine food webs based on the production of euphausiids and other krill, or tiny marine crustaceans, are highly at-risk.

“A lot of marine animals, including many whale populations, are dependent upon krill or the other organisms that consume krill, for survival – and krill habitat has some of the greatest overlap in all the stressors we looked at,” Thurber said. “On the other hand, coral reefs – even though they didn’t rank as high as other areas for stressor overlap – are in trouble due to just two of the stressors, acidification and temperature. So a low score doesn’t necessarily mean these areas are unlikely to be affected.”

Thurber and three colleagues originally conceived of the idea of the meta-analysis of data to forecast the impact of climate change on the world’s deep sea, an idea that was re-cast when they organized an international workshop that drew many principal investigators of recent climate change studies. Notable among the researchers was Camila Mora of the University of Hawai’i at Mañoa, who spearheaded an effort to include shallow water and the human elements into the data analysis.

“The consequences of these co-occurring changes are massive,” Mora said. “Everything from species survival to abundance, to range size, to body size, to species richness, to ecosystem functioning are affected by changes in ocean biogeochemistry.”

The study is unusual because of its scope, and the analysis of multiple factors. Most previous studies have looked at one variable – such as ocean warming or increasing acidification – but not multiple stressors, or they focused on one geographic area. It also brought the human dimension into play, which few climate change studies have attempted.

“One of the real highlights of the study is its inclusion of the deep sea into our understanding of human impacts on climate,” Thurber said. “We often think of this vast habitat as immune to human activity, but we found that this largest and most stable area of our planet is likely to see multiple impacts from our activities.”

Among the possible biological responses to the four stressors:

  • Although warming off the surface waters in polar regions may lead to enhanced growth and productivity of some species, in a vast majority of the world it likely will lead to species loss, reduced animal density, and enhanced risk of disease;
  • Acidification will increase mortality of calcifying marine invertebrates and likely lead to species loss;
  • Hypoxia, or low oxygen, will cause mortality in many species and could enhance dominance by other species that are hypoxia-tolerant;
  • As productivity declines, many food web structures will be altered and reduced abundance may lead to dominance shifts from large to small species.
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 Andrew Thurber, 541-737-8251; athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu

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OSU Press publishes book on salmon by acclaimed biologist

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For more than 40 years, Jim Lichatowich worked with Pacific salmon as a researcher, resource manager and scientific adviser, and he has seen first-hand the decline of Northwest salmon populations during that time.

In a new book published by the Oregon State University Press, Lichatowich outlines a plan for salmon recovery based on the lessons he has learned during his long career.

His book, “Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist’s Search for Salmon Recovery,” points out many misconceptions about salmon that have hampered management and limited recovery programs. These programs will continue to fail, he argues, as long as they look at salmon as “products” and ignore their essential relationship with the environment.

Among his suggestions for reforming salmon management and recovery:

  • Holding salmon managers and administrators accountable;
  • Requiring agencies to do more “institutional learning”;
  • Not relying on shifting baselines of data;
  • Undertaking hatchery reform;
  • Returning to place-based salmon management.

John Larison, author of “The Complete Steelheader,” praised the OSU Press book written by Lichatowich. “Part science, part anthropology, part philosophy, this is a revelatory book and essential reading for anyone hoping to understand salmon in the Northwest,” Larison said.

Lichatowich served for years on the Independent Scientific Advisory board for the Columbia River restoration program, as well as on Oregon’s Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team and other science groups in British Columbia and California. He is author of the award-winning book, “Salmon without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis.”

In his newest book, Lichatowich writes: “We enthusiastically accepted the gift of salmon, but failed to treat it with the respect it deserves. We failed to meet our obligation to return the gift in the way that only humans can. We failed to return the gift of salmon with the gift of stewardship.”

Lichatowich is a graduate of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He will return to his alma mater in January to present a seminar on his work.

“Salmon, People, and Place” is available in bookstores, online at http://osupress.oregonstate.edu, or can be ordered by calling 1-800-621-2736.

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Micki Reaman, 541-737-4620; Micki.reaman@oregonstate.edu

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OSU faculty members key contributors to IPCC report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Researchers going public on quest to identify plankton species

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Plankton Portlal

plankton_crew

Plankton Portal

Viruses associated with coral epidemic of “white plague”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – They call it the “white plague,” and like its black counterpart from the Middle Ages, it conjures up visions of catastrophic death, with a cause that was at first uncertain even as it led to widespread destruction – on marine corals in the Caribbean Sea.

Now one of the possible causes of this growing disease epidemic has been identified – a group of viruses that are known as small, circular, single-strand DNA (or SCSD) viruses. Researchers in the College of Science at Oregon State University say these SCSD viruses are associated with a dramatic increase in the white plague that has erupted in recent decades.

Prior to this, it had been believed that the white plague was caused primarily by bacterial pathogens. Researchers are anxious to learn more about this disease and possible ways to prevent it, because its impact on coral reef health has exploded.

“Twenty years ago you had to look pretty hard to find any occurrences of this disease, and now it’s everywhere,” said Nitzan Soffer, a doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology at OSU and lead author on a new study just published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology. “It moves fast and can wipe out a small coral colony in a few days.

“In recent years the white plague has killed 70-80 percent of some coral reefs,” Soffer said. “There are 20 or more unknown pathogens that affect corals and in the past we’ve too-often overlooked the role of viruses, which sometimes can spread very fast.”

This is one of the first studies to show viral association with a severe disease epidemic, scientists said. It was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Marine wildlife diseases are increasing in prevalence, the researchers pointed out. Reports of non-bleaching coral disease have increased more than 50 times since 1965, and are contributing to declines in coral abundance and cover.

White plague is one of the worst. It causes rapid tissue loss, affects many species of coral, and can cause partial or total colony mortality. Some, but not all types are associated with bacteria. Now it appears that viruses also play a role. Corals with white plague disease have higher viral diversity than their healthy counterparts, the study concluded.

Increasing temperatures that stress corals and make them more vulnerable may be part of the equation, because the disease often appears to be at its worst by the end of summer. Overfishing that allows more algae to grow on corals may help spread pathogens, researchers said, as can pollution caused by sewage outflows in some marine habitats.

Viral infection, by itself, does not necessarily cause major problems, the researchers noted. Many healthy corals are infected with herpes-like viruses that are persistent but not fatal, as in many other vertebrate hosts, including humans.

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Coral with white plague


Marine research

Taking samples

Marine Science Day: An opportunity to explore behind-the-scenes

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will host its popular Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 12, offering the public an opportunity to meet many of the scientists working at the research facility, as well as take tours and explore the exhibits.

The center also will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES), which is the nation’s first Experiment Station dedicated to marine sciences.

The activities are free and open to the public, running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hatfield Center, located at 2030 S.E. Marine Science Drive in Newport, just south of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay. An online schedule of events is available at: hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday

The event will feature scientists and educators from OSU, federal and state agencies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the NOAA Marine Operations Center-Pacific. It is a chance for the public to explore one of the nation’s leading marine science and education centers.

Visitors can tour the research facilities of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, and see genetics laboratories, animal husbandry areas, and get a close-up view of ongoing research projects. Interactive research exhibits will feature larval fish ecology, bioacoustics of whales, volcanoes and deep ocean vents, and oceanographic tools such as a glider to study low-oxygen on the West Coast. Activities for children include a Bird Beak Buffet from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Mystery Fossil Dig by Oregon Sea Grant. Scheduled events include:

  • 10 a.m. – The open house begins, lasting until 4 p.m.
  • 11 a.m. – “Pumped up for Pinnipeds: Seals and Sea Lions of the Oregon Coast,” a presentation by Oregon Coast Aquarium staff, Hennings Auditorium (repeated at 2 p.m.);
  • 1:30 p.m. – Octopus feeding in the Visitor’s Center;
  • 3 p.m. – “A Food Chain of Fisheries Research: The Amazing Story of Oregon’s Marine Experiment Station,” a presentation by Gil Sylvia, director of COMES; Terry Thompson, a commercial fisherman, county commissioner and COMES board member; and Michael Morrissey, director of the Food Innovation Center in Portland. State Sen. Arnie Roblan will introduce the speakers.

The Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station is located in both Newport and Astoria. Researchers in Newport focus on fishery policy and management, marketing, fish stock assessment, aquaculture, ecology, genetics and marine mammal conservation. Astoria researchers at the OSU Seafood Laboratory work on seafood science, processing, safety and innovation.

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