OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

OSU to host Marine Science Day at Hatfield Marine Science Center

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 11, commemorating the 50th anniversary of this unique Oregon State University facility.

Dedicated in 1965, the center has become an integral part of coastal development, education, research, tourism and economics. Marine Science Day runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, located southeast of the Hwy. 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay in Newport.

“Marine Science Day is how we give back to the coastal, statewide and international communities we serve, but it is also a way to honor the past and celebrate the future in this, our 50th year,” said Bob Cowen, director of the center. “We will have many of our former faculty, staff and students at HMSC for a reunion that weekend, which will be very meaningful.

“We will get to see the shoulders we are standing on and harness 50 years of momentum as we look to the future,” he added.

Marine Science Day, which is free and open to the public, will also feature special exhibits about OSU’s new Marine Studies Initiative, which calls for OSU to host 500 students-in-residence at the Oregon coast by the year 2025 for a new, highly experiential undergraduate and graduate program in marine studies.

Oregon State is raising funds for a new teaching and research facility on the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus.

Among the events during Marine Science Day are:

  • Interactive displays by researchers from Oregon State and its federal and state government agency partners;
  • Demonstrations from the OSU acoustics research group, where you will be able to “see” your voice on a spectrogram;
  • An opportunity to become a citizen scientist and learn how to monitor sea star wasting disease with researchers from PISCO – the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans;
  • Tidal touch pools with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s shellfish program;
  • Tours of the OSU animal husbandry program and the Oregon Coast Community College aquarium science program.

Several research groups at HMSC will offer unprecedented access to their studies, facilities and instruments during the event.

In addition to a see-your-voice exhibit, the acoustics group will have a display with a large hydrophone and sub-woofers so participants can hears actual sounds from the ocean. The Earth-Ocean interactions program will show video of undersea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. The Plankton Portal program will show beautiful, fascinating images of plankton as part of a major international initiative to learn more about these small marine creatures.

OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute will help participants identify whales through binoculars, and the Molluscan Broodstock program will show its oyster and seaweed research projects.

Marine Science Day events:

  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Open house and tours of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, hosted by Oregon Sea Grant and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;
  • 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. – “Pumped up for Pinnipeds,” an presentation in the Visitor’s Center Auditorium by the Oregon Coast Aquarium for children and others interested in seals and sea lions;
  • 1 p.m. – A feeding of the octopus in the HMSC Visitors Center;
  • 3 to 4 p.m. – “Buy a Fish, Save a Tree,” a presentation in the Visitor’s Center Auditorium by Tim Miller-Morgan of OSU on fish health management and sustainable ornamental fisheries.

More information on Marine Science Day can be found at: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday/

Media Contact: 
Source: 

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

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Study: Past warming increased snowfall on Antarctica, affecting global sea level

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study confirms that snowfall in Antarctica will increase significantly as the planet warms, offsetting future sea level rise from other sources – but the effect will not be nearly as strong as many scientists previously anticipated because of other, physical processes.

That means that many computer models may be underestimating the amount and rate of sea level rise if they had projected more significant impact from Antarctic snow.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, were reported this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Scientists have long suspected that snowfall in Antarctica increases during planetary warming and the impact of so much snow tied up on land would have a negative effect on global sea levels. However, computer models on what should happen during warm periods have not matched observational data, according to Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and co-author on the study.

“Intuitively, it makes sense that as it warms and more moisture is in the atmosphere, that it will fall as snow in Antarctica,” Clark said. “The problem is that we’re not really seeing that through the last 50 years of observations – and documenting the relationship between changes in temperature and snow accumulation is difficult to do because of such strong natural variability.”

So Clark and his colleagues looked to the past to examine ice core data to see what they could learn about the future. They found that ice cores taken from the Antarctic Ice Sheet captured snow accumulation over time – and they could match that accumulation with established temperature data. They focused on a period from 21,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago – when the Earth gradually came out of the last ice age.

What they found was that Antarctica warmed an average of 5 to 10 degrees (Celsius) during that period – and for every degree of warming, there was a 5 percent increase in snowfall.

“The additional weight of the snow would have increased the ice flow into the ocean offsetting some of the limiting effect on sea level rise,” said Katja Frieler, a climatologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the lead author of the study. “It’s basic ice physics.”

The scientists found that the ice core results agreed with projections from three dozen computer models used to calculate future changes in snowfall. The end result, Clark said, is that projected increasing snowfall will still have a limiting effect on sea level rise, but that impact will be some 20 percent less than previously expected.

“Looking at the past gives us more confidence in anticipating what will happen in the future,” Clark noted. “The validation through ice core studies helps ground truth the computer models.”

Clark, a professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was coordinating lead author on sea level change for the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Other researchers involved in the study are from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany; the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Utrecht University in The Netherlands, and the University of Potsdam.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

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

New research reveals low-oxygen impacts on West Coast groundfish

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When low-oxygen “dead zones” began appearing off the Oregon Coast in the early 2000’s, photos of the ocean floor revealed bottom-dwelling crabs that could not escape the suffocating conditions and died by the thousands.

But the question everyone asked was, “What about the fish?” recalls Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth.

“We didn’t really know the impacts on fish,” Barth said. “We couldn’t see them.”

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State have begun to answer that question with a new paper published in the journal Fisheries Oceanography. The paper finds that low-oxygen waters projected to expand with climate change create winners and losers among fish, with some adapted to handle low-oxygen conditions that drive other species away.

Generally the number of fish species declines with oxygen levels as sensitive species leave the area, said Aimee Keller, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new paper. But a few species such as Dover sole and greenstriped rockfish appear largely unaffected.

“One of our main questions was, ‘Are there fewer species present in an area when the oxygen drops?’ and yes, we definitely see that,” Keller said. “As it goes lower and lower you see more and more correlation between species and oxygen levels.”

Deep waters off the West Coast have long been known to be naturally low in oxygen. But the new findings show that the spread of lower oxygen conditions, which have been documented closer to shore and off Washington and California, could redistribute fish in ways that affect fishing fleets as well as the marine food chain.

The lower the oxygen levels, for example, the more effort fishing boats will have to invest to find enough fish. “We may see fish sensitive to oxygen levels may be pushed into habitat that’s less desirable and they may grow more slowly in those areas,” Keller said.

Researchers examined the effect of low-oxygen waters with the help of West Coast trawl surveys conducted every year by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to assess the status of groundfish stocks. They developed a sturdy, protective housing for oxygen sensors that could be attached to the trawl nets to determine what species the nets swept up in areas of different oxygen concentrations.

The study combined the expertise of fisheries scientists such as Keller who assess fish stocks with oceanographers such as Barth who track ocean conditions to look at the relationship between the two.

“Initially, we would tell them where the low oxygen was, and they would trawl within areas ranging from low to high oxygen,” explained Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Later, oxygen sensors were deployed on all tows during the groundfish survey. They would look at the catch and the species richness.

“We tried to get it down to the individual species level, where we could tell which fish correlated with which oxygen levels.”  

Low-oxygen waters appear off the West Coast in two ways, Barth said. The first is the eastward movement of deep, oxygen-poor water that laps up against the West Coast. The second occurs when wind-driven upwelling brings nutrients to the surface, fueling blooms of phytoplankton that eventually die and sink to the bottom. Their decay then consumes the oxygen, leaving what scientists call hypoxic conditions where oxygen levels are low enough to adversely affect marine organisms.

The scientists examined the effects of varying oxygen levels on four representative species: spotted ratfish, petrale sole, greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole.

Spotted ratfish and petrale sole were the most sensitive to changes in oxygen levels, with their presence declining sharply as the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water declines. But greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole were largely unaffected by dissolved oxygen levels.

Dover sole is adapted to low-oxygen waters, with gill surface areas two to three times larger than other fish of similar size that allow it to absorb more oxygen from the same amount of water. Dover sole also are among a few fish species that can reduce their oxygen consumption to very low concentrations, probably an adaptation to low-oxygen conditions.

The research is continuing, with trawl survey vessels carrying oxygen sensors on all of their tows since 2009, Keller said. Further data should provide insight into the response of additional fish species to low oxygen conditions, Keller said.

Media Contact: 

Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries, 503-231-6268

Mark Floyd, OSU, 541-737-0788

Source: 

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

Warm winter wraps up – concern about low snowpack continues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If it seemed like Oregon has had a lot of unseasonably warm days this winter, well, it’s because we have. Now the focus is on a very low snowpack – and the implications that may have later this year.

The meteorological winter – which is comprised of December, January and February – recently wrapped up and depending on where you live in Oregon, it was one of the warmest – if not the warmest – winters on record.

“It has been a very, very warm winter – almost historically so,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. “On one hand, the warm temperatures have made for a rather pleasant winter. On the other hand, the snowpack situation has been atrocious, and that really raises concerns for water levels in many streams later this summer.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook calls for “significantly enhanced likelihood” for a warm spring – especially in western Oregon and western Washington – and a “somewhat reduced likelihood” for a wet spring.

“That’s not a hopeful outlook for the kind of late recovery of snowpack that we have seen in some previous low-snow winters,” Mote noted.

How warm has this winter been? Mote said that each winter month was warmer than average at almost every recording station in Oregon. More than a hundred high temperature records were broken in Oregon – just in December. Another 114 high temperature records were broken in February.

Overall, Mote said, this should go down as the second warmest winter for the Pacific Northwest behind 1933-34, according to data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. That was the Dust Bowl era - and 2014-15 wasn’t far behind. NOAA reports that parts of eastern and southern Oregon were more than eight degrees warmer than average for the meteorological winter.

Along the coast, temperatures in some places reached the low 70s, amazingly mild for mid-February.

In many other places in western Oregon, temperatures in the 60s were not uncommon. In fact, Roseburg reported 12 days of 60-degree-plus temperatures in February alone, according to National Weather Service data.

Although temperatures were warm, it wasn’t unusually dry, Mote said.

“The precipitation levels were unremarkable – just a bit lower than usual,” he pointed out. “However, a lot more of the precipitation fell as rain instead of snow – and that could have a major impact down the road. California, Oregon and Washington hardly have any snow – less than 10 percent of normal in some basins.”

On a regional basis, the winter temperatures looked like this:

  • Astoria: December was 4.4 degrees warmer than average; January was 2.5 degrees warmer; and February was 5.1 degrees warmer.
  • Eugene was 4.6 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.9 degrees warmer in January, and 5.3 degrees in February. Eugene reached a high of 62 degrees in December, 68 in January (a record for the month), and 65 in the month of February, which had five days of temperatures in the 60s.
  • McMinnville recorded a record high temperature of 66 degrees on Feb. 17, breaking the old mark of 65 set in 1996.
  • Portland was 3.7 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.0 degrees warmer in January, and 5.4 degrees warmer in February. The Rose City had seven days of 60-degree-plus weather in February alone.
  • Roseburg was 6.1 degrees warmer than average in December, 3.5 degrees warmer than average in January, and 4.8 degrees warmer than average in February. Roseburg had a total of 12 days of temperatures in the 60s in February.
  • Pendleton wasn’t as warm as the rest of the state early in the winter, but February was 5.5 degrees warmer than average and Pendleton recorded a high of 66 degrees on Feb. 6.
  • Salem set a new record high for February on Feb. 16, when the mercury reached 66 degrees, breaking the old record of 65 set in 1902.

More weather information is available on the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute website at: http://occri.net/. The institute is housed in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu

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A barefoot toddler at the Oregon Coast in January reflects the warm winter in the Northwest this year. (photo by Theresa Hogue)

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Fish native to Japan found in Port Orford waters

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of scientists from Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is studying an unusual fish captured alive in a crab pot near Port Orford this week called a striped knifejaw that is native to Japan, as well as China and Korea.

The appearance in Oregon waters of the fish (Oplegnathus fasciatus), which is sometimes called a barred knifejaw or striped beakfish, may or may not be related to the Japanese tsunami of 2011, the researchers say, and it is premature to conclude that this non-native species may be established in Oregon waters.

But its appearance and survival certainly raises questions, according to OSU’s John Chapman, an aquatic invasive species specialist at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“Some association with Japanese tsunami debris is a strong possibility, but we cannot rule out other options, such as the fish being carried over in ballast water of a ship or an aquarium fish being released locally,” Chapman said. “But finding a second knifejaw nearly two years after the discovery of fish in a drifting Japanese boat certainly gets my attention.”

In March 2013, five striped knifejaws were found alive in a boat near Long Beach, Washington, that had drifted over from Japan. Four of the fish were euthanized, but one was taken to the Seaside Aquarium, where it is still alive and well.

OSU marine ecologist Jessica Miller examined the four euthanized knifejaws from Washington in 2013, analyzing their otoliths, or ear bones, for clues to their origin.

“The young fish of these species are known to associate with drift and may be attracted to floating marine debris,” Miller said. “Japanese tsunami marine debris continues to arrive on beaches in Oregon and Washington – and some debris from Japan washed up on the southern Oregon coast this month – so it is not inconceivable that the Port Orford fish was associated with Japanese marine debris.

“The species is also found in other parts of Asia and the northwest Hawaiian islands, so it is native to a broader range than just Japan,” she added. “At this time, there is no evidence that they are successfully reproducing in Oregon.”

Tom Calvanese, an Oregon State graduate student researcher working with Oregon Sea Grant on the start-up of a new OSU field station in Port Orford, worked with the fisherman to secure the exotic species. The fish is approximately 13 centimeters in length, and thus not a fully grown adult, and was captured in a crab pot between Port Orford and Cape Blanco  - just off the Elk River in southern Oregon.

“We are fortunate to have this occur in a fishing community that is ocean-aware,” Calvanese said. “The fisherman who caught the fish identified it as an exotic then transported it to shore alive, where the fish buyer was able to care for it. It was then brought to my attention, initiating a response from the scientific community that will result in an exciting learning opportunity for all.

“It appears to be in good shape and was swimming upright, though it had a small cut in its abdomen,” Calvanese said. “I talked to Keith Chandler at the Seaside Aquarium who suggested feeding it razor clams, which it took readily.”

Steven Rumrill, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is working with Calvanese and others to transport the fish to a quarantine facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, where it will be under the care of OSU aquatic veterinarian Tim Miller-Morgan of Oregon Sea Grant.

“It is important that the fish be held in quarantine until the wound is healed and for sufficient time to ensure that it is free from any pathogens or parasites that could pose a threat to our native fishes,” Rumrill said.

Sam Chan, an OSU invasive species expert affiliated with Oregon Sea Grant and vice-chair of the Oregon Invasive Species Council, has seen striped knifejaws in Japan and estimates this fish may be 1-2 years old.

“Therefore, it is unlikely to have left Japan in the 2011 tsunami,” Chan said, “but a boat could have been milling around Asian waters for the past 2-3 years and then picked up the fish and ridden the currents over. The big question is – are there more of these?”

Chan said Oregon Sea Grant – an OSU-based marine research, education and outreach program – would work with Oregon fishermen, crabbers and others to keep a lookout for additional striped knifejaws and other exotic species.

Calvanese posted a brief video of the fish on you-tube: http://youtu.be/XzA4NPXTYqg

Oregonians who believe they have spotted an invasive species are encouraged to report it at http://oregoninvasiveshotline.org, or call 1-866-INVADER.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

John Chapman, 541-961-3258, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu;

Jessica Miller, 541-867-0381, Jessica.miller@oregonstate.edu;

Tom Calvanese, 415-309-6568, tom.calvanese@oregonstate.edu;

Sam Chan, 503-679-4828, sam.chan@oregonstate.edu;

Steven Rumrill, 541-867-0300, ext. 245; Steven.S.Rumrill@state.or.us

OSU to outfit undersea gliders to “think like a fish”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation that will allow them to outfit a pair of undersea gliders with acoustical sensors to identify biological “hot spots” in the coastal ocean.

They also hope to develop an onboard computing system that will program the gliders to perform different functions depending on what they encounter.

In other words, the scientists say, they want to outfit a robotic undersea glider to “think like a fish.”

“We spend all of this time on ships, deploying instrumentation that basically is designed to see how ocean biology aggregates around physical features – like hake at the edge of the continental shelf or salmon at upwelling fronts,” said Jack Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and a principal investigator on the project. “But that just gives us a two-week window into a particular area.

“We already have a basic understanding of the ecosystem,” Barth added. “Now we want to get a better handle of what kind of marine animals are out there, how many there are, where they are distributed, and how they respond to phytoplankton blooms, schools of baitfish or oceanic features. It will benefit a variety of stakeholders, from the fishing industry and resource managers to the scientific community.”

Barth is a physical oceanographer who knows the physical processes of the coastal ocean. He’ll work with Kelly Benoit-Bird, a marine ecologist, who specializes in the relationships among marine organisms from tiny plankton to large whales. Her work utilizes acoustics to identify and track animals below the ocean surface – and it is these sensors that will open up a new world of research aboard the gliders.

“Our first goals are to understand the dynamics of the Pacific Northwest upwelling system, find the biological hotspots, and then see how long they last,” Benoit-Bird said. “Then we’d like to learn what we can about the distribution of prey and predators – and the relationship of both to oceanic conditions.”

Using robot-mounted acoustic sensors, the OSU researchers will be able to identify different kinds of marine animals using their unique acoustical signatures. Diving seabirds, for example, leave a trail of bubbles through the water like the contrail left by a jet. Zooplankton show up as a diffuse cloud. Schooling fish create a glowing, amoeba-shaped image.

“We’ve done this kind of work from ships, but you’re more or less anchored in one spot, which is limiting,” Benoit-Bird said. “By putting sensors on gliders, we hope to follow fish, or circle around a plankton bloom, or see how seabirds dive. We want to learn more about what is going on out there.”

Programming a glider to spend weeks out in the ocean and then “think” when it encounters certain cues, is a challenge that falls upon the third member of the research team, Geoff Hollinger, from OSU’s robotics program in the College of Engineering. Undersea gliders operated by Oregon State already can be programmed to patrol offshore for weeks at a time, following a transect, moving up and down in the water column, and even rising to the surface to beam data back to onshore labs via satellite.

But the instruments aboard the gliders that measure temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen are comparatively simple and require limited power. Using sophisticated bioacoustics sensors that record huge amounts of data, and then programming the gliders to respond to environmental cues, is a significant technological advance.

“All of the technology is there,” Hollinger said, “but combining it into a package to perform on a glider is a huge robotics and systems engineering challenge. You need lots of computing power, longer battery life, and advanced control algorithms.”

Making a glider “think,” or respond to environmental cues, is all about predictive algorithms, he said.

“It is a little like looking at economic indicators in the stock market,” Hollinger pointed out. “Just one indicator is unlikely to tell you how a stock will perform. We need to develop an algorithm that essentially turns the glider into an autonomous vehicle that can run on autopilot.”

The three-year research project should benefit fisheries management, protection of endangered species, analyzing the impacts of new ocean uses such as wave energy, and documenting impacts of climate change, the researchers say.

Oregon State has become a national leader in the use of undersea gliders in research to study the coastal ocean and now owns and operates more than 20 of the instruments through three separate research initiatives. Barth said the vision is to establish a center for underwater vehicles and acoustics research – which would be a key component of its recently announced Marine Studies Initiative.

The university also has a growing program in robotics, of which Hollinger is a key faculty member. This collaborative project funded by Keck exemplifies the collaborative nature of research at Oregon State, the researchers say, where ecologists, oceanographers and roboticists work together.

“This project and the innovative technology could revolutionize how marine scientists study the world’s oceans,” Barth said.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

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

Kelly Benoit-Bird, 541-737-2063, kbenoit@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Geoff Hollinger, 541-737-5906, Geoff.hollinger@oregonstate.edu

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Study outlines threat of ocean acidification to coastal communities in U.S.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Coastal communities in 15 states that depend on the $1 billion shelled mollusk industry (primarily oysters and clams) are at long-term economic risk from the increasing threat of ocean acidification, a new report concludes.

This first nationwide vulnerability analysis, which was funded through the National Science Foundation’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, was published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The Pacific Northwest has been the most frequently cited region with vulnerable shellfish populations, the authors say, but the report notes that newly identified areas of risk from acidification range from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, to the bayous of Louisiana.

“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” said Julie Ekstrom, who was lead author on the study while with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She is now at the University of California at Davis.

George Waldbusser, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and biogeochemist, said the spreading impact of ocean acidification is due primarily to increases in greenhouse gases.

“This clearly illustrates the vulnerability of communities dependent on shellfish to ocean acidification,” said Waldbusser, a researcher in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the paper. “We are still finding ways to increase the adaptive capacity of these communities and industries to cope, and refining our understanding of various species’ specific responses to acidification.

“Ultimately, however, without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short-term and we will be stuck with a much larger long-term problem,” Waldbusser added.

The analysis identified several “hot zones” facing a number of risk factors. These include:

  • The Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington coasts and estuaries have a “potent combination” of risk factors, including cold waters, upwelling currents that bring corrosive waters closer to the surface, corrosive rivers, and nutrient pollution from land runoff;
  • New England: The product ports of Maine and southern New Hampshire feature poorly buffered rivers running into cold New England waters, which are especially enriched with acidifying carbon dioxide;
  • Mid-Atlantic: East coast estuaries including Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound have an abundance of nitrogen pollution, which exacerbates ocean acidification in waters that are shellfish-rich;
  • Gulf of Mexico: Terrebonne and Plaquemines Parishes of Louisiana, and other communities in the region, have shellfish economies based almost solely on oysters, giving this region fewer options for alternative – and possibly more resilient – mollusk fisheries.

The project team has also developed an interactive map to explore the vulnerability factors regionally.

One concern, the authors say, is that many of the most economically dependent regions – including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana – are least prepared to respond, with minimal research and monitoring assets for ocean acidification.

The Pacific Northwest, on the other hand, has a robust research effort led by Oregon State University researchers, who already have helped oyster hatcheries rebound from near-disastrous larval die-offs over the past decade. The university recently announced plans to launch a Marine Studies Initiative that would help address complex, multidisciplinary problems such as ocean acidification.

"The power of this project is the collaboration of natural and social scientists focused on a problem that has and will continue to impact industries dependent on the sea,” Waldbusser said.

Waldbusser recently led a study that documented how larval oysters are sensitive to a change in the “saturation state” of ocean water – which ultimately is triggered by an increase in carbon dioxide. The inability of ecosystems to provide enough alkalinity to buffer the increase in CO2 is what kills young oysters in the environment.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

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

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Scientists find deep-ocean evidence for Atlantic overturning decline

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has found evidence from the deep ocean that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation – a system of currents that brings warm water from the tropics to the North Atlantic region and keeps its climate more moderate – declined at the end of the last ice age.

Some scientists have long suspected that was the case because the North Atlantic cooled at a time the rest of the planet was warming, but evidence to support the theory has been sparse or indirect. However, the new study, which utilized 25 deep ocean sediment cores and a corresponding computer model, determined that the AMOC not only declined – the process may have pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Results of the study have just been published in the open access journal Climate of the Past. It was supported by the National Science Foundation.

“There has long been a feeling that if the deep ocean was changing at the end of the last ice age, there should be evidence from the deep ocean to document it – and that has been lacking,” said Andreas Schmittner, a climate modeling scientist at Oregon State University and lead author on the study.

“The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation enhances the biological pump, and if it declined it should have had an impact on primary productivity as well as the overall climate for the region,” added Schmittner, an associate professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Schmittner and his colleague David Lund from the University of Connecticut used evidence from 25 sediment cores taken primarily from the Atlantic Ocean, but also from the Indian and Pacific Ocean, which showed a change in the carbon isotope ratio over a period of 3,000 to 4,000 years that began some 19,000 years ago.

The isotopes show up in the shells of tiny organisms called foraminifera that are found in deep ocean sediment cores. When they were alive, their carbonate shells accumulated two carbon isotopes – C-12, a lighter isotope, and C-13, which is heavier. Scientists can tell by the ratio of the two isotopes how ocean circulation and biological productivity were changing and how that affected atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

When productivity lessened with the decline of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, there was more C-13 in the ocean compared to C-12 – except in the North Atlantic, where C-13 decreased strongly in comparison to C-12.  An abundance of C-12, on the other hand, indicates that the current system was strong and plankton blooms were plentiful.

To test the evidence, Schmittner ran a computer model combining equations for the physical processes and the chemical and biological processes and said they matched the sediment core data very closely.

“You can divide the oceans of the world into small boxes and look at the physical processes like water velocity, salinity and nutrients to predict plankton growth, sinking rates after death, and how the carbon cycle is affected,” he said.

“What we did next was to plug into the model the influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic that would have come from the melting of ice sheets and glaciers and see how that would have affected both the physics and the biology,” he added. “What we found in the ice cores was eerily similar to what the computer model predicted.”

Schmittner and Lund’s model matched ice core data from Antarctica that show increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere right after the end of the last glacial maximum (19,000 years before present) for several thousand years. Schmittner’s model suggests that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation decline pulled carbon dioxide from the deep ocean and gradually released it into the atmosphere.

“The current affects the biological pump and if you turn the current off, you reduce the pump and you have less productivity,” Schmittner said. “The system then pulls carbon dioxide from the deep ocean and it winds up in the atmosphere.”

The researchers note that future global warming may again slow down the circulation because as surface waters warm, they become more buoyant and are less likely to sink – a key process to maintaining the system of currents in the Atlantic. The addition of fresh water from melting ice sheets may compound the slowdown.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu

Study finds lamprey decline continues with loss of habitat in Oregon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study aimed at understanding habitat needs for Pacific lamprey in western Oregon found this once-abundant fish that is both ecologically and culturally significant prefers side channels and other lower water velocity habitats in streams.

However, because of the legacy of historic land uses in the Northwest – including human settlement and activities – these habitats are much less common than they were in the past. And that may explain why populations of lamprey have declined over the past several decades – not only in western Oregon, but throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Results of the study were just published in the Ecology of Freshwater Fish.

“The lamprey decline has probably been going on for the past half century, but it wasn’t until the last 15-20 years that it has been recognized by many in the scientific community,” said Luke Schultz, a research assistant in Oregon State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and lead author on the study. “Today lamprey populations are at about 5 to 10 percent of the 1960s totals at Bonneville Dam, and the story is much the same elsewhere.

“The Willamette River basin is one of the few places that still appears to have decent numbers of lamprey because of its system of sloughs and side channels,” he added. “But they are facing new threats, such as introduced fish species that prey on them – especially bass – so we’ll likely be hearing more about this emerging threat in the next few years.”

Schultz is project leader Oregon Cooperative Fish Research Unit’s Pacific lamprey project – a joint effort between OSU and the U.S. Geological Survey that is seeking to learn more about the fish and restore its habitat. Although this latest article focuses on the Willamette Basin, Schultz and his colleagues at OSU, the USGS, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have looked at lamprey populations and habitat from the Columbia River in northeastern Oregon to southern Oregon’s Umpqua River.

The causes of Pacific lamprey decline are myriad, the researchers say. Restoring their numbers will require mitigation in the form of restoring habitat to include complex channels and deep pools, and the removal of barriers that block access to spawning grounds for adult lampreys, the authors note.

“Removal or mitigation will allow lampreys to recolonize those areas,” Schultz said.

Some factors affecting the lamprey decline may be out of the researchers’ control, Schultz said, specifically ocean conditions. They require an abundance of food; ocean conditions that are favorable to salmon are usually beneficial for lampreys, as well. Rather than swimming freely, they may attach themselves to large fishes, or even whales, sea lions or other marine animals – and the abundant ocean prey lets them grow large.

“Pacific lamprey may spend one or two years in the ocean,” Schultz noted. “They will weigh less than an ounce when they go out there as juveniles, and they may grow to 30 inches in length and up to two pounds before they return.”

Although Pacific lampreys are anadromous, another species, the brook lamprey, only grows to a length of 6-7 inches and stays in fresh water for its entire lifespan of 4-8 years.

It is the Pacific lamprey that researchers are focusing on because of their one-time abundance, larger size, and more prominent ecological role.

“These are really interesting animals that have historic importance in the Pacific Northwest,” Schultz noted. “They can live up to about 10 years or so – about three times longer than the coho salmon life cycle – and they are roughly six times as energy-dense as salmon, making them important prey.

“Because of that, I like to call them swimming sticks of butter.”

When lampreys are abundant, they reduce predation by a variety of species – especially sea lions, but also sturgeon, birds, bass and walleye – on juvenile salmon and steelhead. It may not be an accident that salmonid numbers have declined at the same time lamprey populations have diminished.

The research in the study has led to some habitat restoration work supported by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Helping lamprey populations recover has important social significance as well as ecological importance, Schultz said.

“Lampreys were an incredibly important resource for many Northwest tribes because they provided a source of protein in the summer months when salmon weren’t as readily available,” he noted. “Now the only place where there is even a limited tribal harvest is at Willamette Falls.”

More information on lampreys is available in this feature article in OSU’s Terra Magazine: http://bit.ly/1fhu8k4

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Luke Schultz, 541-737-1961; luke.schultz@oregonstate.edu

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Sampling at Willamette Falls

 

 

 

 

 



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Juvenile lamprey



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Measuring in the field

Oregon experienced second warmest year on record in 2014

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The year 2014 was the hottest on Earth in 134 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported on Friday, continuing a pattern of global warming that is attributed primarily to rising levels of greenhouse gases.

Oregon was not exempt from the warming and logged the second hottest year since records were kept beginning in 1895, according to researchers with the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University.

“We had a warm summer, and now a warm winter and that’s where we got our warm year,” said Kathie Dello, deputy director of the center. “We are looking at our future right now – warm winters and low snowpacks.”

The average statewide temperature in Oregon in 2014 was 49.5 degrees, which is 3.0 degrees above the average for the 20th century. The only hotter year on record was 1934 – when the United States suffered through the Dust Bowl. The average temperature in Oregon that year was 49.9.

Low snowpacks are of particular concern later in the year when less water is available, Dello pointed out.

“Drought continues to be a concern in southern and eastern Oregon, as well as in California,” she said. “The temperature outlook for the next three months is pointing toward continued warm temperatures for the western United States.”

According to NOAA, the average 2014 temperature across both land and ocean surfaces globally was 1.24 degrees above the 20th-century average. This was the highest among all years on record dating back to 1880, the agency noted.

Regions that were considered the warmest last year, according to NOAA, included eastern Russia, the western United States, portions of Australia, much of the northeastern Pacific Ocean, segments of the equatorial Pacific, large swaths of the Atlantic Ocean, most of the Norwegian Sea, and parts of the central to southern Indian Ocean.

Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, said the subtlety of rising temperatures on a global scale can be hard to comprehend, since people tend to view climate based on their personal experiences.

“Most of us relate to climate through what we remember and the week-long spell of near-record cold, snow and ice last February may seem more pertinent or convincing than global mean temperature,” Mote said. “But from a physics perspective, global mean temperature represents lots of interesting processes – rising greenhouse gases among them.

“Setting a record like this means those processes lined up this year,” Mote added. “On average, greenhouse gas increases make each year roughly .04 degrees warmer than the last – which may not sound like much, but really adds up over time.”

At that rate, the temperature would increase one degree every 25 years, and four degrees each century – an alarming rate of increase, scientists say. “And unless emissions of greenhouse gases are curbed,” Mote said, “the warming is likely to be faster than that in the future.”

Although globally the planet experienced its hottest year, it was only the 34th warmest year on record for the United States overall, Dello said. The western U.S. as a whole had its hottest year on record, as did the states of California, Nevada and Arizona, but the eastern part of the country experienced a severe winter.

Dello and Mote are both in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274,  pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Kathie Dello, 585-307-6492, kdello@coas.oregonstate.edu

 

 

 

 

 

Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon