marine science and the coast

New study: Climate sensitivity to CO2 more limited than extreme projections

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that the rate of global warming from doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide may be less than the most dire estimates of some previous studies – and, in fact, may be less severe than projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2007.

Authors of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Paleoclimate Program and published online this week in the journal Science, say that global warming is real and that increases in atmospheric CO2 will have multiple serious impacts.

However, the most Draconian projections of temperature increases from the doubling of CO2 are unlikely.

“Many previous climate sensitivity studies have looked at the past only from 1850 through today, and not fully integrated paleoclimate date, especially on a global scale,” said Andreas Schmittner, an Oregon State University researcher and lead author on the Science article. “When you reconstruct sea and land surface temperatures from the peak of the last Ice Age 21,000 years ago – which is referred to as the Last Glacial Maximum – and compare it with climate model simulations of that period, you get a much different picture.

“If these paleoclimatic constraints apply to the future, as predicted by our model, the results imply less probability of extreme climatic change than previously thought,” Schmittner added.

Scientists have struggled for years trying to quantify “climate sensitivity” – which is how the Earth will respond to projected increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The 2007 IPCC report estimated that the air near the surface of the Earth would warm on average by 2 to 4.5 degrees (Celsius) with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial standards. The mean, or “expected value” increase in the IPCC estimates was 3.0 degrees; most climate model studies use the doubling of CO2 as a basic index.

Some previous studies have claimed the impacts could be much more severe – as much as 10 degrees or higher with a doubling of CO2 – although these projections come with an acknowledged low probability. Studies based on data going back only to 1850 are affected by large uncertainties in the effects of dust and other small particles in the air that reflect sunlight and can influence clouds, known as “aerosol forcing,” or by the absorption of heat by the oceans, the researchers say.

To lower the degree of uncertainty, Schmittner and his colleagues used a climate model with more data and found that there are constraints that preclude very high levels of climate sensitivity.

The researchers compiled land and ocean surface temperature reconstructions from the Last Glacial Maximum and created a global map of those temperatures. During this time, atmospheric CO2 was about a third less than before the Industrial Revolution, and levels of methane and nitrous oxide were much lower. Because much of the northern latitudes were covered in ice and snow, sea levels were lower, the climate was drier (less precipitation), and there was more dust in the air.

All these factor, which contributed to cooling the Earth’s surface, were included in their climate model simulations.

The new data changed the assessment of climate models in many ways, said Schmittner, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The researchers’ reconstruction of temperatures has greater spatial coverage and showed less cooling during the Ice Age than most previous studies.

High sensitivity climate models – more than 6 degrees – suggest that the low levels of atmospheric CO2 during the Last Glacial Maximum would result in a “runaway effect” that would have left the Earth completely ice-covered.

“Clearly, that didn’t happen,” Schmittner said. “Though the Earth then was covered by much more ice and snow than it is today, the ice sheets didn’t extend beyond latitudes of about 40 degrees, and the tropics and subtropics were largely ice-free – except at high altitudes. These high-sensitivity models overestimate cooling.”

On the other hand, models with low climate sensitivity – less than 1.3 degrees – underestimate the cooling almost everywhere at the Last Glacial Maximum, the researchers say. The closest match, with a much lower degree of uncertainty than most other studies, suggests climate sensitivity is about 2.4 degrees.

However, uncertainty levels may be underestimated because the model simulations did not take into account uncertainties arising from how cloud changes reflect sunlight, Schmittner said.

Reconstructing sea and land surface temperatures from 21,000 years ago is a complex task involving the examination of ices cores, bore holes, fossils of marine and terrestrial organisms, seafloor sediments and other factors. Sediment cores, for example, contain different biological assemblages found in different temperature regimes and can be used to infer past temperatures based on analogs in modern ocean conditions.

“When we first looked at the paleoclimatic data, I was struck by the small cooling of the ocean,” Schmittner said. “On average, the ocean was only about two degrees (Celsius) cooler than it is today, yet the planet was completely different – huge ice sheets over North America and northern Europe, more sea ice and snow, different vegetation, lower sea levels and more dust in the air.

“It shows that even very small changes in the ocean’s surface temperature can have an enormous impact elsewhere, particularly over land areas at mid- to high-latitudes,” he added.

Schmittner said continued unabated fossil fuel use could lead to similar warming of the sea surface as reconstruction shows happened between the Last Glacial Maximum and today.

“Hence, drastic changes over land can be expected,” he said. “However, our study implies that we still have time to prevent that from happening, if we make a concerted effort to change course soon.”

Other authors on the study include Peter Clark and Alan Mix of OSU; Nathan Urban, Princeton University; Jeremy Shakun, Harvard University; Natalie Mahowald, Cornell University; Patrick Bartlein, University of Oregon; and Antoni Rosell-Mele, University of Barcelona.

Media Contact: 

Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952

Book explores resilience as management goal for Pacific salmon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Fishery management programs designed to benefit Pacific salmon have failed to prevent their decline and have caused greater uncertainty for salmon, their ecosystems and the people who depend upon them. So what is to be done about this knotty problem?

A new book from the Oregon State University-based Oregon Sea Grant program, “Pathways to Resilience: Sustaining Pacific Salmon in a Changing World,” explores the radical approach of strengthening salmon resilience.

“Strengthening salmon resilience will require expanding habitat opportunities for salmon populations to express their maximum life-history variation,” said Dan Bottom, a NOAA Fisheries researcher and one of the book’s authors and editors.

Salmon exhibit a wide variety of life history traits, Bottom says, including differences in migration timing, duration of estuary rearing and size at ocean entry. “The habitat connections that sustain diverse salmon life histories also provide diverse social and economic opportunities for people, whose life styles and livelihoods depend on healthy watersheds.”

Joe Cone, assistant director of Oregon Sea Grant, says the book’s 11 peer-reviewed articles “represent the most-forward thinking about resilience and Pacific salmon collected to date.” Cone, author of a 1995 book on salmon decline, “A Common Fate,” believes the new book “points to new ways we may consider and interact with this iconic fish.”

“Pathways to Resilience” will be of interest to those active in fisheries, Cone said, as well as to policymakers and anyone interested in the resilience of other ecological and social systems.

Jim Lichatowich, onetime Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon official and author of “Salmon without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis,” said the “ideas in ‘Pathways to Resilience’ are important guides toward a different and sustainable relationship between salmon and humans.”

The 392-page, full-color book features a prologue by Oregon Gov.  John Kitzhaber. The book was edited by Bottom, Kim Jones of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Charles Simenstad of the University of Washington, Court Smith of Oregon State University and Rick Cooper of Oregon Sea Grant.

Copies of Pathways to Resilience may be ordered for $34.95 each (plus shipping and handling) online at marketplace.oregonstate.edu or by calling Sea Grant Communications at 541-737-4849. The book is also available at the OSU Beaver Store, 2301 SW Jefferson Way, Corvallis, Ore.

Pathways to Resilience was published by Oregon Sea Grant and printed with assistance from the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the U.S. Geological Survey.


Dan Bottom, 541-758-7789

Geosciences joins COAS to form powerful new college at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The geosciences program at Oregon State University is joining the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences to form a powerful new academic and research college at OSU focusing on the Earth as an integrated system.

The move has been approved by the OSU Faculty Senate, and signed off by OSU President Edward J. Ray. It is effective immediately.

Impetus for the move sprung up from the faculty of both units, according to Mark Abbott, dean of the newly named College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The faculty have been thinking about and planning this for more than a decade,” Abbott said. “It makes sense to look at terrestrial environments and ecology and the way they interact with oceans and the atmosphere as part of a ‘whole Earth’ approach. The opportunities for collaborative research and education are enormous.”

The move may lead to more undergraduate opportunities in ocean and atmospheric science, as well as more undergraduate research experiences, Abbott said. The former College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences was a graduate program offering master’s degrees and Ph.D.s in ocean, earth and atmospheric science, as well as through the Marine Resource Management program.

OSU’s strengths in earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences are global in scope, ranging from coastal ocean dynamics and their impact on ocean ecosystems, to the study of undersea volcanoes and their link to plate tectonics, to how changes in Earth’s continents affected ancient climates. OSU is internationally recognized as a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system.

Faculty in the former Department of Geosciences, which had been in the College of Science, also are internationally known, with expertise in high-latitude ice sheets, glaciers, climate change, plate tectonics, volcanoes, earthquakes, snowpack, hydrology and water resources, mineral deposits, cartography and geographic information systems.

“The new college will be like an ‘honors college’ for Earth sciences,” Abbott said.

Existing undergraduate and graduate degree programs will continue and likely expand. A new Bachelor of Science degree in earth sciences was approved as well, and the college will assume responsibility for the university’s Environmental Sciences program, which offers BS and BA degrees.

The new College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences has an annual budget of more than $50 million, with much of the research support coming from the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other federal agencies. It has approximately 104 faculty, 220 graduate students and 613 undergraduate students.

Media Contact: 

Mark Abbott, 541-737-5195

Debris from Japanese tsunami slowly making its way toward West Coast

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A massive trail of debris from the devastating tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011 is slowly making its way across the Pacific Ocean en route to the West Coast of the United States, where scientists are predicting it will arrive in the next two to three years – right on schedule.

The mass of debris, weighing millions of tons and forming a trail a thousand miles long, will likely strike Oregon and Washington, according to models based on winds and currents.

But new accounts of where the trail has progressed suggest that at least some of that debris may peel off and enter the infamous “Garbage Patch,” a huge gyre in the Pacific where plastic and other debris has accumulated over the years, according to Jack Barth, an Oregon State University oceanographer and an expert on Pacific Ocean currents and winds.

“Recent reports of debris are from farther south than the axis of the main ocean currents sweeping across the north Pacific toward Oregon,” said Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “This means a fair amount of debris may enter the patch. We should still see some of the effects in Oregon and Washington, but between some of the materials sinking, and others joining the garbage patch, it might not be as bad as was originally thought.”

Barth said as time goes on, more of the materials will sink as they become waterlogged, or become heavy from barnacles and other organisms growing on them.

Conversely, he said, items of debris that are higher in the water and can be caught by the winds – such as small boats – may arrive more quickly than anticipated. The “westerlies,” as these winds are called, blow straight across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the Pacific Northwest coast “and they can be pretty strong,” Barth pointed out.

Recent reports that the debris is ahead of schedule don’t match Barth’s calculations, which suggest that the bulk of the debris should arrive along the West Coast in 2013 to 2014. It appears to be moving about 10 miles a day, he said.

Fears of contamination from the debris are largely unfounded, Barth said. The OSU scientist just returned from a meeting of PICES - the North Pacific Marine Science Organization, where Japanese scientists reported that radiation levels in the waters off the Japanese coast were below a safe threshold.

“The dilution power of the Pacific Ocean is enormous,” Barth said.

Barth led a five-year study a decade ago looking at how water moves off the Oregon coast in the aftermath of the 1999 shipwreck of the New Carissa. Hundreds of gallons of oil leaked from the vessel and despite sophisticated ocean current models, the fuel appeared in places that surprised scientists.

Although the westerlies will bring some of the debris toward the Northwest coast, what happens as it arrives near the shore will depend on the time of year, Barth said.

“One thing we learned from the New Carissa, is that when things get dumped off the Oregon coast in winter, they go quickly northward,” Barth pointed out. “If the debris arrives in the winter, some of it may get pushed up to Vancouver Island. If it gets here in the summer, it is more likely to drift down to the south.”

Local winds can further confuse the issue, keep debris off-shore in the summer when the winds are from the north, and pushing it on-shore in the winter.

Media Contact: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607

NOAA again selects OSU to run marine studies institute

NEWPORT, Ore. – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has selected Oregon State University to administer a collaborative marine research program in Newport called the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, or CIMRS.

The research program, which examines marine ecosystems, undersea geologic features and marine life, was established at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., in 1982, but the program’s funding renewal was open this year through a competitive application process.

The selection of OSU to continue operating the program will provide ongoing funding for at least five more years, and up to 10 years, according to NOAA officials.

“Oregon State has proven to be an excellent partner in marine research,” said Alexander MacDonald, deputy assistant administrator for the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and chair of the NOAA Research Council. “Through CIMRS it brings together researchers from our Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and from our Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Science Centers.

“CIMRS science contributes greatly to NOAA’s climate and ecosystem research goals,” he added.

Projects funded through CIMRS will focus on four research areas, officials say. These include:

  • Seafloor processes, including hydrothermal vents, volcanoes and the micro-organisms that thrive in their vicinity;
  • Marine mammal acoustics, including acoustic technology to locate and identify marine mammal species, to study migration patterns and to study marine mammal responses to changing ocean environments;
  • Marine ecosystems research to understand how ecosystems function and change;
  • Protection and restoration of marine resources, including development of technology, research tools, and scientific approaches to coastal and marine management.

CIMRS scientists have made numerous discoveries and contributions, including the recent documentation of undersea volcanic eruptions and their effects on marine ecosystems by OSU geologist Bill Chadwick and colleagues at NOAA and beyond.

The renewed program will strengthen agency partnerships, officials say, including with NOAA Fisheries at its Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s research station in Newport.

“We are looking forward to continuing our valuable and innovative work with OSU scientists that will increase our understanding of the California Current ecosystem and support the priorities of the National Ocean Policy,” said John Stein, acting director of the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

"Oregon State University has a long tradition of innovative, relevant, cooperative research with NOAA, and the renewal of CIMRS brings significant value to both partners and the marine community, “ said Richard Spinrad, OSU’s vice president for research. “It also highlights the partnerships between OSU with the several agencies at the Hatfield Marine Science Center."

CIMRS is one of 18 NOAA cooperative institutes nationwide.

Media Contact: 

Michael Banks, 541-867-0420

Oregon Sea Grant co-sponsors “Next Wave” Heceta Head Coastal Conference

FLORENCE, Ore. – Ocean and coastal researchers from Oregon State University, other OUS institutions and elsewhere will present and discuss a wide range of topics at the seventh annual Heceta Head Coastal Conference in Florence Oct. 28-29.

The conference, co-sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant at OSU, is one of the few Oregon coast science conferences intended for the public, said Jamie Doyle, a Sea Grant Extension faculty member and the program’s conference liaison.

“It’s a great opportunity for interested citizens to learn first-hand about current science and issues facing the coast and join the discussion,” she said.

The conference theme, “Oregon’s Ocean: Catching the Next Wave of Discoveries,” promises a range of insights and perspectives, including a conference summation by former OSU President John Byrne. The three-part program begins Friday with a field tour of the Siuslaw River estuary, followed by a dinner presentation with Bandon artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, who creates sculptures out of ocean trash for education and awareness.

State Representative Jean Cowan, chair of the Coastal Caucus, introduces the Saturday program and is followed by researchers highlighting issues in Oregon’s ocean, including marine reserves, ocean acidification, and albatross conservation. A panel on research features participants from Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon Wave Energy Trust, and Surfrider Foundation, among others. Posters about research will highlight fresh ideas emerging in the work of Oregon graduate students and recent grads.

Saturday’s keynote speaker is Robert Costanza, the new Portland State University Professor of Sustainability. Costanza, director of PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions and a leader in the field of environmental economics, will share his vision for Oregon’s ocean.

Former OSU President Byrne will deliver a final, visioning presentation, “Discovery, Learning and Engagement for Tomorrow's World.” Byrne, a longstanding supporter of the conference, is also former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and serves on the National Sea Grant advisory board. Byrne will link presentations delivered during the meeting and explore the kind of research needed for the future.

More information and conference registration are online at   http://www.hecetaheadconference.org/

The Heceta Head Coastal Conference, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to inform and educate the public of the need for a healthy, productive, and resilient marine ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast.


Jamie Doyle, 541-572-5263, ext. 288

Ocean Observatories Initiative moving closer to deployment

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University will launch a fleet of undersea gliders in 2012 and deploy new moored ocean-observing platforms beginning the following year as part of the $386 million Ocean Observatories Initiative.

The OOI is a major marine science infrastructure project funded by the National Science Foundation and announced two years ago.

A significant piece of the OOI’s “Endurance Array” will be located off the coast of Newport, Ore., which increasingly has been under scientific scrutiny because of issues ranging from hypoxia and “dead zones” to climate change impacts, subduction zone earthquakes, tsunamis, harmful algal blooms, wave energy potential, ocean acidification and dramatic variations in some upwelling-fed fisheries.

One of the other institutional partners on the project is the University of Washington, which this summer led an effort to lay undersea cable off the Northwest coast that will provide power for the moorings and seafloor instrumentation as part of the OOI’s Regional Cabled Network. During the past summer, OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences has been designing and testing an array of equipment that will be deployed beginning in the spring of 2013. Testing of the new gliders will begin this fall.

“We’re in the final stage of testing many of the instruments and we’re ready to go,” said Robert Collier, OSU’s program manager for the initiative. “This project is really unprecedented. We’ll be monitoring the ocean in ways it has never been looked at before, and sharing the data in real time with scientists, managers, educators and the public around the world.”

The OOI will result in a networked infrastructure of science-driven sensor systems to measure the physical, chemical, geological and biological variables in the ocean and seafloor. The idea, according to project director Tim Cowles, a former OSU oceanographer, is to provide greater knowledge of the ocean’s interrelated systems, which is vital for understanding their effects on biodiversity, ocean and coastal ecosystems and climate change.

Creating a network of sensors that can accurately measure the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the marine environment – and still withstand the rugged Pacific Ocean – is a major challenge, acknowledges Ed Dever, OSU’s systems engineer for the project.

“For one thing, what happens at the surface is different than what is going on along the seafloor,” Dever said, “so we have to have instrumentation that can monitor both. And the water in between is ever-changing. So the mooring sites will be designed in a way that we will be able to measure changes throughout the water column.”

Beginning in the spring of 2013, the first three (of six) mooring systems will be deployed – all off the coast of Newport. The final three will be deployed in 2014 off Grays Harbor, Wash. The Newport sites will be located at one mile, 10 miles and 33 miles offshore, with the outer two sites connected to the undersea cable.

Each site will feature a surface buoy that will monitor the air-sea interface, and measure air and sea surface temperatures, solar radiation, humidity, air pressure and other variables. The site will include a seafloor platform containing its own array of instruments, including sensors to measure dissolved oxygen for hypoxia studies, carbon dioxide levels, pH and nitrogen. Other sensors will actively observe larger plankton and fish, while “passive” acoustic devices will listen for marine mammals. A third instrument array will continuously move up and down through the full water column, tethered to the seafloor.

“The suite of instruments will really allow us to look at what is happening in the ocean and discover when changes occur,” Collier said. “Some of the biological sensors, for example, will be able to model primary production through chlorophyll and light levels, and another will use acoustic backscatter that can estimate zooplankton density.

“However, it’s not these individual measurements that are really new,” Collier added. “It’s the fact that we’ll be monitoring the ocean 24 hours a day, all year long, instead of looking at it periodically from ships of opportunity.”

One limitation, Dever said, is that these mooring sites will be located only off Newport and Grays Harbor, “giving us great vertical resolution, but only two lines of observations spanning the entire coast.” To cover more of the Northwest regional ocean, the OSU oceanographers will deploy a dozen new undersea gliders beginning in 2012.

Six gliders at a time will patrol the ocean from the Canadian border to southern Oregon. These sophisticated machines can be programmed to run for 2-3 months from the near-shore to the continental slope and every six hours they will rise to the surface and transmit data to OOI computers via satellite.

Instruments aboard the gliders will record temperatures, salinity, biological production and dissolved oxygen – many of the same measurements being made from mooring instruments. “One difference,” Collier said, “is that the mooring platforms will give us a constant look at six places, while the gliders will give us larger views of the coast ocean from Oregon to Canada.”

The gliders are incredibly productive, said Jack Barth, OSU’s project scientist.

“In more than half a century of work, OSU scientists have recorded about 4,000 profiles of the near-shore from ships,” Barth said. “During the past five years, the handful of gliders we already utilize have logged more than 156,000 profiles – nearly 40 times what six decades of shipboard studies have provided.

“That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it,” Barth added. “Each year alone, we log more profiles than have ever been recorded via ship off Newport. And that will only increase as the Ocean Observatories Initiative reaches fruition.”

The Ocean Observatories Initiative team at OSU has grown to 17 staff scientists, engineers and technicians, and the university expects to add even more people to operate the Endurance Array over the next few years, Collier said.

“We are excited to be so close to getting this into the water,” Collier said. “This dream we’ve been developing for more than a decade will soon be a reality.”

Media Contact: 

Bob Collier, 541-737-4367

Multimedia Downloads

Benthic Experimental Package Benthic test OOI Mooring Test

Federal oceans and polar policy expert to direct climate change center at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Gustavo “Gus” Bisbal, a science and policy expert with the United States Department of State who specializes in the world’s oceans and polar regions, has been named director of the Northwest Climate Science Center based at Oregon State University.

Bisbal established his career in the Pacific Northwest, spending four years in Portland in the district office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where he managed the Columbia River Basin and water development program for the agency.

He also spent eight years (1994-2002) with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Portland, where he was responsible for the integration of scientific information into policy decisions to protect and restore fish and wildlife resources in the Columbia River basin. Among his areas of specialty was incorporating variable ocean conditions into salmon management policy decisions.

The Northwest Climate Science Center was established by the Department of the Interior last year as one of eight regional centers. It is a consortium of three universities – OSU, University of Washington and University of Idaho – with an administrative home in Corvallis, Ore., site of Oregon State University. The center is designed to serve as a resource for federal agencies in providing necessary science in advising policy decisions, especially relating to climate change.

“It is the agencies that create action plans to adapt to climate change,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU. “The center is here to provide the best possible science to agencies so they can make the best management decisions. Gus Bisbal brings a wealth of scientific and resource management experience, along with proven leadership skills across multiple levels of government – from local, to regional and beyond.”

Bisbal, who will have a U.S. Geological Survey appointment as well as a courtesy faculty appointment at OSU, has been a foreign affairs officer with the State Department since 2006. Working in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, he advanced the State Department’s foreign policy efforts related to oceans, holding leadership roles in U.S. delegations at numerous international conferences and organizations.

Bisbal also spent two years in Washington, D.C., working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a Knauss Fellow in International Affairs. He has two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island and an undergraduate degree from the University of Buenos Aires.

The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, which began in 2009, anchors two federally funded northwest efforts to translate science into “actionable knowledge,” Mote said. In addition to launching the Northwest Climate Science Center, funded by the Interior Department and co-led by Mote, OSU also was selected last year to coordinate a climate change consortium funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to address climate assessment needs for businesses, municipalities, tribes and agencies.

Media Contact: 

Phil Mote, 541-737-5694

Oregon Sea Grant receives $2.6 million NSF grant for learning research

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon Sea Grant has received a five-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support the creation of a free-choice learning lab at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. 

The grant is the largest single research award to Oregon Sea Grant in its 40-year history and among the largest ever awarded to a Sea Grant program nationwide, according to program director Stephen Brandt.

Free-choice learning is the study of how people learn across the lifespan and across contexts where they have choice and control over that learning. Most of the learning people do over the course of our lives, including about the ocean and marine sciences, happens in such contexts.

“Studying how people learn is critical to Sea Grant because it can help us to understand how best to communicate with the diverse public audiences who rely on us for research and education related to ocean and aquatic issues,” Brandt said.

Oregon Sea Grant and OSU researchers will conduct innovative research at the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Visitor Center, a destination that attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year, and will collaborate with the public to gain a deeper understanding of what and how they learn. The funding will support cyber-learning – the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning – and exploit emerging technologies for real-time assessment and evaluations.

Guest scholars from academia, as well as museums, zoos, and aquariums nationwide will conduct research projects within the developing laboratory infrastructure. Projects will utilize state-of-the-art human observation technologies that will be developed and deployed in the center.

“This new NSF award is strong recognition of the HMSC Visitor Center's cutting-edge work,” said George Boehlert, director of the OSU center. “The research now being developed will create new advances in delivery of marine science education to people of all ages."

The research project will be led by Shawn Rowe, a faculty member in both Sea Grant and the OSU College of Education.

“This project is a substantial ramp-up and extension of free-choice learning research efforts that began in 2004 and that have been supported by Oregon Sea Grant, NSF, NOAA, and the Oregon Department of Education,” said Rowe.

Ten graduate student theses have been developed through that research, and the new NSF project promises significant additional opportunities for graduate students, he said.


Shawn Rowe, 541-867-0190

Multimedia Downloads


Lecture series to examine engineering approach to climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University will host a fall lecture series examining the potential of “geoengineering” to mitigate the impacts of future climate change, bringing three international scientists to Corvallis to present the latest research in this emerging field.

The first event in the series will begin on Wednesday, Oct. 5, with a lecture by Florida State University scientist Kristine Harper. Her talk, “Experiments in Geoengineering: Controlling the Weather in 20th-Century America,” will begin at 7 p.m. in LaSells Stewart Center. She is a visiting researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Geoengineering has been described by the British Royal Society as the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change. The United States General Accountability Office has said geoengineering is not an option for mitigation because of cost, effectiveness and potential consequences.

However, some critics have argued that geoengineering may provide the only realistic options for slowing climate change long enough for mitigation efforts to take effect. Proposals have ranged from seeding the upper atmosphere with reflective aerosols to fertilizing ocean plankton to consume more carbon dioxide.

Other lectures in the series include:

  • Nov. 10 – “Who Chooses the ‘Right’ Climate:  Geoengineering Governance,” by Steve Rayner, director of the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Oxford. Rayner also directs the Oxford Programme on the Future of Cities. (7 p.m., location TBA)
  • Dec. 8 – “Soaking it Up: Ocean Fertilization to Preserve the Climate,” by Richard Lampitt of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, United Kingdom. (7 p.m., location TBA)

All events in the series are free and open to the public, with a reception to follow. The series is sponsored by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, an Oregon University System institute on the Oregon State campus, and OSU’s School of Public Policy. Also supporting the series are the University of Oregon and Portland State University.

Media Contact: 

Phil Mote, 541-737-5694