OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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2013 Weather Roundup: Wettest September doesn’t offset dry year

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The weather couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it had in store for Oregon in 2013. The state saw drought and the wettest September on record, as well as withering heat and sub-zero temperatures in the Willamette Valley.

An early December storm dropped several inches of snow on Corvallis, yet snowpack levels in the nearby Cascades are well below normal.

The United States drought monitor listed 100 percent of the state as at least abnormally dry in 2013, according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University.

“All of Oregon is listed as dry, but southern Oregon has been historically dry in 2013,” said Dello, “and Medford and the southern coast have a chance to have their driest year on record.” As of mid-December, the Medford Airport had received just 8.97 inches of precipitation; the record dry year was set 1959 with 10.42 inches. The North Bend Airport was nearly five inches short of its driest year on record.

Despite abnormally dry conditions throughout Oregon for most of the year, it was soggy September. The month began with an enormous thunder and lightning storm that covered much of the state, triggering hundreds of fires and contributing to what Dello called a “bad wildfire year in Oregon.” The storm also dumped nearly three inches of rain on the southern Willamette Valley.

Near the end of the month, the remnants of a typhoon named Pabuk swept into the state and hammered western Oregon. Some precipitation monitors near Coos Bay recorded as much as 5.77 inches of rain on Sept. 29.

“Unfortunately, the September precipitation was not enough to offset dry conditions the rest of the year,” Dello said. “When it’s dry, that’s not how you want to receive you rainfall – in two major events. Rivers get only temporary relief and the torrential downpours can cause damage to agricultural crops.

“It’s better to have smaller, sustained rainfall events than a couple of major outbursts,” she added.

Oregon experienced a comparatively warm summer with more days than usual when temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, including the end of June and in September between the two rain events. On the other end of the spectrum, temperatures in early December plummeted to near-record lows as an Arctic front moved in.

Eugene, for example, recorded its second coldest day on record when the mercury hit minus-10 degrees on Dec. 8. Interestingly, it was not the coldest Dec. 8 on record as the all-time record low for Eugene of minus-12 degrees also occurred on Dec. 8 in 1972.

The December Arctic front hit the Corvallis area the hardest, though the weather station north of town at Hyslop Farm officially recorded just 4.5 inches of snow. Much of the area received 9-10 inches of powdery snow, forcing weeklong shutdowns of many schools and activities.

Dello said the lack of official weather recording stations in Oregon is one reason volunteers are needed for a statewide network that uses Oregon citizens to collect local data on rain, snow and even hail. The program is part of the national Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS.

The Oregon Climate Service, which is part of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, coordinates the Oregon network. Persons interested in volunteering should go to the CoCoRaHS website at http://www.cocorahs.org/ to sign up.

“Data collected by volunteers throughout the state help provide us with much more accurate data, which leads to better precipitation maps and over the long haul, more accurate forecasting,” Dello said.

Among other highlights of Oregon’s 2013 weather year:

  • As of mid-December, the Eugene Airport had recorded 21.04 inches of precipitation; the record low was set in 1944 with 23.26 inches. Records there date back to 1911.
  • The Salem Airport had logged 23.41 inches through mid-December. The driest on record, dating back to 1940, is 23.77 inches.
  • The North Bend Airport is well ahead of the record dry year, set in 1976 with 33.52 inches. Through mid-December, the station had only recorded 28.67 inches. Records date to 1928.

Dello frequently provides weather facts and historical data via Twitter at: www.twitter.com/orclimatesvc.

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Weatherford Hall in the snow

Coastal survey: Oregon beaches see more short-term erosion

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new assessment of shoreline change along the Pacific Northwest coast from the late 1800s to present found that while the majority of beaches are stable or slightly accreting (adding sand), many Oregon beaches have experienced an increase in erosion hazards in recent decades.

Since the 1960s, 13 of the 17 beach “littoral cells” – stretches of beach between rocky headlands and major inlets – in Oregon have shifted, either from a pattern of accretion to one of erosion, or to an increased amount of erosion, or they have built up less than in the past. Some of the hardest hit areas along the coast include the Neskowin littoral cell between Cascade Head and Pacific City, and the Beverly Beach littoral cell between Yaquina Head and Otter Rock, where shoreline change rates have averaged more than one meter of erosion a year since the 1960s.

The assessment is part of a series led by the U.S. Geological Survey to study shoreline change in the nation’s coastal regions to more comprehensively monitor coastal erosion and land loss.

Peter Ruggiero, an Oregon State University coastal hazards specialist and lead author on the report, said the findings provide baseline data to analyze future impacts of climate change, sea level rise and storms on the Northwest’s shorelines, he added.

“In a general sense, Oregon has faced much more erosion in the short term than has southwest Washington, which has seen more accretion as a result of sediments from the Columbia River and jetties at the mouth of the Columbia and at Gray’s Harbor,” said Ruggiero, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The Columbia has less of an influence on Oregon, and many of the state’s beaches have a relatively limited sediment supply,” Ruggiero added. “The buildup and loss of sand on our beaches is a natural process, but one that can be heavily influenced by human behavior and changes in climate.”

On a short-term basis, the study found that on average Northwest shorelines are “progradational” or growing at a rate of 0.9 meters a year. However, about 44 percent of the more than 9,000 transects the researchers studied were eroding.

Rob Thieler, a USGS scientist and leader of the agency’s coastal assessment effort, said these findings illustrate the variability of the Northwest shoreline and the factors that shape it.

“These new results help place coastal erosion in the Northwest into a local as well as national context that helps us understand how different coastlines function and which are the most vulnerable,” he said.

The lack of new sand has become a recent pattern among many beaches in Oregon, especially south of Tillamook Head because rivers are not delivering significant amounts of sand – and many estuaries trap the sediment before it reaches the ocean.

The Tillamook County area of Oregon is identified as one of the worst areas for erosion. The risk of land loss is significant from higher waves and rising sea levels, Ruggiero noted. Farther south, the impacts from these phenomena are partially countered by plate tectonics, he said.

“Over the long term, much of the shoreline is lifting because of plate tectonics,” said Ruggiero. “Along Oregon’s central coast, the uplift is only about a millimeter a year, while sea level rise has been about 2-3 mm per year. South of Coos Bay, however, the land is rising faster than the sea level is rising.”

Jonathan Allan, a researcher with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and a co-author on the report, said the Northwest coast has some “hot spots” where erosion has been significant and bluffs have failed, threatening houses.

“The beaches at Gleneden Beach and Neskowin, for example, contain coarse sand, which contrasts with the finer-grained beaches along much of the Oregon coast,” Allan said. “These beaches tend to be steeper and reflective of breaking wave energy, which makes them more dynamic. When coupled with the development of rip current embayments, it often results in hotspot erosion, which leads to the development of hazards when homes are placed too close to the beach.

“The issue is further complicated because at Neskowin, they have lost very large volumes of sand over the past 15 years, bringing the hazard even closer to the homes,” he added.

Ruggiero has been working with Tillamook County leaders and the Neskowin Coastal Hazards Committee on a response plan to erosion and climate change impacts. He and his colleagues are working to create new models predicting local impacts of sea level rise, and also incorporating socio-economic variables.

“It is important to look not only at the physical processes of sea level rise and inundation,” Ruggiero said, “but also to realistically look at the human dimension, including the cost of adaptation. Tillamook County has been actively addressing these issues.”

The USGS assessment focused on open-ocean sandy shores and did not look at Washington beaches along stretches of the Olympic Peninsula, Puget Sound or in Hood Canal because little data are available in those regions. But Ruggiero noted that many of the beaches in central and southern Washington were stable or adding sand, instead of eroding.

The study, “National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change Along the Pacific Northwest Coast,” is available online at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2012/1007/. Authors include Peter Ruggiero, OSU; Meredith G. Kratzmann, Emily A. Himmelstoss, and David Reid, USGS; Jonathan Allan, DOGAMI; and George Kaminsky, Washington Department of Ecology.

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Peter Ruggiero, 541-737-1239 (cell phone: 415-722-6722); ruggierp@science.oregonstate.edu

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Sea Clff Erosion
Sea cliff erosion near

Gleneden Beach, Ore.

 

 

Oregon littoral cells

Scientists calculate friction of Japan’s 9.0 earthquake in 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international team of scientists that installed a borehole temperature observatory following the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake in Japan has been able to measure the “frictional heat” generated during the rupture of the fault – an amount the researchers say was smaller than expected, which means the fault is more slippery than previously thought.

It is the first time scientists have been able to use precise temperature measurements to calculate the friction dynamics of fault slip.

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

“This gives us some unprecedented insights into how earthquakes actually work,” said Robert Harris, a geophysicist at Oregon State University and co-author on the Science article. “No one really knows how much frictional resistance there is to slip and for the first time, this gives us some idea.

“The project itself was an engineering feat and an amazing one at that,” added Harris, who is a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State. “To reach the fault, the team had to drill through 800 meters of the seafloor – at a depth of nearly 7,000 meters below the ocean’s surface. It pushed the limits of that technology as far as they can go.”

The study was funded by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, the National Science Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Sixteen months after the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, the scientists installed the borehole observatory in a section of the fault where the slippage between one section of rock and the adjacent one was a staggering 50 meters. It was that huge slip in the fault that triggered the tsunami that killed thousands of people and devastated the northern coast of Japan.

After nine months of operation, the research team successfully retrieved 55 precise temperature-sensing data loggers that extended below the seafloor through the fault zone – the deepest of which was about 820 meters below the seafloor.

Evaluation of the data showed an anomaly of 0.31 degrees (Celsius) with surrounding temperatures at the boundary of the plate’s fault. When tectonic plates rub against each other, the frictional resistance to slip creates heat. By measuring changes to the background temperature field, they can calculate how much heat, or energy, was generated at the time of the earthquake.

“This is data that we’ve never had before,” Harris said. “It will be helpful in understanding the dynamics of earthquakes in the future.”

The scientists say this 0.31 temperature anomaly corresponds to 27 million joules, or 27 megajoules, per square meter of dissipated energy during the earthquake. A joule is the amount of energy required to produce one watt of power for one second. The “friction coefficient,” or the resistance to relative motion between the blocks, was surprisingly small at 0.08, the scientists point out.

“One way to look at the friction of these big blocks is to compare them to cross-country skis on snow,” Harris said. “At rest, the skis stick to the snow and it takes a certain amount of force to make them slide. Once you do, the ski’s movement generates heat and it takes much less force to continue the movement.

“The same thing happens with an earthquake,” he added. “This is the first time we’ve been able to calculate how much frictional resistance to slip there is. This has never been done before in nature – just in the laboratory.”

Harris said the scientists hope to repeat the experiment with other earthquakes, although the logistics of such a study are daunting – requiring a large earthquake with lots of slip, the ability to quickly drill a deep borehole and then monitoring the thermal signal. Similar experiments with other earthquakes will allow the scientists to better understand the hazards associated with large earthquakes.

“This was a major accomplishment,” he added, “but there is still a lot we don’t yet know.”

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 Rob Harris, 541-737-4370; rharris@coas.oregonstate.edu

New study identifies five distinct humpback populations in North Pacific

NEWPORT, Ore. – The first comprehensive genetic study of humpback whale populations in the North Pacific Ocean has identified five distinct populations – at the same time a proposal to designate North Pacific humpbacks as a single “distinct population segment” is being considered under the Endangered Species Act.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Marine Ecology – Progress Series. It was supported by the National Fisheries and Wildlife Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Marine Mammal Endowment at Oregon State University.

The scientists examined nearly 2,200 tissue biopsy samples collected from humpback whales in 10 feeding regions and eight winter breeding regions during a three-year international study, known as SPLASH (Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks).  They used sequences of maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA and “microsatellite genotypes,” or DNA profiles, to both describe the genetic differences and outline migratory connections between both breeding and feeding grounds.

“Though humpback whales are found in all oceans of the world, the North Pacific humpback whales should probably be considered a sub-species at an ocean-basin level – based on genetic isolation of these populations on an evolutionary time scale,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and lead author on the paper.

“Within this North Pacific sub-species, however, our results support the recognition of multiple distinct populations,” Baker added. “They differ based on geographic distribution and with genetic differentiations as well, and they have strong fidelity to their own breeding and feeding areas.”

Humpback whales are listed as endangered in the United States under the Endangered Species Act, but had recently been downlisted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on a global level. However, two population segments recently were added as endangered by the IUCN – one in the Sea of Arabia, the other in Oceania – and it is likely that one or more of the newly identified populations in the North Pacific may be considered endangered, Baker said.

How management authorities respond to the study identifying the distinct North Pacific humpback populations remains to be seen, Baker said, but the situation “underscores the complexity of studying and managing marine mammals on a global scale.”

The five populations identified in the study are:  Okinawa and the Philippines; a second West Pacific population with unknown breeding grounds; Hawaii, Mexico and Central America.

“Even within these five populations there are nuances,” noted Baker, who frequently serves as a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. “The Mexico population, for example, has ‘discrete’ sub-populations off the mainland and near the Revillagigedo Islands, but because their genetic differentiation is not that strong, these are not considered ‘distinct’ populations.”

The SPLASH program has used photo identification records to estimate humpback whale populations. The researchers estimate that there are approximately 22,000 humpbacks throughout the North Pacific – about the same as before whaling reduced their numbers. Although recovery strategies have been successful on a broad scale, recovery is variable among different populations.

“Each of the five distinct populations has its own history of exploitation and recovery that would need to be part of an assessment of its status,” said Baker, who is a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “Unlike most terrestrial species, populations of whales within oceans are not isolated by geographic barriers. Instead, migration routes, feeding grounds and breeding areas are thought to be passed down from mother to calf, persisting throughout a lifetime and from one generation to the next.

“We think this fidelity to migratory destinations is cultural, not genetic,” he added. “It is this culture that isolates whales, leading to genetic differentiation – and ultimately, the five distinct populations identified in the North Pacific.”

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Scott Baker, 541-867-0255 (cell phone: 541-272-0560), scott.baker@oregonstate.edu

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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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Diseased coral


Nutrient dispenser

Nutrient dispenser


A video interview with
Dr. Vega-Thurber is also
available online:
http://bit.ly/IdPqAt

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.

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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 Press book on salmon