marine science and the coast

Five years after tsunami, scientists cross fingers on invasive species establishment

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Five years after a massive earthquake struck Japan and triggered a tsunami that is still washing debris onto the West Coast of the United States, scientists are unsure whether any of the 200-plus non-native species that hitchhiked over on that debris have gained a foothold in Northwest waters.

Four separate findings of barred knifejaws (Oplegnathus fasciatus) – a fish native to Japan – have been reported over the past three years, and Mediterranean blue mussels have been ubiquitous on tsunami debris. Yet no populations of non-native species that arrived with the tsunami debris are known to have established reproductive populations.

“Maybe we dodged the bullet, although it is still too early to tell,” said John Chapman, an Oregon State University invasive species expert who has investigated tsunami debris along the Pacific coastline. “It is possible that we have not yet discovered these reproductive populations, or that some species from Japan may be cross-breeding with our own species.”

Scientists have not had adequate resources to look extensively up and down the Pacific coast for evidence of establishment by non-native species – especially along long stretches of rugged shoreline.

The magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, was the largest in that country’s history and generated a tsunami that had waves estimated as high as 133 feet. The power of these two events, combined with the growth of human settlement over the past two to three centuries, created a new paradigm, said Samuel Chan, an expert in aquatic ecosystem health and invasive species with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State.

“A tsunami 300 years ago, or even just 60 years ago, would not have created as much marine debris that became a vehicle for moving species across the Pacific Ocean that could become invasive,” Chan said. “What makes these major tsunami-driven events different in modern times is the substantial human industrial infrastructure that we have built along the Pacific coast.”

The first indication that a potential problem loomed came in June of 2012, when a large concrete dock that originated in Misawa, Japan, washed ashore near Newport, Oregon – just a stone’s throw from OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The 165-ton dock – which was 66 feet long, 19 feet wide and seven feet high – was covered with nearly 200 species of plant and animal life, including a species of brown algae (Undaria pinnatifida) that nearly covered the structure. Chapman and colleague Jessica Miller also found Northern Pacific sea stars, Japanese shore crabs, at least eight species of mollusk, an anemone, a sponge, an oyster, a solitary tunicate, three or more species of amphipods, four or more species of barnacles and worms, bryozoans, a European blue mussel known as Mytilus galloprovincialis, and a sea urchin.

“Frankly,” Chapman said, “we were blown away. We had always thought these organisms would not be able to survive the long trip across the Pacific Ocean, the middle of which is a biological desert. Yet here they were.”

In March of 2013, a boat from Japan containing five barred knifejaws washed ashore in the state of Washington; one is still on display in the Seaside Aquarium. A second knifejaw was filmed in a shipwreck near Monterey, California. Then a third knifejaw was found trapped in a crab pot near Port Orford, Oregon, in February 2015. Just two months later, another was discovered in a boat tank from Japanese tsunami debris near Seal Rock, Oregon.

“Those knifejaws all survived,” Chapman said. “Theoretically, the water temperatures north of Point Conception, California, are too cold for them to spawn. But it’s hard to know for sure.”

Chan has been working with colleagues from Japan’s Tottori University for Environmental Studies on a project that launched dozens of transponders into the waters off that country and traced their path across the Pacific Ocean to North America. The researchers’ goal is to find out what routes the tsunami debris might have taken and how that may influence the type of organisms found aboard the debris.

“Some species have been discovered that are not native to Japan, and others have not even been identified,” Chan noted. “The transponders bobbed around off Japan for some time and then went fairly quickly across the Pacific. But once they arrived here, they moved in and out of near-shore waters, and up and down the coast.

“Satellite tracking of transponders and their discovery by beachcombers indicates that they floated for 2-3 years before they beached on land,” Chan added. “The movement patterns of the transponders within the continental shelves of Japan and North American – where nutrients and food are relatively available – could be one piece of a complex puzzle that have allowed these organisms to survive the trans-Pacific journey.”

Chan said international exchanges in the five years since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami have been a bright point, resulting in close collaboration and a shared sense of discovery among Japanese and American scientists.

“The debris still arriving five years later is a reminder that has raised awareness among people – many of whom have been complacent or unaware – about the power and destruction that earthquakes and tsunamis can cause on both sides of the Pacific,” Chan said.

Story By: 

Sam Chan, 541-737-1583, Samuel.chan@oregonstate.edu;

John Chapman, 541-867-0235, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu

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(Left: OSU's John Chapman examines a mussel-encrusted boat from Japan.)



Natural Resources Leadership Academy 2012

Sam Chan informs coastal visitors about the Japanese dock (background) that washed ashore from Japan.



A barred knifejaw from Japan survived its trans-Pacific Ocean journey.



OSU's Jessica Miller examines a sea star.

Mariana Trench: Seven miles deep, the ocean is still a noisy place

NEWPORT, Ore. – For what may be the first time, scientists have eavesdropped on the deepest part of the world’s oceans and instead of finding a sea of silence, they discovered a cacophony of sounds both natural and caused by humans.

For three weeks, a titanium-encased hydrophone recorded ambient noise from the ocean floor at a depth of more than 36,000 feet in a trough known as Challenger Deep in the fabled Mariana Trench near Micronesia. The team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University and the U.S. Coast Guard expected to hear little. They were surprised.

“You would think that the deepest part of the ocean would be one of the quietest places on Earth,” said Robert Dziak, a NOAA research oceanographer and chief scientist on the project. “Yet there really is almost constant noise from both natural and man-made sources. The ambient sound field at Challenger Deep is dominated by the sound of earthquakes, both near and far was well as the distinct moans of baleen whales and the overwhelming clamor of a category 4 typhoon that just happened to pass overhead.

“There was also a lot of noise from ship traffic, identifiable by the clear sound pattern the ship propellers make when they pass by,” added Dziak, who has a courtesy appointment in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Guam is very close to Challenger Deep and is a regional hub for container shipping with China and The Philippines.”

The project, which was funded by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, was designed to establish a baseline for ambient noise in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Anthropogenic, or human-caused noise has increased steadily over the past several decades and getting these first recordings will allow scientists in the future to determine if the noise levels are growing.

Getting those first sounds wasn’t easy.

The bottom of the Challenger Deep trough is roughly seven miles below the ocean’s surface. In fact, you could put the world’s tallest peak – Mount Everest – in the trench and its top would still be more than a mile from the surface.

The pressure at that depth is incredible, said Haru Matsumoto, an Oregon State ocean engineer who along with NOAA engineer Chris Meinig helped to develop a hydrophone capable of withstanding such pressure. In the average person’s home or office, the atmospheric pressure is about 14.7 pounds per square inch; at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, it is more than 16,000 PSI.

“We had never put a hydrophone deeper than a mile or so below the surface, so putting an instrument down some seven miles into the ocean was daunting,” Matsumoto said. “We had to drop the hydrophone mooring down through the water column at no more than about five meters per second. Structures don’t like rapid change and we were afraid we would crack the ceramic housing outside the hydrophone.”

Partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard, the researchers deployed the hydrophone from the Guam-based cutter Sequoia in July 2015. It took more than six hours for the instrument package to free-fall to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Its recordings filled the flash drive in about 23 days, but the researchers had to wait until November to retrieve the hydrophone because of ships’ schedules and persistent typhoons.

Once back on site, they recovered the hydrophone mooring by sending an acoustic signal from the ship above, triggering its release from the seafloor. Attached floats allowed it to gradually ascend to the surface.

“It is akin to sending a deep-space probe to the outer solar system,” Dziak said. “We’re sending out a deep-ocean probe to the unknown reaches of inner space.”

For the past several months, Dziak and his colleagues have been analyzing the sounds and differentiating natural sounds from ships and other human activities.

“We recorded a loud magnitude 5.0 earthquake that took place at a depth of about 10 kilometers (or more than six miles) in the nearby ocean crust,” Dziak said. “Since our hydrophone was at 11 kilometers, it actually was below the earthquake, which is really an unusual experience. The sound of the typhoon was also dramatic, although the cacophony from big storms tends to be spread out and elevates the overall noise for a period of days.”

Matsumoto said the hydrophone also picked up a lot of noise from the surface of the ocean – some seven miles above – including waves and winds disturbing the surface.

“Sound doesn’t get as weak as you think it does even that far from the source,” he said.

Another OSU co-investigator on the project, Joe Haxel, will lead a planned return to Challenger Deep in 2017, where the researchers will deploy the hydrophone for a longer period of time and attach a deep-ocean camera.

Dziak, Matsumoto and Haxel are affiliated with the Acoustics Program in the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and work at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. The project in Challenger Deep is one of a number of projects in which the U.S. Coast Guard partners with NOAA to sponsor scientific research.

Story By: 

Bob Dziak, 541-867-0175, Robert.P.Dziak@noaa.gov;

Haru Matsumoto, 541-867-0272; haru.matsumoto@oregonstate.edu

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A link to sound files, images and a video can be found at: http://bit.ly/1QSb8Mv



Deep trench





OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center to hold Fossil Fest on Feb. 13

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Fossil Fest event on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Newport from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Fossils are top-of-mind for many Oregonians, following the discovery in late January of mammoth bones during a construction project at Reser Stadium on the OSU campus. Loren Davis of OSU and Dave Ellingson of Woodburn High School will be available during the day to talk about the find, share photos, and discuss other important fossil discoveries in the Northwest. They will give a talk on “Reser Fossils” at 3 p.m. in Hennings Auditorium.

Special guest lecturer William Orr, an emeritus anthropologist from the University of Oregon, will speak at 1:30 p.m. on “Lagerstatten: World Class Fossil Sites,” in the auditorium. The lecture will focus on what makes certain fossil sites so valuable, both in the United States and abroad. He also will sign copies of his books, “Oregon Fossils” and “Geology of Oregon.”

A lecture by Guy DiTorrice will focus on “Douglas Emlong – Fossil Pioneer, Fossil Dreamer.” It begins at 11:30 a.m. in the auditorium. DiTorrice will highlight Emlong’s contributions to the Smithsonian and other topics.

Fossil Fest also will include fossil displays and hands-on activities by the North American Research Group, fossil displays from Lincoln County presented by Kent Gibson, and information for participants on where to find fossils.

“We’d also encourage any visitors to bring in their own fossil specimens for identification help,” said Bill Hanshumaker, an OSU marine educator and outreach specialist with the Hatfield center.

Story By: 

Bill Hanshumaker, 541-867-0167, bill.hanshumaker@oregonstate.edu

Scientists say window to reduce carbon emissions is small

CORVALLIS, Ore. – At the rate humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth may suffer irreparable damage that could last tens of thousands of years, according to a new analysis published this week.

Too much of the climate change policy debate has focused on observations of the past 150 years and their impact on global warming and sea level rise by the end of this century, the authors say. Instead, policy-makers and the public should also be considering the longer-term impacts of climate change.

“Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years – and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years,” said Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and lead author on the article. “People need to understand that the effects of climate change on the planet won’t go away, at least not for thousands of generations.”

The researchers’ analysis is being published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland, who is past-co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I, said the focus on climate change at the end of the 21st century needs to be shifted toward a much longer-term perspective.

“Our greenhouse gas emissions today produce climate-change commitments for many centuries to millennia,” said Stocker, a climate modeler and co-author on the Nature Climate Change article. “It is high time that this essential irreversibility is placed into the focus of policy-makers.

“The long-term view sends the chilling message (about) what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era,” Stocker added. “It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.”

Sea level rise is one of the most compelling impacts of global warming, yet its effects are just starting to be seen. The latest IPCC report, for example, calls for sea level rise of just one meter by the year 2100. In their analysis, however, the authors look at four difference sea level-rise scenarios based on different rates of warming, from a low end that could only be reached with massive efforts to eliminate fossil fuel use over the next few decades, to a higher rate based on the consumption of half the remaining fossil fuels over the next few centuries.

With just two degrees (Celsius) warming in the low-end scenario, sea levels are predicted to eventually rise by about 25 meters. With seven degrees warming at the high-end scenario, the rise is estimated at 50 meters, although over a period of several centuries to millennia.

“It takes sea level rise a very long time to react – on the order of centuries,” Clark said. “It’s like heating a pot of water on the stove; it doesn’t boil for quite a while after the heat is turned on – but then it will continue to boil as long as the heat persists. Once carbon is in the atmosphere, it will stay there for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and the warming, as well as the higher seas, will remain.”

Clark said for the low-end scenario, an estimated 122 countries have at least 10 percent of their population in areas that will be directly affected by rising sea levels, and that some 1.3 billion – or 20 percent of the global population – live on lands that may be directly affected. The impacts become greater as the warming and sea level rise increases.

“We can’t keep building seawalls that are 25 meters high,” noted Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Entire populations of cities will eventually have to move.”

Daniel Schrag, the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University, said there are moral questions about “what kind of environment we are passing along to future generations.”

“Sea level rise may not seem like such a big deal today, but we are making choices that will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren – and beyond,” said Schrag, a co-author on the analysis and director of Harvard’s Center for the Environment. “We need to think carefully about the long time-scales of what we are unleashing.”

The new paper makes the fundamental point that considering the long time scales of the carbon cycle and of climate change means that reducing emissions slightly or even significantly is not sufficient. “To spare future generations from the worst impacts of climate change, the target must be zero – or even negative carbon emissions – as soon as possible,” Clark said.

“Taking the first steps is important, but it is essential to see these as the start of a path toward total decarbonization,” Schrag pointed out. “This means continuing to invest in innovation that can someday replace fossil fuels altogether. Partial reductions are not going to do the job.”

Stocker said that in the last 50 years alone, humans have changed the climate on a global scale, initiating the Anthropocene, a new geological era with fundamentally altered living conditions for the next many thousands of years.

“Because we do not know to what extent adaptation will be possible for humans and ecosystems, all our efforts must focus on a rapid and complete decarbonization –the only option to limit climate change,” Stocker said.

The researchers’ work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the German Science Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Story By: 

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

Thomas Stocker, +41 31 631 44 62, stocker@climate.unibe.ch;

Daniel Schrag, 617-233-2554, schrag@eps.harvard.edu

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Rising sea levels will threaten residents of many countries.

Study: Fish assemblages can change rapidly along coast as water warms

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A modest warming of coastal waters can have a significant impact on juvenile fish assemblages in a period of just a few years, a newly published study has found, raising concern about the potential effects of climate change.

Such a shift is taking place on the Skagerrak coast of Norway, where more warm-water fish species have begun appearing over the past two decades while many populations of resident cold-water fish species have declined.

Results of the study have just been published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Studying the potential impact of climate change on coastal fishes has been difficult, researchers say, because few long-term records adequately address species diversity. But researchers at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research have been conducting what has to be one of the longest, most consistent surveys of near-shore waters ever undertaken – a key to understanding climate change effects.

“What we’re seeing is a clear influence of ocean temperature on the region’s juvenile fish community, which has changed in what is a very important fish nursery area,” said Caren Barceló, an Oregon State University doctoral candidate and lead author on the study. “It has implications for nursery habitats that have been around for decades.”

Barceló, who worked with Norwegian researchers on their beach seine surveys, said no new species had appeared in the waters of Skagerrak for nearly three decades beginning in the mid-1960s. Within the next 15 years, however, several pelagic, planktivorou species more characteristic of the Mediterranean arrived – for example, European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) and European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus).

Other warm-water species of fish present now were documented once before in the area, such as juvenile horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus), when the water warmed in the 1930s and ‘40s and then became less prevalent when it cooled. The corkwing wrasse (Symphodus melops) is another fish species that appeared during the earlier warm period, then became less prevalent for more than half a century – before returning during the latest warming.

Cold-water species that have been caught less frequently in this dataset over the past two decades include cod (Gadus morhua), pollack (Pollachius pollachius), and European eel (Anguilla anguilla).

One concern, the researchers say, is that the present warming is not an anomaly, rather a symptom of climate change that may worsen instead of going away. There may be other factors involved in the introduction of new species, noted Lorenzo Ciannelli, an Oregon State marine ecologist and co-author on the study.

“There are some unique elements happening today that distinguish the situation from the 1930s and ‘40s,” Ciannelli said. “Winds and currents are pushing warm water into the area in such a way that it suggests the pattern might be here to stay.

“Some fish will move into a new area as adults, while other species disperse their eggs or larva and they then ride into new regions on the currents,” he added. “To make them ‘stick’ there may need to be a seeding process that allows the local population to develop.”

The key to understanding the assemblage shift in Norway is the extraordinary data set collected by Norwegian researchers. For the past 96 years, they have conducted an extensive coast-wide seine survey during the last two weeks of September, using the same style boats, the same locations and nets that were exactly the same size.

Only five survey leaders have coordinated the effort over 96 years, each one having trained with the previous leader for at least 10 years on the operation of setting and hauling the beach seine before taking over the project themselves.

“It began as a project to analyze the recruitment of juvenile cod in the region,” Barceló said, “but someone had the foresight a century ago to document all of the species  brought up in the nets – and they’ve kept it up ever since.”

Barceló, who worked with the Norwegians over two summers, is also analyzing fish surveys off the Oregon coast, investigating the long-term environmental variability and shifting marine fish assemblages.

She and Ciannelli are in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Story By: 

Caren Barceló, 541-737-3965, caren.barcelo@gmail.com;

Lorenzo Ciannelli, 541-737-3142, lciannelli@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Caren Barcelo works with Norwegian researchers.

Study: Endangered western gray whales have food, yet aren't recovering

NEWPORT, Ore. – The eastern gray whales that commonly appear along the West Coast of the United States seemingly have recovered from over-hunting with new protective guidelines established in the 1970s. Their counterparts across the ocean – western gray whales – have not fared as well.

Some scientists believe that a lack of prey may be a limiting factor in the recovery of western gray whales, which number fewer than 200 in their feeding area near Russia’s Sakhalin Island. For years, researchers were unable to assess the growth of whale prey in the region because of the remote location, inaccessible conditions of winter ice cover, and the rugged weather that prevented winter sampling.

However, researchers from Russia and the United States studied an inch-long crustacean, Ampelisca eschrichtii, an amphipod that is a favorite food of the western gray whale, in samples that were collected from the Sakhalin Shelf between late spring and early fall over six years between 2002 and 2013. The research team found enough information in the limited samples to assess the missing winter-life history of these amphipods and to document their great abundance and production.

Their results were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The Sakhalin Shelf could be the richest gray whale feeding area in the world,” said John Chapman, a co-author who works at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. “But this discovery includes some surprises, still surrounded by mystery.”

One such mystery was the discovery that Ampelisca eschrichtii are simply too abundant to be threatened by over-consumption by western gray whales. If that is the case, the researchers say, why aren’t western gray whales rebounding like their eastern gray counterparts when food is plentiful and protections are in place?

“That’s really the enigma,” Chapman said. “Access to prey could be limited by an unsuitable benthic community or by unsuitable sediments. The whales’ benefits from the rich food source could also be limited by the distance and energetic costs of their trans-Pacific migration to reach it.”

Previous research by Russian and U.S. scientists – including Bruce Mate at Oregon State – documented the extraordinary migration of several western gray whales across the Pacific Ocean and down the coast of the Americas all the way to breeding grounds of Baja Mexico.

“Such extreme migration between the feeding grounds on the Sakhalin shelf and the breeding grounds in Baja California and back may be too energetically costly to pay for the trip,” Chapman said.

The researchers say their study of Ampelisca eschrichtii documented low frequency of brooding females, a lack of early-stage juveniles and the lack of growth in individuals found in the late spring and summer samples of the study.

“These results indicate that Ampelisca eschrichtii grow and reproduce primarily in winter, under the ice,” Chapman said. “This is certainly significant because other Arctic Ampelisca species might similarly depend on winter ice formation to grow and reproduce.”

Unlike western gray whales, some eastern grays thrive along the West Coast of the Americas on a varied diet that includes mysid shrimp and other crustaceans; they are not dependent on winter ice for their abundance.

However, whales on both sides of the north Pacific Ocean depend in varying degrees on the Arctic species of Ampelisca to survive.

“The whales can’t get to this prey until the ice recedes each summer,” Chapman pointed out. “But if the ice-free areas expand too far, or persist too long, the production of these crustaceans could decrease significantly.

“Ice could be the gray whales’ ‘golden goose,’ and if it dies, there might be fewer golden eggs for gray whales everywhere.”

Story By: 

John Chapman, 541-867-0235, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu

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Ampelisca eschrichtii

Ampelisca eschrichtii

2015 goes down as the warmest in Oregon history

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A mild winter, an early spring and warmer-than-average temperatures every season have contributed to a record-breaking year, as 2015 will go down as the warmest in Oregon since state records began in 1895.

Oregon’s previous record high average temperature of 49.9 degrees was set in 1934 – the height of the Dust Bowl – when the entire country was plagued by hot, dry weather.

Despite a cold, icy end to December in Oregon, the average temperature in 2015 was 50.4 degrees, not only a record but far above the average yearly temperature for the 20th century, which was 47.8 degrees, according to Oregon State University’s Philip Mote, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute on campus.

“In previous years, we’ve had periods where the weather was warmer for differing spells,” Mote said. “In 2015, though, it was warmer than average almost all the way through the year.” A combination of meteorological conditions and greenhouse gases led to the record warm year, he added.

The statistics are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Oregon was not alone in experiencing a warm 2015, according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at OSU. Washington, Montana and Florida also experienced record high temperatures, and in several other states 2015 went down in the top five of all time.

It appears this will be yet another record warm year for average global temperature, Dello pointed out, and it is officially the second warmest year in the United States, despite blizzards and Arctic temperatures in the Northeast.

“If you are 31 years of age, you have not lived through a single month in which the global temperature was below average,” Dello said. “And if you are 31 and living in Oregon, you have only experienced three years here that were cooler than the 20th-century average.”

Researchers calculate the average temperature for each day by looking at the highest and lowest temperatures. If the high reaches 90 degrees and the low is 60, that day’s average temperature is 75 degrees. They then calculate the average monthly temperature, and finally, the average yearly temperature.

The average for the state is done by analyzing temperatures at a series of long-established weather stations throughout the state.

 “We had a ridge of high pressure that set up and kept the weather warm and dry throughout most of the summer and fall,” Mote said. “That followed a winter in which we got nearly average precipitation, but much of it came from the south and it fell as rain instead of snow.”

Mote said the record-setting 2015 weather was a combination of meteorological phenomena and the Earth gradually getting warmer because of human activities.

Through rigorous statistical analysis, scientists are able to tease out the impacts of El Niño, greenhouse gas emissions, volcanic activity and solar activity on temperatures. Mote said 2015 would have been a warm year because of meteorological conditions, but the 1-2 degrees (F) attributable to greenhouse gases pushed temperatures into record territory.

“There’s little doubt that the insulation of the planet from greenhouse gas emissions played a role in the warming throughout the year,” he said.

The OSU researchers say expect more of the same in 2016.

“With El Niño and the remnants of The Blob (a huge warm patch of water in the North Pacific Ocean), it should be another warm year for the Earth, and for Oregon,” Dello said.

Story By: 

Phil Mote, 541-737-5694, pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927, kdello@coas.oregonstate.edu






A 72-degree day in January (2015) at Yachats on the Oregon Coast. (photo by Theresa Hogue)

Public invited to see shark necropsies at OSU’s Hatfield Center on Saturday

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University marine educator Bill Hanshumaker will conduct side-by-side necropsies of two sharks commonly found in the northeast Pacific Ocean this Saturday, Jan. 9, at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The dissections, which are part of Hatfield’s annual Shark Day, will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Visitor Center. The public is invited.

The sharks were bycatch from the hake industry and secured by the NOAA Observer Program, then donated to OSU. Hanshumaker, an Oregon Sea Grant outreach specialist, will conduct a comparative dissection of the two sharks, analyzing similarities and differences in their nervous, reproductive and digestive systems.

The Pacific sleeper shark is a rather mysterious animal that lives in moderately to very deep water. In fact, sleeper sharks have been observed or filmed by submersibles at 4,000 feet off Japan, and at 6,300 feet off Hawaii. The shark has a large stomach in which it can store large quantities of food to survive times of prey scarcity in the deep Pacific Ocean. It feeds on a variety of bottom-dwelling and swimming fishes, as well as octopus, shrimp, hermit crabs, and even marine mammals.

Blue sharks are found in very deep waters and prefer cooler regions, so they are frequently found in sub-tropical areas like the West Coast. Considered dangerous to divers, blue sharks are fast swimmers known to leap out of the water to see what kinds of food may be on the surface. They can range for thousands of miles, for food or to mate, and have an appetite for squid, fish, mollusks, small sharks and seabirds.

The public also is invited to see the center’s shark jaw collection, as well as continuous showings in the Hennings Auditorium of shark videos from around the world. Numerous other displays will be open.

Winter hours for the Hatfield Marine Science Center are Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Story By: 

Bill Hanshumaker, 541-867-0167, Bill.Hanshumaker@oregonstate.edu

Selina Heppell named head of OSU Fisheries and Wildlife Department

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Selina Heppell, an Oregon State University conservation biologist, has been named head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

She is the first woman to hold that position in the department’s 80-year history.

Heppell succeeds former department head W. Daniel “Dan” Edge, who earlier this year was named associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. A faculty member in fisheries and wildlife since 2001, Heppell has served as associate and interim head of the department.

“Selina has provided terrific leadership during her term as interim head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and I am delighted that she will continue to lead the department, which is one of the best in the nation,” said Dan Arp, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “She is a distinguished researcher and teacher with a demonstrated commitment to excellence.”

Heppell will lead one of the largest natural sciences programs at OSU, with more than 600 registered undergraduate majors in Corvallis and online, 180 graduate students and eight degrees and certificates. There are about 140 (non-student) employees in the department, which brought in about $7.4 million in research grants and contracts in 2015.

“We’re a big family,” Heppell said, “and I am very happy to work with such a fantastic group of faculty, staff and students.”

Heppell came to OSU after a post-doctoral appointment at the Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis. Much of her research has been devoted to the study and protection of some of the slowest-growing animals in the sea, including sturgeon, sea turtles, sharks and West Coast rockfish. She uses computer models and simulations to examine how these species respond to human impacts – and how they may respond to future climate change.

She shares a laboratory with her husband, Scott Heppell, on campus and at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The Heppells teach a conservation biology course in Eastern Europe, and have done field research on fish in the Caribbean, in addition to their West Coast research.

Story By: 

Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039, Selina.Heppell@oregonstate.edu;

Dan Arp, 541-737-2331, dan.arp@oregonstate.edu

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OSU's Selina Heppell

Harbor seal deaths show presence of bacterial infection

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study by microbiologists at Oregon State University has concluded that an unsuspected bacterial infection, rather than a viral disease, was associated with the stranding and death of seven harbor seals on the California coast in 2009.

The research, made with a powerful investigative method called “meta-transcriptomics,” found a high incidence of infection in the seals with the bacterial pathogen Burkholderia, and provides the first report in the Americas of this bacteria in a wild harbor seal.

The bacteria probably did not directly cause the death of the seals, researchers say, but this provides  further evidence of the increase in emerging marine pathogens, and the need for improved monitoring and study of zoonotic diseases that could affect both human and wildlife populations.

In light of these findings, OSU researchers also remind the public that they should not touch stranded or dead marine mammals.

The research was recently published in PLOS ONE, in work supported by the Oregon Sea Grant program and the National Science Foundation.

“We now have improved tools to better identify new diseases as they emerge from natural reservoirs, and can record and track these events,” said Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an assistant professor of microbiology in the OSU College of Science. “It’s becoming clear there are more pathogens than we knew of in the past, and that some of them can move into human populations.

“This is why it’s increasingly important that we accurately pinpoint the cause of these diseases, and understand the full range of causes that may factor into these deaths.”

Cases such as this, the researchers said, point out that it’s not always a single pathogen that causes death, but a combination of pathogens, changing environmental influences, weakened hosts and other forces. In this seal-stranding event, the scientists also found evidence of Coxiella burnettii, another bacterial pathogen, at high levels in one animal.

Advances in this type of monitoring are being made with the comparatively new field of meta-transcriptomics, which has been referred to as a way to eavesdrop on the viral and microbial world, to catalogue and compare sequences from suspected pathogens. It’s just now being applied to marine systems, which are often reservoirs for pathogens that can emerge into terrestrial populations.

This phenomenon seems to be picking up speed, the researchers noted in their study.

About 61 percent of emerging human diseases arise from zoonotic pathogens, and about 70 percent of these originate from wildlife. The recent Ebola outbreak in Africa was one example; the bacterial pathogen that causes tuberculosis was introduced to the Americas from pinnipeds; and influenza has been shown to be transmitted from seals to humans.  In recent years, viral disease has been implicated in the deaths of tens of thousands of harbor seals.

Almost half of marine mammals die from unknown causes, the researchers said, but the use of new high-speed, analytic tools could offer ways to change that. The techniques don’t require prior information about the viruses and bacterial infections that may be affecting wildlife.

In the case of the stranded harbor seals in this study, it was initially suspected that viruses were the cause. This study largely ruled that out, but identified bacterial infection in the animals’ brains. The final cause of death is still unknown and research on that issue is continuing.

“These analytic tools should be increasingly useful in the future, and show us just what genes the pathogens may be using during an infection,” said Stephanie Rosales, a doctoral student in the OSU College of Science, and lead author on this study.  “A lot of new environmental changes and stresses are taking place that may lead to new emerging diseases, and we should be tracking them as they evolve.”

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Rebecca Vega-Thurber, 541-737-1851