marine science and the coast

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.

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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.”

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Bob Collier, 541-737-4367

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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.

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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

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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.

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Phil Mote, 541-737-5694

Nature study: Rising CO2 levels at end of Ice Age not tied to Pacific Ocean

CORVALLIS, Ore. – At the end of the last Ice Age, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose rapidly as the planet warmed; scientists have long hypothesized that the source was CO2 released from the deep ocean.

But a new study using detailed radiocarbon dating of foraminifera found in a sediment core from the Gorda Ridge off Oregon reveals that the Northeast Pacific was not an important reservoir of carbon during glacial times. The finding may send scientists back to the proverbial drawing board looking for other potential sources of CO2 during glacial periods.

The study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation and the University of Michigan, was published online this week in Nature Geoscience.

“Frankly, we’re kind of baffled by the whole thing,” said Alan Mix, a professor of oceanography at Oregon State University and an author on the study. “The deep North Pacific was such an obvious source for the carbon, but it just doesn’t match up. At least we’ve shown where the carbon wasn’t; now we just have to find out where it was.”

During times of glaciation, global climate was cooler and atmospheric CO2 was lower. Humans didn’t cause that CO2 change, so it implies that the carbon was absorbed by another reservoir. One obvious place to look for the missing carbon is the ocean, where more than 90 percent of the Earth’s readily exchangeable carbon is stored.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean by volume. The deep water mass longest isolated from the atmosphere and most enriched in carbon is found today in the Northeast Pacific, so the researchers focused their efforts there. They hypothesized that the ventilation age in this basin – or the amount of time since deep water was last in contact with the atmosphere – would be older during glacial times, allowing CO2 to accumulate in the abyss.

“We were surprised to find that during the last ice age, the deep Northeast Pacific had a similar ventilation age to today, indicating it was an unlikely place to hide the missing carbon,” said David Lund, a paleoceanographer at the University of Michigan, formerly at Oregon State, and lead author on the Nature Geosciences paper.

“This indicates that the deep Pacific was not an important sink of carbon during glacial times,” Lund added. “Even more intriguing is that we found the ventilation age increased during the deglaciation, at the exact time that atmospheric CO2 levels were rising.”

The researchers reconstructed the ventilation history of the deep North Pacific, examining the sediments at a site about 75 miles off the coast of southwestern Oregon. There the water is more than a mile-and-a-half deep and is known as the oldest water mass in the modern oceans, Mix said. By radiocarbon dating both the planktonic, or surface-dwelling, and benthic (seafloor-dwelling) foraminifera, the scientists can determine whether the isotopic signatures of the foraminifera match “values predicted by the assumption of oceanic control of the atmosphere.”

The organisms that lived on the seafloor have older “apparent” radiocarbon ages than the organisms that lived at the sea surface, Mix said, even though both come from the same sediment sample and are of the same true age. The radiocarbon dating was performed using an advance particle accelerator by the authors’ colleague, John Southon of the University of California at Irvine.

“Different sources of CO2 have different apparent ages, depending on how long they have been isolated from the atmosphere,” Mix said. “We use these dates as kind of a ‘return address label’ rather than to establish precise ages of the events. The bottom line is that the deep North Pacific wasn’t the source of rising CO2 at the end of the last ice age.”

The study is important not just in tracing climatic history, scientists say, but in forecasting how the Earth may respond to future climate change. The Earth “breathes carbon in and out,” Mix said, inhaling carbon into sediment and soils, while exhaling it via volcanism and a slow exchange between the oceans, soils and plant life with the atmosphere.

When everything is in balance, the Earth is said to be in a “steady state.” But on numerous occasions in the past, the carbon balance has shifted out of whack.

“Because the ocean is such a huge repository of carbon, a relatively small change in the oceans can have a major impact,” Mix said. “We know ocean circulation changed during the ice ages and that is why many scientists assumed the deep Pacific Ocean was the source for rising CO2 levels during the last deglaciation.”

Lund said it “is conceivable that we are misunderstanding the radiocarbon signal by assuming it is controlled by ocean mixing.”

“These are volcanically active regions, so the input of carbon from volcanoes, which lacks radiocarbon because of its great age, needs to be looked at,” Lund pointed out. “But it is premature to draw any conclusions.”

The researchers’ next step will be to look for chemical traces of volcanic influence.

Another source of carbon could be from land, though the authors say it would be difficult to account for the magnitude of atmospheric carbon increase and the apparent radiocarbon age of released carbon by pre-industrial terrestrial sources alone.

“If we can better understand how carbon has moved through the Earth’s systems in the past, and how this relates to climate change, we will better predict how the carbon we are now adding to the atmosphere will move in the future,” Mix said.

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Alan Mix, 541-737-5212

OSU to join Scripps on technical support for Arctic science missions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research technicians at Oregon State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego have received a $2.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a new program that provides technical support for Arctic research cruises.

As part of the program, OSU and Scripps will supply trained technicians to go aboard the Healy and Polar Star – both United States Coast Guard icebreaker research ships – and provide technical support for projects focusing on fisheries, climate change, marine ecosystems, physical oceanography, whale research and other areas.

The technicians will come from OSU’s Marine Technician Group in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, and from Scripps’ Shipboard Technical Support department.

“We will be the liaisons between the scientists and the shipboard support team, and work to operate and maintain all of the oceanographic instrumentation,” said Daryl Swensen, superintendent of OSU’s Marine Technician Group. “Though these are Arctic-bound icebreakers, almost everything on board in terms of instrumentation we’ve seen before on the Wecoma (an OSU research vessel) or other ships.

“Most of our technicians have worked off Alaska, in the Bering Sea, and other extreme environments,” Swensen added, “so it should be familiar in many ways. But it will be exciting to be a part of this polar research program.”

OSU has four technicians in the group who will rotate aboard the Coast Guard vessels. The technicians will oversee operation of a variety of instrumentation and equipment, including seafloor coring instruments, bathymetric arrays for seafloor mapping, water sampling and retrieval systems, and ocean sensors that measure everything from dissolved oxygen levels, to phytoplankton productivity.

Research aboard these vessels is broad, researchers say, because so few ships have the capability of journeying into the polar region to conduct studies that are critical to better understanding of climate change and other issues.

“Now more than ever, global policymakers are looking to scientists for accurate information about our polar environments,” said Bruce Appelgate, associate director for Ship Operations and Marine Technical Support at Scripps. “By partnering with the outstanding team at Oregon State, we strengthen our ability to insure that scientific observations performed in the Arctic Ocean will be of the highest possible quality.”

Swensen said the NSF grant is for three years, with the possibility of renewal.

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Daryl Swensen, 541-737-4622

Scientists find eruption at undersea volcano - after forecasting the event

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of scientists just discovered a new eruption of Axial Seamount, an undersea volcano located about 250 miles off the Oregon coast – and one of the most active and intensely studied seamounts in the world.

What makes the event so intriguing is that the scientists had forecast the eruption starting five years ago – the first successful forecast of an undersea volcano.

Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University geologist, and Scott Nooner, of Columbia University, have been monitoring Axial Seamount for more than a decade, and in 2006 published a paper in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research in which they forecast that Axial would erupt before the year 2014. Their forecast was based on a series of seafloor pressure measurements that indicated the volcano was inflating.

“Volcanoes are notoriously difficult to forecast and much less is known about undersea volcanoes than those on land, so the ability to monitor Axial Seamount, and determine that it was on a path toward an impending eruption is pretty exciting,” said Chadwick, who was chief scientist on the recent expedition, which was jointly funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.

Axial last erupted in 1998 and Chadwick, Nooner and colleagues have monitored it ever since. They used precise bottom pressure sensors – the same instruments used to detect tsunamis in the deep ocean – to measure vertical movements of the floor of the caldera much like scientists would use GPS on land to measure movements of the ground. They discovered that the volcano was gradually inflating at the rate of 15 centimeters (six inches) a year, indicating that magma was rising and accumulating under the volcano summit.

When Axial erupted in 1998, the floor of the caldera suddenly subsided or deflated by 3.2 meters (10.5 feet) as magma was removed from underground to erupt at the surface. The scientists estimated that the volcano would be ready to erupt again when re-inflation pushed the caldera floor back up to its 1998 level.

“Forecasting the eruption of most land volcanoes is normally very difficult at best and the behavior of most is complex and variable,” said Nooner, who is affiliated with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “We now have evidence, however, that Axial Seamount behaves in a more predictable way than many other volcanoes – likely due to its robust magma supply coupled with its thin crust, and its location on a mid-ocean ridge spreading center.

“It is now the only volcano on the seafloor whose surface deformation has been continuously monitored throughout an entire eruption cycle,” Nooner added.

The discovery of the new eruption came on July 28, when Chadwick, Nooner and University of Washington colleagues Dave Butterfield and Marvin Lilley led an expedition to Axial aboard the R/V Atlantis, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Using Jason, a remotely operated robotic vehicle (ROV), they discovered a new lava flow on the seafloor that was not present a year ago.

“It’s funny,” Chadwick said. “When we first arrived on the seafloor, we thought we were in the wrong place because it looked so completely different. We couldn’t find our markers or monitoring instruments or other distinctive features on the bottom. Once we figured out that an eruption had happened, we were pretty excited.

“When eruptions like this occur, a huge amount of heat comes out of the seafloor, the chemistry of seafloor hot springs is changed, and pre-existing vent biological communities are destroyed and new ones form,” Chadwick added. “Some species are only found right after eruptions, so it is a unique opportunity to study them.”

The first Jason ROV dive of the expedition targeted a field of “black smoker” hot springs on the western side of the caldera, beyond the reach of the new lava flows. Butterfield has been tracking the chemistry and microbiology of hot springs around the caldera since the 1998 eruption.

“The hot springs on the west side did not appear to be significantly disturbed, but the seawater within the caldera was much murkier than usual,” Butterfield said, “and that meant something unusual was happening. When we saw the ‘Snowblower’ vents blasting out huge volumes of white floc and cloudy water on the next ROV dive, it was clear that the after-effects of the eruption were still going strong. This increased output seems to be associated with cooling of the lava flows and may last for a few months or up to a year.”

The scientists will examine the chemistry of the vent water and work with Julie Huber of the Marine Biological Laboratory to analyze DNA and RNA of the microbes in the samples.

The scientists recovered seafloor instruments, including two bottom pressure recorders and two ocean-bottom hydrophones, which showed that the eruption took place on April 6 of this year. A third hydrophone was found buried in the new lava flows.

“So far, it is hard to tell the full scope of the eruption because we discovered it near the end of the expedition,” said Chadwick, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “But it looks like it might be at least three times bigger than the 1998 eruption.”

The lava flow from the 2011 eruptions was at least two kilometers (1.2 miles) wide, the scientists noted.

“Five years ago, these scientists forecast this eruption, which has resulted in millions of square meters of new lava flows on the seafloor,” said Barbara Ransom, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences. “The technological advances that allow this research to happen will lead to a new understanding of submarine volcanoes, and of any related hazards.”

The bottom-anchored instruments documented hundreds of tiny earthquakes during the volcanic eruption, but land-based seismic monitors and the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) hydrophone array operated by the U.S. Navy only detected a handful of them on the day of the eruption because many components of the hydrophone system are offline.

“Because the earthquakes detected back in April at a distance from the volcano were so few and relatively small, we did not believe there was an eruption,” said Bob Dziak, an OSU marine geologist who monitors the SOSUS array. “That is why discovering the eruption at sea last week was such a surprise.” Both Dziak and Chadwick are affiliated with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies – a joint NOAA/Oregon State University institute.

This latest Axial eruption caused the caldera floor to subside by more than two meters (six feet). The scientists will be measuring the rate of magma inflation over the next few years to see if they can successfully forecast the next event.

“The acid test in science – whether or not you understand a process in nature – is to try to predict what will happen based on your observations,” Chadwick said. “We have done this and it is extremely satisfying that we were successful. Now we can build on that knowledge and look to apply it to other undersea volcanoes – and perhaps even volcanoes on land.”

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Bill Chadwick, 541-867-0179

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Researchers seeking to use popular “beach cams” for scientific analysis

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For 25 years, scientists have employed a network of land-based video cameras called Argus stations to monitor coastal surf zones – including a pioneering station at Newport’s Yaquina Head – in an effort to learn about the ever-changing dynamics of the surf zone.

There are about three dozen Argus stations around the world, and the data they have churned out have led to new revelations about beach formation, erosion, rip currents and other critical features.

Now scientists at Oregon State University and their colleagues are working to incorporate a new resource into the Argus system – the literally hundreds, even thousands of cameras mounted above beaches around the world and used by surfers, beach combers, weather watchers and coastal hazard specialists.

“There has been a proliferation of beach cameras around the world and they’re out there taking pictures constantly, but they don’t necessarily collect the scientific data that can be useful,” said Rob Holman, a professor of oceanography at Oregon State and one of the founders of the Argus system. “We think they can be tweaked into providing data that will let us create a near-shore prediction model based on remote sensing.”

Creating such a model, Holman says, would be “huge.” If scientists can map the bathymetry of a beach, analyze the physics of the waves, and plug in water movement patterns, they could predict storm surges, hurricane inundation, beach formation, dune stability, and dangers from rip currents.

Holman is co-principal investigator on a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the Office of Naval Research that is designed to explore how to meld data from radar, optics and infrared observations to make such a model a reality. OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences is partnering with the University of Washington and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on the project.

“We know enough about the fluid dynamics of the near-shore to make a model that we think can work,” Holman said. “What is lacking, though, is the input data – especially the bathymetry. The surf zone changes every day and bathymetry is critical for making successful predictions. The lack of such data has always stopped us dead. If we solve that, we should be able to create a model.”

That’s where the beach cameras come in. Holman and his colleagues are working with an Australian company called Coastalwatch that has hundreds of such cameras around the world. Getting those cameras to collect measurable data at timely intervals would be invaluable, he said.

“If we could have, say, 10 well-designed sites along the Oregon coast instead of just the one at Yaquina Head, it might do wonders,” Holman said.

Holman worked on the prototype Argus station at Duck, N.C., in 1986. He and his colleagues “decided on a whim” to leave a camera and video recorder at the beach and return later to see what it would record.

“We used to think that beaches were simple and repetitive,” he said with a laugh. “If we understood the physics of one storm, we knew about all storms. Then we learned about chaos.”

In 1992, OSU installed the first automated Argus system at Yaquina Head near Newport, Ore., where it has collected data ever since. OSU operates 11 Argus systems around the world, and several others are operated by scientists from other institutions internationally.

Oregon State organized the first Argus Workshop to discuss technical issues and advancements, and will host the 10th such workshop in July.

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Rob Holman, 541-737-2917