OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

COASTAL ATLAS ALLOWS PERSONALIZED "SMART MAPS"

SEATTLE- The "smart maps" made possible by geographic information systems, or GIS technology, are showing people the Oregon coast in a way they've never seen it before, scientists said today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The development of sophisticated technologies for data collection and subsequent mapping, particularly in the oceans, has allowed for the creation of interactive data portals such as the Oregon Coastal Atlas.

"People can now make their own maps of the Oregon coast with access to all of the data that is mainly under the purview of our state ocean coastal management program," said Dawn Wright, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. "People who are interested in natural hazards and live on the coast can go to the site and map out existing hazards where they live."

The Oregon Coastal Atlas can be accessed online at http://www.coastalatlas.net.

GIS is called a smart map because there is a database attached to the map, Wright said. In other words, computer algorithms can be used to analyze the data that you already have, and to generate new maps and new data.

GIS was originally developed for practical terrestrial applications, such as mapping out sewer routes and other public utilities, said Wright. She is working on improving GIS so that it can be more readily used for ocean applications.

It is much more difficult to create a map of something that is fluid and changing, such as the oceans, than to map static features, such as the location of buildings or land use patterns, said Wright.

Mapping of the oceans means dealing with multiple data sets, one of the strengths of the GIS technology.

"If you are trying to figure out where fish species hang out, you need to know the water quality, the temperature, the weather patterns moving through the area, human effects, marine pollution, commercial fishing and shipping tracks," said Wright. "You then need to combine all of these data sets to fully understand what's going on, and GIS allows us to do just that."

One of the drawbacks of GIS is that it only provides a static map.

"Things are constantly moving and dynamic in the ocean, and all we're getting is a snapshot in time," said Wright. "You could string all of those snapshots together and try to make a movie out of it, but it's still not the same thing as being in the ocean."

One of Wright's recent projects involves mapping the ocean floor around American Samoa, during which she discovered nine new underwater volcanoes on the flanks of the main island of Tutuila. The report claiming that "80 percent of the Earth's surface" had been mapped by the NASA Shuttle Ray Topography Mission in 2000 was hard for Wright to swallow.

"People talk about the idea of exploration and discovery, and it's still a surprise whenever we find new features on the ocean floor, because we're still discovering things about this planet, let alone Mars," said Wright.

What most people don't realize, Wright said, is that 71 percent of the Earth's total surface is submerged beneath our oceans, and only 5 percent of the ocean floor is mapped at a high level of detail. We have far more detailed maps of other planets than we do for the majority of our own planet, the ocean floor.

"A lot of people still think that the ocean floor is fairly featureless and flat, when in reality we have these tremendous mountain ranges and trenches," Wright said. "You could fit Mount Everest in the Tonga Trench and it would disappear." Another misconception most people have about the oceans?

"Conservation-wise, people still look at the oceans as this vast sink," said Wright. "You can just throw stuff out there, pollute it, and it will just disappear, out of sight, out of mind. But we have found that is definitely not the case. I've seen trash on the deep ocean floor when I've dived in submersibles."

Wright's presentation was made at the annual meeting of the AAAS, one of the largest general science conferences in America.

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Dawn Wright, 541-737-1229

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deep ocean floor

The type of imagery of the deep ocean floor that is now available with geographic information systems is seen in this view of a volcano in the southwest Pacific Ocean, south of the Samoan Islands. Researchers at Oregon State University outlined advances in this technology at the 2004 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

TRANSGENIC FISH PROVIDE GLOWING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

CORVALLIS - An undergraduate biology class at Oregon State University has attracted attention from around the country for its use of a genetically engineered fish that is getting students involved in original research, debating issues of science and public policy, and even learning a little about genetics along the way.

And it's all due, instructors say, to this unusual little fish that can literally glow.

This past term, about 720 biology students at OSU were among the first in the nation to use and study GloFish, a patented transgenic fish that was originally developed for research on the detection of toxins, but is now available for sale as an aquarium fish. These zebra danios, which are a small tropical fish, have had a gene inserted into them that makes the fish glow red under ultraviolet light - they are being called the world's first "genetically changed pet."

But at OSU, instructors of the university's general biology courses for non-science majors use this fish to teach not only about genetics, but about the ethics, politics, social issues and research processes relating to the biotechnology revolution.

"For many of the students in this class, this may be the last science course they will ever take," said Lesley Blair, an instructor of biology. "But soon they are citizens, consumers, and voters, and will be making decisions about science that affect not only their own lives but the world around us. So a key part of this course is not just to teach basic biological concepts, but to get students thinking about issues of science and to develop a better understanding of complex scientific processes."

The GloFish were made to order for that task. In one fell swoop they bring in topics such as fundamental genetics, evolution, genetic engineering, the regulation of science by government agencies, the ethics and morality of creating genetically modified organisms, the appropriate uses of these organisms, the concerns and risks, and other topics.

Past surveys of students, Blair said, have found that many students have a negative view of science and mistrust it - they see scientists as being "other people" who may make decisions without considering the public good. Also, some students have a poor understanding of scientific processes even though they look to science and technology to address many of the world's critical problems.

"We need to get students thinking about more than just basic biological concepts, they need to see how research is actually done and how science is managed and regulated," Blair said.

In this course, every student was part of a team that did original studies on the GloFish, including developing research questions and hypotheses, and reporting on the results of their observations. Individuals debated the ethics of genetic engineering, the regulations on biotechnology and many other issues. Some of the students even studied the reactions of other students in a social science survey.

"The use of GloFish in the classroom has been so intriguing that we've had inquiries from other universities, colleges and about 20 high schools from around the nation," Blair said. "Some high school teachers have visited us, and our students learned so much that they were able to explain aspects of the fish to the visiting teachers."

Even the purchase and sale of the GloFish has raised issues. The use of this gene for creating fluorescence in animals has been done for some time, but this company is patenting ornamental transgenic fluorescent fish. Some scientists object to that. And the regulatory issues are complex - right now, for instance, the use of GloFish in California is illegal because of various regulatory hurdles that are unique to that state.

If nothing else, the fish are pretty.

"With most transgenic plants or animals, it's not as apparent a change," Blair said. "You might be looking at a corn plant that has larger kernels. That's not as compelling for students as a moving animal, the experience becomes more personal. With GloFish you can easily see the difference between these and other zebra fish, study their behavior, do research. Some students became so fascinated by this they came in early, before class, to collect data."

The students in the class, she said, were clearly divided on the use of the fish. Some thought their creation was fine, others had concerns about the ethics of changing plant or animal species, or questioned the regulations set up for such uses.

"Most of the students appreciated the relevancy of the project because of the increased news coverage of genetic issues in recent years, and their enthusiasm was quite high," said Ryan Taylor, a doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant for the course.

"I was most impressed with the level of scientific thinking this project brought out of the students," Taylor said. "This project . . . gave many of them an increased appreciation for the scientific process, and will make them more critical thinkers about scientific information they will encounter the rest of their lives."

The fish may be used in a few more classes, Blair said, before the course moves on to other educational approaches. Information on the effectiveness of this curriculum will also be distributed to other schools, she said.

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Lesley Blair, 541-737-2690

PHYTOPLANKTON STIMULATE UPTAKE OF ATMOSPHERIC CO2

CORVALLIS - New research has revealed that phytoplankton may be one of the main historic controls on global warming, and that fertilizing the oceans with iron results in increased phytoplankton productivity - a hypothetical way to offset the effects of global warming.

Through photosynthesis, these tiny, free-floating aquatic plants can convert carbon dioxide to organic carbon, and there appears to be a prehistoric relationship between iron in the ocean and atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

Burke Hales, an assistant professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, is one of a number of scientists who collaborated on a new study that involved field research in the ocean near Antartica. The study will be published Friday in the journal Science.

He described the research as "tremendously successful" because it clearly shows an induced biological response in the oceans to fertilization with iron.

"During the glacial periods, atmospheric carbon dioxide, or CO2 levels decrease substantially, while during interglacial periods, such as we are now in, those levels increase," said Hales. "There is also a striking inverse relationship between implied, historical iron fluxes to the ocean and atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

These relationships suggest some sort of feedback system between iron and CO2 levels during glacial periods that keep the temperature low."

The carbon cycle is a complicated system of causes and effects that are not completely understood, but researchers have long suspected that the oceans are the main regulator of the Earth's atmosphere, said Hales. For example, during the ice ages more of the Earth's water is locked up in glaciers, creating arid, windy conditions and a lot of dust. This iron-rich dust is blown out to sea, stimulating productivity of phytoplankton throughout the world's oceans and reducing CO2 levels.

"In order for the phytoplankton to be a long-term sink for carbon, they somehow have to get deposited in the deep ocean, and that doesn't always happen," said Hales. "If the phytoplankton are just eaten at the surface, or don't sink to any great depth then the carbon is eventually released back into the atmosphere." Another complication in phytoplankton production is the availability of silicate, which is potentially a limiting factor in the growth of certain types of phytoplankton.

Diatoms are a large type of phytoplankton that have siliceous shells, and because of their relative bulkiness have a higher probability of sinking into the deep ocean for longer periods of time.

So it seems logical that iron-fertilized, low silicate waters might not be as efficient carbon sinks as iron-fertilized high silica waters, but the results of this study disproved that idea for the first time.

"This was the first experiment of this nature in low silicate waters where it didn't seem as though there would be enough silica for the diatoms to grow," Hales said. "However, our results showed an enhanced uptake of atmospheric CO2 in the fertilized region despite the low availability of silicate."

Since humans starting burning fossils fuels, CO2 levels have skyrocketed and there has been increasing concern over the role that has played in global warming. "The difference between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere today and during pre-industrial times is about the same as the difference between interglacial and glacial periods," said Hales. "There is definitely a correlation between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming, but the relationship is hard to define."

Hales' role in the study involved developing apparatus to sample the ocean water and measure the concentrations of various chemicals, such as nitrate, phosphate, silicates and dissolved CO2 in order to determine the impact on levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

"We needed very high spatial resolution measurements of chemicals in the fertilized regions, so the technology we used allowed us to take fairly continuous samples," said Hales. "The sampler was something like a little underwater airplane that continuously pumped water up to the ship while soaring up and down in the water as we towed it."

Although Hales is excited about the scientific implications of the research, such as the insight it provides into the relationship between the glacial and interglacial cycles with the CO2 record, he is reluctant to make any claims that fertilizing the ocean with iron would realistically help control global warming.

"There are so many repercussions that we can't foresee," said Hales. "This is a very expensive and uncertain way of going after an issue that is not fully understood. For example, in the process of gathering up iron and steaming out to sea, you would burn up more fossil fuel than you would compensate for in the result. Besides that, there's also the issue of shifting an ecosystem structure that the food web is based upon by adding iron. We really have no idea what sort of positive or negative effects that would have."

Another huge unknown in the experiment are the effects of time, cautioned Hales. The time scale of the experiment, 42 days, is not at all comparable to the time scale of the glacial/interglacial cycle, which is thousands of years.

"We weren't even out there long enough to observe the season-to-season changes, so we don't know if the carbon was really being exported to the deep oceans or not," Hales said. "A longer term study would be necessary to draw more concrete conclusions."

Source: 

Burke Hales, 541-737-8121

FROM MEDICINE TO MARINE BIOLOGY - A PASSION PURSUED

CORVALLIS - According to Dr. John Howieson, retirement is a time of life when a person gets to do whatever they want to do, for as long as they want to do it, just because it's fun. By that definition, he says, he's retired.

By almost anyone else's definition, however, Howieson would be considered a hard-working graduate student at Oregon State University. He's pursuing a master's degree in a complex field, struggling with advanced mathematics and looking forward to a new career.

No golf, no tropical cruises. He's not your typical retiree.

Howieson is a neuroradiologist, and in a four-decade career in medicine has studied or worked everywhere from Kentucky to England, Yale University, Oregon and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He quit full-time work as a physician at Oregon Health & Science University in 1994, and continued to work occasionally, but felt he was "just marking time."

"I enjoyed medicine a great deal, working with the advances in technology over the years, and teaching students in university hospitals," said Howieson, who is now 74. "But I decided I wanted one more big adventure in life."

At OSU, that adventure has taken the form of a master's degree in marine biology, studying with two of the leading researchers in the nation in this field - Jane Lubchenco and Bruce Menge, co-holders of the Wayne and Gladys Valley Chair of Marine Biology. Howieson said it's a chance for him to learn more about a field that has fascinated him for decades, and he hopes to soon do independent research in a university setting, or perhaps work for a conservation organization.

"I should be fairly employable," Howieson said. "I already have one doctorate, I'll have a master's degree in zoology and I won't require a salary. That ought to help."

Howieson was born in New York City - the same year the New York Stock Exchange crashed, in 1929, ushering in the Great Depression - and graduated from medical school in Kansas in 1955. He was trained in both radiology and neurology, and used his expertise to help diagnose problems in the brain and central nervous system. Many of the diagnostic tools he started with - angiograms, pneumoencephalography - were made obsolete over the years by such advanced technology as CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs.

Howieson has both followed the advances in his field and helped teach generations of medical students about them.

Now, instead of tracking down brain tumors, Howieson spends most of his time trying to figure out why the California mussel is so common at the western end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and nearby ocean, but not in Puget Sound - is it differences in salinity, temperature, predation? No one knows yet.

Both medicine and marine research have their unique challenges, he said.

"I was hoping there might be quite a bit of carryover from what I learned in medicine to the study of marine biology, but there actually hasn't been as much as I thought," Howieson said. "This is a whole new field for me, I'm working largely with invertebrate animals, there's a lot to learn. But the information itself is so intrinsically interesting, there's just a degree of wonder to study biology and understand how everything has evolved.

"I suppose the toughest part is the advanced math we use in physical and chemical oceanography," he said. "I never took calculus even when I was getting my undergraduate and medical degree, and that was more than 50 years ago."

The university itself, he said, has been both fun and supportive.

"OSU is a great school, and it's been enormously pleasurable to interact with all these young students," he said. "We work together, go out for a beer, talk politics. I share a house during the week with another grad student. It helps you sometimes to forget how old you are."

There are a few oddities, he said.

"Everyone who doesn't know me personally assumes I'm a professor, not a student. And I got a call from the enrollment office from someone wanting to double-check the date of my birth. It said 1929, and they assumed that had to be an error."

In some other ways, Howieson is not your typical student. For instance, he's made substantial donations to the OSU Foundation to support two undergraduate scholarships in the Department of Zoology where he is studying, himself, as a grad student. He still works one day a week, mostly just to help out, at Oregon Health & Science University, where his wife, Diane, is also a neuropsychologist. And since he failed almost 30 years ago to get his daughter interested in studying marine biology, he's decided to do it himself.

"I'm not sure just what the attraction of this field is, but I talk to a lot of people about it and it's surprising how many of them said they always thought that type of work would be fascinating," Howieson said. "People still ask me why I'm doing this at my age. It's just a great interest of mine, and when the day comes that I don't think it's fun, I won't do it anymore. But I don't anticipate that happening.

"And anyway, I never learned how to play golf."

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Dr. John Howieson, 541-737-5359

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Dr. John Howieson

Dr. John Howieson decided at the age of 74 to return to school, seeking "one more big adventure" in the study of marine biology at Oregon State University.

Study: Carefully released rockfish can survive barotrauma

NEWPORT, Ore. – Research has shown that carefully recompressing rockfish that have been brought up from the ocean floor may help them temporarily recover from the rapid change in pressure, but scientists have been uncertain whether there were any long-lasting effects on the fish.

Oregon State University researcher Alena Pribyl is completing one of the first studies to look at the long-term effects on rockfish of barotrauma, a series of physiological changes caused by the expansion of gas in the fishes’ swim bladders as a result of lower water pressure at the surface. Bulging eyes, tight gill membranes and an everted esophagus are among the symptoms.

Pribyl’s research suggests that the fish can, indeed, survive as long as 31 days – at least, in captivity – despite experiencing the noticeable effects of barotrauma.

“What happens when a rockfish is brought up from depth is that the pressure change causes the gas within the swim bladder to expand,” said Pribyl, a doctoral candidate in fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “The enlarged swim bladder often displaces the fish’s internal organs and eventually can push the esophagus out of the fish’s mouth. When a fish is recompressed, the excess gas within the fish contracts and most external barotraumas symptoms disappear.”

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends recompressing fish by using an inverted barbless weighted hook to lower the fish, or a weighted cage with a trap door to protect the fish from predation on its way down. (For video, click here: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/gifs/research/yelloweye_release.wmv)

Past studies at the University of California-Davis have shown that bottom fish that have experienced barotrauma can survive the experience for at least two days, but scientists were unsure what happened beyond that. Pribyl’s study was the first to examine the impacts of recompression on fish at the cellular, blood and gene expression levels, as well as on the whole fish, as long as a month later.

In her study, Pribyl put 30 black rockfish in specially designed pressure chambers at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Designed by Polly Rankin of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the chambers can simulate the water pressure fish experience at different depths.

Pribyl let the fish acclimate to a simulated depth of 35 meters and then “brought the fish to the surface” – lowering the water pressure to surface levels – in 90 seconds, which is about the time it might take for fishermen to reel in their catch. She then looked at 10 of the fish after three days, another 10 fish after 15 days, and the final 10 fish after 31 days, comparing them to another group of control fish.

Her study found that 80 percent of the fish brought rapidly to the surface had ruptured swim bladders. After 31 days, 20 to 50 percent of those swim bladders remained unhealed. Yet there were no mortalities, and after 31 days, 80 percent of the fish had resumed feeding.

“In biological studies, feeding is an important sign of recovery,” Pribyl said. “It doesn’t guarantee survival, but it greatly improves the animal’s chances. However, while this may be true in captive fish whether or not fish that have ruptured swim bladders could effectively forage in the wild remains to be determined.”

Pribyl said fish could overcome a ruptured swim bladder – if ocean conditions are favorable. They can still maneuver up and down in the water column, but would have to expend more energy to do that. “If conditions were good and there was a lot of food, it might not be a problem,” she pointed out. “If it was a lean year and there were many predators, it could be a different story.”

Her study also found no long-term cellular damage from barotrauma in several internal organs, or changes in blood plasma enzymes indicative of tissue injury, which she termed “remarkable.” And preliminary data suggest that the fish produced higher levels of certain genes related to the immune system at the third day, but these genes were no longer expressed by the 15th day, which she said could indicate that their immune system cranked into higher gear to deal with the barotrauma and later returned to normal levels.

“The bottom line is that these black rockfish, if carefully handled, have the potential to survive at least 30 days after being caught and properly released,” Pribyl said. “Fishermen who have caught a limit of one type of fish, or who accidentally hook a canary or yelloweye, can help increase the chance of that fish surviving by using a weighted hook or cage to recompress the fish.

“Just don’t puncture the esophagus,” she added. “When fishermen accidentally catch a species of fish that is protected, they may try to help the fish recover from the pressure change by puncturing the ‘swim bladder’ and allowing the expanded gas to escape. Unfortunately, it isn’t the swim bladder protruding from the fish’s mouth, but the esophagus.”

Her studies are funded by Coastside Fishing Club in San Francisco, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant, OSU and other sources.

Tips on Recompressing Fish:

  • Do NOT puncture the internal organs protruding from the fish’s mouth; 
  • Use a weighted barbless hook, cage with a trap door, or a milk crate to lower fish to the bottom;
  • Handle the fish on deck as little as possible, and lower it quickly into the water;
  • If using a weighted barbless hook, consider having a dedicated fishing pole to speed things along;
  • If you are catching protected species of fish, move to a different area.

 

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Alena Pribyl, 541-737-2592

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Yelloweye rockfish with barotrauma

Yelloweye rockfish with barotrauma. Shows esophagus protruding from mouth and bulging eyes (exophthalmia).

OSU LAB TO HONOR CANCER RESEARCHER

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University's Food Toxicology and Nutrition Laboratory has been renamed the Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory to honor former OSU researcher Russell O. Sinnhuber.

The laboratory is located one mile east of Corvallis along Highway 34.

Sinnhuber retired from OSU as emeritus professor of food science and technology in 1981. He died last July at the age of 86.

While at OSU, Sinnhuber became internationally known for his research contributions in advancing the biomedical field, publishing more than 100 research papers in the areas of food science and toxicology.

From his research in the 1960s, Sinnhuber determined that a potent chemical carcinogen, aflatoxin, found in moldy cottonseed meal, caused liver cancer in hatchery-reared rainbow trout, in levels as low as 1 part per billion. He recognized that the trout's extreme sensitivity to aflatoxin made it an excellent model for cancer research.

In 1965, he established the OSU Food Nutrition and Toxicology Laboratory. The Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory remains the only trout hatchery in the world devoted to cancer research. Recently, the laboratory has added a zebrafish facility to conduct biomedical research on many diseases including cancer, fetal alcohol syndrome and nicotine addiction. The laboratory is funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health and operated by the Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences and the Environmental Health Sciences Centers at OSU.

Sinnhuber also developed a method to measure the levels of aflatoxin in human foods as well as animal foods that is still widely used today.

In 1966, he received the United States Department of the Interior Conservation Service Award for his work with Duncan Law at the OSU Seafood Laboratory in Astoria in developing the Oregon Moist Pellet that still provides the major source of fish hatchery food.

Sinnhuber received his bachelor's degree in organic chemistry in 1939 from Michigan State College, now Michigan State University. He received his master's degree from Oregon State in 1941.

After retirement, he spent much of his time at his home on Yaquina Bay, near Toledo, as a commercial fisherman and oyster farmer.

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David Williams, 541-737-3277

ERUPTIONS, VOLCANIC WONDERLAND FOUND IN DEEP SEA

NEWPORT, Ore. - Oceanographic researchers who just completed a study of undersea volcanoes in the Mariana Arc south of Japan have discovered what the Cascade Range of Oregon, which has a similar geologic setting, might look like if it were buried deep beneath the sea - and erupting.

Instead of forested slopes, fresh alpine air and snow-capped peaks, this type of volcanic mountain range would feature plumes of molten sulfur, other-worldly life forms based on chemical energy instead of sunlight, "black smokers" churning hydrothermal fluids and sometimes explosive undersea eruptions.

Some cones look like an underwater version of Mount Hood, while others resemble Crater Lake.

This expedition, which for one of the first times in history was able to witness a small undersea eruption of an active volcano, was an enormous success, said Bill Chadwick, a volcanologist with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies at Oregon State University.

The institute, based at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center, works closely with the agency that organized the expedition, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We were just going from one incredible event to the next, seeing things we had never witnessed before," said Chadwick, who was a key participant on this exploratory cruise largely funded by NOAA's Ocean Exploration Program. "It was very exciting, and quite remarkable in that every volcano we visited seemed to be unique in its own way."

The researchers made new findings about how life based on photosynthesis in the upper layers of the ocean makes a gradual transition to life further down based on chemosynthesis, or chemical energy - odd microbes, snails, barnacles and worms clinging to hydrothermal vents. They found an enormous variation in geology and life forms, which may lead to the identification of new species. One volcano appeared to have had a catastrophic eruption in its past and had formed a huge caldera just about the same size as the one which holds Oregon's Crater Lake, within prehistoric Mount Mazama.

They found carbon dioxide spewing from rocks under such enormous subsea pressure that it emerged as a bubbling liquid in one site named "champagne vent." And they had to back their equipment away from one ongoing eruption at a site named "Brimstone Pit" when the belching sulfur, acid, boiling water and rocks became too intense.

The basic geology of the Mariana Arc, which includes such islands as Guam, Saipan and Iwo Jima, is conceptually similar to the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest. Both are on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," and in each case, an oceanic plate is being subducted underneath another of the Earth's major crustal plates, and ultimately causing a string of volcanoes above the point where the subducted plate begins to melt.

In Oregon, that results in the Cascades, which have volcanism ranging from fairly benign lava flows to the catastrophic eruptions such as Mount St. Helens, along with hot springs and other features.

In the western Pacific Ocean, the same activities are taking place on the oldest and deepest seafloor in the world. The Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, for instance, is the deepest part of the world's oceans, at 35,838 feet. If Mount Everest were cut off at sea level and placed there, its peak would still be a mile underwater.

But beneath the surface of the ocean, scientists are now discovering a murky and exceedingly active group of volcanoes that appear to rival any of their terrestrial cousins. The most recent visit was the culmination of a two-year, $2 million project funded by NOAA's Ocean Exploration Program, aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson and using a remotely-operated undersea vehicle called ROPOS. In the past, scientists say, much of this type of research was done at "spreading centers" such as the mid-ocean ridges, where new ocean floor is formed. This time, they examined the volcanoes that occur when plates collide and ocean floor is eventually melted and recycled deep within the Earth.

The work was a collaboration of scientists from NOAA, OSU, the University of Washington, University of Victoria, U.S. Geological Survey, and other institutions, including scientists from Canada, New Zealand and Japan.

Using ROPOS, the researchers were able to take video, make scientific measurements and recover samples at sites ranging from about 70 feet deep to almost a mile. They explored both the peaks and flanks of seven volcanoes, and near their summits often found seafloor hot springs and unique biological communities that depend on them.

These types of volcano are generally more conical and explosive, Chadwick said.

"One of the most dramatic events was the eruptive activity on Northwest Rota 1, a volcano about 60 miles north of Guam," Chadwick said. "At a depth of about 540 meters in what we called Brimstone Pit, there was a large plume of hot water, drops of molten sulfur, bursts of rocks. It would be considered a pretty small event by volcanic standards but it was definitely eruptive and one of the first times we've ever seen and recorded anything like that beneath the ocean."

At other sites, the researchers found black smokers, which are chimneys made from spewing minerals and hydrothermal vents. In the past, such vents have usually been observed only deep beneath the sea. But on the upper flanks of these volcanoes, some of them had schools of tropical fish, tuna or sharks swimming nearby. One site had so many chimneys it was named the "Black Forest," with some of these bizarre chemical vents up to 30 feet high.

"As the ROPOS came closer to the surface, where sunlight was able to penetrate, it was just a riot of life with incredible amounts of fish and corals," Chadwick said. "And we found at least some life forms, such as one type of spider crab, that could live in either environment, either the one based on sunlight or the one based on chemicals. Most scientists believe life on Earth may have originated in deep ocean vents."

It will still take the researchers some amount of time to compile, analyze and publish all the data that emerged from these cruises, Chadwick said, which only concluded in late April. Scientists in Washington, D.C., today announced some of the findings from this cruise, and more information on the expedition can be obtained at the web site of NOAA's Ocean Exploration Program, at http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/04fire/welcome.html.

"Unlike much scientific research, this type of expedition is a little riskier, because you often have no idea what, if anything, you will find," Chadwick said. "But this research provided some remarkable findings, some things never seen before, and allowed us to learn about a portion of the world that had not been explored before."

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Bill Chadwick, 541-867-0179

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Mariana Arc

Researchers from Oregon State University, NOAA and other universities and agencies recently completed a historic visit to the subsea volcanoes of the Mariana Arc in the western Pacific Ocean.  The geologic formation of the area is seen in this image...

Mariana Arc

...and a bathymetric view is derived from satellite images.

Mariana Arc, bubbles

In some places, liquid carbon dioxide under enormous pressure streamed from a volcanic vent named “champagne vent.”

Mariana Arc, chemosyntheis

One of the most interesting phenomena was the intersection of life forms based on chemosyntheis, such as these microbial mats, covering red algae and coral based on photosynthesis, or life from the sun

Mariana Arc comparison

Some of the undersea volcanos bore a striking similarity to Oregon’s Crater Lake, as seen in this image

Maug caldera corals

Corals blossom in Maug caldera

Mariana Arc, Galatheid crabs and shrimp

Galatheid crabs and shrimp graze on bacterial filaments

OSU, NOAA RESEARCHERS "LISTENING" TO OFFSHORE QUAKES

NEWPORT, Ore. - During the past 12 years, researchers at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center have recorded more than 30,000 earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean off the Northwest coast - few of which have ever shown up on land-based seismic equipment.

The earthquakes, most having a magnitude of 2.0 to 4.0, originate where the Juan de Fuca plate, which is creeping inland, is gradually is being subducted beneath the North American plate. Scientists from OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration utilize a network of underwater military hydrophones to listen to the sounds of seafloor earthquakes and other phenomena from their laboratories at the Newport center.

Robert Dziak, who has dual appointments with OSU and NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, said the use of the U.S. Navy's hydrophones is providing critical data to scientists.

"It is the only real-time hydrophone system in the world - at least for civilians," Dziak said. "It allows us to listen to the earthquakes as they occur and when something unusual happens, we can send out a group of scientists to study the events as they unfold."

The hydrophone system - called the Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUS - was used during the decades of the Cold War to monitor submarine activity in the northern Pacific Ocean. As the Cold War ebbed, these and other unique military assets were offered to civilian researchers performing environmental studies, Dziak said.

This past November, the Navy completed a series of repairs on the hydrophone arrays used to monitor the Juan de Fuca Ridge earthquakes. At the same time, the OSU/NOAA team installed a new data acquisition center at the naval air station on Whidbey Island near Seattle, where the hydrophone data is encrypted and sent to OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center for decoding and analysis.

The sharpened new system is up and working - and revealing that the earthquakes are ongoing.

The number of earthquakes offshore initially stunned researchers because they weren't being detected on land - even by the most sensitive seismometers. The scientists also discovered that these quakes occurred daily, but every so often there would be a "swarm" of as many as a thousand quakes in a three-week period.

"In the last 10 years, I've seen seven of these swarms," Dziak said. "The plate doesn't move in a continuous manner and some parts move faster than others. When it gets caught up and meets resistance, these swarms occur and when they do, lava breaks through onto the seafloor.

"Usually, the plate moves at about the rate a fingernail might grow - say three centimeters a year," he added. "But when these swarms take place, the movement may be more like a meter in a two-week period."

Since the scientists began using the hydrophones to monitor quakes - and observe seafloor spreading - the research has paid unexpected dividends. While one swarm was taking place, a research vessel dispatched to the region began taking surveys of the water column and seafloor and discovered a large colony of micro-organisms that had been lying dormant within the shallow ocean crust and were "awakened" by the heat of the volcanic spreading.

"The heat from the lava was like activating yeast," Dziak said. "The bacteria could have been down there literally for centuries. It gives us another little clue to how life may have formed on Earth, and may be lying dormant on other planets."

The hydrophone research also has recorded vocalizations of marine mammals, and a research team led by David Mellinger, Kate Stafford and Sharon Nieukirk has been able to detect regional differences in the sounds made by blue whales and fin whales. Like humans, whales from different parts of the globe apparently have their own "accents."

One of the keys to the success of hydrophone use is the existence of a two-dimension underwater layer of certain water pressure, salinity and temperature that creates a "sound channel." Located about 1,000 feet below the surface, this layer focuses sound energy horizontally like a wire.

"During a test, we exploded a stick of dynamite below the surface and it didn't register on land at all," Dziak said. "Yet hydrophones recorded it as a magnitude 1 event 6,000 miles away. That's why the hydrophone array is so important to our research."

Now the OSU/NOAA researchers are working on a portable hydrophone system developed by Haru Matsumoto that they can deploy in hotspots around the globe. During the first tests, they attached the instruments - which are housed in a titanium casing that looks like a diving air tank - to upright moorings anchored on the ocean floor. The recording equipment was powered by 50 C-cell batteries.

"The limitation was that is was not in real time," Dziak said. "The portables weren't powerful enough to transmit data, so it has to be recorded. We'd have to haul them up every few months to see what happened and, if there was an earthquake swarm, we wouldn't know it until a year later."

A new prototype has been tested that is based on a buoyancy system. When the machine records an earthquake event, it ascends to the surface and transmits a satellite signal to alert the researchers to unusual seismic activity.

"The portable hydrophones will give us the ability to study and compare different areas around the world," Dziak said. "The East Pacific Rise off South America is the fastest seafloor spreading area in the world, but it is a lot quieter in terms of earthquakes. The crust is very thin and moves so fast that we don't get a lot of noise. The mid-Atlantic region, in comparison, has infrequent quakes, but they are bigger. Next year, we hope to set up a system near Antarctica.

"Most of the models on seafloor spreading and plate tectonics are based on magnetic anomalies that have been recorded every million years or so," he added. "Now, for the first time, we are able to determine exactly how these tectonic plates are moving."

 

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Robert Dziak, 541-867-0175

ADVISORY GROUP ENDORSES FINDINGS OF MAJOR OCEAN STUDY

CORVALLIS - An advisory committee of Oregon marine scientists has reviewed a recent report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy at the request of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and strongly endorsed some of the key findings of that study - the oceans are in serious trouble, major changes are needed and current ocean policies do not reflect existing science and sound management principles.

Major changes in federal and regional government structure are envisioned in that report, along with expanded public educational programs, doubling the federal ocean and coastal research budget in the next five years, training more experts to deal with these complex issues and improved ocean monitoring.

The review has been submitted to the Ocean-Coastal Management Program of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, and may be used to help inform the governor's response to the new federal study, which was one of the first major reviews of ocean policies in almost 40 years.

The work was done by researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and the Oregon Sea Grant program, and organized by OSU's Institute for Natural Resources. A full copy of the review can be found on the web at http://inr.oregonstate.edu/.

"Our work with the governor's office to support and enrich Oregon's response to the national oceans commission report illustrates why Oregon's legislature set up the Institute for Natural Resources," said Gail Achterman, director of the institute. "It gave the governor a place to call to tap into the incredible expertise of our Oregon University System faculty."

In their review, this Marine Science Advisory Panel recommended six key priorities for action:

  • A mechanism is needed to coordinate and implement ocean policy development at the federal level. This may entail major structural changes at high levels of government, including creation of a National Ocean Council.

     

  • Regional ocean governance should address ocean problems at ecological scales which can work and involve multiple governmental groups. This type of regional collaboration must tackle such issues as sustainable fisheries, ecosystem-based ocean management, protection of human health, seafood safety, conserving and restoring coastal habitat, development of marine protected areas, management of offshore energy and mineral resources, preventing the spread of invasive species, and moving towards sustainable aquaculture.

     

  • Americans must be educated and informed about marine issues and the connections between oceans, land and the atmosphere. This lifelong effort should include contributions by the Sea Grant College Program, other educational outreach efforts at every age level, and creation in Oregon of a Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence. Interdisciplinary graduate programs should also be expanded in the Oregon University System.

     

  • Additional research is needed to inform these approaches to policy and management. Within five years the federal budget for ocean and coastal research should be doubled, a national ocean research strategy should be developed, Sea Grant should be expanded, socioeconomic research should receive more emphasis, and ocean exploration expanded. Several initiatives could be of special importance to Oregon, such as studies of coasts and their watersheds, managing shoreline erosion and improvement of coastal navigation.

     

  • An integrated ocean observation system is needed to improve the information base. Regional efforts to achieve programs of this type are already underway in the Pacific Northwest, but they can be improved and expanded, with multiple benefits for fisheries management, tsunami warning, protection of coastal habitat, water quality monitoring, climate studies and other issues.

     

  • Investments should be expanded in scientific, technical and human infrastructure. Universities must play a key role in this, more technical experts will be required, funding mechanisms should be identified for new ocean research vessels, and better information technology is needed.

In their report, the Oregon scientists said that current ocean policies focus too much on short-term benefits and lack the long-term, ecosystem-wide perspective that would create healthy, resilient ocean systems which provide multiple benefits.

In many areas, they say, some of the more progressive research, monitoring and educational efforts already under way in Oregon could help serve as national models for more effective and enlightened ocean management. But the problems, both here and across the nation, are still critical.

"In recent years scientists have increasingly come to recognize the interconnectedness among the physical, chemical, geological and biological aspects of the ocean, and their interactions with human society," the researchers wrote in their report. "Yet, a long-term focus has been inadequately represented in the development and implementation of ocean policy."

The many recommendations of the federal report "mesh well" with Oregon's goals for managing its natural resources, the scientists said. Issues such as depleted fisheries, habitat degradation, marine protected areas, shoreline erosion and invasive species are all addressed by parts of the federal study, and much of the work being done in Oregon could be integrated into new national plans.

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Gail Achterman, 503-725-3099

OSU receives grant to fund biomedical center

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has received a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that will fund the university's Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center through March of 2009.

The center is one of only four biomedical centers in the U.S. focusing on aquatic research, and it is instrumental in fundamental studies of cancer and other diseases.

"The funding is welcome news because we were up against stiff competition, including Harvard, Yale, MIT, Duke and others," said David Williams, director of the OSU center. "But we're involved in some exciting things and our researchers bring in an additional $5 million annually in research grants, so the quality of the center's work was apparent."

The NIEHS is a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

The Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center was established in 1985, focusing on the use of rainbow trout as a model to study cancer tumors. Those studies remain a critical part of the center's mission, Williams said, and it also has branched into studies of neurotoxicology.

William Gerwick, associate director of the center, has become a world leader in the investigation of marine organisms for their anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. Gerwick's research team recently discovered a compound from a blue-green alga in Panama that causes nerve regeneration activity.

"It is an exciting find, but it is very, very preliminary," Gerwick cautioned. "We were collecting specimens in early June and one of the compounds we extracted in our bio-screening showed neuron regeneration activity that was very strong - it was as active as some of our positive controls."

Another neurotoxicology researcher affiliated with the center is Phil McFadden, who studies how certain fish change color when exposed to toxicants. Such behavior likely developed as a defense mechanism for the fish, but could be invaluable in serving as an early detection indicator for humans in a wide range of areas, including toxic chemicals.

McFadden's research is funded by the Department of Defense.

Another scientist, Robert Tanguay, has brought a major research project to the university with his study of zebrafish, a species that is an excellent model for developmental toxicology because they reach sexual maturity in a matter of weeks, instead of two years as in trout. The zebrafish genome also has been sequenced. Tanguay uses zebrafish as a model for his studies of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Donald Buhler also uses zebrafish for his basic studies on cancer tumors. Buhler received national attention five years ago when his study of flavonoids determined that hops - a key ingredient in beer - had anti-cancer properties.

Larry Curtis, head of the Department of Molecular and Environmental Toxicology at OSU, also works with the center. A well-known toxicologist, he is close to completing a study on the effects of pollutants in the Newberg pool of the Willamette River outside of Salem. He and his research team are scheduled to present the findings of those efforts to the legislature next spring.

Rainbow trout are still an important part of the center's work and researcher George Bailey, the first director of the center, is completing a major study on cancer that should be published in 2004.

"It could have major implications in a regulatory sense," Williams said, "but it is premature to talk about the findings right now."

Bailey also recently completed a clinical study in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in which the researchers discovered that inexpensive daily supplements of chlorophyllin can reduce DNA damage caused by aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxins are known carcinogens produced by a fungus that contaminates corn, peanuts and soybeans, and are a major cause of liver cancer in China and other countries.

The first benefits of chlorophyllin were discovered by Bailey in his work with rainbow trout. His study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bailey, Williams and Rod Dashwood, a researcher at OSU's Linus Pauling Institute, are collaborating on a three-pronged study funded by the National Cancer Institute. While Bailey continues to study the use of chlorophyllin in reducing DNA damage, Williams is seeing if similar proactive measures can help in the protection of fetuses in pregnant animals. Dashwood is evaluating the effect of green and white teas in the prevention of colon cancer.

"While research is the primary thrust of the center's work, we also are heavily involved in community outreach and education," Williams said. "We partner with the Environmental Health Sciences Center at OSU, which also is funded by NIEHS."

Among their efforts is a K-12 education initiative called the Hydroville project, directed by Kendra Mingo, in which students in the fictional town of Hydroville tackle real life environmental and health issues. The center also works closely with the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experience (SMILE) program for minority and rural youths.

OSU is the only university in the nation with two fully funded NIEHS centers, Williams said.

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David Williams, 541-737-3277