marine science and the coast

Climate change adds uncertainty, new challenges to fisheries management

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis of fisheries management concludes that climate change will significantly increase the variability of the size and location of many fish populations, creating uncertainty for fisheries managers – and the need for greater flexibility.

Most management processes are slow and cumbersome, as well as rigid, the authors say, and don’t adequately take climate change and human behavior into account.

“What climate change will do is pit the increased resource variability against the rigidity of the process,” said Susan Hanna, a fishery economist from Oregon State University and co-author of the report. “Over time, managers will have to become more conservative to account for the greater uncertainty, and we will need to do a better job of understanding the effect of uncertainty on human behavior.”

The study focuses on seven short international case studies in fisheries management – including Columbia River basin salmon. It is being published in the journal Marine Policy.

Hanna said that while most fishery management models incorporate the latest data on fish populations and distribution, they are not adapted to incorporate climate data. That can be problematic when an El Niño looms, or other oceanic conditions have a negative impact on fisheries. Such was the case in 2005, when a delay in the spring upwelling had a catastrophic effect on ocean production, which many biologists say caused the recent collapse of salmon runs on the Klamath and Sacramento rivers.

Shorter fishing seasons and lower quotas are understandably frustrating for commercial and recreational fishermen, Hanna said.

“Human psychology can work against fishery management because our expectations are based on the high range of fish populations, not the low end,” she pointed out. “In salmon fisheries, the conditions of the 1970s may be taken as the norm, when in fact they represented an all-time high.”

Hanna is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. She is affiliated with the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station and Oregon Sea Grant, and has served as a science adviser to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

The need for better human behavioral data is acute, Hanna said. While resource managers have plenty of information about numbers of fishermen, where they fish and what they fish for, there is less knowledge about how people will react to changes in regulation – or how they will adapt to climate change.

“We have a history of implementing regulations that have unintended consequences,” Hanna said.

She cites as an example what happens when managers limit the number of boats in a fishery with the idea of limiting fishing effort. The result can be just the opposite, Hanna points out. “A boat limit as the single control over a fishing effort will give those who have the permits the incentive to invest in more speed and more gear to boost their fishing power and become more effective at catching fish.

“Managing resources,” she said, “is all about incentives.”

Management also is becoming more complicated – a situation that may be exacerbated by changes in ocean conditions, whether natural or triggered by humans. There are many groups with claims on salmon resources, Hanna pointed out, from ocean trollers and river gill netters, to Native American tribes and recreational anglers. And management cuts across many boundaries.

In the past, Hanna said, fishermen could adjust to closures or shortened seasons by switching to different species. Now, she says, most fisheries are fully subscribed.

“If it’s a bad year for salmon, you can’t just switch to crabbing or fishing for rockfish unless you have the permits,” Hanna pointed out. “It’s not a question of gear, but of access.”

Hanna said West Coast fishermen are progressive. They contribute to the knowledge base through cooperative research and participate in management decision-making processes.  While some may grumble about regulations, she said, they generally see the need for management and are often in the lead in proposing new management approaches.

“Fishing operations are regulated businesses that fare more successfully the better they are understood,” Hanna said. “We need to do a better job of knowing how fishermen will respond to changes in catch rates and length of season if we want to continue to have sustainable fisheries – because greater uncertainty lies ahead.”

Other authors on the study include Alistair McIlgorm of Southern Cross University in Australia; Gunnar Knapp, the University of Alaska-Anchorage; Pascal Le Floc’H, University of Brest in France; Frank Millerd, Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada; and Minling Pan, of NOAA Fisheries Service in Hawaii.

Story By: 

New study of Steller sea lions suggests death by predation may be higher

NEWPORT, Ore. – A pioneering project that implants life-long monitors inside of Steller sea lions to learn more about why the number of these endangered marine mammals has been declining – and remains low in Alaska – is beginning to provide data, and the results are surprising to scientists.

Four out of five of the data sets that researchers have recovered indicate that the sea lions died from traumatic causes – most likely, attack from transient killer whales.

This comes as a surprise to many scientists and resource managers who previously thought that recent sea lion population trends are largely attributable to depressed birth rates, a loss of fecundity, or poor nutrition, according to Markus Horning, a pinniped specialist with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and principal investigator in the study.

“This obviously is a very small sample so we cannot overstate our conclusions,” Horning said, “but the fact that four out of five deceased Steller sea lions that we received data from met with a sudden, traumatic death is well beyond what conventional thought would have predicted. It could be coincidence…or it could mean that predation is a much more important factor than has previously been acknowledged.”

Results of the study are being published in the journal Endangered Species Research. Horning also is presenting his findings this week at a meeting of the Society for Marine Mammalogy in Quebec City.

The science behind the discovery is a story within itself. The researchers worked with Wildlife Computers, Inc., in Redmond, Wash., to develop a tag that could be implanted in the body cavity of sea lions and remain there during their life span. Conventional externally applied tags rarely have the battery power to transmit data for longer than a year and are shed during the annual molt – thus information about sea lion mortality is difficult to obtain.

These new tags, however, stay within the sea lion until its death, recording temperatures for as long as eight to 10 years. When an animal dies, and either decomposes or is torn apart by predators, the tags are released and send a signal to a satellite that transmits it to Horning’s lab at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore.

“We can tell whether an animal died by acute death through the temperature change rate sensed by the tags and whether the subsequent transmission of a signal is immediate or delayed,” said Horning, who is an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU.

Horning and his collaborator, Jo-Ann Mellish, have tested cooling and decomposition rates of sea lions on animals that have died from stranding or other causes. They’ve also inserted tags within those animals to see how long it would take before the signal would transmit based on whether an animal was on the beach, was deep at sea, or was torn apart by predators.

Their protocol for inserting tags within live Steller sea lions was developed from initial deployments on non-threatened, stranded California sea lions at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif.

“We wanted to make sure there was no adverse impact on the animals,” Horning said, “and there wasn’t.”

Since 2005, Horning and his colleagues at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward have implanted tags into 27 Steller sea lions that were captured and released off the coast of Alaska. Since that time, they have received data from five animals – at least four of which appeared to die from traumatic deaths, based on the rate of tag cooling and immediate signal transmission.

Horning said the tags can precisely identify the moment an animal died from temperature data. And while they are confident in their ability to determine whether the death was caused by predation or non-traumatic causes, identifying the actual predator is admittedly a bit of guesswork, Horning says.

“There are only a couple of species that are known to target sea lions as prey,” he pointed out. “Orcas are not only common in that region of Alaska, they also have been observed preying on sea lions. Some species of sharks are known to attack sea lions, but they aren’t as common in those waters and there haven’t been any observations of predation in the study area.”

If predation of Steller sea lions is more prevalent than previously thought, Horning said, there are implications for management.

“If the proportion of sea lions killed by predation in our study was applied to population models, we estimate that more than half of the female Steller sea lions would be consumed by predators before they have a chance to reproduce,” Horning said. “We recognize that this is a very coarse estimate based on a small sample size.

“But we hope this serves as a wakeup call to begin looking more closely into the actual role of predation as a determinant in Steller sea lion populations.”

Story By: 

Markus Horning, 541-867-0270

Nature Study: Scientists make important discovery about equatorial ocean cooling

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists studying a little-understood phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific Ocean called “tropical instability waves” have made a surprising discovery: These north-south subsurface waves that were thought to warm ocean surface waters, actually cool them.

The implications are significant, researchers say. Climate models that project global atmospheric circulation don’t accurately account for the effects of these tropical instability waves, while at the same time they have an enormous impact on sea surface temperatures near the equator, according to Jim Moum, a professor of oceanography at Oregon State University and principal investigator on the project.

“The assumption for years has been that these TIWs warm sea surface temperatures at the equator by moving warm water from off the equator, toward the equator,” Moum said. “Our measurements indicate that, instead of warming, TIWs cool equatorial waters by mixing from below. So it appears we have a problem that needs to be straightened out.

“It may help explain in part why some of these circulation models haven’t been as accurate as we had hoped they would be.”

Results of the study are being published this week in Nature Geoscience.

The mixing of waters near the equator is an extraordinarily complex series of processes. Winds blowing toward the west drive a South Equatorial Current, which in turn pushes water in a westerly direction where it piles up against the continents. This creates a large west-to-east pressure gradient creating the Equatorial Undercurrent, which flows eastward, but beneath the South Equatorial Current.

Tropical instability waves – which propagate westward, but have large north-south currents – complicate the current structure, Moum said.

“The water is moving in all directions, at different velocities and creating a spiral, eddy-like structure,” Moum said. “It is a very unique environment and we are just beginning to understand the processes that make it work.”

The research team, from OSU and the University of Washington, discovered this through a systematic and comprehensive series of shipboard measurements in the fall of 2008 using specialized instrumentation developed at OSU.

Tropical instability waves have been hard to characterize in detail because of the remote location and the sheer number of measurements required. Complicating matters, the scientists say, is that these tropical instability waves – though considered annual – don’t actually occur every year. Their intensities differ, as do their duration.

And no one is sure what causes these waves in the first place.

“What we do know,” Moum said, “is that their impact on sea surface temperatures can be enormous – cooling things by an order of several degrees within just a couple of weeks. Understanding how these tropical instability waves work is an important step toward improving global circulation models.”

Moum said that these waves are hard to study because they require intense measuring of the vertical water column over a period of several weeks, and moorings established at the equator to gauge potential El Nino and La Nina events aren’t yet calibrated to measure the mixing of water. Moum and his colleagues are working on that project.

The last major attempt to monitor these tropical instability waves came in 1991, but when researchers arrived at the equator they discovered it was one of the years when the TIWs simply weren’t there.

“They tend to not be there during El Nino years,” Moum said, “but we don’t know why.”

One of the challenges in doing the research is that mixing of the water can occur on a scale of a few centimeters, to tens of meters, Moum said. But this is buried in a structure of currents and bands of water that span hundreds of kilometers.

“These sea surface temperatures form the lower boundary of the atmosphere, which then responds to those temperatures, so there are tremendous implications for global atmospheric circulation,” Moum said. “The impacts of changing equatorial surface temperatures truly are global. The Madden-Julian oscillation, for example, occurs in the Indian Ocean and has impacts on what happens in the Gulf of Mexico.

“So understanding how these processes work is an important step,” Moum added. “It is the only way that models of the atmosphere-ocean circulation can be properly calibrated.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation. Other authors on the study include Alexander Perlin, Jonathan Nash and Philip Wiles of OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences; and Ren-Chieh Lien and Michael Gregg of the University of Washington.


Story By: 

Jim Moum, 541-737-2553 

Hypoxia in 2009 about average, researchers say

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Pacific Ocean off Oregon again experienced low-oxygen waters near the seafloor in summer of 2009, but the winds that fuel annual upwelling abated sufficiently in August and September to avoid severe hypoxia and the threat of biological “dead zones,” according to scientists.

Oregon State University researchers, who have been monitoring the near-shore waters with help from colleagues ranging from NOAA fish surveyors to Oregon crabbers, say this season’s hypoxia area was “about average” in size and duration in comparison with recent years.

“We did experience hypoxic conditions for the eighth consecutive year, but unlike 2006 when strong, steady winds led to near zero-oxygen, or anoxic, conditions, we got a break,” said Jack Barth, a professor of oceanography at OSU. “A series of wind reversals late in the summer helped dissipate the low oxygen, in essence allowing the system to ‘flush itself.’”

The oxygen level got as low as 0.5 milliliters per liter in early August off Newport and Cape Perpetua, which is at the cusp of being classified as “severe,” when the winds eased.

OSU scientists run regular transects off Newport using undersea gliders equipped with oxygen sensors, and similar instruments aboard four moorings from water 15 meters deep out to about 80 meters. They also had sensors aboard a NOAA hake survey cruise that sampled waters from northern California to the Strait of Juan de Fuca this summer.

Barth said the ability of oceanographers to monitor and measure hypoxic conditions is improving every year and should become even greater when OSU deploys a new network of undersea gliders and cabled moorings off the coast as part of the national Ocean Observatories Initiative, a $386.4 million effort funded by the National Science Foundation to gauge the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

Oregon scientists now have 10 times the sensors in the water as they did when hypoxia was first discovered off the central Oregon coast early this decade, Barth pointed out. The expanded instrumentation is allowing them not only to measure low oxygen, but to understand the underlying mechanisms behind it and how hypoxia manifests itself along the coast.

Unlike hypoxic areas in the Gulf of Mexico, which are caused by agricultural runoff and pollution, the low-oxygen waters of the Pacific Ocean off Oregon are triggered by seasonal upwelling, or the wind-driven mixing of cold, nutrient-rich deep water with surface waters. This fertilization of the upper water column generates large phytoplankton blooms, and as the plant material dies, it sinks to the bottom and decomposes, lowering the oxygen level of the water just off the seafloor.

This seasonal upwelling is normal, scientists say, yet hypoxia hadn’t been observed in near-shore waters prior to 2002. What changed, Barth said, was the pattern of Northwest winds and decreasing oxygen levels in the deep, offshore waters that are upwelled toward the coast.

“Historically, winds would blow at the coast for a week or so, then settle down for several days,” he pointed out. “As the winds eased, so did upwelling, and low-oxygen water was washed away – likely off the continental shelf. But in some years, those traditional wind patterns have shifted and now may last 20 to 30 days instead of a week. The system doesn’t have time to cleanse itself.”

Barth says the change in wind patterns and decrease in the oxygen levels in deep offshore waters are consistent with impacts suggested by many climate change models.

Previous research by Barth and colleagues found that changes in the wind patterns are triggered by slight variations in the Jet Stream. When the Jet Stream veers slightly to the south, as in 2005, it can cause a delay in upwelling that led to a devastating lack of biological production in the spring – a condition that may have been the cause of depressed salmon runs two and three years later.

When it shifts northward, the Jet Stream can cause strong, steady winds that “super-charge” the upwelling system, as happened in 2006, said Francis Chan, a senior research professor in OSU’s Department of Zoology. Chan and Barth are investigators for the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans program based at OSU.

“The 2006 situation was not only the strongest, most widespread hypoxia event yet seen off the Pacific Coast,” Chan said, “it also was the most long-lasting. The oxygen levels were off the charts and they continued through October of 2006, which is unheard of. For the first time we’ve ever observed, some parts of the near-shore ocean actually ran out of oxygen altogether.”

Photos and video of dead fish and crabs taken by a remotely operated vehicle in 2006 made national news and though hypoxia has been an issue every summer since, it hasn’t been nearly as severe. The researchers had hoped to use the ROV, operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, to observe hypoxic areas this summer, but it has been out for upgrades.

“We didn’t have any visual evidence from the rocky reefs we’ve been monitoring year after year,” Barth said, “but neither did we get any reports of significant die-offs, as happened with crabbers in 2006.”

Oregon’s crab industry, in fact, is partnering with OSU scientists in the monitoring of low-oxygen waters. OSU oceanographer Kipp Shearman is working with 10 Oregon crabbers, who have agreed to have oxygen sensors attached to 60 crab pots from Port Orford to Astoria, providing scientists with additional data.

“Because of the cooperation of crabbers, NOAA, ODFW and others, we now have a better understanding of how hypoxia works,” Barth said, “and that understanding will improve greatly as we expand our fleet of undersea gliders and ocean moorings.”

Story By: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607

Public invited to view dissection of great white shark at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center

NEWPORT, Ore. – A 12-foot white shark – popularly known as a great white shark – that died in August after becoming entangled in the ropes of a crab pot, will become the focus of scientists this week during its dissection at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The public is invited to view the necropsy, which will be performed over two days.

“It is a shame that the shark became entangled in the ropes and died, but the specimen still has a great deal of scientific and educational value,” said William Hanshumaker, the OSU center’s marine education specialist, who is coordinating the necropsy.

Hanshumaker, who also is a faculty member for Extension Sea Grant at OSU, will remove the shark from the freezer this Thursday, Oct. 1, and put it on public display in a roped-off section of the HMSC’s Visitor’s Center beginning at 10 a.m. Visitors may observe the shark via video camera in the Hennings Auditorium – including necropsy activities, which begin late Thursday afternoon.

At 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dr. Brion Benninger, of the Neurological Sciences Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, will remove the shark’s spinal accessory nerve, where it will be used in OHSU neurological studies.

On Friday, Oct. 2, a series of procedures is planned. Wade Smith, a doctoral student at OSU specializing in shark studies, will conduct measurements of the shark beginning at 11 a.m., and discuss his findings with a fishery biology class taught by OSU professor Scott Heppell. At 1 p.m., OSU students from two classes will examine the shark and hear experts present information on shark diversity, the white shark’s biology and movements, its unique features and conservation issues.

At 2 p.m., Tim Miller-Morgan of OSU will examine the shark for external parasites and at 2:30 p.m., Hanshumaker will measure the animal’s teeth and bite impression. At 3 p.m., Smith will conclude the dissection by collecting biological materials, the vertebra, muscle tissue, the dorsal fin and teeth – all of which have scientific value.

“There are researchers from throughout the country who are interested in what we’re doing here and have requested sample materials,” Hanshumaker said. “This also is an opportunity for the public to observe first-hand this unique creature and how scientists conduct research and share information.”

Samples from the white shark will be sent to:

  • Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game
  • University of California-Santa Cruz
  • California State University-Long Beach
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Nova Southeastern University.

The samples will provide data for studies ranging from genetics to toxicology, to age and growth data.

Story By: 

Bill Hanshumaker, 541-867-0167


CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University-led research team is conducting a major project off the Oregon coast this summer to learn more about the complex, even mysterious forces that move ocean waters, life forms and debris between the shoreline and deeper waters.

The findings will be critical, with implications for fisheries management, pollution control, coastal tourism, shipping, invasive species, and other issues.

The researchers are working under a five-year, $9 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

"A great deal is known about the currents off the Pacific Coast that transport water and sand in northerly and southerly directions," said Jack Barth, a professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences at OSU and one of the study's principal investigators. "Much less is known about the transport of waters across the continental shelf.

"How do things move in an east-west, or a west-east direction?" he added. "Obviously, wind is a key factor, but so are the topography of the ocean floor, temperature and weather."

The importance of a better understanding of these processes was illustrated during the aftermath of the sinking of the New Carissa off Coos Bay, said Mark Abbott, dean of OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. Hundreds of gallons of oil leaked from the vessel and, despite a number of sophisticated models on currents and wind, the oil showed up on beaches and in estuaries in places that surprised people.

"There were a lot of uncertain predictions surrounding the New Carissa," Abbott said. "We need more baseline data and a better understanding of the off-shore processes."

That's where the OSU study comes in. Called "COAST," or the Coastal Ocean Advances in Shelf Transport, the interdisciplinary research project will join ocean chemists, biologists, physicists and others in a complete--- and very visible --- study of the waters off the Oregon coast. During the next few weeks, scientists aboard the research ships Wecoma, Thomas G. Thompson, and Elakha will measure water temperatures, salinity, turbulence, zooplankton fields, wind velocity, and rate of upwelling.

The researchers also will fly a SENECA III aircraft over coastal waters, dropping in temperature probes that will give them an instant profile of temperature variations, and collect data that will help them profile the atmosphere and its boundary with the ocean below.

In mid-August, they will conduct an experiment using dyes to watch how extensively and rapidly ocean waters move at different depths. "There is an assumption that if you take something out to the deep ocean and dump it, it will stay out to sea," Barth said. "Ships, for example, have to be a hundred miles out of port to dump ballast water to keep invasive species and pollutants out of our bays. But do we know how far in toward shore those waters can go?

"You might be surprised," he added. "I've tracked water that's moved 150 miles."

The COAST project also will focus on the movement and health of phytoplankton blooms that are critical to the ocean food chain - and help absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The Pacific Northwest is beginning what appears to be one of the best salmon seasons in recent memory and the health of these phytoplankton masses is one of the keys to that success.

Yet scientists are still unclear as to what factors influence the upwelling that provides the nutrients that keep the whole system vibrant. One of the newest theories in the scientific community is that iron stimulates phytoplankton growth, and there have been suggestions that injecting iron into phytoplankton fields would boost productivity and help absorb more carbon dioxide.

"Most of the iron comes from river runoff and it varies along the coastline," said Patricia Wheeler, an OSU professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences, who also is a principal investigator in the study. "Knowing more about how river water moves out into the ocean will give us a better picture on how phytoplankton might be affected."

There are other considerations, Abbott points out.

"A lot of the iron is a product of industrial runoff, and the idea that companies may be able to discharge their effluent --- and possibly get a credit or tradeoff, a la the Kyoto Accord --- has some of these folks kind of excited," Abbott said. "The whole thing is a bit premature."

The OSU researchers are working with colleagues from the University of North Carolina and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory on the COAST study. Much of the major fieldwork will be done this summer and in 2003 in cooperation with the national Coastal Ocean Processes "CoOP" program.

Story By: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607


NEWPORT, Ore. - Information from an undersea monitor engulfed in lava during a deep ocean volcanic blowout is giving scientists their first-ever detailed view of an undersea eruption.

Researchers from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are publishing results obtained from the volcanic system monitor data on Thursday in the journal Nature. The team is based at OSU's Mark O. Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The paper, "Direct Observation of a Submarine Volcanic Eruption from a Sea-floor Instrument Caught in a Lava Flow," was written by Christopher G. Fox, an OSU associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences and part of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, volcanologist William W. Chadwick Jr. of OSU's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, and Robert W. Embley, a marine geologist from the NOAA Vents Program and a professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences. Fox is principal investigator for the study.

The paper describes in detail the results obtained from the NOAA device during an active eruption in 1998. The site of the eruption was Axial volcano, along the Juan de Fuca Ridge seafloor spreading center, located about 300 miles offshore from Cannon Beach, Ore. This volcano has been the focus of a long-term NOAA research effort, called the Vents Program, that seeks to understand the mechanisms by which the earth's interior exchanges heat and chemicals with the earth's surface through seafloor spreading centers.

The site was selected for study because geological evidence indicated Axial volcano to be potentially one of the most active in the deep sea and is also located near enough to the West Coast to be accessible by oceanographic vessels.

"We began monitoring Axial in 1987, using simple bottom pressure recorders to measure the long-term vertical movements of the seafloor associated with magma transport within the volcano," Fox said. "We never expected to get this close a look at the eruptive process."

Previously, vertical motions were detected by Fox's instruments and interpreted to represent magma movements, but not until 1998 did an actual eruption occur to confirm this hypothesis.

NOAA scientists acoustically detected the 1998 eruption through their access to the Navy's SOund SUrveillance System of underwater hydrophones - or SOSUS.

The seafloor sensor that was trapped in the lava flow is formally known as a volcanic system monitor but is often referred to as a "rumbleometer" because of sensors that record volcanic shaking. The sensor was installed on Axial's summit in October 1997 to continue the decade-long effort begun in 1987.

The precise location of the sensor was based on geological and geophysical measurements and was interpreted to overlie the magma center, Fox said. Following the eruption, NOAA vessels visited the site and attempted to recover the instrument.

Although the monitor responded to signals from the vessels, it would not release to the surface. Later investigations using a remotely operated vehicle revealed that the monitor was trapped in the lava flow up to the level of the anchor and was unable to release to the surface. Scientists formulated a plan to recover the instrument in 1999 using the remotely operated vehicle and a powerful ship's winch, and the whole package was recovered with very little visible damage, Fox said.

More surprisingly, "much of the data were intact, in particular the pressure data (which indicates height of the instrument) and the temperature data." Fox said.

The recovered data give a detailed view of the dynamics of a deep ocean volcanic eruption.

Initially, the very thin lava ran beneath the instrument platform and surrounded three legs that stand only 18 inches high. As the edges of the flow cooled and solidified, the lava flow "inflated" and lifted the instrument nearly 10 feet above its initial position in slightly more than one hour. Then the lava supply decreased and "drainback" of the lava began, gently lowering the instrument back to the seafloor in less than two hours, leaving the instrument a little more than three feet above its original position.

Although the instrument was in direct contact with the lava, the temperature probe located within the instrument only rose a maximum of 45.5 degrees during the eruption, perhaps explaining how the onboard data survived, scientists said.

Later field observations of the extent and thickness of the lava flow confirm the details of this scenario, but "without the survival of the rumbleometer, we would never know the time scale of the activity," Fox said.

In addition to the information on the flow itself, the long-term pressure record, in conjunction with other instruments deployed around the volcano by NOAA's Vents Program, provided a picture of what was happening to the magma in the subsurface, making the 1998 Axial event the first deep submarine eruption ever recorded.

"It is doubtful that we will ever be clever enough to intentionally place an instrument in an active submarine lava flow, so this serendipitous recording becomes a benchmark in our understanding of submarine volcanism," Fox said.

NOAA and OSU are expanding monitoring efforts on Axial volcano through the New Millennium Observatory Project. More information on the project can be found on the Web, with a fly-through animation of the "rumbleometer" site.


Christopher Fox, 541-867-0276


CORVALLIS, Ore. - The record return of coho and chinook salmon to the Oregon coast has been credited to superb ocean conditions as returning salmon encounter a virtual smorgasbord of herring, anchovies, zooplankton and even sardines, which had virtually disappeared from West Coast waters.

Now an interdisciplinary, inter-agency group of scientists believe they may have an answer for why the ocean conditions are so bountiful. They call it a "climate regime shift."

From 1977 to 1998, the low pressure system that sits off Alaska's Kodiak Island every winter - known as the Aleutian Low - was larger and more intense than it had been since the mid-1940s, according to William T. Peterson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

This 1,000-mile wide low pressure system was characterized by strong, circling winds that pushed nutrient-rich waters north into Alaska and delayed the upwelling off Oregon and Washington which helps feed the nutrient cycle in spring and summer. The effect created good ocean conditions for salmon in Alaskan waters, while less-than-ideal conditions off Oregon and Washington.

The Aleutian Low became even larger and more intense in the fall and winter of 1997-98, during a strong El Nino episode.

Then in the winter of 1999, the pressure system suddenly shifted west to Kamchatka, a Russian peninsula. And the ocean conditions - and biology - changed almost overnight. Different zooplankton appeared off the Pacific Northwest coast, and in much greater numbers, the scientists say.

"During much of this intense Aleutian low period, the waters off the Oregon coast were dominated by 'southern' copepods that are more common off central California," said Peterson, who also is a professor in the OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. "These species are typical of weak currents, weak upwelling warm water and low productivity. Then, in 1999, bang. Overnight the southern copepods disappeared and were replaced by boreal, or northern copepods.

"The actual biomass of the copepods has doubled in the last couple of years," Peterson added. "And suddenly, the anchovies begin to spawn again, herring are everywhere, and sardines have flourished."

This intersection between ocean conditions and biology is of particular interests to scientists involved with the Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics, or GLOBEC program. Funded by the National Science Foundation and NOAA, GLOBEC is a national program that has West Coast components in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Richard Brodeur, a NOAA fisheries biologist who also has a courtesy faculty appointment at OSU, studies salmon survival and feeding habits in the ocean. During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, the poor ocean conditions led to a low survival rate, he said. During the El Nino year of 1998, things hit rock bottom.

"When we looked inside the stomachs of juvenile salmon that had entered the ocean in 1998, they were pretty empty," Brodeur said. "They had some small prey - a few juvenile rockfish - but mostly small copepods and jellyfish. It wasn't their usual diet."

What salmon usually eat, Brodeur said, are juvenile rockfish, smelt, anchovies, sardines, crab larvae and krill. Starting in 1999, those prey reappeared in the stomachs of fish the scientists examined.

"Having an abundance of baitfish actually does two things," Brodeur said. "They obviously are an important food source for the juvenile salmon. Salmon need to grow fast early on to avoid becoming prey of other fish and birds.

"Baitfish have another useful purpose," Brodeur added. "When they are abundant, they become an alternate prey for birds and groundfish like rockfish and hake that may eat them instead of juvenile salmon."

The biological chain of events boosting salmon runs seems fairly clear. The abundant reappearance of northern copepods off the Northwest coast has led to huge numbers of "baitfish," including herring, anchovies and sardines. The presence of these baitfish appears to significantly boost salmon survival in the ocean.

The climatic and oceanic mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not as clear, the scientists say.

"These 'regime shifts' are part of a cycle, but we don't have enough data to know much about them historically," Peterson said. "We know there were Aleutian low pressure cycles from approximately 1923-47, and from 1977-98, but we don't know their history prior to the 1920s. And we think they typically last about 20 to 25 years, but what triggers these shifts - both in and out of the cycles - is still a mystery."

One way physical oceanographers track changes in the ocean is through an index called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which monitors several conditions, including sea surface temperatures. From the period of 1977-1998, every year was warmer than normal except one, Peterson pointed out. For the past three years - including 2001 - the waters off Oregon have been colder than normal.

"When things shifted in 1999, the California Current became stronger," Peterson said. "There was more upwelling, more nutrients and greater productivity and - equally important - an infusion of northern copepods from the Gulf of Alaska.

"Not coincidentally, ocean conditions for salmon in Alaska began to decline at the same time."

Ted Strub, a professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences at OSU, has monitored changes in the Pacific in another way - the height of the ocean - measured by the TOPEX/POSEIDON altimeter. It is the same satellite that first detected the El Nino signal in the western equatorial Pacific in early 1997.

"There is no question that ocean conditions are different from what they were for most of 1977-98," Strub said. "Our satellite data shows that since 1998, the coastal ocean off the U.S. west coast is a few centimeters lower than it was from 1993-98, the beginning of the TOPEX data. That's because water becomes denser as it gets colder, occupying less space."

Strub says studying ocean conditions is like listening to music. There are different frequencies and layers that - examined separately - don't fully represent the big picture.

"If you look at the climatic effect, for example, you have to look at 20- to 25-year cycles, then overlay the influence of El Nino and La Nina events, which have a three- to seven-year time scale, and then look at seasonal variations, which are enormous," Strub said. "Satellite data only go back 10-20 years, so we're just now beginning to get the baseline data that we need.

"A hundred years from now, we may understand how all this works."

Story By: 

Bill Peterson, 541-867-0201


CORVALLIS - From tiny, tenacious mollusks, to foreign grasses that choke lakes and streams, to voracious, exotic crabs, biological invaders are infiltrating waterways the world around.

A new video from Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University aims to help halt the invasion by teaching people the importance of early detection and response.

A 23-minute video called "You Ought to Tell Somebody!" presents an overview of the problem of invasive aquatic plants and animals and provides identification and information about one significant West Coast threat, the Chinese mitten crab.

Species evolve by adapting to their local habitats. New species, often introduced by human activity, can wreak havoc by disrupting ecological balance, crowding out native species and interfering with the food chain. "Invader" species can displace native plants and animals, dramatically change natural habitats and have profound impacts on the economy.

The Sea Grant video uses the story - and dramatic footage - of the Chinese mitten crab to illustrate how quickly new species can take hold in an area, and how difficult they can be to eradicate once that happens.

The video is aimed at those involved in water-quality monitoring, field educators, aquaculture operators and others who spend time in lakes, rivers and estuaries.

"You Ought to Tell Somebody!" catalog number ORESU-V-01-002, is available from Oregon Sea Grant for $18.95 plus shipping and handling; bulk discounts are available. For ordering information contact Oregon Sea Grant 541-737-2716 or (within Oregon and Washington) toll-free at 1-800-375-9360. The video may also be ordered through the Oregon Sea Grant Web site.

Oregon Sea Grant is an OSU-based ocean and coastal research and outreach program, part of a national network of Sea Grant College Programs organized under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Story By: 

Paul Heimowitz, 503-722-6718


CORVALLIS - A new database intended to highlight the work of ocean and coastal researchers in Oregon goes on line this month at the Oregon Sea Grant web site.

Called "Making a Difference," the system allows visitors to explore Sea Grant-sponsored research, outreach, and educational projects in words, pictures and multimedia clips. The system can be accessed at http://seagrant.orst.edu/makingadifference.

The new Sea Grant system is similar to "Oregon Invests!," a database developed in the 1990s by the College of Agricultural Sciences to demonstrate the value of Oregon State University's agricultural research and extension efforts.

Like that system, "Making a Difference" captures information about Sea Grant-funded research and outreach projects and makes it accessible via a graphical, web-based interface that allows visitors to search for projects by a variety of keywords and fields. It also gives researchers password-protected access to provide project updates and reports.

The database contains:

  • Detailed summaries of Sea Grant-funded research, education and outreach projects, searchable by topic, investigator, institution and keyword. 
  • Links to on-line publications, Web resources and other project-related information.
  • Photos and multimedia material to help illustrate key stories.

"We view this as an important step toward providing accountability for projects we sponsor," said Jan Auyong, Sea Grant's assistant director for programs, who has been working on "Making a Difference" since 1998. The system includes information about projects funded over the past decade and eventually will include historical details about research results going back to Sea Grant's establishment in 1968.

Oregon Sea Grant disseminates more than $1 million a year in competitive research grants to scientists at OSU and other Oregon institutions of higher education, and sponsors a number of graduate student fellowships and internships. In addition, Sea Grant helps support OSU Extension faculty in marine-related specialties on campus and in each of Oregon's coastal counties, and its communications arm functions as a small press, producing books, brochures, videos and multimedia projects on ocean and coastal topics.

Story By: 

Jan Auyong, 541-737-5130