OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

OSU RESEARCHER DEVELOPS NEW WAY TO DETECT SALMON PARASITE

CORVALLIS-Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a molecular method to detect and measure a salmon and trout parasite thought partially responsible for controversial salmon die-offs in the Klamath River.

As many as 30 to 40 percent of fish captured in the lower Klamath River are infected with one particular myxozoan species, Ceratomyxa shasta, explained Jerri Bartholomew, a researcher in OSU's Department of Microbiology and the Center for Fish Disease Research.

Until now, researchers had no quick, easy way to test for the parasite in water samples. Using the organism's own DNA, this newly developed assay can detect even 1/1000th of a parasite spore in a water sample.

To detect Ceratomyxa shasta prior to this breakthrough, scientists had to maintain fish in cages along areas of the river suspected to be infectious, then return them to the laboratory and wait for months to see if clinical signs appeared. There was no way to quantify the number of infectious spores moving through the water.

"This is a huge jump in what we're able to do," said Bartholomew. "We wanted to offer a tool that would be useful if managers were to test management options like altering flows at certain times of year, so that effects could be determined immediately."

Natural resource managers welcome the new tool.

"Jerri's doing cutting-edge research that provides us with an accurate tool to assess spore levels quickly," said Scott Foott, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pathologist. "Without advances like this, all we can do is limp along and quantify dead fish, which doesn't allow us to do any innovative management."

Bartholomew and her colleagues have discovered that Ceratomyxa shasta is not evenly distributed throughout the Klamath. "The parasite's life cycle is only established in the main stem of the Klamath, not the tributaries," said Bartholomew.

The OSU researchers also have found that the dams on the Klamath appear to act as a partial barrier to Ceratomyxa shasta.

"Above the dams, the parasite is still present, but the severity of infection drops off," she explained.

The research group is using information from the new method to determine the unusual distribution pattern. An additional clue to its distribution may come from Ceratomyxa shasta's unique ecology. It has two hosts - salmonid fish and a type of aquatic worm.

"We think the distribution is determined by habitat requirements of the worm host," Bartholomew said.

So far, the scientists do not know how the various tributary salmon populations are affected by disease problems in the main stem Klamath River. They say that knowing the distribution pattern of the salmon parasite is critical for future management.

Bartholomew and her colleagues are planning on investigating why the infection is localized in the main stem. They are also interested in testing management actions that might reduce parasite levels.

One example might include a large-scale flow experiment, not unlike the flushing flow water releases researchers conducted from the Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado River a few years ago. This would allow them to better understand how the normal hydrology of the river system controls the number of worm hosts.

Salmon from the tributaries of the Klamath River are distinct salmon populations and are important to maintain each species' genetic diversity, explained Foott. Unfortunately, the survival rate for Ceratomyxa shasta-infected salmonids is not good.

"If it's infected in the main stem Klamath River," Foott said, "it's probably dead."

Source: 

Jerri Bartholomew, 541-737-1856

WEATHER BUOY GIVES PROMISE FOR IMPROVED PREDICTIONS

TILLAMOOK - A state-of-the-art weather buoy deployed off the north Oregon coast promises improved weather predictions.

"This new buoy increases the ability of the National Weather Service to forecast marine and coastal weather," said Patrick Corcoran, an Oregon State University Sea Grant Extension faculty member who serves as outreach coordinator for the Coastal Storms Initiative (CSI).

The CSI is a federal-state partnership connecting residents and stakeholders in the coastal areas of Oregon and southwest Washington with new weather-and storm-related information tools. Corcoran said that the buoy specifically enhances surface marine data and the ability of the National Weather Service to issue heavy surf advisories and coastal flood warnings.

"Since it's positioned between the 300-mile buoys and the 20-mile buoys, buoy 46089 fills an important gap in tracking the development of severe weather off the Oregon coast," he added.

"The data from the new buoy has already been very useful in our forecast operations," agreed Bill Schneider of the National Weather Service in Portland. Indeed, in its first weekend of operation in November, "the buoy allowed us to separate our outer and inner waters forecast when the buoy showed stronger winds over the outer waters," said Schneider. "It also gave us a good heads-up when small craft advisory force winds moved into the waters and allowed us to issue an advisory. We did not expect winds to be that strong and would have otherwise not known until the front reached buoy 46029."

The new buoy, located 70 miles off Tillamook Bay, is loaded with atmospheric and marine observation devices, according to Corcoran.

"It's the first buoy of its type to be deployed with such an expanded sensor array," he said.

Meteorological measurements on board buoy 46089 include air temperature, continuous wind speed, peak wind and gusts, atmospheric pressure, and dew point temperature. Oceanographic measurements include water temperature, wave height, significant wave height, directional wave spectra, non-directional wave spectra, and directional ocean currents.

The ocean current data is measured by an experimental device called an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. The buoy reports real-time quality-controlled data to a ground receiving station and from there to other users including the National Weather Service.

The buoy will bring new ability to calibrate and compare satellite wind and wave predictions with what's really happening at the surface, said OSU's Corcoran.

In addition, he said, understanding offshore wind speed and direction improves the ability to predict how the wind will interact with the mountains, which is crucial for predicting how much rain will fall and the potential for flooding.

This buoy is one of the first of its kind to use iridium satellite technology, rather than the Geostationary Earth Orbiting Satellite.

The iridium satellite allows for both the transmission of more data and the ability to communicate with the buoy from shore. Data from the buoy are continually transmitted via iridium satellite to the National Data Buoy Center.

The center updates its online buoy reports hourly. These can be found at http://seaboard.ndbc.noaa.gov/Maps/Northwest.shtml. Users can also telephone Dial-A-Buoy at (228) 688-1948 and key in 46089 (for the Tillamook buoy) when prompted for the station indicator.

Funding for the buoy came from the Coastal Storms Initiative through NOAA - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Oregon Sea Grant and Washington Sea Grant are partners with NOAA in the Coastal Storms Initiative, which is intended to improve storm prediction, preparation and recovery efforts.

Faculty from OSU, University of Washington, and other institutions are working with NOAA researchers on several projects, including a near-shore wave prediction model, a toxicological assessment of storm runoff, and computer software for assessing local risk and vulnerability to hazards created by coastal storms. Sea Grant Extension is providing outreach and education about the initiative to stakeholders.

 

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Patrick Corcoran, 503-325-8573

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Succesful spawners are few and far between

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The number of adult, female rockfish that successfully breed to help replenish the stocks of marine rockfish comprise less than 1 percent of the total fish population, new genetic studies have shown.

These findings were presented over the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and suggest that even though many females may spawn, the fish that survive to adulthood apparently are descended from just a tiny number of individuals.

"We already know that older fish are generally more prolific spawners, but even within this group, this research has found that the number of fish that actually breed successfully is much smaller than we thought," said Daniel Gomez-Uchida, a fisheries researcher at Oregon State University.

In studies that examined the genetic heritage of darkblotched rockfish off the Oregon coast, the entire fish populations could be linked to as few as two fish per 1,000 adult female breeders, or as little as 0.2 percent of the total population of fish, the OSU scientists have concluded.

Similar numbers have also been found in commercially important groundfish stocks ranging from red drum in the Gulf of Mexico to the New Zealand snapper and the Atlantic cod in British waters.

"The fact that in every generation a very small minority of the spawners is responsible to replace the majority of the population has profound consequences for the management of harvested populations," Gomez-Uchida said. "We could potentially identify the portion of the population that successfully breed, and target these fish for management protection."

There are many factors that can cause mortality among young fish, including predation, ocean conditions such as temperature and oxygen level, circulation patterns, starvation and other issues. But fishery managers in the past had assumed that all spawning fish had more or less an equal chance of producing young fish that would survive to adulthood. That apparently is not the case.

This research was done with molecular techniques such as polymerase chain reaction, along with population genetics and demography theory.

Many groundfish stocks on the West Coast of North America, and also in other places in the world, have been in serious decline in recent years, forcing closures or severe fishing restrictions in some cases.

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Daniel Gomez-Uchida, 541-758-8379

Marine seaweed can detoxify organic pollutants

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Researchers have discovered that marine seaweeds have a remarkable and previously unknown capacity to detoxify serious organic pollutants such as TNT or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and they may therefore be able to play an important role in protecting the ecological health of marine life.

The studies, conducted by scientists from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University and the Marine Science Center at Northeastern University, were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The findings may have important implications for seafood safety, since some of the marine organisms most at risk from these toxins are marine invertebrates such as clams, shrimp, oysters or crab that tend to "bioaccumulate" them. One possibility, the researchers say, might be to plant appropriate seaweeds as a protective buffer around areas being used in aquaculture.

"We found that certain red seaweeds had an intrinsic ability to detoxify TNT that was 5-10 times faster than any known terrestrial plant," said Greg Rorrer, a professor of chemical engineering at OSU. "Marine seaweeds have a more efficient uptake mechanism than even terrestrial aquatic plants to at least neutralize organic pollutants."

The researchers call this process "phycoremediation," derived from phykos, a Greek word for seaweed.

The studies, which are supported by the Office of Naval Research and the Oregon Sea Grant Program, are of particular interest in the case of trinitrotoluene, or TNT, because of unexploded bombs or military shells found in some places around the world's oceans. There is a general concern these shells could potentially corrode.

"It's important to know how corals, fisheries and plant life might respond to exposure to TNT or other toxins," Rorrer said.

The study is looking at not just TNT, which is commonly found in munitions, but at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, such as naphthalene, benzopyrene and other PAHs that are sometimes associated with the use of motorcraft or other causes.

Ongoing studies found that marine seaweeds processed toxins to a much less harmful form, and in a way that did not appear to harm the seaweed. The biochemistry involved, they say, is similar to that found in many land organisms, but more powerful and effective. Until now, the capability of marine seaweeds to deal with these toxins had never before been demonstrated.

It's unclear yet whether similar plants can be identified, the researchers said, that will perform this function in terrestrial fresh waters, such as streams or lakes.

These research outcomes should lead to the development of new bioremediation technologies that use seaweed in engineered systems to remove organic contaminants from the marine environment, the scientists said.

Studies to create genetically engineered seaweeds that perform these functions even better are also promising, the researchers said.

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Greg Rorrer, 541-737-3370

"Invasion of the Habitat Snatchers" opens at OSU's HMSC

NEWPORT - It sounds scary and surprising - like some B-movie - and that's part of the message of a new exhibit now open at the Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center.

But unlike a B-movie, "Invasion of the Habitat Snatchers" is not science fiction.

It's all about those sneaky and very real aquatic pests, from Asian clams to zebra mussels, which are emerging as a major environmental threat. These aquatic invaders permanently alter habitats, harm native fish and wildlife, and lead to billions of dollars in costs to society.

The European green crab and Atlantic cordgrass have already arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and species such as the Chinese mitten crab pose a nearby threat.

Given the many pathways of aquatic species introduction, public education is critical for limiting new invasions and rapidly detecting recent arrivals, said Jon Luke, exhibit developer at the HMSC Visitor Center.

"The exhibit's primary goal is to foster an understanding of how invasive species enter and affect new environments, the factors that influence an invader's success, and how each of us can prevent future invasions," Luke said.

Visitors to the exhibit will be engaged by a mix of live displays, video and hands-on activities. They will have a close-up view of ballast water "hitchhikers," learn about invasion risks at "The Wheel of Misfortune," or take on the role of an aquatic invader in an interactive survival game.

The exhibit is the second new installation that the Visitor Center has opened in recent months. It joins the World of Wet Pets, where new displays and aquaria filled with ornamental fish deepen visitors' appreciation of this popular hobby.

The Visitor Center is now open on its winter schedule, Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Memorial Day. It is managed by Oregon Sea Grant, a marine research, education, and outreach program based at OSU.

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Jon Luke, 541-867-0357

SIMILAR TSUNAMI POSSIBLE ON WEST COAST

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The type of devastating tsunami that struck the southern coast of Asia is entirely possible in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but might not cause as much loss of life there because of better warning systems, according to experts at Oregon State University.

OSU is home to the Tsunami Wave Basin at the Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, one of the world's leading research facilities to study tsunamis and understand their behavior, catastrophic effects and possible ways to reduce the destruction they can cause.

As the death tolls rises into the tens of thousands in Asia and the number of homeless above one million, OSU experts say many of the same forces that caused this disaster are at work elsewhere on the Pacific Ocean "ring of fire," one of the most active tectonic and volcanic regions of the world.

This clearly includes the West Coast of the U.S. and particularly the Pacific Northwest, which sits near the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Experts believe, in fact, that it was a subduction zone earthquake of magnitude 9 - almost identical in power to the sub-sea earthquake that struck Asia on Monday - that caused a massive tsunami around the year 1700 that caused damage as far away as Japan. And the great Alaska earthquake in 1964 caused waves that swept down the Northwest coast, causing deaths in Oregon and northern California.

"The loss of human lives from this latest tsunami is staggering," said Harry Yeh, an internationally recognized tsunami expert and the Edwards Professor of ocean engineering at OSU. "We have to ask, 'why?' Clearly, they didn't have the same kinds of warning systems that we have on the West Coast of the U.S. That is why the research that we do here is so important. As tragic as the event is, it also represents a learning opportunity and we have a responsibility to learn from it what we can.

"We didn't learn what we could have from the Alaska event," Yeh added, "because we didn't have the instrumentation we have today, and we didn't have the knowledge base. The tsunami event this weekend also happened during the daytime, so there are a lot of pictures and video of the devastation, which will help the research effort. Most of the other recent major events happened at night."

Robert Yeats, professor emeritus of geosciences at OSU, agrees that the reason for the great loss of life in Sri Lanka, India, and other Asian countries was the lack of a tsunami warning system.

"That much loss of life wouldn't happen here for either a local or distant tsunami because of warning systems operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with laboratories in Newport and Seattle," Yeats said. "NOAA would record the earthquake on seismographs and issue bulletins about the progress of a tsunami. Deep-ocean buoys off the Aleutian Islands and Cascadia would also record the passage of tsunami waves in the open ocean."

For a tsunami caused by a Cascadia earthquake, people on the coast would have about 15 minutes to get to high ground, Yeats said. Emergency managers of coastal counties have told residents about planning escape routes from a tsunami, and schools in Seaside, Ore. have had tsunami evacuation drills. Some coastal communities also give warnings through a siren for those vacationers who aren't keeping up with the news. Visitors to the coast should look for the blue and white tsunami warning signs on Highway 101 and some beach areas. Research on tsunamis is being greatly enhanced by the new Tsunami Wave Basin at OSU, a $4.8 million facility with advanced technology built with the support of the National Science Foundation. It allows scientists from anywhere in the world to conduct experiments and monitor results. It also helps them learn about how tsunamis behave in different types of ocean terrain and what effects they might have once they reach land, said Dan Cox, an associate professor of engineering who directs the facility.

"The underlying goal of all we are doing is to ultimately reduce the loss of lives," Cox said. "We've had a number of scientists from Japan and throughout the United States checking in with us already, and we expect more from around the world.

"We're not working alone," Cox added. "Much of our work is in collaboration with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and the support of the National Science Foundation has been critical. They've funded the construction of the facility during the past four years, and will support the operation and maintenance of it for the next 10 years."

Is it possible that a tsunami will strike the U.S. during that time? Experts are not sure.

"In the Pacific Northwest, there is no way to tell whether the next Cascadia earthquake will strike tomorrow or 100 years from now," Yeats said. "We must prepare for the worst case scenario, both in tsunami escape preparations and in not building in potential tsunami inundation zones."

One of Yeats' colleagues is Chris Goldfinger, who has spent years studying the Cascadia subduction zone. Goldfinger says that in the last 10,000 years, there have been 19 major earthquakes in the zone that runs from northern California to Vancouver Island.

"There are only a few places in the world with a pattern long enough that we can study," he said, "and one of them is Cascadia. We cannot accurately predict earthquakes, so we have to look to the past for patterns."

Yeh said the weekend's earthquake and tsunami were grim reminders that our planet's natural forces are constantly at work - even if we forget about them.

"There is such a long period between tsunamis that people tend to forget how dangerous they are, and how devastating their impacts can be," Yeh said. "People in this country forgot about hurricanes for several years before Hurricane Hugo, and this year's series of storms focused people's attention on them again. The lag time for tsunamis is even greater. But the threat is still very real, as we learned."

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Harry Yeh, 541-737-8057

New system can measure productivity of oceans

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Researchers at Oregon State University, NASA and other institutions announced today the discovery of a method to determine from outer space the productivity of marine phytoplankton - a breakthrough that may provide a new understanding of life in the world's oceans.

Phytoplankton are the incredibly abundant microscopic plant forms that provide the basis for most of the marine food chain, half the oxygen in our atmosphere and ultimately much of the life on Earth. They have rapid growth rates and are constantly being produced and consumed in huge amounts - but until now, it was impossible to determine their rate of growth on any broad, useful scale.

The new findings, which were developed with funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation, have been published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a professional journal. A group of scientists also explained the new study today in a national teleconference.

"The new information on phytoplankton growth rates and biomass will greatly advance our understanding of the Earth's oceans," said Michael Behrenfeld, a research professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at OSU.

"We don't have the satellite technology available yet to fully take advantage of this new approach," he said. "But ultimately this system should have a great potential to effectively monitor phytoplankton productivity and understand the physical and chemical forces that drive it."

Although too tiny to see, phytoplankton have a net annual production that's comparable to the total amount of terrestrial plant life on Earth, scientists say. They produce about 50-65 billion tons of organic matter each year, and in the process absorb carbon dioxide and pour oxygen into the atmosphere.

Their abundance dictates the location and health of most marine fisheries. They play a critical role in marine water quality issues, can help regulate climate, are affected by climate, and are responsible for red tides and other harmful algal blooms. The very basis of sustainable ecological systems is almost impossible to understand without a good grasp of phytoplankton productivity, and its implications for global climate change.

Behrenfeld is an expert on phytoplankton, and has studied them from their molecular and metabolic pathways to their measurement from outer space.

"It was only in the late 1800s that we even realized these tiny plants formed the base of the marine food web," Behrenfeld said. "By the 1950s, we had figured out how to accurately measure their production and use observations of chlorophyll to determine their biomass. But until now, we've never been able to measure their rate of production over large areas."

That production can be enormous, and highly variable. Phytoplankton biomass can double in as little as one day, and it's routine for the entire mass of phytoplankton in an area to either be consumed by other life forms or die and sink to the ocean bottom in less than a week.

"Obviously, there's a very tight coupling between phytoplankton production and its consumption or death," said Emmanuel Boss at the University of Maine, a co-author on the paper. "So it's almost impossible to really understand what's going on in the oceans without understanding that rate of production. Now we have a way to do that."

The researchers accomplished this by moving beyond the old standard for monitoring phytoplankton, the observation of chlorophyll.

"The growth rate of phytoplankton can change dramatically based on such factors as water temperature, nutrients and light," Behrenfeld said. "And it's the growth rate of phytoplankton we have to know, to really take the pulse of the oceans. That's the missing piece of the puzzle."

The new approach is based on the premise that the 'greenness' in phytoplankton - its level of pigmentation per cell - is a reflection of its growth rate, said David Siegel of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the third author on the paper. The researchers have discovered a means to measure phytoplankton biomass from ocean light scattering properties and infer growth rates from simultaneous measurements of how green the individual phytoplankton are, all from outer space.

The mathematics behind this approach, the researchers say, is conceptually similar to technology that's used in a home supply or paint store when someone brings in a color chip and wants to "match" the paint color. A computer analysis is done that determines the final color of the paint, factors in the base colors used to produce it and then determines the original formula needed to reproduce the paint chip.

To fully use this approach, new satellite systems will be necessary that can more accurately determine both the color and brightness of marine waters, Behrenfeld said. He and colleagues are already working on a satellite concept to do that called ORCA, or Ocean Radiometer for Carbon Assessment.

However, in studies already done, the scientists have demonstrated that carbon-based values are considerably higher in tropical oceans, show greater seasonality at middle and high latitudes, and illustrate important differences in the formation and demise of regional algal blooms. Researchers anticipate a fundamental change in how they can model and observe carbon cycling in the global oceans.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A national news media teleconference on these findings will take place Thursday, Feb. 10, at 10 a.m. PST. To participate, reporters can dial toll free to (888) 396-9926. The pass code is PLANKTON. For more information and digital images that can be used to illustrate this story, visit the NASA website at http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/plankton.html .

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Michael Behrenfeld, 541-737-5289

Tsunami survivor, OSU wave researchers to speak

CORVALLIS - An Oregon man who lived through the Asian tsunami while on a small island off the coast of Thailand will share his survival story at Oregon State University on Thursday, Feb. 10.

David Schreiber, who lives in Beaverton and Thailand, said he hopes telling his story will help the world better understand what the Thai people and others went through during and after the tsunami. He also hopes his presentation will underscore the importance of tsunami-related research being done at OSU and other places.

The presentation, "A Tsunami Survivor's Story," is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the OSU College of Engineering's Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation, and begins at 7 p.m. at Gillfillan Auditorium on the OSU campus.

Schreiber will be joined by a panel of OSU researchers who are helping develop better tsunami early-warning systems, safer evacuations procedures, and improved bridge and building designs at the O. H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, which is a part of the OSU College of Engineering.

Schreiber, his wife and a friend were on a day trip to a Thai island when the tsunami struck. The operator of the small boat that brought them to the island perished in the tsunami, after warning Schreiber a massive wave was coming.

Schreiber will show a short video he shot during two return trips to the island several days later.

Dan Cox, OSU ocean engineering professor and director of the O. H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, will moderate the discussion and describe how a $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation enabled the OSU College of Engineering to construct the Tsunami Wave Basin, the world's largest and most-wired facility specifically designed for tsunami research.

Cox testified last week before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which is hearing testimony about the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005 and the U.S. Tsunami Warning System bill.

Cox will be joined by OSU civil engineering professor Harry Yeh, an internationally renowned tsunami expert who just returned from a site visit to a tsunami-ravaged region of India. Yeh will help field technical questions.

Seating is limited. For more information, contact the Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation at (541) 737-4273.

Source: 

Daniel Cox, 541-737-3631

OSU prof testifies about tsunami research before Congress

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University ocean engineering professor Daniel Cox testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which is hearing testimony about the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005 and the U.S. Tsunami Warning System bill. He appeared at the request of U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, a member of the committee.

Congress is looking into ways to expand the nation's tsunami early-warning system currently in place along the Pacific coast, and how the U.S. can be better prepared to respond to future tsunamis.

Cox described the value of the National Science Foundation's recent $4.8 million in funding that enabled the OSU College of Engineering to construct the Tsunami Wave Basin, the world's largest and most-wired facility specifically designed for tsunami research.

Research at the OSU facility will lead to development of more effective tsunami early-warning systems, safer evacuation routes and procedures, and better designs for buildings and bridges, Cox said.

Employing a programmable wavemaker at one end, the Tsunami Wave Basin is capable of generating a solitary wave, while researchers observe how the wave impacts contoured terrain installed in the basin, he said. On this terrain, researchers place models of coastal infrastructure, such as bridges and buildings, instrumented with sensors to measure the impact of the wave or debris. Researchers anywhere in the world can participate in tsunami experiments at OSU in real-time via the internet.

Cox is director of the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, which houses the Tsunami Wave Basin as well as the longest wave flume in North America.

Following the Dec. 26 tsunami in Asia, Cox and his OSU colleagues, including tsunami expert Harry Yeh, Chris Goldfinger of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, and geosciences professor Robert Yeats, have responded to intense international media interest, and were featured in news stories by CNN, the New York Times, National Geographic, the Today Show, and others. The wave lab's website has seen a 10-fold increase in traffic since the Asian tsunami hit.

"The collaborative research we're doing here at Oregon State University will directly save lives when another tsunami hits in the future," said Ron Adams, dean of the OSU College of Engineering. "This is what excellent engineering is all about: solving complex problems through innovation. In this case, it's about saving lives."

Source: 

Daniel Cox, 541-737-3631

Oregon moving to center of wave energy development

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Significant advances in university research and other studies in the past two years are pointing toward Oregon as the possible epicenter of wave energy development in the United States.

This may lead to a major initiative to expand a technology that is now in its engineering infancy, and tap the constant heave of the oceans for a new era of clean, affordable and renewable electrical power.

Electrical engineers at Oregon State University have pioneered the development of technologies to take advantage of wave power in ways that are reliable, maintainable and able to survive a hostile ocean environment. The OSU College of Engineering also has a host of other facilities that would make it an ideal site for more advanced research.

Last fall, the Electric Power Research Institute finished a study which concluded that a site off Reedsport, Ore., would be the optimal location in the entire nation to develop a wave energy test and demonstration facility.

And on Wednesday, EPRI and the Oregon Department of Energy will meet in Portland, Ore., to bring together potential partners in this field to explore the future of wave energy development in the U.S.

At that meeting, OSU officials will present their vision for a U.S. Ocean Energy Research and Demonstration Center based in Oregon, which they believe could move this promising technology from a laboratory concept to a major contributor to the nation's energy needs. The center would evaluate existing wave energy systems and help create, test and implement new ones.

"The world's oceans are an extremely promising source of clean energy," said Annette von Jouanne, an OSU professor of electrical engineering. "The technology is still in experimental stages, but we've made enough progress in the past couple years that it's time to start planning a working research and demonstration facility. And the new EPRI study indicates that a site off the central Oregon coast is probably the best place in the country to do that."

The Reedsport site, experts say, has a combination of good wave action, an appropriate undersea terrain, and the presence of existing marine access and terrestrial electric transmission lines that would facilitate the creation of a test center.

OSU, in addition, has the highest-power energy systems laboratory of any university in the nation, a proximity to the Reedsport site, one of the leading research programs on ocean energy in the country, and the unique capabilities of the university's O. H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, including a 340-foot-long wave flume and the world's largest tsunami wave basin.

Compared to other forms of renewable energy production such as wind turbines, the development of ocean and wave energy has barely begun. But there are some operating systems in Europe, and the theoretical potential of this clean, inexhaustible form of energy is enormous - experts estimate that 0.2 percent of the ocean's untapped energy could power the entire world.

"The development of wave energy right now is probably 15-20 years behind wind energy, which is just now starting to achieve some optimal production technologies," said Alan Wallace, the co-principal investigator at OSU on these projects, and a professor of electrical engineering.

"And just like wind energy, these systems will be more expensive at first, and then the cost will come down and become very competitive," Wallace said. "But this is really groundbreaking research that can be of enormous value to society, and it's amazing all of the people who want to get involved."

The list of potential collaborators is long, von Jouanne said, but already includes the Oregon Department of Energy, EPRI, the Bonneville Power Administration, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Science Foundation, the Oregon Sea Grant Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Lincoln County Public Utility District, and U.S. Navy. Not to mention students from all over the world who are contacting the OSU engineers, hoping to join in research on the energy technology of the future.

"The Oregon Department of Energy is interested in the potential for wave energy in Oregon, which may prove to be a viable resource for clean, renewable energy," said Justin Klure, senior policy analyst with the Oregon Department of Energy. "At the upcoming meeting, we'll discuss the current state of wave energy technology, and coordinate with those individuals who may play a role in bringing a demonstration project to Oregon.

"There is much to discuss, including the costs of a demonstration project, the permitting and siting issues, the need for collaborative research, and other challenges."

There are multiple ways to tap the energy of the ocean, including its tides, thermal features and salinity. But wave energy appears to be the most promising and closest to commercial production. In recent studies, OSU has already created three prototypes of devices that could be used to harness wave energy - a permanent magnet linear generator, a permanent magnet rack and pinion gearbox, and a contactless direct drive generator buoy.

Some systems are very complex, and more vulnerable than others to the vagaries of severe ocean conditions. One of the most promising "direct drive" systems being studied at OSU is essentially a buoy that just moves up and down with large ocean swells, anchored about one or two miles offshore in more than 100 feet of water.

"What you want are nice, gradual, repetitive ocean swells," Wallace said. "Inside the buoy, this causes electrical coils to move through a magnetic field, inducing a voltage and creating electricity."

With this type of system, it would be possible to crank the buoy beneath the ocean surface to survive severe storm conditions or tsunamis, von Jouanne said.

The OSU engineers say that a buoy about 12 feet wide and 12 feet tall, rolling up and down in the ocean swells could produce 250 kilowatts per unit - a modest-sized network of about 200 such buoys could power the business district of downtown Portland. And the winter, the period of highest wave energy electrical production, also coincides with peak electricity demands in the Pacific Northwest.

"One of the other extremely promising possibilities with wave energy is the ability to scale these systems either up or down in size, whatever you need to fit the electrical demand," von Jouanne said. "Small systems could even be used with individual boats at anchor to generate their own electricity."

"We haven't even begun to figure out all of the potential uses of wave energy," she said. "But wherever this takes us, we believe that Oregon can and should be the national leader."

 

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Annette von Jouanne, 541-737-0831