marine science and the coast


CORVALLIS, Ore. - Here's one trip you'll flipper over. On porpoise.

One of the world's leading experts on marine mammals is leading a pair of educational tours this June to spectacular dolphin waters off the west end of Grand Bahama Island.

Participants will have numerous opportunities to swim with wild dolphins, tour organizers say.

The trips are being led by Bruce Mate, who heads the marine mammal research program at Oregon State University. Mate is an internationally recognized expert in the study of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. He recently has been featured on the Discovery Channel's "Eyes in the Sky" and other televised specials.

In addition to frolicking in the warm water among wild dolphins, passengers on the OSU Bahamas Dolphin Adventures will get the latest information on dolphin habitat research in the area.

Both cruises are on the 90-foot catamaran Bottom Time II out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The trips are scheduled for June 7-14 and June 14-21. The cost of the trip is $2,300 per person, double occupancy. Airfare to and from Ft. Lauderdale is not included.

Just a few spaces are available for both sessions. For more information, call 1-800-354-7281.

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Anne Bell, 541-737-1445


CORVALLIS - A recently discovered fault near the Oregon coast southwest of Newport could produce an earthquake comparable in size to the magnitude 6.7 quake that hit Northridge, Calif., in 1994, scientists say.

The discovery of this fault, which also is a "blind thrust" fault like the one that caused major damage in the 1994 California earthquake, illustrates the variety of seismic risks Oregon may face - quite separate from the major "subduction zone" earthquake that occurs every 300 years or so.

An analysis of the fault was given recently by Oregon State University geologists at the 92nd annual meeting of the Cordilleran Section of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Ore.

Advances in the combined use of sonar and submarine research are providing a new and improved picture of offshore Oregon, researchers say.

"Only a small fraction of the Oregon offshore has been mapped using sonar," said Robert Yeats, a professor of geology at OSU. "In the last few years we have found really exciting landscapes - sea cliffs, bays, sand bars, all covered by hundreds of feet of water.

"Each time we go out, we view terrain never before seen by human beings," Yeats said.

The discovery of this new fault was made on the Stonewall Bank, an important fishing ground 18 miles southwest of Newport. As scientists were scanning the sea floor with sonar, a river channel suddenly moved across the screen - a channel now covered with more than 200 feet of water.

"It looked so much like a river channel on land that we had the feeling of being up in a balloon in eastern Oregon," Yeats said. "But it was night and we were on board an oceanographic vessel off the coast of central Oregon."

The following day, researchers visited the stream channel with a two-person submersible, the Delta, mapping the channel banks and crawling across the floor of the channel itself. They found it completely covered with fine-grained mud deposited in the past 12,000 years.

The channel had been carved during an Ice Age when the Oregon coastline was about 25 miles west of its present position near Newport.

The biggest surprise, however, came when the researchers further examined their data at OSU laboratories, Yeats said. They found that the river channel was actually sloping backwards towards its ancestral source, the Yaquina River.

"Water runs downhill, so you would expect the channel to slope to the west," Yeats said. "The backward tilt means the river channel has been warped by a buried earthquake fault on the continental shelf."

Faults such as this, because they can be so much closed to shore than the subduction zone, pose a special earthquake threat to coastal communities, Yeats said.

If the Stonewall Bank fault, which scientists determined to be about 15 miles long, were to rupture all at once it could produce a quake comparable to the Northridge earthquake, Yeats said. Damage would include ground shaking and a tsunami threat.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which funded this research, is committed to using this type of specialized undersea technology to better assess earthquake risks in the Pacific Northwest, Yeats said.

"Sonar mapping, followed by detailed examination from a submarine, can put the geologist in the field where answers can be obtained," Yeats said, "even if in this case, the field is hundreds of feet below sea level."

Offshore research will continue this July, he said.

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Robert Yeats, 541-737-1226


CORVALLIS - A new atlas from Oregon Sea Grant and the Pacific Circle Consortium examines the coastal zones of the Pacific region, their human populations and the natural environment in which they live, work and play.

"Coastal Zones of the Pacific: A Descriptive Atlas" is aimed at young readers ages 13-17, and is filled with photographs and illustrations providing information on topics ranging from per capita automobile ownership to nuclear activity in the Pacific and distribution of threatened plant and animal species.

Sandy Ridlington, managing editor for Oregon Sea Grant Communications and the book's editor, said the book is intended to provide a set of cross-cultural materials that could empower its readers to understand the Pacific region and empathize with those who call it home.

With text by Marguerite Wells of Australia and art by Don Poole of Corvallis and Anna Asquith of Hawaii, the atlas includes chapters on the region's environment, including winds and currents, beaches and cliffs, wetlands and estuaries and coral reefs and atolls.

It also covers such human dimensions as pollution, the greenhouse effect and coastal management and regulation.

A chapter on original peoples of the Pacific traces the histories, movement and rights of indigenous groups from North America to the islands of the central and western Pacific, and other chapters explore the history and prospects of protected animals, plants and places.

The 160-page, paper-bound atlas is available from Oregon Sea Grant Communications, 402 Administrative Services, Oregon State University, Corvallis OR 97331-2134. The price is $14.95 plus postage and handling. Ask for ORESU-B-96-001.

Oregon Sea Grant is based at OSU. The Pacific Circle Consortium is made up of science and social studies educators from around the Pacific, and is dedicated in part to providing curriculum materials related to the region.

Story By: 

Sandy Ridlington, 541-737-0755

Management best way to reach riparian goals, study concludes

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The massive set-asides and rigid restrictions on management of forest lands near the streams of the Pacific Northwest were done with laudable goals - but they may actually backfire unless remedial measures are taken, a recent study concludes.

These riparian zones, a key to the health of fisheries, streams and wildlife, are often in very poor condition as a result of misguided forest management practices of the past, says Michael Newton, an Oregon State University professor of forest science and lead author on the study.

Towering conifers, appropriate light levels, large woody debris for streams, protection from siltation and intact stream banks are what's desired. But decades of fire exclusion, inadequate replanting, the growth of opportunistic hardwoods and salmonberry shrubs, and the loss of conifers in many places have left riparian zones quite different from that ideal, he said.

Aggressive management is needed and without it the riparian zones may face a stagnant, debilitated future, the study concluded.

"A hands-off attitude towards these huge buffer strips along streams will not solve our problems, it will perpetuate them," Newton said. "We have solid evidence that alder and salmonberry, once established, can persist for hundreds of years."

Only a return to the million acre fires once common in this region - but now almost impossible for a variety of reasons - could naturally restore the riparian zones to a conifer-dominated ecosystem, Newton said.

Lacking that, human management using all the tools at the forester's disposal is an obvious and constructive approach to achieve the range of goals that society demands, the study said.

"With clear objectives, we can manage these riparian zones for virtually any desired goal," Newton said. "That includes fisheries and a broad range of wildlife, along with timber production. Right now, we basically have a mess on our hands and are just starting to make plans to do something about it."

The ecological history of low-elevation riparian zones and many other parts of the Douglas-fir old growth ecosystem, Newton said, was one driven by large, hot, repeated fires. That created the open areas, seeding and other conditions needed for conifers to become dominant.

But wildfire is largely gone, Newton said - and in the form that it created these forests, may never be allowed to return. Pacific Northwest riparian zones, which could be the most productive conifer forests on Earth, are also among the most vulnerable to invasion by unwanted tree and shrub species.

In his study, Newton and four co-authors reviewed the types of goals now commonly sought or legally mandated for these riparian zones, and the management activities that could be used to create them.

The goals include:

-Defining and improving riparian forest cover to provide aquatic and terrestrial habitat;

-Establishing desirable cover and conifer regeneration for timber and habitat;

-Protection of riparian vegetation.

To achieve those goals, these and other researchers evaluated use of thinning or even clearcut timber harvest; brush and hardwood control with manual methods and selective, low-impact herbicide use, including individual tree injection; cultivation of large conifers near streams; appropriate improvements in nursery technology; and wildlife damage control.

Many of these measures are expensive, Newton said, and realistically will not be done without some income from selective and enlightened timber harvest in the riparian zones.

Also, the report noted some of the broader social implications, from a natural resource perspective, of excluding the zones from timber harvest.

"Some current plans call for millions of acres of riparian reserves," Newton said. "But these are among our most productive timber lands. To meet the societal demand for wood, we're just forcing our problems elsewhere."

What that leads to, the researchers said, is expanded timber harvests in high-latitude forests such as Canada or Siberia, where 10-20 acres may have to be harvested to equal the yield of one acre of riparian zones, and where the potential for reforestation is far less.

On a global scale the resulting shift in harvests "could be devastating to wildlife" with multiple loss of species, Newton said.

The recent study was published in the journal Weed Technology.

Story By: 

Michael Newton, 541-737-6076

Study in Nature: Measurements of conductivity suggest water in mantle

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of scientists from Oregon State University has created the first global three-dimensional map of electrical conductivity in the Earth’s mantle and their model suggests that that enhanced conductivity in certain areas of the mantle may signal the presence of water.

What is most notable, the scientists say, is those areas of high conductivity coincide with subduction zones – where tectonic plates are being subducted beneath the Earth’s crust. Subducting plates are comparatively colder than surrounding mantle materials and thus should be less conductive. The answer, the researchers suggest, may be that conductivity in those areas is enhanced by water drawn downward during the subduction process.

Results of their study are being published this week in Nature.

“Many earth scientists have thought that tectonic plates are not likely to carry much if any water deep into the Earth’s mantle when they are being subducted,” said Adam Schultz, a professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State and a co-author on the Nature study. “Most evidence suggests that subducting rocks initially hold water within their minerals, but that water is released as the rocks heat up.”

“There may be other explanations,” he added, “but the model clearly shows a close association between subduction zones and high conductivity and the simplest explanation is water.”

The study is important because it provides new insights into the fundamental ways in which the planet works. Despite all of the advances in technology, scientists are still unsure how much water lies beneath the ocean floor – and how much of it makes its way into the mantle.

The implications are myriad. Water interacts with minerals differently at different depths, and small amounts of water can change the physical properties of rocks, alter the viscosity of materials in the mantle, assist in the formation of rising plumes of melted rock and ultimately affect what comes out on the surface.

“In fact, we don’t really know how much water there is on Earth,” said Gary Egbert, also a professor of oceanography at OSU and co-author on the study. “There is some evidence that there is many times more water below the ocean floor than there is in all the oceans of the world combined. Our results may shed some light on this question.”

Egbert cautioned that there are other explanations for higher conductivity in the mantle, including elevated iron content or carbon.

There also may be different explanations for how the water – if indeed the conductivity is reflecting water – got there in the first place, the scientists point out.

“If it isn’t being subducted down with the plates,” Schultz said, “how did it get there? Is it primordial, down there for four billion years? Or did it indeed come down as the plates slowly subduct, suggesting that the planet may have been much wetter a long time ago? These are fascinating questions, for which we do not yet have answers.”

The scientists conducted their study using electromagnetic induction sounding of the Earth’s mantle. This electromagnetic imaging method is very sensitive to interconnecting pockets of fluid that may be found within rocks and minerals that enhance conductivity. Using magnetic observations from more than 100 observatories dating back to the 1980s, they were able to create a global three-dimensional map of mantle conductivity.

Anna Kelbert, a post-doctoral research associate at OSU and lead author on the paper, said the imaging doesn’t show the water itself, but the level of conductivity and interpreting levels of hydrogen, iron or carbon require additional constraints from mineral physics. She described the study of electrical conductivity as both computationally intensive and requiring years of careful measurements in the international observatories.

“The deeper you want to look into the mantle,” Kelbert said, “the longer periods you have to use. This study has required magnetic field recordings collected over decades.”

The scientists say the next step is to replicate the experiment with newly available data from both ground observatories and satellites, and then conduct more research to better understand the water cycle and how the interaction with deep-Earth minerals works. Their work is supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA to take the next steps in this research program.

Ultimately, they hope to produce a model quantifying how much water may be in the mantle, locked up within the mineral-bearing rocks.

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Anna Kelbert, 541-737-4113 

El Nino forecasts could help save coho salmon

CORVALLIS - The ability to forecast the onset of an El Nino would help efforts to stem the decline of coho salmon on the West Coast, suggests a research report issued by scientists at Oregon State University.

The economic value of improved El Nino forecasting to the coho fishery varies from $250,000 to $900,000 a year, depending on the accuracy of the forecast, the interdisciplinary team of scientists found.

The researchers combined biological, statistical and economic models to measure the long-term benefits of incorporating information about El Nino in management decisions for the coho salmon fishery. The research was funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report supports doubling the number of wild coho allowed to enter coastal streams to spawn and reducing by as much as 75 percent the yearly coho hatchery production. The findings corroborate recommendations of Oregon's Coastal Salmon Restoration Initiative, established by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

"Improved El Nino forecasts would allow fishery managers to make more effective decisions and perhaps reduce the need for drastic short-term measures, such as closing the commercial and recreational coho fishing seasons," said Richard Adams, a professor of agricultural and resource economics who works with the OSU Agricultural Experiment Station.

Coho salmon along Oregon, Washington and California have been in steep decline since the late 1970s. In an attempt to halt the loss of coho, the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering listing coho as an endangered species. The listing would result in lengthy and constant review by federal agencies of many activities that occur in the coastal zone, including public and private land use, release of hatchery fish and regulation of fisheries. El Nino is part of a global climate system called the "southern oscillation" that affects weather throughout the world. In El Nino years, West Coast water temperatures become abnormally warm, which disrupts the upwelling of colder, nutrient-rich water containing the species coho depend on for food.

With their usual food supply unavailable, a larger number of salmon die prematurely. Those that do survive have lower average weights and the females produce fewer eggs.

Although the capability to predict an El Nino already exists, its accuracy is only slightly better than guessing, according to the report. However, forecasting accuracy is likely to improve due to ongoing NOAA data collection and monitoring efforts.

In 1982-83, the West Coast experienced an El Nino now thought to be one of the worst this century. This unanticipated El Nino had a devastating effect on coho salmon and played havoc with the assumptions upon which fishery management policies were based.

For example, fishery experts had predicted that nearly 1.6 million wild coho would return to spawn in Pacific Northwest streams that year. Only an estimated 667,000 showed up, or 42 percent of what had been expected.

"If accurate forecasts of the 1982-83 El Nino had been available and incorporated into fishery management decisions prior to the 1983 event, the effect of El Nino might have been less severe," Adams said. "Incorporating forecasts in subsequent years would also have helped to avoid extreme measures, such as closing the fishing season."

El Ninos may last from a few months to a few years. A recent, lingering El Nino is thought to have contributed to the current low population level of coho that led to the closure of the commercial and recreational ocean coho salmon fishing seasons from 1994-96. Other factors contributing to the decline of coho include dams, destruction of spawning and rearing habitat, high harvest rates, and the introduction of hatchery coho.

El Ninos vary in their intensity. Seven notable El Ninos have occurred in the past 100 years. Very strong ones occurred in 1925-26 and 1982-83, and strong ones took place in 1899-1900, 1932, 1940-41, 1957-58 and 1972-73.

"Historical catch statistics of Oregon salmon indicated that the abundance and average size of coho were below normal during these events," said David Sampson, a fisheries scientist in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and member of the El Nino research team.

The impact of an El Nino is not uniform along the Pacific coast, according to the report. Even during strong events, the coho off Washington and British Columbia may not be as susceptible to ocean changes. And research on the abundance of Alaska salmon shows no appreciable connection between coho abundance and El Nino.

The primary indicator of an El Nino is the southern oscillation index, a measurement of the difference in the atmospheric pressure between Easter Island and Darwin, Australia. These differences usually occur 12-18 months before an El Nino occurs on the West Coast of the United States.

NOAA makes El Nino forecasts on an annual basis. Because these forecasts are available 12-18 months ahead of time, the researchers recommend that harvest rates and hatchery releases be adjusted in anticipation of the El Nino. Their research showed that, over time, a strategy of incorporating this information would yield higher benefits to society.

They also recommend changes in the number of wild coho allowed to migrate to their native streams to spawn.

"Current coho management policies call for 200,000 wild coho to return and spawn each year," Sampson said. "We concluded that the optimal level should be around 400,000 fish each year, depending on the predicted strength of the El Nino."

Other scientists on the interdisciplinary team were Andrew Solow, statistician, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Stephen Polasky, OSU agricultural economist; and Christopher Costello, graduate student in the OSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.


Richard Adams, 541-737-1435

Three named to Sea Grant Advisory Council

CORVALLIS - A commercial fisherman, a wildlife biologist and a Seaside tourism official have been named to three-year terms on the Oregon Sea Grant Advisory Council.

The 11-member council meets twice each year to help set research, education and outreach priorities for Oregon Sea Grant, which is part of a nationwide consortium of Sea Grant programs organized under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The new members are:

-Ralph Brown, a commercial fisherman from Brookings who serves on the Pacific Fishery Management Council and helped initiate Oregon's innovative Developmental Fisheries Program;

-Willa Nehlsen, a staff biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland. Formerly on the staff of the Pacific Rivers Council, Nehlsen has written numerous studies on salmon and salmon habitat, and is a member of the state's Salmon Restoration and Production Task Force.

-Sue Pickell, manager of the Seaside Chamber of Commerce, past president of the Tourism Council of Oregon, and a member of Oregon Tourism Commission.

They join present council members Don Barth of Newport, Kirk Beiningen of Portland, Anne Berblinger of Portland, Jerry Dove of Tillamook, Basil Edmunds of Garibaldi, Russ Heggen of Eugene, Nancy Leonard of Lincoln County and Bob Montgomery of Cascade Locks.

Based at Oregon State University, Oregon Sea Grant supports research in a variety of disciplines on subjects ranging from fisheries to seafood, coastal natural hazards and marine biotechnology.

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Jay Rasmussen, 541-867-0370

Survey reveals coast public's views of salmon restoration

CORVALLIS - Oregon coast residents have strong opinions about the decline of coastal salmon and proposed methods to restore the fish, and their views suggest that fishery managers and the state's restoration planners have work ahead to gain public acceptance for salmon recovery efforts.

These are some of the key insights from a new survey of 500 Oregon coast residents conducted by researchers Court Smith and Jennifer Gilden at Oregon State University. The survey is the largest systematic sampling of coastal public opinion about salmon undertaken in recent years. It was funded by Oregon Sea Grant, a marine research and education program at OSU.

"Coastal residents as a whole have not had very much say in the formulation of the state's Coastal Salmon Restoration Initiative," said Smith, an OSU professor of anthropology and the survey leader. "Their views are divided and are often not in synch with values reflected in the Governor's restoration plan."

The Sea Grant study, conducted in November and December, surveyed a random sample of all Oregon coast residents and a smaller group of identified "salmon opinion leaders" - coastal watershed council and elected officials. Surveys were mailed to more than 800 coastal residents and 195 leaders.

Key findings of the study, according to Smith and Gilden, include:

  • The state, rather than the federal government, is favored to lead salmon restoration.
  • The public and fishery managers have widely different views on several issues, including the effect of predators such as seals and sea lions on salmon, the role of hatcheries, and the importance of wild fish.
  • There is strong support for compensating private landowners for protecting and restoring salmon.
  • Nearly half of the respondents (47 percent) are willing to volunteer a half day or more a month on salmon restoration work.
  • The coastal public receives its salmon information mainly from television and radio (62 percent) and by word of mouth (60 percent).
  • The public has no greater than moderate confidence in institutions and organizations dealing with salmon - a confidence level of 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. In general, federal fish and wildlife agencies and the OSU Extension Service fared better than environmental groups and city and county planners (which rated higher than federal courts or Congress).

The distance between public and professional opinion was clear in response to a question which asked the relative importance of certain factors for the future of salmon, Smith said.

While most professionals would argue that reducing predators like seals and sea lions, increasing hatchery production, and eliminating ocean driftnets fall decidedly on the less important end of the scale, the public thinks that reducing marine mammals and stopping ocean driftnetting are very important.

Opinions also contrast on hatcheries. While nearly all salmon biologists now argue that hatchery production should be decreased and changed to avoid harming wild fish runs, only 20 percent of respondents agree. About 38 percent of the rest of the respondents think it's "not important at all" to decrease hatchery production.

"The public apparently views the salmon decline mainly as a production problem," said Smith. "They see hatcheries as at least part of the solution."

In reviewing the 500 responses, Smith and Gilden wanted to see if there was any factor which would help leaders of salmon restoration understand what would motivate coastal people to restore the salmon. They examined variables like age, income, and education but found that the most critical factors in shaping people's opinions about salmon were their values and beliefs.

A key question noted that trade-offs between the environment and the economy could be involved in salmon restoration and asked respondents to place themselves on a scale from favoring the environment to favoring economic considerations. Forty percent of respondents said their priority was "restoring and protecting environmental conditions even if there are negative economic consequences," while 16 percent favored the economy over the environment. Most people, 44 percent, favored an "equal priority."

Those preferences repeatedly shaped other opinions. For example, the majority of those who favored the environment think that endangered species laws don't need changing, while those who favor the economy think that they do. Those on the environmental side are much more willing to volunteer time to help restore salmon than are those who favor the economy.

Such responses have importance for those who are trying to promote salmon recovery efforts, said Gilden.

"Coastal residents will interpret and evaluate plans and information according to their beliefs, " said Gilden. "To the extent that a plan captures the values of coastal residents, acceptance is more likely."

Smith advises salmon recovery planners to think of their task as not "selling the Governor's plan," but rather "addressing resident concerns."

Educating and working with the public to increase their understanding of the issues - a much longer process than merely mounting a public relations or information campaign - is likely to be needed in some cases, said Smith.

Despite the considerable attention on salmon decline in the news media and within government, many coastal residents are not engaged by the issue. This interpretation comes from phone calls to about two-thirds of those who did not respond by mail.

In talking personally with 150 people, Smith identified five groups among those who did not respond: those for whom salmon restoration is simply not a priority concern; people who feel they are not knowledgeable enough to respond to a survey; a "small but vocal" group who oppose or are hostile to "government" and equated the survey with government; and a generally older group who felt that their opinions were not as important as those of a younger generation and such decisions should be deferred to them.

Finally, some non-respondents were thought to be seasonal residents of the coast and simply not at home.


Court Smith, 541-737-3858

New funds will help create Oregon’s most accurate seafloor mapping system

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An allocation from the 2009 Oregon Legislature combined with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will help researchers from Oregon State University and Northwest companies create the most detailed maps of the seafloor off Oregon ever generated.

With a resolution of a half-meter or better, the maps will cover about 34 percent of State of Oregon waters and 75 percent of its rocky reefs, recording every bump, depression, reef and boulder on the seafloor from a depth of 10 meters out to three miles, the boundary of Oregon’s territorial sea.

“Developing an image of our ocean floor will help us model tsunamis, identify marine habitats, select alternative energy sites, identify geological hazards, and enhance safe and efficient marine transportation,” said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. “Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger of California, Gov. (Christine) Gregoire of Washington and I set a goal of mapping our three states’ oceans by the year 2020.

“Thanks to the strong partnership between academia, private industry, fishermen, coastal legislators and multiple state and federal agencies, Oregon is on track to reach that goal,” Kulongoski added.

Chris Goldfinger, an associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences at OSU, says the work will begin immediately and focus initially on sites from Cape Perpetua northward, including sites important for tsunami modeling, wave energy and marine reserves proposed at Cape Falcon, south of Cannon Beach; Cascade Head, near Lincoln City; and Cape Perpetua, near Yachats.

“We’ll be hiring local fishing boats and crews to help us with the surveys,” Goldfinger said, “so there will be a real Oregon flavor to the project. We should get about halfway done this summer and finish up next year.”

The project later will focus on others sites that are being evaluated for future marine reserves, including  Cape Arago/Seven Devils, south of Coos Bay, as well other rocky reef areas such as the Rogue and Blanco Reefs.

Goldfinger and his colleagues at OSU will work with David Evans & Associates in Portland on the project. OSU will use an allocation of nearly $1.3 million from the Oregon Legislature, which was part of the settlement from the cleanup of the New Carissa, a ship that wrecked off the southern Oregon coast in 1999 carrying an estimated 135,000 gallons of oil.

David Evans & Associates will be funded by a grant of approximately $4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 through NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey (http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/), which creates nautical charts and surveys. A second company, Fugro Seafloor Surveys, Inc. of Seattle, has received a separate grant from NOAA to map the southern Oregon coast. The combined project will be funded at about $7.3 million.

The project was spearheaded by coastal legislators, especially Oregon Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, whose advocacy for the project never waned, despite state and national budget shortfalls.

“They say that the third time is the charm and this was our third attempt to pass legislation to enable Oregon State University ocean scientists to finish the task of mapping the sea floor,” Boone said. “Many thanks should go to all partners for their hard work, diligence and collaboration to achieve the goal of being able to have credible tsunami inundation zone modeling, navigational charts updated, and marine, fisheries habitat and coastal hazards mapping available for multiple uses.”

OSU’s Goldfinger said that the maps have other benefits beyond siting marine reserves and developing tsunami inundation models. The detailed seafloor maps will be beneficial to Oregon fishermen, boaters, and scientists studying sea level rise, potentially catastrophic earthquakes, wave energy and other issues, Goldfinger pointed out.

“The resolution will be on a scale we’ve never had before,” he said. “We’ll be using multi-beam sonar that will give us complete coverage of the ocean floor, and will record ‘backscatter’ data that will tell us how hard the ocean floor is and whether the bottom is comprised of sand, mud or gravel.”

A second ship will follow the survey ship and use additional instruments to “ground truth” the surveys, collecting samples and recording some oceanographic data including dissolved oxygen content. These measurements will help scientists better understand ocean hypoxia – or low oxygen that has led to marine “dead zones” – and harmful algal blooms that lead to domoic acid concentrations in Oregon shellfish.

Goldfinger previously had led an effort to create an interim map of Oregon’s territorial sea and seabed habitats, with sparse existing data that showed water depths and sediment types, and can be overlaid with information about geology, habitat, buoys, seabirds, marine life and kelp beds. The map is available online at (http://pacoos.coas.oregonstate.edu/MarineHabitatViewer/viewer.aspx).

The new maps will provide more detail at a much finer scale, Goldfinger said. It is that precision that will allow scientists and decision-makers to better understand and prepare for earthquakes, tsunamis and sea level rise, as well as better manage marine resources.

Story By: 

Chris Goldfinger, 541-737-5214

Invading crabs pose serious concern, not chaos

CORVALLIS - The European green crab that has arrived in Coos Bay has the potential to spread fairly rapidly up and down the Pacific Coast, experts say, but may not totally decimate marine ecosystems as some reports have suggested.

This unwanted crab species breeds and spreads rapidly, grows fast, eats almost anything, and has an unusually wide tolerance for variation in both water temperature and salinity, says Sylvia Yamada, an instructor of zoology at Oregon State University and expert on crab predation.

"There's little doubt this crab will spread and cause some problems, and there's not much we can do to stop that," Yamada said. "In some local cases the problems may be severe. But it's also true that other marine species will adapt and survive. Our native marine fauna will not be wiped out."

Yamada just completed a literature review of research on this invasive crab species, which is native to Europe and has been causing problems on the West Coast since showing up in San Francisco Bay in 1989.

Among the findings:


  • A female green crab can produce up to 200,000 eggs per year, and its planktonic larvae, in theory, can travel up to 400 miles in one generation on Pacific Ocean currents.


  • All bays, estuaries and inland seas from Baja California to Alaska may be habitat for the green crab - including Puget Sound - but it won't become abundant on wave-exposed portions of the coast.


  • The green crab is voracious, eating barnacles, clams, oysters, mussels, worms, urchins, young Dungeness or red rock crabs, some plants and small fish.


  • These crabs are smaller than native Dungeness and red rock crabs, but larger than other native crab species that can tolerate low salinity, such as the purple shore crab and hairy Oregon shore crab.


  • Because of its size, fast growth and low-salinity tolerance, the green crab will pose a special problem to commercial shellfish growers as it feeds on young oysters and clams. It may also disturb the ecosystem through its burrowing habits in soft sediments.

A picky eater? No. In lean times the green crab will make dinner out of 104 biological families, 18 genera, five plant and 14 animal phyla. If it's alive, it's lunch.

But in spite of this list of predatory accomplishments, Yamada said the green crab will probably become just another predatory crab species within the marine ecosystem.

"For one thing, it's important to remember that the European green crab will not only be a predator, it will also be a prey," she said. "Especially when young, it will be eaten by other native crabs, fish, otters, seals, the great blue heron, ducks, gulls and other birds. And maybe humans."

The green crab also can't take waves very well - it will confine itself largely to inland waters of one type or another.

"It's very difficult to predict exactly how a new species will establish itself in a given situation," Yamada said. "It will take time for the green crab to build up breeding populations as it spreads, and it will be preyed upon by many other marine species."

If the green crab does form dense enough populations, Yamada said, we can expect some reduction in clam harvests, decrease in the survival of young oysters, an evolutionary "natural selection" for shellfish with thicker shells, a displacement of native species such as the hairy Oregon shore crab from some of their habitats, and a decrease in the survival of young Dungeness crabs.

Silver linings are hard to come by with this crab species. It might make decent fish bait, and in theory it can be eaten - the green crab is harvested and eaten by people in Portugal, Spain, France and England. But due to its small size it won't compare favorably to a succulent Dungeness crab.

"It's very unfortunate this species has arrived," Yamada said. "In all likelihood we'll just have to learn to live with it. And that's exactly what the other marine species will do."

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Sylvia Yamada, 541-737-5345