marine science and the coast

55,000-year-old trees revealed by the elements

CORVALLIS, Ore. - An Oregon State University oceanographer has discovered remnants of an ancient forest in a seaside cliff near Yachats, Ore., with exposed tree sections that have been dated at older than 55,000 years.

Those trees, which apparently were flattened during an ancient landslide and preserved in sediment, are now being exposed - and may help shed light on the multuous historical natural conditions along the Oregon coast, researchers said.

Bill Smyth was on a family outing exploring the beach during a very low tide when he saw a layer of tree trunks exposed at an odd angle sticking out of the sea cliff between Yachats and Cape Perpetua. A layer of jumbled sediments and broken rocks above the trees suggests that the forest was buried in a landslide - possibly in connection with a major earthquake. A massive quake in the 8.5 to 9.0 range struck the southern coast in 1700.

But when the carbon dating was complete, Smyth and colleague Roger Hart, a former OSU oceanographer now working as a geologist for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, learned that the trees died at least 55,000 years ago.

And 55,000 years is as far back as that dating technique reliably works. The trees may be even older, said Smyth, who is an associate professor in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

"The age of the trees is impressive," Smyth said. "They may be 80,000 or even 100,000 years old. Getting a firmer date on the trees would be a nice piece of the puzzle in better understanding the tectonic history of the region."

But the trees also raise a question for scientists: Why are they being exposed now?

Since wood usually decays in a few decades - especially when battered by the marine elements - the exposure of the trees must be more recent.

"It looks to me like there has been erosion of the sea cliffs from waves," Hart said. "Why? That starts to get into the controversy. There's been at least one study that suggests that the wave height has been increasing, and it could be normal progression from sea levels rising.

"But there have been some other studies that suggest that we are getting a pattern of more persistent, stronger winds from the southwest," Hart added, "and that wind intensity and storm frequency have been increasing since about 1948. There's also the possibility that this is related to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a 20- to 25-year cycle of lower pressure in the northern Pacific that induces more wind and storms."

Hart was one of the lead scientists who analyzed newly exposed tree stumps that suddenly appeared on Oregon beaches in 1997. At the time, he said, they credited the sudden exposure to erosion caused by a strong El Nino event.

But El Nino erosions usually correct themselves within a year or two, Hart said, and many of the exposed trees are still visible. These trees, which at 7,000 years of age are much younger than Smyth's find, can still be viewed along the coast in places like Neskowin, where "more than 200 stumps are rooted on the beach, out in the waves," he said.

Smyth said it is hard to determine how many of the 55,000-year-old-plus trees are lodged in the slide area near Yachats, but he assumes the buried forest goes back quite a distance into the bank. His discovery is feeding the interest of scientists from several disciplines.

Smyth said that other researchers who have examined the trees - which appear to be some kind of spruce - are able to gather clues to the ancient atmosphere by deducing what kind of nourishment these trees may have had. Differences in the tree rings can suggest moist or dry years, giving clues to climate change.

An issue of immediate concern is why these ancient old spruce trees are suddenly greeting coastal visitors more than 55,000 years after getting buried in a landslide. Whether the answer lies in rising sea levels, more intense wave action, or a period of greater storm activity, the erosion could have serious implications.

Highway 101 lies only a few feet above where the trees are exposed, the researchers point out.

"One thing we need to remember is that the Oregon coast is constantly changing," Smyth said. "At times in our past, the sea level was much higher, and at other times, the coast line was miles out into where the ocean now is.

"If nothing else, these trees are a nice reminder that things don't remain the same forever."

Media Contact: 

Bill Smyth, 541-737-3029

Multimedia Downloads


Ancient forest

OSU scientist heps war-torn island plan for future tsunamis

NICOSIA, CYPRUS - A tsunami knows no boundaries. That recent lesson has chilled long-standing hostilities in the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where a soil scientist from Oregon State University is mapping evidence of tsunamis from past millennia.

In the weeks following the Asian tsunami, the officials of both Greek- and Turkish-controlled Cyprus put aside their political differences. They invited Jay Noller, an OSU soil scientist, to help Cypriots assess the risk of tsunamis to their shared island and to introduce Oregon's tsunami hazard model.

This is not the first time Noller has worked with both sides of the politically divided island. Noller broke new ground last year with a soil erosion study that brought together scientists for the first time from the two communities.

An unintended result from last year's study was evidence of unusual and unpredicted patterns of erosion along the Cyprus coast.

"From the patterns of soil erosion and evidence of sea-floor rocks now on dry land, I was able to piece together a history of many large tsunamis in the past several thousand years which eroded away the coastal soils," said Noller.

Called back to Cyprus in January following the Asian tsunami, Noller had expected to work with a small group of soil scientists. However, the meeting quickly grew into a bi-communal symposium in February where scientists and policy-makers from both Greek and Turkish communities met together, many for the first time.

Noller presented evidence of past tsunamis from his soil erosion study and from the long historic record of Cypriot civilization, including a tsunami description written on a clay tablet four thousand years ago. He warned the assembled group that Cyprus has a long history of being struck by damaging tsunamis and it is certain to be struck again.

Then Noller introduced Oregon's tsunami hazard model to help the Cypriots plan for their shared future.

"In Oregon, where we have the world's best warning system and science of tsunamis, we expect no prediction and we hope for twenty minutes at most to evacuate our coastal cities," Noller told the group.

He outlined the role of research, education and communication based on the Oregon tsunami hazard model. Then he proposed ways that government officials could make plans to reduce the hazard of tsunamis on all of Cyprus.

The symposium was held in Nicosia, which has been the capital of Cyprus for one thousand years and is now the world's only divided capital city, since the 1974 Turkish invasion split the country in two.

"I watched decades-old barriers dissolve within minutes between groups," Noller said. "It was particularly warming to listen to the testimonies of leadership from both sides make verbal commitments to expand their engagement to other matters. I am amazed at these changes."

Noller and his colleagues in Cyprus and at OSU are drafting reports to help officials assess the risk and plan for future tsunamis in Cyprus.


Media Contact: 

Jay Noller, 541-737-6187

Atlantic current shutdown could disrupt ocean food chain

CORVALLIS, Ore. - If increased precipitation and sea surface heating from global warming disrupts the Atlantic Conveyer current - as some scientists predict - the effect on the ocean food chain in the Atlantic and other oceans could be severe, according to a new study just published in Nature.

In a worst case scenario, global productivity of phytoplankton could decrease by as much as 20 percent and in some areas, such as the North Atlantic, the loss could hit 50 percent. The study was conducted by Andreas Schmittner, an assistant professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

In his sophisticated computer model, Schmittner does not predict that the Atlantic Conveyer current, which drags warm water from the southern tropics into the North Atlantic and warms Europe, will be disrupted. Rather, his study is one of the first to examine what would happen to the ocean food chain if such a disruption did take place.

"Phytoplankton are the basis of the entire marine food web," Schmittner said. "They ultimately affect everything from zooplankton to the larger fish that people consume."

The Atlantic Conveyer current has the strongest impact in the North Atlantic, but it is a global phenomenon, Schmittner said. Surface waters from the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Ocean and the southern Atlantic are pulled northward where they are cooled by the atmosphere in the North Atlantic. As the water cools, it sinks 2,000 to 3,000 meters and begins flowing southward. The upwelling from the mixing of waters constantly replenishes the supply of phytoplankton at the surface, forming a rich nutrient source at the bottom of the marine food web.

There is growing concern by a number of scientists, however, that higher levels of human-generated carbon dioxide could increase water and air temperatures and decrease salinity in the North Atlantic at a rate significant enough to prevent the sinking and ultimate mixing of the water. That would not only disrupt the Atlantic Conveyer current, Schmittner said, it would prevent nutrient-rich waters from triggering phytoplankton growth.

"When the Atlantic Conveyer current works, the dead plankton sink to the bottom and are replaced at the surface with nutrient-rich water that encourages further production," Schmittner said. "When the current is disrupted, and the mixing slows, that production also is disrupted."

The shutdown of the Atlantic Conveyer current isn't just idle speculation. A growing body of evidence suggests that it switched on and off 20 to 25 times during the last ice age.

"During the last ice age, from about 100,000 years before present to 20,000 years B.P., thick ice sheets over Canada sporadically dropped armadas of icebergs into the North Atlantic where they melted, sufficiently freshening the water to disrupt the conveyer," Schmittner said.

"There is some evidence backing that up," he added. "Deep ocean sediment core samples show pebbles from land delivered by the floating icebergs."

Schmittner said scientists also have examined ice cores from Greenland and measured isotopes that show rapid temperature changes, which coincide with changes in ocean nutrient concentrations measured in deep-sea sediment cores.

"One full oscillation of these switches took 1,500 years," Schmittner said, "but the individual transitions happened surprisingly fast. The climate went from a cold state to a warm state in as little as 20 to 50 years. Surface temperatures in Greenland increased 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit and water temperatures increased 10 to 20 degrees."

Schmittner said the impact of the current on the Pacific Ocean generally isn't as great, even though the system is a global one. Still, he added, plankton production would also decrease in the Pacific if the current was reduced.

Media Contact: 

Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952

Report: West Coast needs more research on fisheries, marine science, climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The West Coast critically needs more research about fisheries, ocean health, coastal hazards and climate change – among other topics – according to a new report on regional marine research and information needs.

The report was produced by Oregon Sea Grant under a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is available online at: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/research/RegionalPlanning.

Partnering with Oregon Sea Grant in developing the West Coast report were Washington, California and University of Southern California Sea Grant programs, as well as state, federal and tribal agencies. The Sea Grant effort is endorsed by all three West Coast governors, and the new reports aligns with the action plan of the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health.

The document grew out of an extensive process of public workshops and surveys in all three states during 2007 and 2008. Nearly 1,000 ocean and coastal stakeholders – representing interests ranging from coastal residents, businesses, community organizations and decision-makers to conservationists, fishing interests, researchers and resource managers – took part in the effort to identify the region's needs.

The result is a 56-page document that sorts West Coast research needs into eight categories: 

  • Vitality of coastal communities and marine operations;
  • Ocean and coastal governance and management of multiple uses;
  • Fisheries and aquaculture;
  • Marine ecosystem structure and function;
  • Ocean health and stressors;
  • Physical ocean processes, related climate change and physical coastal hazards;
  • Water quality and pollution;
  • Resilience and adaptability to hazards and climate change.

Cutting across all those categories, stakeholders said, are needs for a deeper understanding of climate change, attention to ocean education and literacy, and broader access to data and information. The report is seen as “an excellent guiding document,” according to Stephen Brandt, director of Oregon Sea Grant, which coordinated the effort.

“This report is intended to spark regional-scale initiatives and investments in natural and social science research to provide the best possible science for wise policy and resource-management decisions,” Brandt said.

The West Coast effort is one of 10 that NOAA is supporting across the country in response to recent studies and reports from groups such as the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative calling for a regional approach to coordinating, planning and setting priorities for ocean and coastal science. 

Oregon Sea Grant, founded in 1968 and based at Oregon State University, supports an integrated program of research, education, and public outreach to help people understand, responsibly use, and conserve ocean and coastal resources.


Media Contact: 

Julie Risien, 541-737-4440

Tsunami behavior, prediction a very complex task

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The earthquake that hit near Indonesia yesterday does not appear to have caused the huge tsunamis that were generated by the event last December, illustrating the difficulty of predicting with certainty these catastrophic events, say experts at Oregon State University.

The earthquake itself appears to have occurred on at least part of the same subduction zone as the previous event, and has a magnitude that has been reported as high as 8.7, but there have been no reports of any significant destruction from tsunamis. The original earthquake was at least magnitude 9.0.

OSU experts, who operate the Tsunami Wave Basin at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, say it's critical that extensive research should continue on earthquakes, the tsunamis that result from them, their magnitude and directionality, preparation of infrastructure for tsunami resistance, and many other issues.

"Yesterday's earthquake event will give us much to study and learn from, not only in terms of scientific findings but also the social response to the event," said Harry Yeh, an internationally recognized expert on tsunamis and the Edwards Professor of Ocean Engineering at OSU. "It may be unrealistic to think that our warning systems and other approaches have improved much in East Asia in the short time since the December event, but we'll see what kind of progress we are making and how people reacted."

It's not without precedent for a major earthquake zone such as this to have two substantial earthquakes within a short period of time, Yeh said. But the type of tsunami, if any, that might be generated depends a great deal on the length of the fault that ruptures, its motion, the overall energy released and many other factors. And even that does not always predict with any certainty what direction a tsunami wave will take.

The issuance of tsunami warnings is always done after careful consideration, Yeh said, because of the social concerns and disruptions related to evacuation of low-lying coastal areas. An 8.2 magnitude earthquake in 1994 that occurred beneath the seas between Japan and Russia resulted in warnings of a significant tsunami for Hawaii. But that event never resulted in much of a wave, and was the source of some criticism about the personal and economic disruption it caused.

"Since the science of predicting tsunamis will never be perfect, there will always be some false alarms," Yeh said. "But that just can't be helped. In the science community we worry more about people becoming complacent, not taking these warnings seriously or understanding what they need to do to protect themselves if a tsunami event or warning does occur."

Yesterday's event also provides yet another reminder of the high level of tectonic activity on the "ring of fire," an area surrounding much of the Pacific Ocean which is among the most earthquake-prone regions of the Earth. It includes the West Coast of North America. The tsunami risk is highest in the Pacific Northwest, which is near the Cascadia Subduction Zone - an area quite similar to the subsea region near Indonesia that has now been the focus of two major earthquakes in three months.

Other research at OSU has also indicated that there may be a "clustering" of great earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, during which they occur with more frequency, and that the region may be within one of those clusters right now - and possibly due for a great earthquake almost any time.

Dan Cox, director of the Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at OSU, said that yesterday's event also provides another reminder of the need to structurally prepare our coastal infrastructure well in advance for earthquakes and tsunamis. "Some researchers have predicted that there's a 15 percent chance of a major subduction zone earthquake and tsunami here in the Pacific Northwest in the next few decades," Cox said.

There are fairly good warning systems already in place today on the West Coast, and they might even be improved, Cox said, although for most people the primary warning they will get of a tsunami is the earthquake itself.

"But that type of warning, while helping to reduce some loss of life, won't do much to prepare our coastal cities and infrastructure to resist the damage from tsunamis," Cox said.

"In our work here at OSU we're learning more all the time about how to build things, where it's safe to site them, and what steps we can take to lessen the destruction from a tsunami," he said. "We can see in these events in Indonesia just how active subduction zones can be, and the damage they can cause. Our structural preparation for the events we know are coming is where a lot of the challenges remain, and there are still a lot of things we can do better in this area."

Media Contact: 

Dan Cox, 541-737-3631

NOVA program to feature OSU Wave Lab

CORVALLIS - The world's largest tsunami wave basin located at Oregon State University will be featured in a new NOVA television episode called "Wave That Shook the World," which airs on Tuesday, March 29, at 8 p.m. on most public television stations across the country.

The Tsunami Wave Basin is part of the OSU College of Engineering's ongoing research into developing better tsunami early-warning systems, safer evacuation routes, and buildings that are able withstand the impact of tsunamis.

The cavernous OSU facility, the subject of intense media interest since the Asian tsunami hit late last year, has been featured on CNN, the Today Show, ABC News, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and others, OSU officials said.

"I think (the OSU footage) makes an excellent end to the program," said NOVA producer Julie Crawford of WGBH in Boston.

Housed in the O. H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory on the OSU campus, the Tsunami Wave Basin has a large-stroke, directional wavemaker and advanced information technology capabilities. It enables OSU faculty, graduate students and other researchers around the world to create and study "model" tsunamis and develop systems that will save lives when the next tsunami hits.

Because tsunamis are extremely rare natural events and almost impossible to study as they occur, the OSU facility allows researchers to locate sensors, cameras and other monitoring devices in the basin to record data. Unique information technology allows experiments to be recorded, catalogued and replayed in slow motion via the internet so that researchers anywhere in the world can participate remotely in research underway at the OSU facility.

The Tsunami Wave Basin was constructed two years ago with a $4.8-million grant from the National Science Foundation. It is part of the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, a 15-university network aimed at advancing knowledge and technology to improve the nation's civil and mechanical infrastructure when subjected to earthquakes and tsunamis.

More information, including interactive web pages, about the NOVA tsunami television program can be found at the web at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova


Dan Cox, 541-737-3631

OSU to offer summer courses at Hatfield Marine Science Center

NEWPORT, Ore. - Ocean lovers interested in spending time at the Oregon Coast and pursuing an intellectual challenge will have an opportunity to do both this summer when Oregon State University offers a series of special courses in marine biology and related sciences at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The program is a chance for full- or part-time students to take hands-on courses that explore marine mammals, fisheries, salt water invertebrates, aquaculture, aquarium science, invasive species, seaweeds, and marine conservation science and policy.

"Oregon State University has a world-class research and teaching facility in the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, and summer provides an ideal time to take advantage of field experiences and to learn from top researchers, while living for a month at the Oregon Coast," said George Boehlert, director of the center.

Four courses will be offered during the first four-week session, from June 20 to July 15. Three additional courses are on tap for the second session, July 18 to Aug. 12. A special short-course third session will run from Sept. 9-18.

The courses and their instructors include:

First Session: June 20 to July 15


  • "Marine and Estuarine Invertebrates," (Zoology 461/561), taught by Cynthia Trowbridge, OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center;


  • "Biology of Marine Mammals," (Fisheries and Wildlife 499/599), by James Sumich, Grossmont College, San Diego;


  • "Marine Fisheries," (Fisheries and Wildlife 465/565), by David Sampson, OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center;


  • "Introduction to Studies in Free-Choice Learning," (Science and Math Education 499/599), by Shawn Rowe, OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center.

    Second Session: July 18 to Aug. 12


  • "Marine Aquaculture and Aquarium Sciences," (Fisheries and Wildlife 433X/533X), by Chris Langdon and Tim Miller-Morgan, OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center;
  • "Aquatic Biological Invasions," (Fisheries and Wildlife 421/521), by John Chapman, OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center;


  • "Marine Phycology: Seaweeds of the Oregon Coast," (Botany 499/599), by Gayle Hansen, OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center.

    Third Session: Sept. 9-18


  • "Marine Conservation Science and Policy," (Zoology 565), by Jane Lubchenco, OSU Department of Zoology; Steve Gaines, University of California at Santa Barbara; David Festa, director of Ocean Program for Environmental Defense; and Andrew Rosenberg, University of New Hampshire.

    The courses will be based at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, located just south and east of the Yaquina Bay bridge. The 49-acre center is one of the nation's best-known marine research and teaching facilities, housing faculty from OSU and researchers and educators from numerous state and federal agencies, including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others.

    On-site housing and some scholarships may be available.

    For more information on registration and tuition, call OSU Summer Session at 541-737-1470, or visit the web at http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/classes/summer/index.html

  • Media Contact: 

    Lisa Templeton, 541-737-1279

    Earthquake swarm off coast prompts research cruise

    NEWPORT, Ore. - A large earthquake "swarm" that began last Saturday (Feb. 27) has resulted in thousands of small earthquakes off the Oregon coast during the last several days and prompted an investigation by a multi-agency research team that includes scientists from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The research team will leave Seattle Saturday morning aboard the R/V Thompson en route to a site on the Juan de Fuca Ridge northwest of Astoria called the Endeavor segment.

    "These earthquake swarms are associated with seafloor spreading," said Robert P. Dziak, an oceanographer with Oregon State University and NOAA stationed at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. "We suspect what happened was that magma pushed up into the crust and the lava may have broken the surface.

    "The swarm was strong enough that we decided to send out a ship to investigate," he added. "The quakes seem to have subsided, but we hope that a hydrothermal plume is still out there in the water over the ridge."

    Dziak said that these earthquakes are generally small and no threat to create a tsunami, although the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Northwest coast is similar to the Indian Ocean terrain that produced a powerful 9.0 quake and subsequent tsunami that devastated portions of southeast Asia in December.

    These are much smaller quakes that generally range from 2.0 to 4.0 in intensity and can occur in swarms during seafloor spreading events. A few larger quakes did occur this week that were measured in the 4.4 to 4.8 range, however, which also piqued the scientists' interest.

    Dziak is the lead researcher for a team operating the Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUS, out of the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center. This system of hydrophones located on the ocean floor - originally used during the Cold War to monitor submarine activity in the northern Pacific Ocean - began recording an intense earthquake swarm on Feb. 27.

    During the first 36 hours of the swarm, SOSUS detected nearly 1,500 small quakes. On Wednesday, the swarm continued with 10 to 30 events an hour. Earthquake activity continued Thursday at a "moderate pace," Dziak said, with between four and 45 events an hour.

    The swarm is similar to past seafloor spreading events that took place at Endeavor in 1999, and at the Middle Valley site of Juan de Fuca Ridge in 2001, said Dziak, who added that the movement of tectonic plates triggers the seismic activity.

    "In the last 10 years, we've recorded seven of these swarms," Dziak said. "The plate doesn't move in a continuous manner and some parts move faster than others. Generally, movement occurs when magma is injected into the ocean crust and pushes the plates apart. When it does, these swarms occur and sometimes lava breaks through onto the seafloor.

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

    The research team aboard the R/V Thompson hopes to study and measure the plume that likely formed if lava broke through the crust, Dziak said. The measurements will help scientists learn more about seafloor spreading, the composition of the lava that came to the surface, and the effects on the surrounding environment.

    Researchers aboard the vessel include principal investigators Ed Baker, with the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and Jim Cowen, the University of Hawaii. Several other researchers will join them, including three scientists from the Hatfield Marine Science Center: Bill Chadwick and Joe Haxel, who have dual appointments with OSU and NOAA; and Shannon Ristau of NOAA.

    A website describing the earthquake activity is at: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/acoustics/seismicity/nepac/endeav0205.html

    Media Contact: 

    Bob Dziak, 541-867-0175

    OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center to host SeaFest on June 27

    NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will host its seventh annual SeaFest celebration on Saturday, June 27, in Newport.

    This annual festival combines hands-on activities, displays, tours and education revolving around the marine sciences. The event begins at 10 a.m. at the center’s waterfront campus on Yaquina Bay, adjacent to the Oregon Coast Aquarium just south of the Highway 101 bridge.

    The day-long event offers visitors a chance to go behind the scenes to see the labs and meet the scientists who study marine life, explore the bottom of the sea, and track whales across the world’s oceans, according to Ken Hall, program manager at the OSU center and coordinator for the community festival.

    “SeaFest is a great opportunity for the public to get a closer look at the amazing web of life that exists in the ocean and estuaries,” Hall said. “With all of the interactive, hands-on science exhibits, live animal displays, and demonstrations of what marine scientists do in their daily work, visitors leave SeaFest with a better understanding of a whole range of topics.”

    Organizers emphasize the appeal of the event to all ages, highlighting the wide range of exhibitors, food vendors, live music on the entertainment stage, and activities for kids including crafts, face painting, outdoor games and other attractions. Visitors can watch the Hatfield center’s resident giant Pacific octopus, “Amigo,”  devour a live crab during the noontime feeding, or get their hands wet inspecting sea stars, anemones, fish and sea urchins in the touch pools that simulate the rocky intertidal zone.

    Ocean-going research vessels will be on display at the dock between noon and 4 p.m., with public tours offered aboard the R/V Pacific Storm, flagship of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute, which was featured in the March issue of National Geographic magazine and the National Geographic Channel documentary, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale.”

    Participants at SeaFest may pick up an “Ocean Passport” and get it stamped at different science exhibits, and then return it to the information booth for a chance to win prizes, including two free round-trip tickets on SeaPort Airlines, and overnight lodging and golf package for two at the Salishan Spa and Golf Resort in Gleneden Beach. The drawing for prizes takes place at 3:50 p.m.

    Other highlights include:

    • Guided tours of the center’s seawater system, oyster aquaculture operation, aquatic animal husbandry facilities and Yaquina Bay estuary trail (tours offered throughout the day);
    • Science Zone exhibits demonstrating the tools and techniques scientists use to study a wide variety of marine life, including various species of salmon, flatfish, shellfish, and marine mammals;
    • Dockside exhibits: crab pots in the water, live shellfish displays and rare deep sea fish species on ice;
    • Outdoor exhibits highlighting research on sustainability and renewable energy technologies including solar power, wind, and wave energy;
    • Displays highlighting outdoor recreational gear and activities with “how-to” demonstrations on fishing, kayaking/canoeing, surfing, bicycling, kite flying and other fun things to do on the coast;
    • Giant birthday cake and historical display celebrating Oregon sesquicentennial and the 50th anniversary of OSU’s oceanography program;
    • A helicopter search and rescue demonstration by the U.S. Coast Guard on Yaquina Bay (2 p.m.);
    • Screening of the National Geographic Channel film, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” and an opportunity to meet the researchers featured in the film (3 p.m.).

    SeaFest has been maintained as a free event, Hall said, thanks in part to the financial and in-kind support of community sponsors including the City of Newport, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Georgia Pacific-Toledo and the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

    The theme of SeaFest 2009 is “Leadership through Science,” highlighting research conducted by OSU and its partner agencies at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

    SeaFest scheduled events and exhibits end at 4 p.m., but the Visitor Center remains open until 5 p.m. Accommodation requests related to a disability should be made to Seafest@oregonstate.edu. For more information, including photos from previous years’ events, visit: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/seafest/.


    Media Contact: 

    Ken Hall, 541-867-0234


    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."


    Jerri Bartholomew, 541-737-1856