marine science and the coast


CORVALLIS - When network engineers flip the switch this Monday (June 28) on a new fiber-optic connection, Oregon State University will have increased its bandwidth capability - especially for critical research - by a quantum leap.

But the story-within-a-story is even more impressive: To make that connection work, the university literally went out and created its own 20-mile stretch of fiber, which it now owns and can lease out to others. Ownership also allows OSU to significantly expand its own capacity for the future.

"Expanding our bandwidth capability is absolutely critical to attracting major national and international research projects," said OSU President Ed Ray, who saw the benefits of increased capacity at The Ohio State University, where he served as provost until 2003.

"What makes the accomplishment so exceptional here is that our people used their entrepreneurial spirit to get things done," he added.

OSU's bandwidth to the Internet and Internet 2 is limited, and several years ago Oregon State began investigating the cost of using a traditional telecommunications company to connect with the Pittock Internet Exchange in Portland, which would give OSU greater bandwidth and international connectivity.

"For a circuit that would give us speeds in excess of a gigabit per second, we were told it would cost us about $564,000 a month, or $6 million-plus a year," said Jon Dolan, associate director of Network Services at OSU. "That's more than half of our budget for Information Services."

Then one spring day in 2002, Curt Pederson, OSU's vice provost for Information Services got a visit from an old colleague named Ben Doty, who was heading a new nonprofit cooperative called NoaNet Oregon, which was established to build and operate "public purpose" data networks. NoaNet uses Bonneville Power Administration fiber to build connectivity to rural Oregon and Washington.

"As it turns out, the nearest BPA access was 20 miles to the east, along the I-5 corridor," Pederson said. "NoaNet was looking to expand to Corvallis at the same time we were looking to hook into a major network. Thus began a beautiful friendship."

OSU paid for the infrastructure development of building the 20-mile connection at a cost of about $504,000 - or less than one month's estimate with a commercial carrier. NoaNet constructed the fiber plant, and will manage the plant and provide any necessary maintenance.

NoaNet also has agreed to lease any extra capacity from OSU, and a portion of those profits will pay for right-of-way access fees to the City of Corvallis. Others will benefit from the new connectivity, too, OSU officials say.

"The path of the fiber goes right by the new research facility at Hewlett Packard that houses the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, as well as OSU's Hyslop Farm," Dolan said, "so we were able to connect those facilities. "This will also increase the capacity for the City of Corvallis, Benton County, and the Education Service District, and possibly others in the future."

Initially, OSU will "light" the fiber to a speed of 2.5 gigabits per second, which is about 2,500 times the capacity of the fastest connection a resident may have at home. But the capacity is much greater, says Dolan, who points out that the fiber-optic system can be broken down into 16 or 32 different wavelengths, each with the capacity for speeds of up to 10 gigabits a second.

"The equipment to do that is expensive, but the price goes down significantly every month," he said. "We have the infrastructure in place for the next generation of Internet2. We'll just have to work out the politics and the money." One of the first beneficiaries of the new system may be international researchers who will be able to perform real-time experiments at OSU's Tsunami Wave Basin, the largest tsunami research facility in the world. That kind of virtual connectivity was a critical component of the university's $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create the research facility.

OSU's Open Source Lab also will benefit from the increased bandwidth, according to Pederson. OSU has developed one of the most sophisticated, well-used distribution sites in the world for Open Source products, which are shared, modified, and improved by developers who create reliable software based on certain open standards.

"The use of Open Source guarantees that data ownership and access are not restricted to a single provider," Pederson said. "There is a thriving Open Source community out there that relies on our ability to distribute Open Source products, and we are becoming known around the world for that service. "And now it's about to get better," he added.

Story By: 

Jon Dolan, 541-737-5402

Red sea urchins discovered to be one of the Earth's oldest animals

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A new study has concluded that the red sea urchin, a small spiny invertebrate that lives in shallow coastal waters, is among the longest living animals on Earth - they can live to be 100 years old, and some may reach 200 years or more in good health with few signs of age.

In other words, an individual red sea urchin that hatched on the day in 1805 that Lewis and Clark arrived in Oregon may still be thriving - and even breeding. The research was just published in a professional journal, the U.S. Fishery Bulletin, by scientists from Oregon State University and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It may have important implications for management of a commercial fishery and our understanding of marine biology, as well as challenge some erroneous assumptions about the life cycle of this never-say-die marine species.

It used to be believed that red sea urchins lived to be only seven to 15 years of age, experts say. But the newest findings are based on the use of two completely different techniques of determining sea urchin ages - one biochemical and the other nuclear - that produced the same results. The studies show red sea urchins can have a vast lifespan surpassing that of virtually all terrestrial and most marine animal species, and seem to show almost no signs of senescence, or age-related dysfunction, right up until the day that something kills them.

"No animal lives forever, but these red sea urchins appear to be practically immortal," said Thomas Ebert, a marine zoologist at OSU. "They can die from attacks by predators, specific diseases or being harvested by fishermen. But even then they show very few signs of age. The evidence suggests that a 100-year-old red sea urchin is just as apt to live another year, or reproduce, as a 10-year-old sea urchin."

The more mature red sea urchins, in fact, appear to be the most prolific producers of sperm and eggs, and are perfectly capable of breeding even when incredibly old. There is no sea urchin version of menopause.

Some of the new studies on this species were done with funding support from the Pacific States Fishery Commission to gain more information about the species, its life cycle, biology, survival rate, growth patterns, and perhaps shed light on why the red sea urchin resource was declining in some areas.

This small marine animal, which is found in shallow Pacific Ocean coastal waters from Alaska to Baja California and also elsewhere in the world's oceans, lives by grazing quietly on marine plants and deterring most predators with its pointy spines. Historically, it had been considered a nuisance.

"In the U.S. in the 1960s, sea urchins were considered the scourge of the sea, a real menace," Ebert said. "They ate plants in kelp forests and people believed they were at least partly responsible for the decline of that marine ecosystem, so they tried to poison them, get rid of them however possible."

But in the 1970s a commercial fishery developed in the U.S. based on sea urchins, which were sold primarily to Japan where their sex organs were considered a delicacy. They brought high prices, and at one point in the 1990s were one of the most valuable marine resources in California.

Ebert did some early work on the red sea urchin, along with colleagues Steve Schroeter at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and John Dixon, of the California Coastal Commission. It quickly became apparent that sea urchins, among other things, grew a lot more slowly and lived a lot longer than had been believed. "Sea urchins live as male and females, and fertilization of eggs takes place while they float in the ocean," Ebert said. "The larvae then feed for a month or more before turning into tiny sea urchins."

The red sea urchin, in fact, does grow fairly quickly when it's young - at the age of two years, it can grow from two centimeters to four centimeters in one year, doubling its size. But even at that, it still takes at least 6-7 years before the sea urchin is of harvestable size, the scientists say, compared to the two years that had previously been believed.

By the time the sea urchin is a teenager, its growth slows dramatically. And at the age of 22, researchers found it grew each year from about 12 centimeters to only 12.1 centimeters. But somewhat remarkably, it appears to never really stop growing. It's just very, very slow.

"Some of the largest and we believe oldest red sea urchins up to 19 centimeters in size have been found in waters off British Columbia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland," Ebert said. "By our calculations they are probably 200 or more years old."

The first studies indicating these ages was done with tagging of individual sea urchins and injection with tetracycline, which becomes incorporated into the sea urchin skeleton and can be used to track the growth rates. The latest work, which was just published, used measures of carbon-14, which has increased in all living organisms following the atmospheric testing of atomic weapons in the 1950s.

"Radiocarbon testing in this type of situation provided a very strong and independent test of growth rates and ages," Ebert said. "Among other things, it confirmed that in older sea urchins there is a very steady, very consistent growth that's quite independent of ocean conditions or other variables, and once they near adult size our research indicates they do not have growth spurts. With this species, it's pretty simple. The bigger they are, the older they are."

The research was done with red sea urchins, Ebert said, but may be at least partly relevant to other sea urchin species.

The study suggests, among other things, that this invertebrate species has a fairly poor ability to survive various threats during the first year of life and reach reproductive age. Otherwise there would be a great many more sea urchins.

Older sea urchins can help provide more young and therefore may play a key role in creating a sustainable fishery, so a return to harvest policies that limits harvest above a certain size might be prudent, the researchers said.

Story By: 

Thomas Ebert, 541- 487-4876

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Red sea urchin


CORVALLIS, Ore. - The gradual subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate beneath the North American plate puts tremendous stress on the seafloor, creating cracks and fissures, hydrothermal vents, seafloor spreading, and literally hundreds of small earthquakes on a near-daily basis.

Now a North American team of scientists has documented for the first time a new phenomenon - the creation of a void in the seafloor that draws in - rather than expels - surrounding seawater.

They report their discovery in the July 15 issue of the journal Nature.

Oregon State University oceanographer Robert Dziak said the discovery is important because it adds a new wrinkle to scientific understanding of seafloor spreading, the fundamental process of plate tectonics and the creation of ocean crust. Dziak has a dual appointment with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

"Just when you think you're beginning to understand how the process works, there's a new twist," Dziak said. "There was an episode of seafloor spreading on a portion of the Juan de Fuca Ridge that was covered with about a hundred meters of sediment and what usually happens in that case is that lava erupts onto the ocean floor and hot fluid is expelled into the water.

"In this case, though, it actually drew water down into the subsurface, which is something scientists have never before observed," he said.

The research team included Earl Davis, of the Geological Survey of Canada's Pacific Geoscience Centre; Keir Becker, from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Florida; Dziak; and John Cassidy, Kelin Wang and Marvin Lilley of the University of Washington.

Dziak said the researchers think the seafloor spreading caused the ocean crust to dilate, increasing the pore space much like a sponge. "It's like an anti-plume," he said. "Instead of sending materials from within the Earth to the ocean floor, it simply sucks down the surrounding seawater."

The researchers aren't sure exactly what causes the dilation, but it has multiple implications. First, it changes how scientists view seafloor spreading since there isn't an automatic outpouring of lava, or hot liquid via hydrothermal vents previously associated with tectonic plate theory.

The size of these potential "voids" also intrigues scientists, who wonder how much seawater can be subsumed. If large, or frequent, they could affect surrounding water temperatures and chemical composition, Dziak said.

Finally, water migrating downward through the Earth may be enough to trigger the growth of bacteria at startling depths. Last year, in an unrelated study, OSU oceanographer Martin Fisk and a team of researchers found bacteria in a hole drilled 4,000 feet through volcanic rock. Basalt rocks have all of the elements required for life, Fisk pointed out, including carbon, phosphorous and nitrogen. Only water is needed to complete the formula.

Dziak is able to monitor offshore activities from his laboratory at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, where he uses an array of undersea hydrophones through a unique arrangement with the U.S. Navy. During the past dozen years, Dziak and his research team have recorded more than 30,000 earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean off the Northwest coast - few of which have ever shown up on land-based seismic equipment.

The earthquakes, most having a magnitude of 2.0 to 4.0, originate along the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a submarine mountain range 300 miles west of the Oregon coast that was formed by seafloor spreading or the movement of oceanic plates away from one another.

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

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

SOSUS also pointed the researchers to the activities leading to the "anti-plume" discovery outlined in Nature.

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

"In the last 10 years, I've seen seven of these swarms," Dziak said. "The plate doesn't move in a continuous manner and some parts move faster than others. Every four years or so, a section of the Juan de Fuca Ridge exhibits a large earthquake swarm and lava breaks through onto the seafloor.

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

On Monday, July 12, the region was jolted by a 4.9 magnitude quake just offshore from Dziak's Newport lab - one that was felt more than 50 miles inland at the main OSU campus.

"There's a lot of activity going on out there," Dziak said of the offshore quakes. "That was one of the few that did show up on conventional seismic equipment and drew the attention of the public. There are hundreds, even thousands more that do not."

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Robert Dziak, 541-867-0175


NEWPORT, Ore. - During the past two years, scientists have successfully tapped the chemical reactions from decomposing organic matter on the ocean floor to create fuel cells that can provide low levels of electrical power for many months.

This week, Oregon State University researchers announced that they have taken that development one step farther by harnessing the same power-producing decomposition activity from plankton taken from the upper water column.

"We've only had the experiments running for about four weeks," said Clare E. Reimers, a professor in the College of Oceanographic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, "but it is clear that we can use plankton as a fuel source and that the water column is rich in microorganisms adept at shuttling electrons to fuel cell electrodes. The seafloor fuel cells that we've developed in the past are stationary and designed to provide power for equipment that doesn't move - like the hydrophones used by the U.S. Navy or by OSU researchers for listening for earthquakes.

"But by harnessing plankton power, we potentially could fuel autonomous, mobile instruments that would glide through the water scooping up plankton like a basking shark, and converting that to electricity," she added. "Such instruments carry sensors and are used today to map the changing chemical and physical properties of the ocean."

Reimers is director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a program designed to foster collaborative research between OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2001, she was the lead author of a publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that outlined some of the pioneering work that has led to the harnessing of microbially generated power from the seafloor and further publications.

In three seafloor experiments to date, researchers from OSU, the Naval Research Laboratory, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have tested prototype fuel cells in Newport's Yaquina Bay, in a salt marsh in Tuckerton, N.J., and at chemical seeps in a deep-sea canyon off Monterey, Calif. These devices consisted of graphite anodes shallowly imbedded in marine sediments connected to graphite cathodes in the overlying seawater.

They found that power was generated both by the direct oxidation of dissolved sulfide - which is a byproduct of microbial decomposition - and by the respiration processes of microorganisms that attached themselves to the anode.

"Once we realized we could harness power from the microbes that grow on the anode surface, we began asking ourselves if certain microbes were better at shuttling electrons than others," Reimers said. "The next step was to see what electricity-loving microbes might be enriched from plankton and if we could get to the energy in plankton before it degrades.

"The plankton detritus that reaches the seafloor is usually only the dregs of material made energy-rich because of sunlight and photosynthesis." In March, Reimers and her colleagues received funding from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, administered by the Department of Defense, to try harnessing power from plankton.

In her lab at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Reimers has spent the last four weeks testing the fuel capacity of plankton strained out of the nearby ocean. Using the same principal as the seafloor fuel cells, the researchers thus far are able to direct about 10 percent of the energy associated with plankton decomposition into a usable power source.

The power generated is not large-scale, Reimers quickly points out. But if a free-gliding ocean instrument strained out plankton in its path, it could extend its survey mission for a period of months - or eventually, years - without having to replace a battery. Though it sounds modest, in terms of energy production, the ocean does have a very large capacity for fuel generation.

"Organic matter is the basic fuel of the ocean," Reimers said. "Plankton debris is raining down to the seafloor constantly. Quickly most is degraded naturally, producing carbon dioxide, and a small amount eventually becomes petroleum, natural gas, methane chunks or some other source of fuel. The fuel is there - in the mud, or in the plankton. Our focus is on developing power for oceanographic equipment. Who knows what spin-offs will develop beyond that?"

Reimers did say that the same technology could work if fed other organic substrates, such as sewage sludge.

"You are simply extracting energy by accelerating decomposition," she said.

The process isn't yet perfected. The researchers have to deal with the corrosive nature of seawater on electrical contacts and in the case of the plankton fuel cell, develop an energy efficient means of collection and concentration.

During the next several months, Reimer and her research team will continue to work with their plankton fuel cells in an effort to boost their efficiency.

This October, Reimers will lead a cruise off the Oregon coast where the researchers will deploy eight of the seafloor fuel cell prototypes along the Oregon shelf. These instrumentation packages will be imbedded into the sediment about 20 kilometers offshore for a year and then recovered.

Story By: 

Clare Reimers, 541-867-0220

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Prototype plankton fuel cells

Catch some big surf at OSU Wave Lab

CORVALLIS - A three-day open house from Oct. 16-18 at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Lab on the Oregon State University Campus will provide a unique opportunity for the general public to see the largest and most-wired tsunami wave basin in the world, the longest wave channel in North America, and 20-ton concrete bridge girders being tested to the breaking point on a unique strong floor.

The hangar-sized Hinsdale lab, located at the southwest corner of 35th Street and Jefferson, is part of the OSU College of Engineering's Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation. The open house will showcase the facility, including the new $4.8-million Tsunami Wave Basin that was just completed this fall, as well as the two other wave tanks and the strong floor.

"Many people drive by this building all the time but have no idea about what happens inside," said Dan Cox, director of the Hinsdale lab and a professor of ocean engineering at OSU. "Engineering students and faculty are doing world-class research here, which is helping mitigate beach erosion, improve tsunami warning systems, and design safer bridges, piers, breakwaters and more.

"We see education and outreach as an important part of what we do," Cox added, "so we want to give the general public a chance to see the lab in action."

The free open house will coincide with Dad's Weekend at OSU, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. All ages are welcome, and reservations are not required for groups smaller than 20.

For more information, visit http://wave.oregonstate.edu.


Daniel Cox, 541-737-3631

OSU Creates New Institute Based on Success of Marine Mammal Program

NEWPORT, Ore. – Building on the success of its marine mammal research and outreach program, Oregon State University has created a new Marine Mammal Institute, and announced plans to expand its faculty and broaden the scope of its research in ecology and conservation.

The new institute will be a focus of campus fund-raising efforts that would nearly double its endowment of more than $7 million, say officials of the OSU Foundation.

OSU’s research in the study of threatened and endangered whale species has been internationally recognized over the past three decades, primarily through the pioneering studies of Bruce Mate, who directs the institute. Mate was the first scientist to use satellites to track whales, and specialized tags developed at Oregon State by his team have led to new discoveries and a wealth of data on blue, gray, humpback, bowhead, right, fin, sperm and other whale species.

“Creating an institute to further the university’s research on marine mammals is a reflection of the excellence of the faculty and the relevance of their work,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “This is a signature program that continually provides critical information about marine mammals that can help humans peacefully co-exist with them.”

The new institute already is experiencing success. The Oregon Community Foundation has approved a grant of $200,000, contingent upon the university raising $400,000 in matching funds, and an anonymous donor has provided a gift of $50,000.

During the past year, the OSU program achieved significant growth with the hiring of Scott Baker, a cetacean geneticist and scientific delegate to the International Whaling Commission, who will serve as the institute’s associate director, and Markus Horning, a pinniped ecologist from Texas A&M University. Their addition widens the focus of the institute beyond satellite tagging of large whales to encompass new technology for the study of all marine mammals, including seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Future plans include boosting the donor-supported endowment and hiring additional faculty with backgrounds in marine mammal behavior and physiology, as well as expertise in physical oceanography, acoustics, engineering, veterinary medicine and other specialties.

“With the addition of Dr. Baker and Dr. Horning, our work will now include research in every ocean in the world,” Mate said.

“We’re certainly not shifting our focus away from critical research that investigates the migration routes and habitats of endangered whale species,” Mate added. “We want to apply similar energy and passion to the study of other marine mammals and the ecological issues surrounding them.”

Public interest in marine mammal research and outreach continues to expand as do issues relating to conservation of rare and threatened species. Baker has been involved in recent international efforts to curtail the illegal exploitation of protected whales. Using molecular methods to identify the species of whalemeat sold in commercial markets in Japan and Korea, he has documented the sale of products from humpback, western gray, fin, sei, Bryde’s and sperm whales.

By developing more general methods for DNA identification of all whales, dolphins and porpoises, Baker helped to discover the first new species of cetaceans described in 15 years – Perrin’s beaked whale, a rare and enigmatic species known only from a handful of stranded specimens.

Baker is now working to describe the genetic diversity and abundance of recovering populations of humpback whales worldwide. Working with regional collaborators throughout the North and South Pacific Oceans, his laboratory will undertake analysis of thousands of genetic samples collected from living whales and help to integrate this information with the photographic sighting records of these naturally marked individuals.

Horning's recent work, funded by NOAA and the National Science Foundation, has focused on endangered Steller sea lions in Alaska, and Weddell seals in Antarctica. The dramatic decline of Steller sea lions over the past three decades, and their subsequent listing as endangered, has had a significant impact on the fishing industry and coastal communities in Alaska. Horning is using specially developed tracking devices to monitor Stellers throughout their entire lives, a first in the study of marine mammals.

Horning spent much of this fall in Antarctica, collecting data on muscle physiology and diving performance for a study of aging in Weddell seals.

"In many declining species, a shift toward older animals in the populations has been observed," Horning said, "yet we know next to nothing about the constraints imposed by old age, and possible adaptations to aging in marine mammals.”

One of OSU’s goals in creating the Marine Mammal Institute is to foster more collaborative research – not only with other Oregon State scientists, but with specialists from around the world. Already the institute has received a grant of $750,000 from the Joint (petroleum) Industry Program, Office of Naval Research and the Minerals Management Service for a collaborative project with OSU oceanographer Kelly Benoit-Bird, a specialist in acoustics and marine community behavior, to study sperm whales and squids in the Sea of Cortez off Mexico.

The expansion of collaborative research should broaden the scope of the institute’s research potential by attracting more federal research dollars to Oregon, Mate said. Much of the funding for the program has come from private donations and additional private support is critical for future expansion.

During the last three years, OSU’s marine mammal program got a boost from the donation of three large fishing vessels from West Coast fishermen. Those vessels have a combined value of $1.7 million and private donations to the Marine Mammal Endowment allowed one of the boats to be retrofitted for research. This summer, it was used in the Bering Sea for two months and off California on blue whale research.

Mate said the institute hopes to refit the other two boats, creating a mini-fleet of research vessels for OSU scientists.


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Bruce Mate,



ASTORIA - Tuna or not tuna? That is the question. With albacore season in full swing off the West Coast, and school lunch season fast approaching, many people are asking: How safe is our tuna? It's a question that focuses on very different levels of mercury found in albacore tuna harvested in different parts of the world.

According to Michael Morrissey, director of Oregon State University's Seafood Lab in Astoria, Ore., the answer has to do with how big the tuna is and where it was caught.

OSU researchers at the Seafood Lab have found that small, troll-caught albacore tuna from the West Coast of the U.S. contain less than half the level of mercury found by a recent government study of brand-name canned albacore.

In addition to lower mercury levels, the OSU researchers found that West Coast albacore have higher levels of omega-3 oils than most canned tuna. Omega-3 oils help protect humans against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

In the OSU study, sponsored by the Oregon Albacore Commission and the Western Fishboat Owners Association, Morrissey and colleagues tested 91 albacore tuna caught in waters from southern California to British Columbia. The average mercury concentration was 0.14 parts per million, well below the limit of 1.00 part per million set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Morrissey said he hopes the results of the study will ease consumers' concerns and help them understand the difference between locally-caught albacore and the fish in the can.

Throughout most of the U.S., there are just two choices of tuna, and they're both canned. Typically, "light" is skipjack, a small tuna caught in oceans throughout the world, and "white" is albacore, usually caught in the southern Pacific Ocean in more tropical waters.

For locals on the West Coast, there's a third choice. Smaller white albacore tuna are caught during late summer and early fall when their annual migration brings them within range of local fishing boats.

"It's impossible to look at a can of tuna and decide how big the fish was," Morrissey said. "But with locally caught albacore, you get reduced levels of mercury and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. That's good news for consumers."

A recent study by the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency warned pregnant and nursing women and young children against eating more than six ounces once a week of canned "white" albacore tuna because of mercury levels in the fish.

However, most studies of mercury levels in canned tuna have been done on the major brands using albacore caught in the southern Pacific, according to Morrissey. These are larger fish, up to 60 pounds, and their mercury level averages 0.36 parts per million.

Morrissey and his fellow researchers, Tomoko Okada and Rosalee Rasmussen, found that albacore typically found off northern California, Oregon and Washington are smaller -10 to 24 pounds - and averaged less than half the level of mercury reported for canned albacore in the EPA study.

Morrissey speculated that because larger fish tend to be older and eat more fish, they tend to bioaccumulate more mercury, which would account for the higher levels found in the larger southern Pacific albacore tuna. The EPA study found that the smaller "light" skipjack tuna was within the safe range, with average mercury levels of 0.12 parts per million.

The West Coast tuna fishery is made up of small boats and local crews using surface hook-and-line gear. The albacore are sold fresh off the boat in many coastal ports or from local fish markets and specialty canneries for about $3.50 to $4 a can. In 2001, the Oregon albacore fishery was valued at $7.5 million, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that is most dangerous to unborn babies, infants and young children. Although mercury occurs naturally in trace amounts throughout the world, pollution from the burning of fossil fuels concentrates mercury in lakes, rivers and oceans, where it accumulates over time in the flesh of long-lived predatory fish.

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Michael Morrissey, 503-325-4531, Ext. 2


ASTORIA - Oregon sardines are packed with protein and healthful oils useful in the prevention of atherosclerosis, heart attack, depression and cancer. Yet, despite their obvious health benefit, sardines are generally used for fertilizer or bait, not as a source of human nutrition.

Researchers at Oregon State University's Seafood Laboratory in Astoria want to change that by developing new markets for sardines as food and neutraceudicals. Since the 1930s, when sardines fueled Cannery Rows from California to Washington, the Pacific sardine went from boom to bust, and now is booming again. But the fish being caught these days are not your grandfather's sardines. Oregon sardines are much bigger than those little fish packed in tins of mustard sauce.

They're up to 10 inches long, and they pack a nutritional punch, brimming with omega-3 oils. It's the oil and the protein in sardines that interest researchers at OSU's Seafood Laboratory.

According to Michael Morrissey, director of the OSU Seafood Lab, the amount of oil in sardines increases from 10 to 25 percent of their body weight as the fish pack on fat during the summer months. As a result, sardines caught in August can provide more than twice the omega-3 oils than those caught in June. Market demand is increasing for high quality fish oils and omega-3s for use as nutritional supplements.

Morrissey is working to isolate and concentrate the omega-3 oils in Pacific sardines. He is experimenting with a new procedure to extract fish oil from fish flesh by shifting the pH level of the processed fish to extremes of acidity or alkalinity. The procedure uses no heat, so both the fish oil and the protein maintain high quality throughout the extraction process.

Jae Park, a food scientist at the Seafood Lab, is using the same procedure to extract more and higher quality fish protein from sardines.

A few years back, Park and others at the Seafood Lab helped develop the technology to transform another undervalued fish, Pacific whiting, into surimi, a versatile fish protein used in a variety of delicacies that mimic crab, lobster or ham. That technology helped transform Pacific whiting into one of Oregon's largest fisheries, contributing $15-20 million annually to the Oregon economy.

Park has utilized the pH shift process to extract more protein of higher quality from Pacific whiting, and remove the fish smell from the final product. Now he's testing that process on sardines. The end product would be a fish protein isolate that could be used as an ingredient in a variety of seafood products, including fish sauce and surimi.

The Seafood Lab's sardine research is good news for coastal communities in Oregon, where the cyclical nature of fisheries forces the fishing industry to stay flexible and seek new opportunities.

Pacific sardines supported the United States' largest commercial fishery from the 1910s through the 1940s. Then sardine stocks entered a steep decline. Fossil evidence suggests that Pacific sardines have experienced such boom-and-bust cycles about every 60 years over most of the last two millennia, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Pacific sardine fishery has been rebounding since the mid-1990s, according to Morrissey. Schools of fish are located by airplane and harvested by purse seining vessels. Several seafood processing plants at the mouth of the Columbia River have invested in new blast freezer systems specifically for the sardine fishery.

"The Pacific sardine fishery represents an important economic boom for Oregon, as a new fishery that can provide new, value-added processing in coastal communities," Morrissey said.

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Michael Morrissey, 503-325-4531 Ext. 2

First coordinator hired for Oregon State University Master Naturalist Program

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Jason O'Brien must adapt to an entirely new ecosystem this month after leaving Iowa State University to become the first coordinator of the new Master Naturalist Program at Oregon State University.

But O'Brien looks forward to the challenges he faces in learning about Oregon's natural resources in what he calls a dream job. "When it comes to people, Iowa and Oregon have a lot of similarities," he said, "primarily because the land is the basis of how we make a living."

Prior to his arrival in Oregon, O'Brien was interim ISU Extension wildlife specialist and director of the Iowa NatureMapping Program.

O'Brien will "put wheels under the program" that has been under development for more than a year and a half, according to Jim Johnson, program leader of the OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension program. O'Brien will start training the first volunteers next spring.

The Master Naturalist program is similar to the popular OSU Master Gardener program in that individuals receive training from university experts and volunteer their services to the community.

Volunteers will help with education at schools and interpretation at nature centers, Johnson said. Stewardship projects might involve planting trees or removing invasive plants, and volunteers can do "citizen science" with research projects such as water-quality monitoring.

"The Master Naturalist program is a great fit in Oregon," Johnson said, "and funding is secured for three years. People like to have an organized way to help the environment, and this is a good way to do it," he said. Funding agencies are the Oregon Department of Forestry and four OSU Extension Service programs: Forestry and Natural Resources, Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, 4-H Youth Development and Sea Grant.

Other organizations that have expressed interest in becoming advisers and partners include the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Siskiyou Field Institute in Cave Junction and the Oregon Zoo in Portland.

In addition, OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport received funding from the National Science Foundation to start work on the coastal regional program.

The statewide program is expected to have training for everyone, as well as by eco-regions such as the coast, Klamath-Siskiyou and eastern Oregon regions.

The OSU Master Gardener program began in 1976 and trains more than 800 people a year. The first 24 volunteers in the newly formed Climate Masters program trained last winter. Other OSU programs are the Master Woodland Manager, Master Food Preservers, Master Recyclers and Master Watershed Stewards.


Jim Johnson, 541-737-8954


CORVALLIS - Oceanographers from Oregon State University are partnering with several other organizations on a year-long project to boost adult education in Oregon and introduce marine sciences into the curriculum offered in adult basic education programs held at community colleges and elsewhere.

The OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences will launch the project this Sept. 8-11 with the first of three professional development workshops that will be held on campus and at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The initiative is called "The Ocean Science and Math Collaborative Project."

"This is a collaborative project designed to integrate ocean sciences into the science, math and critical thinking curriculum of Oregon adult education," said OSU professor Marta Torres, a co-director of the project. "We hope to expand it on a regional basis next year taking advantage of Oregon's involvement in an adult education consortium that includes several other states."

OSU will initially work with 15 adult basic education instructors from Oregon community colleges. They represent diverse instructional programs, including workplace training, workplace education, adult education, GED preparation, English to speakers of other languages, family literacy and tribal education. The instructors will work with the OSU scientists and partners to develop new tools for incorporating ocean sciences into their curriculum - and making it relevant to adult learners.

"Ultimately, the instructors will be the ones delivering the message to the adult learners," said Robert Collier, an OSU professor and co-director of the project. "These learners may be people who left school early and are seeking GEDs, they may be working adults looking for more education as an avenue to change careers, or they may be recent retirees or other adults who are simply looking for a challenge.

"Adult learners have different needs than K-12," Collier added. "The information has to be age-neutral, yet interesting in a real-world sort of way."

OSU has one of the top oceanography programs in the country and elements of the university's marine science research will provide some of those "real world" examples, he said.

Partnering with OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences are the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development; the OSU-based Oregon Sea Grant program; the Western Center for Community College Development; OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center; and the National Institute for Literacy.

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Bob Collier, 541-737-4367