marine science and the coast

OPAN to broadcast tsunami presentation

CORVALLIS - The Oregon Public Affairs Network, or OPAN, will broadcast a lecture with video and slides by Eddie Bernard, a tsunami expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on Thursday, July 7.

The lecture, "The December 2004 Asian Tsunami: Lessons Learned for Improved Tsunami Preparedness," was originally given on the Oregon State University campus in May as part of the John Byrne lecture series, sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant and the OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Bernard is director of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, in Seattle.

OPAN is broadcast on channel 27 in Corvallis, Philomath, and Lewisburg. The Bernard lecture will begin at 6 p.m. Other channels and times can be located online at www.opan.org.


Larry Pribyl, 541-737-3817

OSU Scientists Detect Low-Oxygen Zones Forming Off Coast for Sixth Straight Year

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of Oregon State University scientists monitoring near-shore ocean conditions off Oregon says that oxygen levels in the lower water column have plummeted, thrusting the region into a hypoxic event for the sixth consecutive year.

Hypoxia can lead to significant marine die-offs, the researchers say, depending on the severity, duration and location of the low-oxygen zone.

Although conditions this summer have not yet duplicated the severity of the historic hypoxic event of 2006, the outlook for the remainder of the summer and early fall is uncertain. Measurements taken by the OSU scientists in late June mirrored those of last year, but a shift to a southerly wind pattern in mid-July pushed the mass of low-oxygen water away from the shoreline. A sizeable mass of low-oxygen water remained, however, across much of the shelf from Florence to Newport.

Last week, the winds shifted again and these northerly winds pulled the larger mass of hypoxic water back closer to shore, where it may endanger reef-dwelling sea creatures that have limited mobility.

“We are definitely experiencing hypoxia once again,” said Francis Chan, a marine ecologist with OSU and the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, or PISCO. “By the beginning of July, conditions were approaching what we consider ‘severe.’ But unlike last year, a shift in wind patterns in mid-July pushed low oxygen waters offshore and gave us a temporary reprieve.

“The winds have shifted yet again,” Chan added, “and we are now tracking to see how much further oxygen levels will drop. It is a dynamic system with a lot of uncertainty, which illustrates the need for more research and monitoring of these conditions.”

The OSU researchers say the region has not yet fully recovered from last year’s historic hypoxia. Video monitoring of reefs off the central Oregon coast that were affected by last year’s hypoxia show a significant loss of species diversity. Most species of sea stars, sea cucumbers and many bottom-dwellers are still absent, said Jane Lubchenco, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU.

“Some rockfish have moved into the area, but the bottom-dwellers that provide the habitat and food for rockfish and a diverse array of other species, are slow to return,” Lubchenco said. “The system is showing early signs of rebounding, but a full recovery may be a long way off. This marine ecosystem may take as `long to recover as the terrestrial ecosystem did from the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

“Moreover, the current low oxygen conditions may knock the system back to the starting line, delivering another setback to an already stressed system,” Lubchenco added.

Last year, the largest and most devastating hypoxic conditions ever observed off the Pacific Northwest coast began with low oxygen levels of 0.5 milliliters per liter of water in July off Cape Perpetua – identical to what the OSU researchers observed this year. During the next two months, strong upwelling-favorable winds persisted, fueling massive phytoplankton blooms, which eventually died and sank to the bottom, leading to some of the lowest oxygen levels ever recorded and killing a variety of marine life off the Pacific coast.

For the first time, some areas of the ocean actually ran out of oxygen altogether, the researchers said.

“The 2006 situation was not only the strongest, most widespread hypoxia event yet seen off the Pacific Coast – it also was the most long-lasting,” Chan said. “The oxygen levels were off the charts and they continued through the end of October.

“We have seen nothing to suggest that conditions this summer will be any different,” Chan added. “In fact, it is eerily similar to last year.”

The OSU scientists have been monitoring offshore conditions this year since April, deploying instruments, taking survey cruises and working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on video surveillance of reefs affected by last year’s hypoxia. By the end of June 2007, the oxygen levels on those reefs had decreased dramatically, to an average of 0.5 milliliters per liter. Any level of dissolved oxygen below 1.4 milliliters is considered hypoxic for most marine life; a normal midsummer reading may range from 1.5 to 3.0 milliliters.

The next few weeks are critical, says Jack Barth, a professor of physical oceanography at OSU. If upwelling-favorable winds are strong and persistent, the already-low oxygen levels may continue to decline to dangerous levels.

“Last year, summer winds were more intense than normal, and led to upwelling that was twice as strong as usual,” Barth said. “Summer upwelling winds are a vital part of the system, but they can become too much of a good thing. Strong and persistent upwelling winds fuel intense biological production, leading to hypoxia in near-bottom waters as plankton sink and decompose at depth.

Barth said it is too early to say with any certainty that the ongoing hypoxic conditions are a direct result of global warming, but adds that the symptoms are consistent with global warming models.

“There are many variables such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation that seem to run in 10- to 15-year cycles,” Barth pointed out. “But this marks the sixth consecutive year that we have documented significant hypoxia and observed changes in the circulation and winds that may be responsible.”

The OSU-led research team is enlisting a number of other resources in collecting dissolved oxygen data in near-shore waters as it seeks to determine the extent of hypoxia along the West Coast. Stephen Pierce, an OSU oceanographic research associate, is aboard a vessel that is conducting a biannual hake survey for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). He’ll be testing water samples for dissolved oxygen from Monterey, Calif., to Vancouver Island.

Already, Pierce and his colleagues have just discovered hypoxic waters with oxygen levels of about 0.75 milliliters per liter in the near-shore from Coos Bay to Florence. These are some of the first recent recordings of hypoxic water along the southern Oregon coast, which has not been well-monitored, and will provide important baseline data for the future.

Researchers including NOAA’s Bill Peterson, who works at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, are taking dissolved oxygen measurements while conducting a Bonneville Power Administration-sponsored salmon survey off the Oregon and Washington coast.

OSU scientists also are working with the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and researchers at the University of Washington to expand hypoxia detection efforts up through the northern Washington coast.

Story By: 

Francis Chan,

Beach Erosion Experts from Around the World Gather at OSU for Conference

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Beach erosion experts from around the world will gather at Oregon State University July 30 to Aug. 3 for a conference to share information on the mystery of coastal dynamics – and the influence that global climate change may have on our coastlines.

More than 40 scientists from seven countries will spend the week discussing research and management strategies related to a network of beach observation systems called Argus Stations.

Coastal erosion is a problem for more than 70 percent of the shores in the United States, experts say, and rising sea levels will exacerbate the problem. Since more than half of the people in the U.S. live within 50 miles of the ocean, conflicts over erosion and what to do about it are increasing in scope and intensity, said Robert Holman, a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and an organizer for the event on campus.

The conference at OSU will bring together collaborators for the Argus Program – an international network of researchers who operate monitoring stations around the world to study beach erosion and dynamics. Much of the conference will be technical in nature, Holman said, and focus on the technology that allows the researchers to take hourly measurements and images of beaches around the world, transmit them to OSU’s Coastal Imaging Lab for evaluation, and turn them into new understanding.

The scientists also will discuss new issues in coastal dynamics and management decisions that have been influenced by the science, ranging from coastal development to preparation for inundation from tsunamis and hurricane surges.

“Our knowledge of coastal dynamics was quite limited early on,” Holman said. “We thought that understanding the basic nature of simple fluid mechanics would be enough to allow us to manage our coasts successfully. But nature proved us wrong. We now know through long-term observation that the mixture of sand and waves, at what we call beaches, is rich in complexity and spawns complicated sandbars, rich channels and other characteristics that continually change.”

The Argus Program began as a simple research project developed at OSU’s Coastal Imaging Lab, using a fixed camera on a bluff near Newport, Ore., to systemically monitor that section of the coastline, said Holman, who was principal investigator for the study. It has since evolved into a sophisticated operation involving more than 100 scientists worldwide.

Argus has become an important new tool for coastal zone management in Australia and Europe, with new stations established in England, The Netherlands, Spain, France and Italy. Argus stations also operate in Brazil, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.

The systematic, long-term images taken by Argus instruments have changed the way scientists look at beach processes, and improved the data that coastal managers have for making decisions.

“This is really a case where technology and long-term observations have made a huge difference in how we view the coastline,” Holman said. “We’ve known for a long time that beaches erode in the winter and build up in the summer. But the monthly and even daily changes that take place – from tides, storms, offshore currents, and winds – has been eye-opening.

“It’s more than a curiosity factor for scientists,” he added. “These processes can create deadly rip currents that take lives, they can erode entire beaches and plunge houses down cliffs, they can make boating extremely hazardous – there are numerous implications. Understanding the complexity of these dynamic areas is critical.”

Story By: 

Rob Holman,

Seashore North of Columbia River Faces Major Erosion

PORTLAND, Ore. – Some of the most dramatic beach erosion in the Pacific Northwest during the next 20 years may take place just north of the Columbia River jetty, where a century of shore building has ended and a major shift toward erosion has been identified.

This new trend, which scientists now believe began a few decades ago and is one of the more extreme examples of the dynamic and constantly changing Pacific Northwest seashore, was described today by a geoscientist from Oregon State University at the Coastal Zone 2007 conference in Portland.

Researchers predict that by the year 2020, the shore areas for about six miles north of North Head – a large outcropping south of Seaview and Long Beach – may retreat between 100 and 300 meters, depending on several variables. Large areas of land that have been created in the past 100 years are now going to be reclaimed by the ocean.

“The Pacific Northwest ocean beaches are spectacular systems, with constant change, new sand dunes forming and disappearing, so on one level this is not all that unusual,” said Peter Ruggiero, an OSU assistant professor of geosciences. “In this case, we can trace the forces at work directly to the creation of the Columbia River jetties about a century ago.”

Those jetties were built beginning in the 1890s and designed to create a more workable channel for navigation, and have in fact helped address many problems on what was once considered the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” an area of the Columbia River bar that has claimed more than 2,000 vessels and 700 lives. But in the process, the jetties and multiple dams on the river have vastly changed sediment transport processes in ways that are still being worked out.

In this case, the original construction of the jetties cut in half an “ebb tidal delta,” a vast shoal of sand off the mouth of the Columbia River. The changed interaction of river and tidal currents, ocean waves and sediment transport resulted in decades of shore accretion both north and south of the jetties, sometimes adding as much as 10-20 yards a year of new land.

Now, that process has reversed in some areas, and one of those particularly hard hit will be the region just north of the jetty, the very southwestern tip of Washington state. Erosion projections have already caused some development plans to be reconsidered, Ruggiero said, and many public and policy agencies need to be made more fully aware of just how extreme the erosion may be within the next 15 years.

The erosion will affect the first few miles just north of the jetty, Ruggiero said, and studies suggest that remaining shore areas on the Long Beach peninsula will continue to build outward, rather than erode.

Benson Beach between the Columbia River north jetty and North Head, part of Fort Canby State Park, began eroding a few decades ago, Ruggiero said. This has had a significant impact on park campgrounds and new development plans based on the anticipated erosion have been developed.

Beginning in the 1990s, erosion continued past North Head, and for the first time is occurring in front of the coastal communities of Seaview and Long Beach. The newest OSU projections indicate this trend will continue northward, but by 2020 will still only be affecting the first six miles north of the jetty. Erosion may continue beyond that date, Ruggiero said, but existing computer models are not precise enough to make such projections.

“On average we’re predicting about 200 meters of inland erosion in this area, but there are a lot of variables,” he said. “These projections could change based on climate change and variability, increases in wave height, even the dredging and placement of sand done by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Ultimately, the erosion of the area north of the Columbia River north jetty is linked to erosion of a submerged sand body named Peacock Spit. This submerged spit, a remnant of the ebb tidal delta, has been lowering for decades after the construction of the jetty. Eventually, the lowering of the offshore seabed allowed larger waves to hit closer to shore, eroding the beach. There is also simply less material available to feed beaches to the north.

Since before human settlement, Ruggiero said, the Columbia River has been a driving force that shapes the beaches of both Oregon and Washington. Before the era of dam construction, seasonal floods would dump 5-10 million cubic yards of sand a year into the system, and lower sea levels at times in the past helped Columbia River sediments to form the basis for much of the Pacific Northwest coastal zone.

Although tamed by dams, stored sediments and reduced floods, peak river flow still determines how much sand is transported to the river mouth and adjacent ocean beaches. Researchers are still learning how much of 4.5 million cubic yards of sand dredged each year from the river mouth is due to the erosion of shoals fed by floods of long ago, and how much comes from the modern estuary.

What researchers do know is that the amount dredged is a comparatively large amount of sand, and they are urging constructive use of 100 percent of the material dredged from the river and bar, instead of dumping portions of it in the deeper ocean.

The OSU presentation at the Portland conference represents ongoing work that is one part of a national effort, largely supported by the U.S. Geological Survey, to better understand coastal hazards and changes on all United States seashores. Previous reports have already been finished on East Coast and Gulf of Mexico beaches, Ruggiero said. In the Pacific Northwest, scientists are trying to track changes since the late 1880s, and also devoting special attention to changes in the past few decades.

Coastal changes can be driven by storms, hurricanes, seasonal cycles, waves, ocean currents, sediment deposition, and many other factors. Long-term climate change and more temporary phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina can also play important roles. In general, Oregon coastal areas are significantly affected by major storm events, while Washington beach changes appear more linked to long-term trends. But the discussion, Ruggiero said, also always seems to come back to the Columbia River and the management operations under way on it.

“Some important changes in using dredged sediments, for instance, were made in the 1970s, but there’s still more we can do,” Ruggiero said. “Part of what’s interesting just lately, and very positive, is to see all the parties at the same table, really working out these issues, people from state and federal governments, agency managers, coastal communities, scientists, the fishing industry.”

“Not long ago after a discussion at one meeting I saw a government official laughing and slapping high fives with a crab fisherman,” Ruggiero said. “That’s not something you see real often.”

Story By: 

Peter Ruggiero,

Influx of Cool-Water, Fatty Copepods Bodes Well for Salmon, Sablefish

NEWPORT, Ore. – The early arrival of subarctic zooplankton – including unusually high numbers of copepod species rarely seen in Oregon – is providing a smorgasbord for offshore salmon and other species of fish, according to researchers conducting a salmon survey from Newport, Ore., to LaPush, Wash.

This is the 10th year researchers have conducted the survey of juvenile salmon and preliminary results suggest that numbers of both juvenile coho and juvenile Chinook surveyed this spring were the highest they’ve recorded.

“We’ll know more when we crunch the final numbers, but it certainly looks like a banner year for salmon survival – primarily because of a bountiful supply of the right kind of food,” said Bill Peterson, a fisheries biologist with NOAA who is based at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The juvenile salmon surveys, conducted in May, June and September, include the waters from the central Oregon coast north to the tip of Washington state.

Based on a long-term ocean observing program, which Peterson initiated off Newport in 1996, it has become clear that juvenile salmon respond quickly to changing ocean conditions.

“When the ocean is in a cool phase, such as existed from 1999 to 2002, juvenile salmon survival was high and adult returns were very high one year later for coho, and two years later for Chinook,” said Peterson, a courtesy professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “After ocean conditions suddenly changed in autumn 2002 to a warm phase, salmon returns immediately began to decline.”

The ocean off Oregon has begun to cool once again, starting in July of 2006, after nearly four years of warm ocean conditions, said Peterson. Cooler waters bring northern species of copepods into the region to feast on phytoplankton blooms triggered by summer upwelling. Copepods are small crustaceans that are major links in the food chain that supports salmon, other fish, whales and seabirds. Peterson’s research suggests that northern species – which are lipid rich – provide better nutritional benefits for their consumers than southern copepod species that are prevalent during warm water regimes.

“This year, we’ve experienced one of the earliest biological transitions to ‘summer’ conditions in recent decades,” Peterson said. “The subarctic zooplankton not only arrived extremely early, we are seeing unusually high numbers of a group of copepod species rarely seen off Oregon. These copepods are bigger than our usual ‘local’ species, and pack on even more lipids.

“The transition began in March this year, the earliest we’ve recorded during the 12 years of observations made off Oregon,” Peterson added. “The two other years when the zooplankton arrived anywhere near that early – in 1970 and 1972 – were characterized by very high salmon production.”

Among the seldom seen copepod species visiting Oregon this year are Neocalanus plumchrus, flemingerii, and Neocalanus cristatus.

“Whether this means we’re experiencing a greater influx of subarctic water than usual, or whether we’re getting normal water transport that happens to have a greater abundance of copepods – we don’t know,” Peterson said. “In either case, it’s good news for the fish that feed on them, particularly some species of groundfish and sablefish (black cod), which target Neocalanus.

“Of course,” Peterson added, “we must see how the ocean responds during the remainder of the summer months before offering more firm prognostications.”

Story By: 

Bill Peterson,

Coastal Mapping Experts to Meet at OSU

ORVALLIS, Ore. – A group of marine scientists from the United States, Ireland, United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark and Africa will meet at Oregon State University on July 16-20 to create and discuss new programs in marine and coastal mapping, and emerging “informatics” technology that merges science with advanced computing systems.

The workshop, funded by the Office of International Science and Education of the National Science Foundation, will build on the efforts of a similar workshop held last year at the University College Cork in Ireland.

“This is the beginning of what we hope will be a long-term partnership and exchange of both students and faculty,” said Dawn Wright, professor of geosciences at OSU and expert in marine mapping technology. “There’s a growing public awareness of the critical state of our coastal zones and fisheries, and we believe that experts in geographic information science have much to contribute to improved management practices, decision making and hazard assessments.”

Worldwide, Wright said, about 20 percent of the people on Earth live within a few miles of a coastline, many of which have severe management or natural hazard concerns. Coastal mapping, geographic information systems and informatics technology are powerful tools that could be used to better address some of these concerns, she said, but are often not implemented as fully as they could be into management and policy decisions.

Wright was the co-organizer of both the Irish and U.S. conferences on this topic, along with the Coastal and Marine Resources Centre at University College Cork. Experts in many nations, Wright said, see a need to make coastal resource data and information available via interactive online atlases, along with more advanced geographic information system tools and procedures.

Some of that work is already well under way in Oregon, with creation of the Oregon Coastal Atlas, at http://www.coastalatlas.net It has been operational now for four years, and is the primary interactive map, data and metadata portal for Oregon coastal resource managers and planners.

The launch last year of a similar atlas and program in Ireland positions that country as one of the European leaders in web-based access to coastal and marine information, Wright said.

Many participants in the OSU conference will also attend the 2007 Coastal Zone conference on July 22-26 in Portland, Ore., which will attract 1,000 people from federal, state and local governments, academia, non-profit organizations and private industry.

Story By: 

Dawn Wright,

Commercial “bycatch whaling” a growing threat to coastal whales

NEWPORT, Ore. – Scientists are warning that a new form of unregulated whaling has emerged along the coastlines of Japan and South Korea, where the commercial sale of whales killed as fisheries “bycatch” is threatening coastal stocks of minke whales and other protected species.

Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, says DNA analysis of whale-meat products sold in Japanese markets suggests that the number of whales actually killed through this “bycatch whaling” may be equal to that killed through Japan’s scientific whaling program – about 150 annually from each source.

Baker, a cetacean expert, and Vimoksalehi Lukoscheck of the University of California-Irvine presented their findings at the recent scientific meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portugal. Their study found that nearly 46 percent of the minke whale products they examined in Japanese markets originated from a coastal population, which has distinct genetic characteristics, and is protected by international agreements. It will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Animal Conservation.

Their conclusion: As many as 150 whales came from the coastal population through commercial bycatch whaling, and another 150 were taken from an open ocean population through Japan’s scientific whaling. In some past years, Japan only reported about 19 minke whales killed through bycatch, though that number has increased recently as new regulations governing commercial bycatch have been adopted, Baker said.

Japan is now seeking IWC agreement to initiate a small coastal whaling program, a proposal which Baker says should be scrutinized carefully because of the uncertainty of the actual catch and the need to determine appropriate population counts to sustain the distinct stocks.

Whales are occasionally killed in entanglements with fishing nets and the deaths of large whales are reported by most member nations of the IWC. Japan and South Korea are the only countries that allow the commercial sale of products killed as “incidental bycatch.” The sheer number of whales represented by whale-meat products on the market suggests that both countries have an inordinate amount of bycatch, Baker said.

“The sale of bycatch alone supports a lucrative trade in whale meat at markets in some Korean coastal cities, where the wholesale price of an adult minke whale can reach as high as $100,000,” Baker said. “Given these financial incentives, you have to wonder how many of these whales are, in fact, killed intentionally.”

In Japan, whale-meat products enter into the commercial supply chain that supports the nationwide distribution of whale and dolphin products for human consumption, including products from scientific whaling. However, Baker and his colleagues have developed genetic methods for identifying the species of whale-meat products and determining how many individual whales may actually have been killed.

Baker said bycatch whaling also serves as a cover for illegal hunting, but the level at which it occurs is unknown. In January 2008, Korean police launched an investigation into organized illegal whaling in the port town of Ulsan, he said, reportedly seizing 50 tons of minke whale meat.

Other protected species of large whales detected in market surveys include humpbacks whales, fin whales, Bryde’s whales and critically endangered western gray whales. The entanglement and death of western or Asian gray whales is of particular concern given the extremely small size of this endangered populations, which is estimated at only 100 individuals.


Story By: 

Scott Baker, 541-867-0255

OSU Researchers Study Deadly Rip Currents That Are “More Common Than Rare”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Strong “rip currents” have been blamed for several incidents along the Oregon coast in the past week, including the disappearance of a teenager swimming near Cannon Beach. Experts say these rip currents are more common than rare, and can at times be deadly.

Yet researchers at Oregon State University, who have been studying the phenomena for years, say rip currents can be hard to see from the beach, and harder still to predict.

“Perhaps the best way to identify a rip current is to look at the long-shore current and see if it changes direction,” said Robert Holman, a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “If you’re looking out toward the water and you see the long-shore current coming from both the left and right, there’s probably a rip current in front of you.

“They are easier to identify from above,” he added. “You can more clearly see a sandy plume of lighter-colored water heading out toward the ocean carrying sand, as well as debris and organic material.”

Holman is nationally known for his studies of sand movement and near-shore currents. Since the early 1990s, he has collected a series of time-exposure images that allow researchers to delve into the mechanics of the ocean that result in rip currents.

Often mistakenly called “riptides,” these currents are usually caused by a gap cut into the near-shore sandbar that helps drain the water driven by waves high on the beach. But the overall effect can be the creation of an offshore river channel with a powerful current, moving at speeds of 1.5 meters per second or more – forceful enough that even strong swimmers have trouble bucking the current.

“Rip currents are notoriously hard to predict,” said Tuba Ozkan-Haller, an assistant professor of oceanography at OSU who has been involved in a project funded by the Office of Naval Research to create a predictive model for rip currents. “One day they can be there, the next day there may be local wind chop instead of an ocean swell, and they’re gone.”

Ozkan-Haller and her colleagues created a predictive model of rip currents for a section of the California coast then monitored the location for a month to see how well they did. They had some success in predicting general areas where rip currents might occur and efforts to validate those findings are under way. Having accurate underwater topography information significantly increases the researchers’ ability to predict rip currents.

“We hit on a lot of them,” Ozkan-Haller said. “And we learned from the process that the offshore terrain plays an important role. When there is a canyon beyond the surf zone, it modifies the waves as they come over and focuses them in a way that makes rip currents more likely. This non-symmetrical bathymetry is a key not only in creating rip currents, but in the direction the water gets funneled out to the ocean.”

Holman said rip currents also occur frequently next to rocky headlands, where the sand and water get drawn away from shore.

“Surfers actually use the rip currents quite a bit to get a free ride offshore,” Holman said. “But they can be dangerous, too. Trying to swim against the current is like trying to swim up a river. Your best bet is to angle away from the shore and get out of the current.”

Holman has seen children caught in a rip current at the Oregon coast and survived; Ozkan-Haller has a friend whose father was killed when caught in a rip current in South Africa. These rip currents annually kill an estimated 100 persons in the United States alone, and many more throughout the world.

“The thing to remember,” Holman said, “is that it’s a dynamic system out there. The force of the waves and the channels in the sandbars play a major role, but it can change from day to day. It may be best to assume that there is a rip current offshore.”

Story By: 

Robert “Rob” Holman,

Multimedia Downloads

Agate Beach
This time exposure from Agate Beach on the central Oregon coast clearly shows a rip current (indicated by the darker water) curling away from the beach between the breaking waves (white, foamy areas).
Palm Beach, Australia
OSU researchers study the water movement along beaches using cameras mounted on the headlands. This time-exposure image from a research site at Palm Beach, Australia, shows how the water from waves driven onto the beach funnels back to the ocean in concentrated rip channels. Agate Beach
A set of monthly time-exposure images from Agate Beach, Ore. – some of the first time-exposure photographs that launched the rip current studies – shows how dynamic rip currents and sand bar systems can be, changing dramatically from one month to the next. Rips are most common in spring and early summer.

Bill would create ocean observing system for Oregon

CORVALLIS - A request of $2 million recently included in a Senate Appropriations Committee bill would create an "ocean observing system" for Oregon. If passed by Congress, the system would be an ocean equivalent of the National Weather Service and provide valuable information about waves, currents and ocean conditions to a wide range of Oregon ocean users.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, at the request of Oregon Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, has included funding for the Oregon Coastal Ocean Observing System (OrCOOS) in the Commerce/Justice/Science appropriations bill. It passed through full committee and is expected to move to the Senate floor in July.

Oregon State University would establish OrCOOS through its internationally recognized programs in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS), the College of Science, the Ocean Engineering group in the College of Engineering and the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Also participating would be OSU's Fisheries and Wildlife Department in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Other potential partners include Oregon state agencies, community colleges, private aquaria and industry.

The OrCOOS system would place multi-parameter buoys in Oregon coastal waters to measure water velocity, temperature, salinity and chlorophyll and to monitor hypoxia (a lack of dissolved oxygen in the ocean to support life). New technologies in radar that measure waves also would be put in place and models developed to pull the information together, according to Jack Barth, a professor in COAS.

"To make the information easily accessible to the public," he said, "all the data would be sent via satellite or radio to the coast to be put on the Internet as fast as possible."

Commercial groundfishing and trawl, Dungeness crab and shellfish fisheries are expected to benefit from the ocean observing system by receiving environmental data to help mitigate problems such as those caused by hypoxia. Recreational boaters, fishing charters and sightseeing cruises could use safety information provided by immediate, local observations of wave, current and meteorological conditions.

Also benefiting from the new data would be ocean researchers, natural resource managers, educational institutions, marine operations and those concerned with the ecosystem health, stability, biodiversity and management of the Oregon coast.

For more information, call COAS Dean Mark Abbott at 541-737-5195, or Barth at 541-737-1607.


COAS, 541-737-3504

COAS professor receives young investigator award

CORVALLIS - Kelly Benoit-Bird, an assistant professor of biological oceanography in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, is one of 28 scientists to receive the Office of Naval Research's 2005 Young Investigator Award.

Young Investigator awards are designed "to attract to naval research outstanding new faculty members at institutions of higher education, support their research and encourage their teaching and research careers." The awards are for as much as $100,000 a year for three years, with the possibility of additional support for capital equipment or collaborative research with a Navy laboratory.

Benoit-Bird's $396,600 award includes purchase of two scientific echo sounders with acoustic frequencies that extend to smaller organisms and larger animals - from zooplankton to sperm whales - that cannot be reached by other acoustic equipment.

"The echo sounders also expand our depth range to cover substantially deeper waters from 500-600 meters to about 1,200 meters," Benoit-Bird said.

The two new devices, "fancy fish-finders," will extend their reach beyond that of three others aboard a six-week cruise beginning Aug. 1 in California's Monterey Bay. The cruise is part of a large collaborative effort named Layered Organization in the Coastal Ocean (LOCO), which is led by scientists at OSU, the University of Hawaii, the University of Rhode Island and BAE Systems, with participation from several other labs.

Within the last decade, layers of phytoplankton and zooplankton concentrated in a space of a meter or less have been found in coastal waters. The purpose of the cruise is to answer questions about the physics of the layer and how it affects the ecosystem process. Benoit-Bird's work will concentrate on how these layers affect the movements and behavior of fish and fish foraging.


COAS, 541-737-3504