marine science and the coast

Unexpected Nutrient Found Key to Ocean Function

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered what could be a new, limiting nutrient in the world's oceans.

In a publication today in the journal Nature, they report that chemically "reduced" sulfur is a nutrient requirement for SAR11, the smallest free-living cell known and probably the most abundant organism in the seas.

This may be another important step forward in understanding all the factors related to phytoplankton production – what has been called the "Holy Grail" of marine ecology, since phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain.

If reduced sulfur is sometimes in short enough supply, it could limit growth of SAR11 and any other organism with the same unusual requirement, the scientists said. These results raise the possibility that sulfur may turn out to be as important to some organisms as nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron are already known to be for most marine organisms.

The findings may have implications for everything from understanding ocean ecology to bacterial genetics and global climate function.

SAR 11 was first discovered by OSU researchers in 1990. There is great interest in understanding how this obscure bacteria works, because it dominates microbial life in the oceans and plays a major role in the cycling of carbon on Earth. Although these bacteria may have been thriving for a billion years or more, they have the smallest genetic structure of any independent cell.

That small genetic structure, in fact, may be why SAR 11 has to “borrow” its reduced sulfur as a waste product from other nearby microorganisms.

“This appears to be part of the genomic streamlining that has made SAR 11 such an evolutionary success,” said Steve Giovannoni, a professor of microbiology at OSU. “It’s a very simple, lean machine, and by using sulfur produced by other sources it doesn’t have to expend the energy to reduce this nutrient itself. It may have traded independent function for simplicity and energy efficiency.”

Sulfur in various sulphate chemical combinations is abundant in the oceans. Virtually all other marine life forms, the researchers said, have the genetic and biological capability of “reducing” it to the chemical form they need as a nutrient. SAR 11 can’t do that. Unless something else produces the sulfur in the form it needs, it dies.

“SAR 11 has a very small genome, and some genes that we routinely find in almost every other life form simply aren’t there,” said James Tripp, a research associate at OSU and author of this study. “It had been thought that this gene which reduces sulfur was pretty much universal, but when we looked for it in SAR 11, we couldn’t find it.”

There are no other aerobic organisms known that have this genomic structure, the scientists said.

“This is just really, really unusual,” Giovannoni said. “It also raises the question of what other bacteria and phytoplankton have unsuspected nutrient requirements that we know nothing about.”

The findings are of more than academic interest, researchers say. Even though the basic mechanisms of phytoplankton production in the ocean are known, it’s not really clear what all the factors are that control the process. But that process is essential to marine life, a breathable atmosphere and global climate.

Oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere is largely created and maintained by photosynthesis, in which plants convert sunlight into biological energy through a process that requires chlorophyll. In the oceans, SAR 11 is a partner in this process. It recycles organic carbon, and produces the nutrients needed for the algae that produce about half of the oxygen that enters Earth's atmosphere every day.

The function of SAR 11 may also affect climate in more specific ways. One of the major sources of sulfur used by phytoplankton is referred to as DMSP – it’s the compound that puts the “ocean smell” in salt air, and it’s important in climate models since it helps form clouds that ultimately cause rain. If SAR 11 were not using much of this sulfur compound, it conceivably could have a major effect on cloud formation and ultimately global climate.

“There’s a lot we still need to learn about the basic functions of marine ecology, because they can affect so many other things,” Giovannoni said. “We certainly did not expect sulfur to be so important in this situation. When we look more, there will probably be more surprises.”

This work was supported by grants from the Marine Microbiology Initiative of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.


Media Contact: 

Steve Giovannoni,

Sea Grant to Deliver Marine Reserves Comments to State Advisors

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A fast-track “listening and learning” process that drew nearly 800 people to meetings on Oregon's coast has produced more than 1,700 separate comments on the question of establishing marine reserves in the state's territorial waters.

The comments are due for delivery next week to the state's Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC), which will use them to help formulate recommendations for addressing Gov. Ted Kulongoski's goal of creating a limited number of marine reserves – areas of the near-shore sea where fishing and other extractive activities are prohibited - off the Oregon coast.

Oregon Sea Grant, a marine research and outreach program based at Oregon State University (OSU), was asked by OPAC to come up with an objective process for presenting information about marine reserves to, and collecting comments from, coastal residents, businesses and interest groups to aid in the council's policy development. The OSU program was given just six weeks to complete the task.

“They came to us because we've done this kind of thing before,” said Flaxen Conway, Sea Grant Extension community outreach specialist who has spent most of her career working with fishing and timber communities on issues related to changing natural-resource economies. The program has a 40-year record of bringing objective methods and processes to discussions of sometimes controversial public policy concerning the ocean and coast.

Conway helped design the outreach effort conducted by Ginny Goblirsch, a veteran Sea Grant Extension agent who was brought out of retirement to help with the project, and Jeff Feldner, Sea Grant Extension fisheries and seafood technology educator. Assisting with technical presentations were Patty Burke, Marine Resources Program Manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Selena Heppell, an associate professor with the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Within days after Sea Grant agreed to handle the OPAC outreach effort, Goblirsch and Feldner were traveling up and down the coast talking with “all different types of people” - local government leaders, fishermen, conservationists – to come up with strategies for getting the public involved in a process with such short lead time.

"We asked local people to help us plan the forums so that local expectations could be met," said Goblirsch. "The main concern was that people wanted to know more about the (marine reserves) process, and they needed to feel confident that their views and suggestions would be incorporated into it. People wanted to be heard."

To ensure that all perspectives and interests got a fair shake, the Sea Grant team designed a strict protocol for the way the meetings would be conducted, and how information would be gathered.

“You design meetings based on what you want to get out of them,” said Conway. “I think some people came to ours expecting to be able to stand up to a microphone and speak their minds. The problem with that approach is that those who speak the longest and loudest get heard, but a lot of people won't even pick up the mic. We wanted to make sure everyone's voice got heard, and all their comments were collected and given equal weight.”

To do that, the organizers developed five questions that would be asked in each of eight community meetings:

    What community impacts (cultural, social and economic) should be considered when proposing a marine reserve?
    How can marine reserves benefit, not disrupt, existing economic and recreational uses of the ocean?
    What do communities need in order to be adequately involved in providing recommendations to OPAC for marine reserves?
    One of the reasons cited for establishing marine reserves is the need to create areas of refuge so we can learn more about our nearshore resources including fish stocks and habitat.
    What types of research are needed to better protect and manage our nearshore?
    Are there specific attributes (unique circumstances, places, things) about this region's section of the coast (shore to three miles) that would work or not work for siting a marine reserve?

The questions were posed in February to the 755 people who turned out for meetings in North Bend, Garibaldi, Newport, Florence, Reedsport, Harbor, Port Orford and Warrenton. At each meeting, participants got a short briefing on the history and science of marine reserves – what they are and why they're being considered in Oregon. They were given information about how they could stay involved and informed during the state's decision-making process. They spent the rest of the meetings writing down responses to the five questions, plus general comments on the subject.

In all, the team got back 1,689 comment cards; some people also handed in prepared comments they'd brought to the meetings, and still more arrived by e-mail. The formal comment period ended on March 14.

Back on campus, a group of students was brought on board in early March to enter all comments, in their entirety, into a database that will become part of the outreach report to OPAC.

“We've got the comments organized by question and by place,” Conway said. “That will help give the council a sense of both the similarities and differences of opinion in different communities ... Beyond that, and some thematic grouping, we're not doing a lot of analysis or summarizing. That's not our job – the idea isn't for us to do the analysis, it's to get this information to OPAC and have them go through it in detail and use it to make their decisions.”

Sea Grant is due to deliver the outreach report at the March 27 and 28 OPAC meetings in Newport. The full text of the report, including all public comments, is expected to be made publicly available on the Sea Grant web site by Tuesday, March 25, when OPAC is scheduled to meet. More information can be found on Sea Grant's marine reserves outreach page at seagrant.oregonstate.edu/outreach/reserves.html, and on the official state marine reserves site at www.oregonmarinereserves.net.


Media Contact: 

Flaxen Conway,

Marine Protection Initiatives Attracting Broad National Support

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Experts say in a new federal report that progress is being made nationally in the move towards a system of marine protected areas, diverse stakeholders are involved in a positive dialogue, and an era of integrated marine protection is possible for sustaining fisheries and conserving the cultural and natural heritage of America’s oceans.

Even as some parts of the country – especially Oregon – are facing contentious debates about the need or plans for marine reserves, other parts of the U.S. are moving ahead more steadily with this approach, said Mark Hixon, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University and chair of the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee.

The committee last month released a compilation of its recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of the Interior, Hixon said, with encouraging findings about the developing process for organizing the nation’s marine protected areas into an effective, integrated system.

“This national committee is composed of 30 stakeholders from across the nation, including representatives of groups with vastly different world views,” Hixon said.

“We include commercial and recreational fishermen, social and natural scientists, environmental advocates, state and tribal representatives, and ocean industry people such as oil and recreation experts,” he said. “What’s most important is that, on a federal level, we’re listening to and learning from each other, and are making real progress reaching consensus.”

Among the general conclusions of the report:

    Marine protected areas are fundamental tools for ecosystem-based management, an integrated approach to managing marine resources from the perspective of the entire ocean system, including humans.
    The highest priorities for protection include critical habitat of threatened and endangered species, reproduction and nursery areas of marine species, and cultural and historic resources listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
    Effective leadership will be needed from both the top and bottom to achieve the political will and funding that will be necessary for success.
    Any effective program must have widespread participation and mechanisms to ensure compliance, as well as public education and workable incentives for cooperation.
    The federal government should provide the funding and incentives to help move this process forward, and consider such initiatives as tax breaks or new job training for those who are affected by marine protected areas.

Nationally, Hixon said, there are about 1,600 marine areas that have been identified with some type of geographically specific restriction or regulation. This year, the federal government will identify which of these sites truly qualify as “marine protected areas,” and those sites will be invited to join the national system.

“The seemingly large number of ocean areas with some degree of protection sounds more impressive than it is,” Hixon said. “In reality we have a very loose collection of sites, many with practically no protection or regulations, and very little coordination to accomplish the broader goals of ecosystem-based management.”

However, participants in the federal advisory committee agree that an immediate challenge is to take these existing protected areas and develop ways to integrate them into a more effective network, Hixon said. After that, new additions to the system will be considered, he said.

The group outlined a process for determining which marine protected sites will be most appropriate for the initial national system. They also specified what should be in a workable management plan for marine protected areas; suggested some ways incentives for cooperation might be structured; and reviewed the ecological, social and economic benefits and costs that might be expected.

Hixon believes that intact and resilient ecosystems provided by marine protected areas are the best safeguard against the vagaries of global climate change.

Some states are moving ahead with the concept more quickly than others, Hixon said. California is already establishing a statewide network of marine reserves, Washington has reserves in Puget Sound plus the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and Alaska and Hawaii, along with the East and Gulf Coasts, have a variety of marine protected areas.

According to Hixon, Oregon is lagging the field. Even though it has a comparatively large ocean coastal area and some of the nation’s most important fisheries, it has a single marine reserve in state waters, about one-half square mile at Whale Cove, near Newport. Informal initiatives since the 1980s, and now formal state processes towards establishing marine reserves off Oregon, have remained highly contentious, Hixon said.

“People all over the country are seeing that marine protected areas are a functional tool to help address the multiple, ongoing, and potential threats facing the future of our ocean resources,” Hixon said.

“In some places, there’s still very strong resistance to closing any part of the ocean, for any reason,” he said. “That’s something we just have to work through, using fair and broadly participatory processes that have been successful elsewhere in the country.”

Media Contact: 

Mark Hixon,

Scientists Eye Possible Link Between Cascadia Zone, San Andreas Fault

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new comparison of earthquakes that have taken place along the West Coast during the past 10,000 years suggests that seismic activity in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off Oregon and Washington may actually have triggered earthquake events in the San Andreas Fault in the San Francisco Bay area.

The analysis also concludes that major earthquakes occur much more frequently in the southern part of Cascadia – in a range of 270 to 525 years depending on location – rather than every 500-600 years as is known for northern Cascadia.

The study is being published in the April issue of the Bulletin of Seismological Society of America.

A research team led by Chris Goldfinger, an associate professor of marine geology at Oregon State University, sampled marine sediments along the northern California coast to look for evidence of historic seismic activity along the San Andreas Fault. The researchers were looking for “turbidites,” which are coarse sediments that accumulate in the abyssal plain during major earthquakes.

“The turbidites stand out from the finer particles that accumulate on a regular basis between major tectonic events and provide a nice timeline for seismic activity,” Goldfinger said.

The core sampling revealed 15 separate turbidite layers that were deposited over the last 3,000 years and correspond to evidence from the terrestrial paleoseismic record along the northern San Andreas Fault. But what surprised scientists was the discovery that 13 of those earthquakes occurred in close conjunction with major earthquakes in the southern Cascadia Subduction Zone.

“It’s either an amazing coincidence,” Goldfinger said, “or one fault triggered the other. It looks like when Cascadia is hit by a major earthquake, another will occur in the San Andreas region – on average, within several decades, but possibly less.

“They could be separated by decades or years,” he added, “but it is possible that it could be days or hours.”

Cascadia earthquakes are generally larger, Goldfinger pointed out, and the timing suggests that earthquakes in Cascadia would be more likely to be the triggering mechanism to San Andreas activity than vice versa. This conclusion is supported by stress modeling, including work outlined in a paper by Roland Burgmann and Kelly Grijalva of the University of California at Berkeley.

In previous research, Goldfinger has documented 34 major earthquakes in the Cascadia Subduction Zone during the past 10,000 years, including at least 19 quakes that ruptured along the entire length of the zone. Such a major event would have required an earthquake of magnitude 8.5 or larger, he says.

Going back farther than 10,000 years into the geologic record has been difficult because the sea level used to be lower and West Coast rivers emptied directly into offshore canyons, making it difficult to isolate the turbidites from storm debris.

The new study also identified the boundaries for the Cascadia Zone earthquakes that did not rupture the entire fault line. The evidence of these quakes, which could still be of significant magnitude, suggest that recurrence intervals for Cascadia earthquakes are much shorter than for the rest of the margin – a range of 270 to 525 years, and even less along the southern boundary of Cascadia, about 220 years during the last 3,000-year period.

The paper published in the Bulletin of Seismological Society of America was part of a special section on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The lead author was Goldfinger.


Media Contact: 

Chris Goldfinger,

Salmon Decline Linked Mostly to Ocean Conditions, Scientists Says

NEWPORT, Ore. – The finger of blame for declining runs of Pacific Northwest salmon has been pointed broadly: habitat loss from logging and development, an abundance of predatory sea lions, power-generating dams, terns and other coastal birds that prey on juvenile fish, and over-fishing by commercial and sport fishermen.

But no factor is more critical to salmon prosperity than ocean conditions, experts say, and the complex interaction between biologically distinct groups of salmon and changing ocean habitats has created a nightmare for resource managers.

At the same time a projected huge run of spring chinook salmon are entering the Columbia River, fishing on one of its major tributaries – the Willamette River – has been closed because of a shockingly low estimate of returning fish. And offshore salmon seasons are in jeopardy along the entire West Coast this spring and summer because of a projected historic low return of fish to the Sacramento River basin.

The common denominator in the good and bad runs is the ocean.

Bill Peterson, a fisheries biologist with NOAA who is based at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, says this year’s salmon debacle can be traced back to unusual ocean conditions in 2005. A delay in the ocean upwelling caused ocean conditions “to collapse.”

“The delayed upwelling off the Oregon coast meant that in the critical time when juvenile salmon were entering the ocean, there was nothing for them to eat – and most of them died,” said Peterson, who is a courtesy professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “But you don’t see the impact until two or three years later, when the fish should first begin returning as adults.”

Wind-driven upwelling brings nutrients from deeper water to the surface and fuels phytoplankton blooms. Lipid-rich copepods and other zooplankton feed on the tiny plants, and in turn are consumed by anchovies, sardines, herring and other small fish that are staples in the diet of salmon and other fish. The delay in upwelling was caused by late arrival of seasonal winds, according to researchers at OSU, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy.

The delayed upwelling can explain why most fish runs are plummeting, yet fisheries managers are predicting a huge number of spring chinook bound for the Columbia River this year. Why? The answer, Peterson says, can be found by tracing where juveniles from different river systems go once they enter the ocean.

For the past 10 years, Peterson has participated in a research project funded by the Bonneville Power Administration that analyzes the distribution of juvenile salmon off the West Coast and uses genetic tracking to determine their river origin http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/fed/oeip/a-ecinhome.cfm. Juvenile fish from many of Oregon’s coastal rivers, along with those from the Willamette River and the Sacramento River, congregate just off the Oregon coast once they leave their river systems.

When the ocean collapse came in 2005, most of those fish starved.

“But Columbia River spring chinook don’t stay off the Oregon coast,” Peterson said. “In our 10 years of sampling, we’ve only caught a few Columbia River juveniles just off our coast, so it’s obvious they go somewhere else. If you look this year at chinook salmon in Alaska, they’re doing well. So it’s possible that Columbia River juveniles head to the same place as Alaska juveniles.”

Peterson speculates that perhaps young Columbia River salmon may migrate toward a unique ecosystem several hundred miles off the Northwest coast. In that deep, cold water, lipid-rich fishes known as myctophids, or “lantern-fish,” provide a bountiful diet for a variety of marine life. These fishes are “very abundant” in the mesopelagic zone, he added, and could provide a rich forage base for young chinook salmon.

“It’s just a theory at this point,” he said. “We need to go out there and sample for juvenile salmon. But the situation this year underscores how fascinating research on salmon can be. We used to have a lot more genetic diversity in our salmon runs. They used to spawn at different times and hang out offshore at different times. We may be paying for the loss of that diversity.”

Ocean conditions off Oregon in 2006 and 2007 were somewhat better for salmon survival, but still were less than ideal. The good news, Peterson says, is that the influence of La Niña over the winter has created what appear to be excellent ocean conditions thus far in 2008. But, he added, it’s premature to celebrate.

“The system can’t recover from a near-complete collapse in one year,” Peterson warned. “There may not be enough adults in the streams to repopulate the runs. We need three or four years of good conditions before we can breathe a little easier.”

Media Contact: 

Bill Peterson,

Research Aimed at Protecting Salmon in Jeopardy – Because of Lack of Salmon

NEWPORT, Ore. – Commercial fishermen and scientists from Oregon, California and Washington have agreed to collaborate on a critical coast-wide study to learn more about salmon distribution, migration and behavior in the Pacific Ocean, but an alarming projected shortage of fish this year is putting their research in jeopardy.

Ironically the study, which expands a two-year pilot program began by Oregon State University researchers, is designed to help protect weak salmon stocks.

“We’ve got the funding, we’ve got the science and we’ve got the interest and cooperation of the fishing industry,” said Gil Sylvia, director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “Now, we just need some salmon.”

During the pilot project, the OSU scientists found they could trace genetic markers of salmon caught in the ocean through small samples of fin or tissue and within 24 hours pinpoint an individual salmon’s river basin of origin. The hope, Sylvia says, is that an expanded study will allow the scientists to learn more about fish behavior in the ocean and whether salmon from, say, the Sacramento River or the Klamath River travel in clusters and feed in certain areas.

“This is ground-breaking research that could allow resource managers to keep much of the ocean open for fishing, yet protect weakened runs of fish,” Sylvia said. “There are preliminary indications that salmon destined for certain river systems do behave differently, but we need more data from a broader sampling before any management implications become clear.”

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council last month outlined three potential options for ocean chinook salmon fishing south of Cape Falcon (near Garibaldi, Ore.). The most optimistic scenario is a shortened season from April 15 to May 31 that would allow fishermen to catch a quota of fish and also share fins and tissue samples with scientists for genetic identification. A second option would preclude commercial fishing, but allow the scientists to catch and release a select number of salmon, maintaining only a piece of the tail fin for research.

The third, most dire option would close the ocean to all chinook fishing and not allow the take of any fish – even catch-and-release – for research.

The council is seeking to protect what may be a historic low return of salmon to the Sacramento River, a stock of fish that spend much of their time off the Oregon coast. The group will meet April 6-12 in Seattle, Wash., where it will decide on one of the three options – or another approach.

For the past two years, the Collaborative Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon project, or CROOS. has paired Oregon State University scientists and the state’s commercial fishing industry in a study to improve scientific knowledge about salmon behavior in the ocean. More than 190 salmon fishermen from 11 Oregon counties were trained in sampling protocols as part of the project, which was funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

The fishermen clipped fins and took tissues samples from the salmon before processing them, and logged when and where the fish were caught using a handheld GPS unit. The scientists brought the samples back to Hatfield Marine Science Center laboratories and conducted the genetic studies.

In the first year of the project, the scientists were able to match 2,100 salmon caught to a river, basin or specific region with 90 percent probability, according to Michael Banks, an OSU geneticist and director of the scientific portion of the project. Not all samples work flawlessly, Banks said, and genetic markers for some river systems are similar to others. Still, the scientists were able to confidently pinpoint the origin of roughly four out of every five salmon they tested.

Of those fish, 42 carried coded wire tags from hatcheries that identified where the fish were from. Without knowing that nugget of information, the scientists ran their genetic protocols and found they hit the mark on 41 of the 42 fish, Banks pointed out.

“That was pretty good validation that our methods work,” Banks said.

Buoyed by the results, the CROOS leaders sought to expand their studies in 2008. The two years of field study focused solely on the ocean off Oregon – and much of the study was concentrated off the central Oregon coast. Broadening the scope of the research to include Washington and California is critical, Sylvia says, because of the migratory nature of the salmon.

The CROOS project leaders have engaged the Oregon Salmon Commission, the California Salmon Commission and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the project, as well as NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, and they are awaiting the final word from the Pacific Fisheries Management Council on the April decision.

Washington has used genetic identification methods to estimate fisheries stock composition for several years, but has not yet paired that with ocean sampling to determine at-sea stock distribution, the researchers say. California began its own genetic tracking project in 2006 and continued last year, although on a much smaller scale than Oregon.

Having the three states join forces will give scientists a much better idea of West Coast salmon migration, the researchers pointed out.

“The research is particularly important because some of the preliminary results suggest interesting patterns in salmon behavior that need to be validated,” said Renee Bellinger, an OSU faculty research assistant who is coordinating the three-state research effort. “We recorded ‘pulses’ of fish that would move at one time – from the Rogue River, for example – but we couldn’t gauge the range of movement or duration because the sampling period wasn’t long enough.”

If approved, scientists in all three states will work with commercial fishermen in their respective regions to collect the samples that they will test, using the CROOS protocols. They hope to look at different sampling blocks over time and space, covering the Pacific Ocean from northern Washington to the San Francisco Bay area.

In addition to their genetic studies, the scientists also are monitoring ocean conditions – including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen content and other factors – to determine their effect on salmon distribution, Sylvia said. Some of that information is collected by the fishermen, though most is supplied by unmanned undersea gliders that can be programmed to roam the same stretches of ocean where the fishermen are working.

“There is a tremendous amount of interest from the fishing industry in this project,” Sylvia said. “This is a case where science may help provide solutions to a complex and difficult management problem.”

Specific goals of the Oregon-based CROOS project include:

• Broadening the genetic stock identification (GSI) research to test different hypotheses on location and migration of salmon, and determine if hatchery fish behave differently than wild fish;

• Use data from vessels and undersea gliders to monitor ocean conditions that can be tied to biological data to determine if temperature, salinity or other factors influence migration;

• Sample tissues from harvested salmon to test for parasites that previously have infected Klamath basin fish;

• Evaluate different digital data logging instruments that can be used in real time on small fishing vessels;

• Track commercially harvested salmon through a barcode system from vessel to market and develop websites that allow consumers to learn more about their purchase;

• Design a “real time” genetic stock identification-based website to share data with multiple audiences;

• Develop potential management simulation scenarios based on the data to see if what the researchers learn through their data collection is sufficient to influence the in-season decision-making process.


Media Contact: 

Gil Sylvia,

Public Invited to Preview OPB film, learn about invasive species

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Scotch broom, Japanese eelgrass, Quagga mussels, and Oregonians: How are they related? While the first three are non-native, invasive species of plants and animals, Oregonians often unknowingly spread these and a growing number of other invaders in the state -- and can also stop invasive species before they spread.

A statewide educational effort to prevent the spread of invasive species ramps up this month, highlighted by a media campaign whose centerpiece is a new documentary film produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting. The hour-long documentary, “The Silent Invasion,” has its OPB broadcast premiere on Earth Day, April 22, at 8 p.m. -- but because of faculty involvement in the production, Oregon State University (OSU) will host special advanced screenings, Wednesday, April 9, in Corvallis, and Thursday, April 17, in Newport. The public is invited.

The Corvallis special event begins at 5 p.m. with a reception and refreshments, followed by an introduction to the film, and then the showing itself at 5:30. Time for discussion follows. All Corvallis events are at the CH2MHill Alumni Center on the campus, across from Reser football stadium.

The Newport screening is at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, in the public auditorium within the Visitor Center, starting at 6 p.m.

Copies of a new guidebook published by Oregon Sea Grant, “On the Lookout for Aquatic Invasive Species,” will be available in limited quantities for free. Oregon Sea Grant leads public education activities in Oregon related to aquatic invasives.

Additional information for media: Oregon Sea Grant faculty at OSU have been playing a critical role in the development of the media campaign. Sam Chan, Sea Grant Extension invasive species specialist, is part of a team of advisors to OPB’s Oregon Field Guide production crew, led by producer Ed Jahn. Chan arranged for the OPB crew to be invited along on an exploratory research visit to China last year, and that experience of the interconnected global nature of the invasives problem and potential solutions figures prominently in the OPB documentary. Chan represents Oregon Sea Grant on the state’s Oregon Invasive Species Council, which is another key partner in the public education campaign. Chan and Jahn will be the main presenters at the Corvallis screening.

At the same time, Chan and other Sea Grant colleagues have been conducting social science research to guide the development of the campaign. “Focus group” interviews were conducted with several groups whose activities impinge on invasive species, including boaters, hunters and gardeners. And Sea Grant has also supported the development of a statewide public opinion survey with the Oregon Invasive Species Council about invasives, led by Sea Grant professor of free-choice learning, Lynn Dierking, Chan, and communications leader Joe Cone.

In addition to the new identification field guide, “On the Lookout for Aquatic Invaders,” which will be available at the April 9 screening, Sea Grant’s own award-winning documentary about aquatic invasive species, “You Ought to Tell Somebody!” is online at www.seagrant.oregonstate.edu.

Along with its feature documentary, OPB has planned a year-long campaign called “Stop the Invasion” to counter the environmental and economic threat of invasive species. The campaign will also include a series of television awareness spots, an online invasive species 'reporting' hotline, a “GardenSmart Oregon” guide to non-invasive plants for your garden, a statewide volunteer Take Action calendar, and other educational materials aimed at giving Oregonians the resources they need to join the fight to protect Oregon's natural environment. Other participants in the educational campaign include SOLV, the Nature Conservancy, the Oregon Invasive Species Council, the City of Portland, and Portland State University.



Sam Chan,

Marine Biologist to Give Lecture Friday at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Marine biologist Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will give a free public lecture this Friday, April 11, at Oregon State University beginning at 4 p.m. in Gilfillan Auditorium.

His talk, “Ecosystem Consequences of Fishing Large Marine Predators,” is free and open to the public.

In his talk, he will discuss conservation concerns that arise from declining numbers of large predators, including some tuna and billfishes, sharks and turtles. The decline, and potential extinction of such species, can trigger cascading effects on the ecosystem, he says.

Worm is an expert on ocean biodiversity and the effects of fishing on the marine ecosystem. He has documented the effect of over-fishing at both the local and global scales, and is studying the consequences of changes in marine biodiversity.

Among his research projects is an effort to document large-scale patterns of species diversity in the open ocean. He also is working to document species’ response to habitat change and fishing over the last 50 years.


Media Contact: 

Andreas Schmittner,

Latest Earthquake Swarm off Coast Puzzles Scientists

NEWPORT, Ore. – Scientists at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have recorded more than 600 earthquakes in the last 10 days off the central Oregon coast in an area not typically known for a high degree of seismic activity.

This earthquake “swarm” is unique, according to OSU marine geologist Robert Dziak, because it is occurring within the middle of the Juan de Fuca plate – away from the major, regional tectonic boundaries.

“In the 17 years we’ve been monitoring the ocean through hydrophone recordings, we’ve never seen a swarm of earthquakes in an area such as this,” Dziak said. “We’re not certain what it means. But we hope to have a ship divert to the site and take some water samples that may help us learn more.” The water samples may indicate whether the process causing the earthquakes is tectonic or hydrothermal, he added.

At least three of the earthquakes have been of a magnitude of 5.0 or higher, Dziak said, which also is unusual. On Monday (April 7), the largest event took place, which was a 5.4 quake. Seismic activity has continued through the week and a 5.0 tremor hit on Thursday. Numerous small quakes have continued in between the periodic larger events.

Few, if any, of these earthquakes would be felt on shore, Dziak said, because they originate offshore and deep within the ocean.

The earthquakes are located about 150 nautical miles southwest of Newport, Ore., in a basin between two subsurface “faulted” geologic features rising out of the deep abyssal sediments. The hill closest to the swarm location appears to be on a curved structure edging out in a northwestern direction from the Blanco Transform Fault toward the Juan de Fuca ridge, Dziak said.

Analysis of seismic “decay” rates, which look at the decreasing intensity of the tremors as they radiate outward, suggest that the earthquakes are not the usual sequence of a primary event followed by a series of aftershocks, Dziak said.

“Some process going on down there is sustaining a high stress rate in the crust,” he pointed out.

Dziak and his colleagues are monitoring the earthquakes through a system of hydrophones located on the ocean floor. The network – 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.

Hatfield Marine Science Center researchers also have created their own portable hydrophones, which Dziak has deployed in Antarctica to listen for seismic activity in that region. The sensitive hydrophones also have recorded a symphony of sounds revealing not only undersea earthquakes, but the movement of massive icebergs, and vocalizations of whales, penguins, elephant seals and other marine species.

This isn’t the first time the researchers have recorded earthquake swarms off the Oregon coast, Dziak said. In 2005, they recorded thousands of small quakes within a couple of weeks along the Juan de Fuca Ridge northwest of Astoria. Those earthquakes were smaller, he pointed out, and located along the tectonic plate boundary.

This is the eighth such swarm over the past dozen years, Dziak said, and the first seven were likely because of volcanic activity on the Juan de Fuca ridge. The plate doesn't move in a continuous manner and some parts move faster than others. Movement generally 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,” Dziak pointed out. “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."

But this eighth swarm may be different.

“The fact that it’s taking place in the middle of the plate, and not a boundary, is puzzling,” Dziak admitted. “It’s something worth keeping an eye on.”


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Bob Dziak,

Multimedia Downloads

Earthquake Swarm

This earthquake swarm (with red, yellow, brown, purple dots representing different days) is located on a basin between two faulted basement highs that rise above the surrounding, deep abyssal sediments. The swarm, located using the SOSUS hydrophone arrays, has produced more than 600 earthquakes in the past 10 days. (image courtesy of Hatfield Marine Science Center)

New Study Finds Increasing Acidification of Pacific Ocean’s Continental Shelf

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An international team of scientists surveying the waters of the continental shelf off the West Coast of North America has discovered for the first time high levels of acidified ocean water within 20 miles of the shoreline, raising concern for marine ecosystems from Canada to Mexico.

Researchers aboard the Wecoma, an Oregon State University research vessel, also discovered that this corrosive, acidified water that is being “upwelled” seasonally from the deeper ocean is probably 50 years old, suggesting that future ocean acidification levels will increase since atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have increased rapidly over the past half century.

Results of the study were published this week in Science Express.

“When the upwelled water was last at the surface, it was exposed to an atmosphere with much lower CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels than today’s,” pointed out Burke Hales, an associate professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and an author on the Science study. “The water that will upwell off the coast in future years already is making its undersea trek toward us, with ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide and acidity.

“The coastal ocean acidification train has left the station,” Hales added, “and there not much we can do to derail it.”

Scientists have become increasingly concerned about ocean acidification in recent years, as the world’s oceans absorb growing levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When that CO2 mixes into the ocean water, it forms carbonic acid that has a corrosive effect on aragonite – the calcium carbonate mineral that forms the shells of many marine creatures.

Certain species of phytoplankton and zooplankton, which are critical to the marine food web, may also be susceptible, the scientists point out, although other species of open-ocean phytoplankton have calcite shells that are not as sensitive.

“There is much research that needs to be done about the biological implications of ocean acidification,” Hales said. “We now have a fairly good idea of how the chemistry works.”

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are a product of the industrial revolution and consumption of fossil fuels. Fifty years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels were roughly 310 parts per million – the highest level to that point that the Earth has experienced in the last million years, according to analyses of gas trapped in ice cores and other research.

During the past 50 years, atmospheric CO2 levels have gradually increased to a level of about 380 parts per million.

These atmospheric CO2 levels form the beginning baseline for carbon levels in ocean water. As water moves away from the surface toward upwelling areas, respiration increases the CO2 and nutrient levels of the water. As that nutrient-rich water is upwelled, it triggers additional phytoplankton blooms that continue the process.

There is a strong correlation between recent hypoxia events off the Northwest coast and increasing acidification, Hales said.

“The hypoxia is caused by persistent upwelling that produces an over-abundance of phytoplankton,” Hales pointed out. “When the system works, the upwelling winds subside for a day or two every couple of weeks in what we call a ‘relaxation event’ that allows that buildup of decomposing organic matter to be washed out to the deep ocean.

“But in recent years, especially in 2002 and 2006, there were few if any of these relaxation breaks in the upwelling and the phytoplankton blooms were enormous,” Hales added. “When the material produced by these blooms decomposes, it puts more CO2 into the system and increases the acidification.”

The research team used OSU’s R/V Wecoma to sample water off the coast from British Columbia to Mexico. The researchers found that the 50-year-old upwelled water had CO2 levels of 900 to 1,000 parts per million, making it “right on the edge of solubility” for calcium carbonate-shelled aragonites, Hales said.

“If we’re right on the edge now based on a starting point of 310 parts per million,” Hales said, “we may have to assume that CO2 levels will gradually increase through the next half century as the water that originally was exposed to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide is cycled through the system. Whether those elevated levels of carbon dioxide tip the scale for aragonites remains to be seen.

“But if we somehow got our atmospheric CO2 level to immediately quit increasing,” Hales added, “we’d still have increasingly acidified ocean water to contend with over the next 50 years.”

Hales says it is too early to predict the biological response to increasing ocean acidification off North America’s West Coast. There already is a huge seasonal variation in the ocean acidity based on phytoplankton blooms, upwelling patterns, water movement and natural terrain. Upwelled water can be pushed all the way onto shore, he said, and barnacles, clams and other aragonites have likely already been exposed to corrosive waters for a period of time.

They may be adapting, he said, or they may already be suffering consequences that scientists have not yet determined.

“You can’t just splash some acid on a clamshell and replicate the range of conditions the Pacific Ocean presents,” Hales said. “This points out the need for cross-disciplinary research. Luckily, we have a fantastic laboratory right off the central Oregon coast that will allow us to look at the implications of ocean acidification.”

The study, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was the first in a planned series of biennial observations of the carbon cycle along the West Coast of the continent. In addition to Hales, principal investigators for the study included Richard A. Feely and Christopher Sabine of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory; J. Martin Hernandez-Ayon, the University of Baja California in Mexico; and Debby Ianson, of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sidney, B.C.


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Burke Hales,