marine science and the coast

Oregon group planning nation’s first tsunami evacuation structure

CANNON BEACH, Ore. – A group of university experts, state and federal officials, and local residents in the coastal town of Cannon Beach, Ore., are working together to create a new city hall – but more importantly, the first structure in the United States ever built specifically to survive the force of a tsunami.

A report on the issue has been completed, research programs at Oregon State University will do further studies this summer, and a conference is planned for this fall. The project goes to the heart of an issue of increasing urgency in the Pacific Northwest – what do you do when a major earthquake hits and a tsunami is imminent, but in the few minutes available there may not be time to run to high ground?

“We’ve already done a lot with public education to alert people in high risk zones about major earthquakes and tsunamis, and what to do,” said Harry Yeh, the Edwards Professor of Coastal and Ocean Engineering at OSU. “Those efforts are important and we’ll continue them. But at some point, knowing what to do may not be good enough if you don’t have the time to do it.”

The Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of Oregon, Washington and northern California causes enormous earthquakes that – depending on location – occur about every 220 to 525 years, along with associated tsunamis. Researchers believe the last such event occurred in 1700, causing a tsunami of such magnitude that it hit not only local shores but swept across the Pacific Ocean to Japan.

An updated study by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) recently doubled the area in Cannon Beach that might be inundated by a tsunami, including almost all the commercial areas in this small city which has about 1,700 residents – not including the thousands of tourists that might be present on some days.

A subduction zone earthquake could be followed by a major tsunami 10-20 minutes later, experts say, while people are surrounded by collapsed buildings, blocked roads, traffic jams and possibly failed bridges. In the few minutes available – at this and many other coastal locations – the concept of “vertical evacuation” to the roof of a tall structure that would withstand the coming tsunami might offer the only realistic chance of survival for some people.

“Strong, reinforced concrete buildings can often survive a tsunami, we saw that in Indonesia in 2004,” Yeh said. “That event was very geologically similar to what we expect in the future of the Pacific Northwest, and it taught us a lot of lessons. Unfortunately, in East Asia those lessons came at a cost of 230,000 lives.”

OSU researchers, through their expertise with structural engineering, modeling and the world’s most sophisticated Tsunami Wave Basin, hope to help prevent a repetition of the Indonesian disaster for the people of Cannon Beach and many other coastal cities. They will work closely with officials at DOGAMI and others who are leading this broad state and community effort.

We know we can build a structure, usually with an open first story that could be used for parking or other community events, that will survive an earthquake and tsunami,” Yeh said. “Everyone agrees it would be good to have, but it will cost more. A realistic engineering and research goal is to find ways to bring those costs down as much as we possibly can, through our improved understanding of tsunami run-up forces. And we must ensure the building is strong enough to do its job – which is saving lives.”

If the project in Cannon Beach actually comes to fruition and the structure is built, Yeh said, it could form a model for other similar structures in many vulnerable coastal areas of the United States and around the world.

Jay Raskin, an architect, local resident and community leader in Cannon Beach, has led efforts there to embrace this project.

“Ever since the research made clear the risks we face in Cannon Beach from earthquakes and tsunamis, we’ve been interested in trying to do something to address this problem,” Raskin said. “We need a new city hall here, and we need to protect our community. A structure like this could help protect people’s lives in the event of a tsunami and give us a starting point around which to maintain government services and rebuild.”

Raskin said a design team that he helped organize will involve university, state, federal and private industry experts. Work will also be done to engage more community residents in the discussion, even though the city has been a coastal leader in tsunami education and preparation since the 1990s.

“There is general public support for creating a new city hall that is also a tsunami refuge,” Raskin said. “But there are also a lot of questions about how such a building would work both day-to-day and in an emergency, and how much it would cost. We need to be able to answer these questions so the public can weigh the benefits and risks to make an informed decision.”

Tsunami-resistant architecture, experts say, could be incorporated into a range of public structures such as city halls, convention centers, schools, or libraries, and conceptually even private buildings that meet the requirements. In Cannon Beach, a building is envisioned that would provide elevated refuge for 800 to 1,000 people.

To serve their purpose, these types of buildings would have to be able to withstand a major earthquake, have deep foundations, be at least two stories high, usually incorporate barrier walls to help dissipate wave forces, have a roof available for emergency evacuation, and meet other requirements. They would be of special value in any coastal community with a high level of visitors, many elderly residents or children, or where higher ground is a sufficient distance away that it may not be practical to reach it in the time available.

In Oregon, about 100,000 residents are in the tsunami inundation hazard zone every day, officials say, some with long travel distances to higher land.

A two-day workshop bringing together a range of university, community, state, federal and private experts will be held on Sept. 28-29 to further explore the Cannon Beach plans, with a field trip to the coast and a meeting in Portland.


Story By: 

Harry Yeh, 541-737-8057

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Cannon Beach City Hall

An architect’s rendering of the possible structure.

Biological studies shed light on collapse of coral reefs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An explosion of knowledge has been made in the last few years about the basic biology of corals, researchers say in a new report, helping to explain why coral reefs around the world are collapsing and what it will take for them to survive a gauntlet of climate change and ocean acidification.

Corals, it appears, have a genetic complexity that rivals that of humans. They have sophisticated systems of biological communication that are being stressed by global change, and are only able to survive based on proper function of an intricate symbiotic relationship with algae that live within their bodies.

After being a highly successful life form for 250 million years, disruptions in these biological and communication systems are the underlying cause of the coral bleaching and collapse of coral reef ecosystems around the world, scientists will report tomorrow in the journal Science.

The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

“We’ve known for some time the general functioning of corals and the problems they are facing from climate change,” said Virginia Weis, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University. “But until just recently, much less has been known about their fundamental biology, genome structure and internal communication. Only when we really understand how their physiology works will we know if they can adapt to climate changes, or ways that we might help.”

Corals are tiny animals, polyps that exist as genetically identical individuals, and can eat, defend themselves and kill plankton for food. In the process they also secrete calcium carbonate that becomes the basis for an external skeleton on which they sit. These calcified deposits can grow to enormous sizes over long periods of time and form coral reefs – one of the world’s most productive ecosystems, which can harbor more than 4,000 species of fish and many other marine life forms.

But corals are not really self sufficient. Within their bodies they harbor highly productive algae – a form of marine plant life – that can “fix” carbon, use the energy of the sun to conduct photosynthesis and produce sugars.

 “Some of these algae that live within corals are amazingly productive, and in some cases give 95 percent of the sugars they produce to the coral to use for energy,” Weis said. “In return the algae gain nitrogen, a limiting nutrient in the ocean, by feeding off the waste from the coral. It’s a finely developed symbiotic relationship.”

What scientists are learning, however, is that this relationship is also based on a delicate communication process from the algae to the coral, telling it that the algae belong there, and that everything is fine. Otherwise the corals would treat the algae as a parasite or invader and attempt to kill it.

“Even though the coral depends on the algae for much of its food, it may be largely unaware of its presence,” Weis said. “We now believe that this is what’s happening when the water warms or something else stresses the coral – the communication from the algae to the coral breaks down, the all-is-well message doesn’t get through.

“The algae essentially comes out of hiding and faces an immune response from the coral.”

This internal communication process, Weis said, is not unlike some of the biological processes found in humans and other animals. One of the revelations in recent research, she said, is the enormous complexity of coral biology, and even its similarity to other life forms. A gene that controls skeletal development in humans, for instance, is the identical gene in corals that helps it develop its external skeleton – conserved in the different species over hundreds of millions of years since they parted from a common ancestor on their separate evolutionary paths.

There’s still much to learn about this process, researchers said, and tremendous variation in it. For one thing, there are 1,000 species of coral and perhaps thousands of species of algae all mixing and matching in this symbiotic dance. And that variation, experts say, provides at least some hope that combinations will be found which can better adapt to changing conditions of ocean temperature, acidity or other threats.

The problems facing coral reefs are still huge, and increasing. They are being pressured by changes in ocean temperature, pollution, overfishing, sedimentation, acidification, oxidative stress and disease, and the synergistic effect of some of these problems may destroy reefs even when one cause by itself would not. Some estimates have suggested 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs are already dead and an additional 24 percent are gravely threatened.

The predicted acidification of the oceans in the next century is expected to decrease coral calcification rates by 50 percent and promote the dissolving of coral skeletons, the researchers noted in their report.

“With some of the new findings about coral symbiosis and calcification, and how it works, coral biologists are now starting to think more outside the box,” Weis said. “Maybe there’s something we could do to help identify and protect coral species that can survive in different conditions. Perhaps we won’t have to just stand by as the coral reefs of the world die and disappear.”


Story By: 

Virginia Weis, 541-737-4359

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Coral colony

Coral Colony

Coral skeleton

Coral Skeleton

OSU scientists identify endangered right whales where they were presumed extinct

NEWPORT, Ore. – Using a system of underwater hydrophones that can record sounds from hundreds of miles away, a team of scientists from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has documented the presence of endangered North Atlantic right whales in an area they were thought to be extinct.

The discovery is particularly important, researchers say, because it is in an area that may be opened to shipping if the melting of polar ice continues, as expected.

Results of the study were presented this week at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Portland, Ore.

The scientists are unsure of exactly how many whales were in the region, which is off the southern tip of Greenland and site of an important 19th-century whaling area called Cape Farewell Ground. But they recorded more than 2,000 right whale vocalizations in the region from July through December of 2007.

“The technology has enabled us to identify an important unstudied habitat for endangered right whales and raises the possibility that – contrary to general belief – a remnant of a central or eastern Atlantic stock of right whales still exists and might be viable,” said David Mellinger, an assistant professor at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and chief scientist of the project.

“We don’t know how many right whales there were in the area,” Mellinger added. “They aren’t individually distinctive in their vocalizations. But we did hear right whales at three widely space sites on the same day, so the absolute minimum is three. Even that number is significant because the entire population is estimated to be only 300 to 400 whales.”

Only two right whales have been sighted in the last 50 years at Cape Farewell Ground, where they had been hunted to near extinction prior to the adoption of protective measures.

Funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, the project began in 2007 with the deployment of five hydrophones off the coast of Greenland. These instruments, built by Haru Matsumoto at OSU, were configured to continuously record ambient sounds below 1,000 Hz – a range that includes calls of the right whale – over a large region of the North Atlantic.

Right whales produce a variety of sounds, Mellinger said, and through careful analysis these sounds can be distinguished from other whales. The scientists used recordings of North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales to identify the species’ distinct sounds, including vocalizations known as “up” calls. Beginning in July of 2007, the scientists recorded a total of 2,012 calls in the North Atlantic off Greenland.

The pattern of recorded calls suggests that the whales moved from the southwest portion of the region in a northeasterly direction in late July, and then returned in September – putting them directly where proposed future shipping lanes would be likely.

“Newly available shipping lanes through the Northwest Passage would greatly shorten the trip between Europe and East Asia, but would likely cross the migratory route of any right whales that occupy the region,” said Phillip Clapham, a right whale expert with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory, who participated in the study. “It’s vital that we know about right whales in this area in order to effectively avoid ship strikes on what could be a quite fragile population.”

In addition to Mellinger and Clapham, scientists involved in the project include Sharon Nieukirk, Karolin Klinck, Holger Klinck and Bob Dziak of the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies – a joint venture between OSU and NOAA; and Bryndís Brandsdóttir, of the University of Iceland.

This is the third time that Mellinger’s team has used hydrophones to locate endangered right whales. In the January 2004 issue of the journal Marine Mammal Science, Mellinger and his colleagues outlined how they used autonomous hydrophones to identify right whales in the Gulf of Alaska, where only one confirmed sighting had taken place in 26 years. And they identified the seasonal occurrence of right whales off Nova Scotia in a 2007 issue of the journal.

OSU scientists first began hearing whale sounds several years ago on a U.S. Navy hydrophone network. The hydrophone system – called the Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUS – was used by the Navy during the Cold War to monitor submarine activity in the northern Pacific Ocean. As the Cold War ebbed, these and other military assets were offered to civilian researchers performing environmental studies.

An Oregon State researcher, Christopher Fox, first received permission from the Navy to use the hydrophones at his laboratory at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center to listen for undersea earthquakes – a program now directed by Bob Dziak.

While listening for earthquakes, the OSU researchers begin picking up sounds of ships, marine landslides – and whales. Matsumoto, an engineer at the center, then developed autonomous hydrophones that can be deployed independently. Hydrophones since have become an important tool for marine ecologists, as well as geologists.

Story By: 

David Mellinger, 541-867-0372

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Scientists including Matt Fowler, who works for both Oregon State University and NOAA, deploy a hydrophone in the North Atlantic aboard the Icelandic Coast Guard
cutter Aegir that will record sounds emitted by endangered whales and other species. (photo courtesy of Dave Mellinger, Oregon State

Oregon Sea Grant publication explores offshore aquaculture

CORVALLIS – A new publication from Oregon Sea Grant outlines how that the scarcity of offshore aquaculture programs in the United States – and which are nonexistent in the Pacific Northwest – is creating a seafood trade deficit that is costing the U.S. billions of dollars per year.

The publication, “Offshore Aquaculture in the Pacific Northwest,” was edited by Oregon State University fisheries professor Chris Langdon.

“The United States is far from sufficient in meeting its demands for seafood,” Langdon said. “Forty-five percent of our wild fish stocks are overfished, and we import about 80 percent of our seafood from other countries, at an annual cost of $13 billion. Clearly there is a need to develop additional sources of seafood.”

Offshore aquaculture may eventually prove to be one of those sources.

With support from NOAA and other federal and state agencies, Langdon says, offshore aquaculture projects have been established in a few regions of the United States. However, no such projects have been established in the Pacific Northwest.

Last fall Langdon coordinated a forum at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center exploring the potential of offshore aquaculture in the region. Participating were representatives of state and federal agencies, media, research institutions, and coastal and fishing communities. The Sea Grant publication presents the results of that forum, including recommendations for next steps in the discussion.

Copies of the 24-page publication may be downloaded at no charge from http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sgpubs/onlinepubs.html#w08001, or purchased for $3.50 each (plus shipping) from Sea Grant Communications, 541-737-4849.

In addition, individual papers and presentations from Langdon’s offshore aquaculture forum are available as PDF documents and streaming video at http://oregonstate.edu/conferences/aquaculture2008.


Chris Langdon,

Ocean of junk focus of presentation, panel discussion in Newport

NEWPORT, Ore. – Parts of the Pacific Ocean are beginning to resemble a landfill and the increasing accumulation of debris – mainly plastic – is the focus of a special presentation on Monday, April 27, at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

Two environmental activists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in California will visit the center as part of their 2,000-mile bicycle tour from British Columbia to Mexico to raise awareness about what some are calling the “North Pacific Garbage Patch.”

Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins will speak, present photos and participate in a panel discussion with OSU researchers and community leaders. The presentation runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Hennings Auditorium at the center, and is free and open to the public.

Eriksen and Cummins are perhaps best known for their project to build JUNK, a raft made from 15,000 bottles, which sailed to Hawaii last summer. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been studying the accumulation of plastic debris in the ocean and its 2008 survey concluded that the density of plastics in the ocean has doubled in the past 10 years.

The group also found evidence that lantern fish – which are common prey for tuna, salmon and groundfish – are ingesting plastic.

Others participating in the panel discussion include Kim Raum-Suryan, a faculty research assistant with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute; Gretchen Ammerman, of the North Lincoln Waste District; and Jeff Feldner, a former commercial fisherman now working for Oregon Sea Grant. Other panelists may be added.

The event is sponsored by the Newport chapter of Surfrider Foundation, Friends of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon Sea Grant, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and CoastWatch.

More information on the JunkRaft project is available at: http://junkraft.com/home.html

Story By: 

Bill Hanshumaker,

Gray whale washes up north of Florence

NEWPORT, Ore. – For the second time in a month, a dead whale has been found on the central Oregon coast, but researchers at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center say it is unlikely the two deaths are linked.

On Thursday morning, a jogger reported a whale north of Florence on the beach near the popular Hobbit Trail and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network was notified. Jim Rice, an OSU researcher who coordinates the network, said the gray whale was a 43-foot adult female that apparently had just died. A necropsy revealed that the whale had what appeared to be an infected or cancerous ovary.

“We’re sending tissue samples to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at OSU, so hopefully we’ll learn more,” Rice said. “But it looks like the whale succumbed to emaciation after a chronic disease.”

In early March, a fin whale beached itself near Heceta Head Lighthouse at Devil’s Elbow State Park. That whale, which measured 55 feet in length, weighed an estimated 50 tons. Though Rice said it was “somewhat malnourished,” it wasn’t emaciated to the extent of the gray whale. The cause of the fin whale’s death in March wasn’t clear, though it didn’t appear to have suffered an injury from a collision with a ship or predation by orcas. The scientists were unable to perform a necropsy because the whale was on a popular beach.

“It is unlikely the two are related,” Rice said. “Whales die for a variety of reasons – often of emaciation – but the root cause can be injury, disease or parasites.”

Beached whales aren’t exactly a rarity in Oregon, but they aren’t particularly common. Rice estimates that 4-5 dead whales are reported each year, but many of those are badly decomposed and likely washed ashore after dying in the ocean.

However, it is unusual to see a fin whale on the beach in Oregon. In going through 20 years of records, Rice could only find two previous references to a fin whale stranding.

Gray whales are much more common and frequently are seen just offshore. Rice said he believes this adult female was migrating north from Baja en route to Arctic summer feeding grounds when it died.

The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a collaborative volunteer effort to respond to reports of sick or dead marine mammals – including whales, seals and sea lions – and report data about the strandings to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Partners in the network include OSU, Portland State University, the University of Oregon’s Institute for Marine Biology, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation and others.

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Jim Rice,

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Gray Whale

OSU to Offer Nation’s First Online Fisheries Management Certificate

CORVALLIS, Ore. – This fall, Oregon State University will launch what educators say may be the first comprehensive online graduate certificate program in fisheries management in the world.

Some universities offer full-time graduate programs or one-term study programs, but there is a “serious curriculum gap” in the field – with little opportunity for professional fisheries managers to get graduate level training while still working, says Michael Harte, an OSU professor who coordinates the program.

Given the challenges facing 21st-century fisheries managers, Harte pointed out, there is an urgent need to fill that gap.

“When I first went to work in the fisheries industry as a policy manager 13 years ago and talked to a bunch of my colleagues I was surprised to learn that none of us had any formal training in fisheries management,” Harte said. “And fisheries management has since become more inclusive – incorporating government, industry, non-governmental organizations and individuals from multiple disciplines – making management even more complex, and the need for accessible graduate level education even more urgent.

“What we’re putting together is unique,” he added. “It will take time to fully develop, but the need is there and OSU has the faculty expertise to get this launched.”

A November 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Oregon State first nationally in wildlife science and second nationally in fisheries science among graduate programs in the United States, based on faculty productivity. An earlier listing had ranked OSU No. 1 nationally in conservation biology.

The certificate requires participants to earn 18 hours of graduate credit at OSU through courses integral to fisheries management, and complete an applied “capstone” project. Harte, who directs the university’s Marine Resource Management Program, has enlisted leading faculty from OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Hatfield Marine Science Center and other colleges, including liberal arts and science.

The curriculum will be offered online through OSU Extended Campus (Ecampus), Harte said, because he anticipates most of the people signing up for the program will be professionals who wouldn’t be able to leave their jobs for extensive on-campus coursework. The certificate also is available to on-campus graduate students who want to specialize in fisheries management.

Harte has been working to develop the program with staff from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, international fisheries management organizations and fisheries stakeholder groups from around the world. Each has brought a valuable set of training needs to the process, he emphasized.

“The challenge in developing such a program is to make it as relevant for a fisheries manager working in The Philippines as it is for a hatchery manager in Oregon,” Harte said. “This will be our first time offering the program so we anticipate a few speed bumps along the way, but we know it will blossom into a major international program.”

Harte said he hopes to enroll 50-60 participants during the first couple of years of the program and eventually expand it to 200. Most of the enrollees are likely to be working in a variety of related fields, including fisheries management and coastal management. He expects participants from watershed councils, extension services, NGOs, state and federal agencies, and international management organizations.

The certificate program will include options in freshwater and marine fisheries management as well as the option to complete stand-alone courses as needed.

More information on the program is available at: www.ecampus.oregonstate.edu/fisherieshttp://www.cbc.ca/ideas/features/science/index.html. It is being offered by OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Story By: 

Michael Harte,

New “Hurricane” Wavemaker Installed at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at Oregon State University has completed installation of a new $1.1 million “hurricane” wavemaker that’s the largest of its type in the nation, able to more accurately simulate the types of waves and flooding that can cause billions of dollars in damage.

Researchers plan to use the new technology in a series of major research projects, involving scientists from all over the world, to study the impact of hurricanes and tsunamis on structures and how these events lead to flooding that can overtop a levee or cause severe coastal erosion.

The new system was funded by the National Science Foundation. The state of Oregon, through its Engineering Technology Innovation Council, also provided another $1 million to upgrade offices and laboratories at the center.

“We now have an advanced research facility that will help us learn more about how to reduce hurricane damage, deal with major storms and prepare for tsunamis,” said Dan Cox, professor of civil engineering and director of the laboratory. “This is a national asset, an investment made here in Oregon in part because the NSF recognizes that we’re committed to sharing the facility in collaboration with other researchers from all over the U.S. and the world.”

The “hurricane” waves produced by the new system are not actually driven by wind, but are “long period,” shallow water waves much like those generated by sustained hurricane-force winds or tsunami events. The previous system was better suited to producing taller waves.

A full schedule of research projects will begin soon. This summer, the new system will be used to study tsunami impacts on wooden structures – a topic of considerable importance to Oregon, which is at significant risk of a tsunami from major earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

This fall, a study will begin on how hurricane-forced waves can overtop levees and what effect that has, in a study funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Another initiative will look at the impact of heavier storms and coastal erosion on vegetation, which may be an increasing concern with the sea level rise anticipated from global warming. And other work is planned to study the survivability and mechanical durability of wave energy systems, in collaboration with OSU scientists and private industry.

The real value of the new system, Cox said, is the size of the wave it can create.

“Because the materials used for coastal construction – wood, concrete and steel – have complicated properties, they cannot be studied easily at small scale,” Cox said. “The new wavemaker is bigger and improves the accuracy of our research and applicability to real-world structures.”

Prior to this, the U.S. had no coastal research facilities able to simulate hurricanes and other extreme storms that were large enough to minimize the effects of scaling. The new large-stroke, piston-type wavemaker will allow precision, large-scale studies, enabling safer and more cost-effective design of coastal infrastructure such as bridges, levees and buildings. This will lead to better practices for the repair and retrofit of existing structures and improved design codes for new construction. The facility will also improve education and outreach to people living in areas susceptible to coastal storms.

More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coast and the civil infrastructure along the nation’s coasts, which is worth more than $3 trillion, is vulnerable to coastal storms. According to a 2007 report from the National Science Board, the economic and societal impacts of extreme events such as hurricanes are expected to escalate in coming years.

The Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory is a shared-use, international facility operated by the OSU College of Engineering. No other facility in the U.S. matches the size and performance of the basins, and only a handful of facilities in the world can operate at near-prototype ocean conditions. Due to the lab’s sophisticated information technology systems, researchers worldwide can participate remotely in experiments at the facility.

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Dan Cox,

OSU’s Lubchenco confirmed as undersecretary of Commerce, head of NOAA

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University community awoke to news this morning that one of its own, renowned marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, an OSU faculty member for more than three decades, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate late yesterday to serve as undersecretary of Commerce in the Obama administration.

In that role, Lubchenco will also act as administrator of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her nomination has been hailed nationally by the scientific community as a sign of how seriously the new president takes the role of science in determining administration policy on a range of important issues, including climate change, ocean health and conservation issues.

OSU officials who have seen Lubchenco’s scientific leadership first-hand were quick to applaud the Senate’s unanimous consent vote to confirm.

“Dr. Lubchenco’s outstanding service to the science of marine biology and to the public through her communication of that science has provided invaluable benefit to both,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “Thanks to her research and scholarship, we know more about sensitive coastal marine areas, impacts of humans on our environment, the importance of biodiversity, climate change and more. Her 32 years as a member of our faculty have been among the most productive I have ever seen.

“We have every reason to expect that she’ll continue that record of leadership at NOAA, and commend President Obama for nominating and the Senate for confirming an administrator who will be guided by the very best science concerning oceans and the atmosphere.”

Former OSU President John V. Byrne, who led NOAA himself 25 years ago as a member of the Reagan administration, was equally enthusiastic.

“Jane’s knowledge and wisdom concerning the environment and her experience with major national and international scientific groups will serve her well as she moves the president's, and her, agenda forward to benefit the environment and consequently all people living on this planet,” said President Emeritus Byrne. “She will face political, scientific and budgetary challenges, but I am convinced she will handle them well. The United States will benefit from having Jane Lubchenco as administrator of NOAA.”

Lubchenco, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology, earned her Ph.D. in ecology from Harvard University in 1975 and taught there before joining the OSU faculty in 1977. OSU is home to one of the largest and most respected group of marine scientists in the United States, a distinction that she helped to build over the next 30 years. Among her accomplishments during her tenure at OSU:

• She served as president of the International Council for Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America. She was also a presidential appointee to two terms on the National Science Board, which advises the president and Congress and oversees the National Science Foundation.

• She founded the widely respected Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which trains outstanding academic environmental scientists to be effective leaders and communicators of scientific information to the public, policy makers, the media and the private sector.

• With her husband, OSU Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology Bruce Menge, she led creation of the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) in 1999 with a major grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to investigate the near-shore marine ecosystems of the West Coast of the United States. That work has significantly enhanced understanding of those areas and uncovered such dynamics as the recurring hypoxic or “dead zones” along the Oregon and southern Washington coasts.

• Her work as a scientist has made her one of the most highly cited ecologists in the world – a distinction underscored by her election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Society and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World.

Among her numerous awards and recognitions are a MacArthur Fellowship (more commonly known as a “genius grant”), the $300,000 Zayed Prize for the Environment, eight honorary degrees and the title of “Distinguished Professor of Zoology.”

During her tenure in Washington, D.C., Lubchenco will retain her position on the OSU faculty. Menge also remains on the OSU faculty and leads the PISCO initiative.


The White House

Fish Trax: Consumers Can Track Fish, Meet the Fishermen

PORTLAND, Ore. – Seafood lovers who prefer eating local products will soon have another tool at their disposal – a bar-coding system that traces the history of their fish from ocean to market and introduces the buyer to the fishermen who supplied their meal.

It’s all part of a new pilot project called “Pacific Fish Trax,” which will be unveiled Feb. 20 in the Portland area at two New Seasons Market locations – in Cedar Hills (3495 Cedar Hills Blvd.) and Arbor Lodge (6400 N. Interstate).

A joint venture between Oregon State University, the Community Seafood Initiative and Oregon commercial fishermen, Pacific Fish Trax is a combination scientific venture and public outreach effort that is designed to ultimately shed light on the state’s commercial fishing industry and strengthen wild fish runs.

“There is a community of interest involved with Pacific Fish Trax and all of the participants have similar goals of using science to improve management of the resource and to help sustain our seafood harvest,” said Gil Sylvia, an OSU seafood economist and superintendent of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station in Newport, Ore.

Here’s how it works. Shoppers who purchase albacore tuna fillets at the two New Seasons Market stores beginning on Feb. 20 can stop at specially designed kiosks there and run a bar code on the label through a scanner that will introduce the consumer to the local fisherman who caught the fish, the boat from which it was caught, and the processor who packaged it.

Once home, they can access the Pacific Fish Trax website that will tell them where the fish was caught, its temperature history and other information. Maps and graphics will reveal ocean locations, conditions and even the contour of the seafloor.

Sylvia and others say this type of data has the potential to capture consumers in many venues.

“You can envision a chef at a seafood restaurant or a retailer at New Seasons telling the story of who caught this particular fish, and where it was caught,” Sylvia said. “It’s a way of connecting people directly to the food they eat.”

This is a pilot project to see how consumers respond to such a marketing effort. Three Newport fishermen participated in this first venture and caught about 1,400 pounds of albacore that will be sold under the Pacific Fish Trax system.

Sylvia says this is just the first step and, in fact, the pilot project was supposed to focus on Oregon’s ocean salmon, but the widespread closure of the Pacific Ocean to salmon fishing in 2008 to protect a weak run of Sacramento River fish prompted the project coordinators to opt for albacore.

The pilot marketing effort is part of a larger program that originated at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center called Project CROOS, which stands for Collaborative Research on Oregon’s Ocean Salmon. As part of that project, 100 Oregon commercial fishermen have logged catch locations and ocean conditions of the salmon they’ve caught in 2006 and 2007 and sent fin and tissue sample to the laboratory of OSU geneticist Michael Banks, who runs DNA profiles to look for their river basin of origin.

The effort has been funded in part by the Oregon Innovation Council, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and federal Disaster Relief Funds, administered through the Oregon Salmon Commission and the Oregon Albacore Commission. Other partners include Oregon Sea Grant, NOAA Fisheries and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The idea of Project CROOS is to see if fish from certain rivers school together in the ocean and, if so, where. The scientists have a 94 percent success rate in identifying the origin of the fish, comparing the isotopic signatures with established data banks of 200 rivers in the Northwest, and validating their findings with fish that have coded wire tags. They can run the tests within 24 hours.

Eventually they hope their studies will enable resource managers to make in-season management decisions using real time data that will keep much of the ocean open for fishing while protecting weakened runs.

All of the scientific data gathered will soon be on the Pacific Trax website, available to researchers, the public and the fishermen themselves. It can be accessed after Feb. 20 at: http://www.PacificFishTrax.org

“The fishermen are sharing the data voluntarily because they want to improve the science and enhance the sustainability of the resource,” Sylvia said. “That’s kind of cool. This isn’t something that came through a regulatory agency, it was a grass roots effort.”

Two photos of the kiosk are available as well as a demonstration video. Please credit Lynn Ketchum, Oregon State University, for all images.

• Oregon fisherman Paul Stannard, a participant in the CROOS project, checks out his image on the kiosk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33247428@N08/3526220499/

• Oregon fisherman Bob Aue, also a participant in the CROOS project, scans a frozen fish fillet with a barcode during a test run of the project: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/4255046400/

• Jeff Feldner, a former commercial fisherman now with OSU-based Oregon Sea Grant, explains on video how the bar code system works: http://oregonstate.edu/media/szvmq

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Gil Sylvia,

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Paul Stannard

Paul Stannard