marine science and the coast

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.

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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

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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.

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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

Scientists to return to undersea volcano, which may be erupting again

NEWPORT, Ore. – An international team of scientists will return this April 3-17 to an undersea volcano near the Mariana Islands northwest of Guam where in 2004 they observed a deep-ocean eruption live for the first time from a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV – a feat they duplicated in 2006.

Called Northwest Rota-1, the volcano is still showing signs of activity according to data retrieved from an underwater hydrophone that captures sound data, said William Chadwick, a volcanologist at Oregon State University and chief scientist on the National Science Foundation-funded project.

“We don’t know if it will be active when we are there, how intense that activity could be, or even whether we will be able to see much,” cautioned Chadwick. “But if it is active, this will be an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about undersea volcanoes and some of the significant impacts they can have.”

Sounds of the eruptive activity were recorded by a hydrophone that was deployed at the site in February of 2008 by Robert Dziak and Joe Haxel, OSU researchers and colleagues of Chadwick’s at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. They recovered the hydrophone last month and analyzed the data, which suggests that the volcano has been active for much of the past year, though at varying intensities. They deployed another hydrophone that will record sounds over the next year.

During the upcoming expedition, the science team will report its findings on a blog (http://nwrota2009.blogspot.com/) so that science students and classes from middle school through college – as well as the general public – can follow their progress. The expedition will use the R/V Thompson, a ship operated by the University of Washington, and will utilize Jason II, an ROV operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In addition to researchers from OSU, UW and NOAA, the team will include scientists from Canada, Japan and New Zealand, as well as other institutions within the United States, including the University of Oregon.

Northwest Rota-1 remains the only undersea volcano scientists have witnessed erupting and thus is a unique site for research. Though they first saw it in action in 2004 and again the following year, it was a project in 2006 that drew international attention. That year, the cinder cone at the top of the volcano had slipped away and allowed the scientists to look directly into the erupting vent. Video images captured by the Jason ROV were spectacular and were featured on news organizations around the world.

Now the scientists’ goal is to put more science behind those observations.

“What we’ve done thus far has been to capture a brief scientific ‘snapshot’ of an undersea volcano,” Chadwick said. “We know a great deal about the impact of terrestrial volcanoes and very little about those that erupt beneath the sea – from the underwater explosion processes to the chemical impacts on the ocean and the effects on deep-sea ecology.”

“Amazingly, there are animals adapted to hydrothermal vents that live right on this erupting volcano,” Chadwick added.

During the two-week project, the scientists will deploy long-term monitoring instruments including hydrophones, chemical sensors, current meters and plume sensing devices that will allow them to study for the first time the patterns of activity over an entire year. They also will make additional visual observations of the eruptive activity, hydrothermal vents and biological communities, and will collect samples of lava, gas and fluids from the volcano.

Additional information on past expeditions to Northwest Rota-1 – including photos, video and graphic illustrations – is available at:


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Bill Chadwick,

Rip currents could play role in increased coastal erosion

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Amid growing concern about rising sea levels triggered by global warming, Oregon Sea Grant researchers at Oregon State University are discovering that rip currents might play a role in coastal erosion because they create rip “embayments” – or low areas on sandy beaches – that expose nearby land to higher rates of erosion by wave activity.

“There is now evidence that we’re experiencing larger coastal storms and increased wave heights that result in larger waves along shorelines,” said Merrick Haller, a coastal engineering professor at OSU who led recent research on these embayments.

“When rip currents pull sand offshore, they leave behind rip embayments, which become ‘erosional hot spots’ where the beach is much thinner, making the sea cliffs or land beyond these embayments more vulnerable to erosion caused by larger waves.”

Rip currents form in places where the water that is driven ashore with the waves drains back out to sea forming a current perpendicular to the coastline. Swimmers can be caught in these currents and pulled offshore. The Pacific Northwest is known for having strong rip currents, probably due to large swells offshore, said Haller, whose research focused on several beaches along the Oregon coast.

Using funding provided by Oregon Sea Grant, and building on earlier research conducted by OSU’s Paul Komar, an emeritus professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Haller and his research team studied the morphological characteristics of these embayments to better determine how rip currents form embayments. The team also studied whether the locations of embayments can be predicted.

“A major challenge is to predict where rip currents will appear, because if we knew how to predict them, we could not only warn swimmers, we could also predict where erosion will likely occur farther inland from the embayments they form,” Haller said.

This knowledge would be helpful for coastal development. Many structures sited along the coast were built before it was known that rip embayments influence erosion.

In 2006, Jonathan Allan, a coastal geomorphologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries who helped Haller with the embayment research study, documented a sea cliff that eroded approximately 20 feet in a single weekend to within a few feet of an existing home near Gleneden beach.

Haller catalogued existing embayments using several years of LIDAR data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The data were used to find the locations of embayments as well as the topography of the exposed beaches near the embayments.

“We wanted to know if these embayments show up in the same places, or if they migrate north or south in a certain pattern depending on wave conditions,” Haller said. “What we found is that where they form seems to be random; they showed no tendency to always show up at the same spots, nor did they appear to migrate, and they tended to disappear in less than six months.”

But Haller’s team wanted to learn how rip embayments form and under what conditions. So they ran computer model simulations, the findings of which suggest that embayments might preferentially form during moderate storms, instead of large storms as previously thought.

“When waves are really big, they start breaking way offshore, so by the time they arrive onshore, the energy is dissipated and erosion is spread uniformly along the beach,” Haller said. “But our findings suggest that there appears to be a middle range of wave heights that lead to a strong feedback between wave breaking and the shape of an incipient embayment. This feedback can drive a strong rip current and further embayment formation. Hence, embayment formation may be more prevalent during moderate storms.”

But Haller is quick to point out that more research is needed before concrete conclusions can be reached. Many other factors may play a role in embayment formation, including sand grain size, antecedent wave conditions and rock outcrops in shallow areas of the ocean. This near shore area is also challenging to study because it is shallow, waves are constantly breaking and LIDAR cannot penetrate murky water.

Recently, Haller and Peter Ruggiero, an OSU professor of geosciences, assembled a specialized personal watercraft equipped with echo sounders, computers, and a GPS system to collect bathymetry data in these shallow areas near shore.

This data will add to their understanding of how rip embayments form, helping the researchers eventually find ways to predict how and where rip currents and their embayments develop.

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

Story By: 

Merrick Haller,

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Sea Clff Erosion

Nearly 20 feet of sea cliff at Gleneden Beach, Ore., eroded away in one
November weekend in 2006, and came close to undercutting several homes.
Scientists now believe rising wave heights and coastal embayments may
increase the risk of erosion. (Photo credit: Tony/Stein/Oregon State