marine science and the coast

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:


Story By: 

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,

Multimedia Downloads

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

Scientists return to erupting undersea volcano; find massive cone, new species

NEWPORT, Ore. – Scientists who have just returned from studying an erupting undersea volcano near the Island of Guam report that the volcano appears to be continuously active, has grown considerably in size during the past three years and its activity supports a unique biological community that is thriving despite the eruptions.

An international science team on the expedition, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, captured dramatic new video of the eruptive activity of NW Rota-1, which remains the only place on Earth where a deep submarine volcano has ever been directly observed while erupting.

Scientists first observed eruptions here in 2004 and again in 2006, said Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University volcanologist and chief investigator on the expedition. This time, however, they discovered that the volcano had built a new cone that is 40 meters high and 300 meters wide since they had last visited.

“That’s as tall as a 12-story building and as wide as a full city block,” Chadwick said. “And as the cone has grown, we’ve seen a significant increase in the population of animals that live atop the volcano. We’re trying to determine if there is a direct connection between the increase in the volcanic activity and the population increase.

“The animals in this unusual ecosystem include shrimp, crab, limpets and barnacles, some of which are new species,” Chadwick added. “They are specially adapted to their environment and are thriving in harsh chemical conditions that would be toxic to normal marine life.

“Life here,” he said, “is actually nourished by the erupting volcano.”

Verena Tunnicliffe, a biologist from the University of Victoria, said most of the animals the scientists observed were dependent on diffuse hydrothermal venting that provides basic food in the form of bacterial filaments coating the rocks.

“It appears that (since 2006) the diffuse venting has spread and, with it, the vent animals,” Tunnicliffe said. “There is now a very large biomass of shrimp on the volcano and two species are able to cope with the volcano conditions. The ‘Loihi’ shrimp has adapted to grazing the bacterial filaments with tiny claws like garden shears. The second shrimp is a new species – they also graze as juveniles, but as they grow to adult stage their front claws enlarge and they become predators.”

The shrimp reveal intriguing adaptations to volcano living, according to Tunnicliffe. The Loihi shrimp was previously known from only a small active volcano near Hawaii – a long distance away. It survives on the fast-growing bacteria and tries to avoid the hazards of the volcanic eruptions. Clouds of these shrimp were seen apparently fleeing volcanic bursts.

The other species attacks the Loihi shrimp and preys on marine life that wanders too close to the volcanic plumes and dies. “We saw dying fish, squid, etc., raining down onto the seamount, where they were jumped on by the volcano shrimp – a lovely adaptation of exploiting the noxious effects of the volcano,” Tunnicliffe said.

The new studies are important because NW Rota-1 provides a one-of-a-kind natural laboratory for the investigation of undersea volcanic activity and its relation to chemical-based ecosystems at hydrothermal vents where life on Earth may have originated.

“It is unusual for a volcano to be continuously active, even on land,” Chadwick pointed out. “This presents us with a fantastic opportunity to learn about processes that we’ve never been able to directly observe before,” he said. “When volcanoes erupt in shallow water they can be extremely hazardous, creating huge explosions and even tsunamis. But here, we can safely observe an eruption in the deep ocean and learn valuable lessons about how lot lava and seawater interact.”

Chadwick said that volcanic plumes behave completely differently underwater than on land, where the eruption cloud is filled with steam and ash, and other gases are invisible.

“In the ocean, any steam immediately condenses and disappears and what is visible are clear bubbles of carbon dioxide and a dense cloud made of tiny droplets of molten sulfur, formed when sulfur dioxide mixes with seawater,” Chadwick said. “Both of these volcanic gases make the eruption cloud extremely acidic – worse than stomach acid – which is another challenge for biological communities living nearby.”

Ocean acidification is a serious concern because of human-induced carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere. “Submarine volcanoes are places where we can study how animals have adapted to very acidic conditions,” Chadwick said.

During the April 2009 expedition, which was aboard the University of Washington’s R/V Thompson, the scientists made dives with Jason, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“It was amazing how close the Jason can get to the eruptive vent because the pressure at a depth of 520 meters (or about 1,700 feet) in the ocean keeps the energy released from the volcano from becoming too explosive,” Chadwick said. “Some of the most intriguing observations for the scientists came when the volcano would slowly push lava up and out of the erupting vent.

“As this was happening, the ground in front of us shuddered and quaked, and huge blocks were bulldozed out of the way to make room for new lava emerging from the vent,” he added.

Part of the evidence that the volcano is in a constant state of eruption comes from an underwater microphone – or hydrophone – that was deployed a year ago at NW Rota-1 by Oregon State University geologist Bob Dziak. The hydrophone “listened” for the sounds of volcanic activity and the data it recorded clearly shows the volcano was active the entire year before the latest expedition. Another hydrophone and other instruments will monitor the volcano for the coming year.

The international team included scientists from OSU, University of Washington, University of Victoria, University of Oregon, NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, New Zealand and Japan.

More information, including science blogs, video and photographs, is available at: /http://nwrota2009.blogspot.com

Credit Information: Video is restricted for use by news media, non-commercial broadcast only. Copyright © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, All Rights Reserved. For commercial licensing, contact media@whoi.edu. Credits: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University; Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (For more information, contact Bill Chadwick, 541-867-0179, bill.chadwick@oregonstate.edu)

• Time-lapse movie of the seafloor shaking and rocks being shoved away from the eruptive vent as new lava slowly forces its way to the surface (video speeded up 4 times, no audio). http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/cflkmx-hiq.mp4

• A rocky outcrop on a ridge of the volcano provides habitat for two species of shrimp specially adapted to live in the extreme chemical environment found near the eruptive vent (no audio). http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/zqgnc-hiq.mp4

• Jason prepares to sample the eruption plume with an intake held in one of its manipulator arms as ash rains down on the vehicle. Later a curtain of CO2 bubbles rises in front of the camera during another eruptive pulse. http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/ssflg-hiq.mp4

• The Jason ROV approaches the Brimstone eruptive vent at the top of the new 40-meter high cone (no audio). http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/cgfgjh-hiq.mp4

• The seafloor quakes and heaves as new lava slowly erupts. http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/swscn-hiq.mp4

• Seafloor shaking and rocks being shoved away from the eruptive vent as new lava slowly forces its way to the surface. http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/snzvb-hiq.mp4

• White billowing plume full of sulfur and ash erupts out of Brimstone vent (no audio). http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/tqfvm-hiq.mp4

• Volcanic gases stream out of the Brimstone eruptive vent: clear bubbles are CO2, while the white cloud is dominated by sulfur (no audio). http://video.cws.oregonstate.edu/sfpkv-hiq.mp4

Still images and captions are available at the links below:

• Degassing lava erupts onto the seafloor at NW Rota-1 volcano, creating a billowing cloudy plume that is extremely acidic, and is full of carbon dioxide and sulfur. (photo credit: copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/photos/seafloor.JPG

• Two unique species of shrimp that are adapted to the harsh conditions are among the animals that live at the erupting NW Rota-1 submarine volcano. (photo credit: copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/photos/shrimp1.JPG

• The smaller shrimp (most of the individuals in this photo) graze bacterial mat from the rocks, whereas the larger shrimp (top, middle) are a new carnivorous species that preys on the smaller one. (photo credit: copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/photos/shrimp2.JPG

• At Brimstone vent, ash erupts as well as volcanic gases, including clear bubbles of carbon dioxide and a yellow plume which is filled with tiny droplets of molten sulfur, which has also been deposited on the rock in the right foreground. (photo credit: copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/photos/brimstone.JPG

• The Jason manipulator arm takes a sample of the eruption plume (upper right) at NW Rota-1 submarine volcano. The dark rocks in the left foreground are lava that was recently erupted. (photo credit: copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/photos/plume.JPG

Story By: 

Bill Chadwick,

Multimedia Downloads

Two unique species of shrimp that are adapted to the harsh conditions
are among the animals that live at the erupting NW Rota-1 submarine
volcano. (photo credit: copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Degassing lava erupts onto the seafloor at NW Rota-1 volcano, creating
a billowing cloudy plume that is extremely acidic, and is full of
carbon dioxide and sulfur. (photo credit: copyright Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution)

Horning Conference to examine oceanography, coinciding with OSU anniversary

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A special conference at Oregon State University on May 14-15 will focus on the emergence of oceanography in the mid-20th century as a critically important science. The event coincides with the 50th anniversary of oceanography at OSU.

Naomi Oreskes, a noted historian of science known for her role in demonstrating scientific consensus on climate change, will give the keynote address. Her talk, “The Crucial Experiment that Wasn’t: Acoustic Tomography of Ocean Climate,” will begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, in the Memorial Union Journey Room at OSU. All of the events at the conference are free and open to the public.

The conference, “American Oceanography at Mid-Century,” will examine how oceanography emerged in the 1950s and 1960s as an important discipline. Speakers from several institutions around the country and abroad will present sessions on Friday, May 15 (also at the MU Journey Room), on topics including:

•the role of upwelling in biological production;
•deep-sea biology;
•the impact of World War II on American oceanography;
•the importance of waves;
•the sea as a frontier.

Craig Biegel, a scientist from Florida State University, will open the May 15 session with a presentation titled “A Visionary at Work – Wayne V. Burt, the Early Years at Oregon State University,” in which he describes the origins of oceanography at OSU and one of the pioneers who helped establish the nationally recognized program at the university.

The presentation by Oreskes will explore a mid-1990s experiment called Acoustic Tomography of Ocean Climate that aspired to provide definite proof of global warming by demonstrating the warming of the oceans. But that experiment was stopped by environmentalists who thought it would harm marine mammals. Public comments later suggested that the credibility of science was in question – in part, Oreskes argues, because scientists who spent much of their career studying the ocean for its military implications were not always believable when presenting data on environmental and ecological issues.

Though Cold War military support led to a number of fundamental advances in understanding the ocean environment, she says, it also left lasting legacies that were not easily overcome.

Oreskes is a provost at the University of California-San Diego. She is known for a 2004 paper published in Science that demonstrated scientists are in broad agreement about the reality of anthropogenic global warming. The paper has been widely cited in the media, as well as the film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The conference is sponsored by the Horning Endowment in the Humanities and the OSU Department of History, and supported by the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. The conference schedule is available online at: http://oregonstate.edu/cla/history/lectures/horning/conf_08_09.php

Story By: 

Elissa Curcio,

National Geographic Channel Film on blue whales features OSU’s Mate, Pacific storm

NEWPORT, Ore. – A National Geographic Channel film, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale, premiers on Sunday, March 8, and offers some of the most revealing views of the largest animal on the planet through the work of Oregon State University’s Bruce Mate and colleague John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Cooperative.

“Kingdom of the Blue Whale” airs at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on the National Geographic Channel and is narrated by popular awarding-winning actor Tom Selleck.

Much of the activity takes place from aboard the R/V Pacific Storm, an OSU research vessel operated through the university’s Marine Mammal Institute, which Mate directs. Filming took place off the coasts of California and Costa Rica, following 15 blue whales that Mate tagged and followed via satellite – a technology that he helped pioneer during his 33-year career at Oregon State.

“It was quite an adventure,” Mate said of the project, “but the more we learn about these great animals the better chance we have to protect them.”

An adult blue whale can grow to the length of a basketball court and weigh as much as 25 large elephants combined. Its mouth could hold 100 people, though its diet is primarily krill; its heart is the size of a small automobile. Scientists say the blue whale is the largest creature to ever inhabit the Earth – and it is one of the loudest animals in the sea, capable of making sounds equivalent to those of a jet engine, though at frequencies below human hearing.

Yet despite its enormity and vocal strengths, the blue whale remains one of the most mysterious animals in the sea. It is rare, it spends most of its time beneath the water, and its dives are deep. There once were nearly 10,000 blues along the Pacific coastline, but a century of whaling took its toll and that number has been reduced by some 75 percent. Though daunting, that pales in comparison to the Antarctic, where the population is less than 1 percent of what it was a century ago, when 250,000 blue whales populated its waters.

The research trip documented by the National Geographic Channel crew began in September of 2007, when Mate and his colleagues first tagged the blue whales off the coast of California and tracked them by satellite. Three months later, they journeyed to the Costa Rica Dome to relocate them.

Their goals were to discover whether this area – which actually is closer to Acapulco, Mexico, than Costa Rica – served as a feeding, breeding and/or calving area, and whether the whales that congregate there come exclusively from the California population.

“We discovered that the Costa Rica Dome is a key location for calving, breeding and feeding,” Mate said. “Based on John Calambokidis’ photo identification studies, the whales that congregate there probably didn’t all come from California. That suggests that some migrate there from elsewhere and we would like to know where that is. These are incredibly important finds about blue whales, which we know so little about. As best we know, feeding during the winter is quite unusual for baleen whales.

“The technology is improving every year and the tags we have developed at Oregon State have been critical to our success in tracking these animals over great distances and long periods of time,” he added. “They have allowed us to describe their seasonal distributions and define their critical habitat.”

The documentary features captivating underwater video of blue whales feeding, diving and interacting, as well as computer-generated graphics that illustrate the whales’ biology, communication and migration. The special also employs the National Geographic “Crittercam,” an integrated video recorder and data logging system deployed by Calambokidas and his associate, Erin Oleson of Scripps, that offers a whale’s-eye view of their life, including rare footage of a blue whale gulping krill.



Story By: 

Bruce Mate,

Portland Summit to Discuss Harmful Algal Blooms; Public Session Set on Feb. 12

PORTLAND, Ore. – Scientists and policymakers are holding a three-day summit in Portland to analyze the effects of harmful algal blooms along the West Coast and to discuss ways to develop a more effective monitoring process for Oregon, Washington and California.

The West Coast Regional Harmful Algal Bloom Summit, which runs from Feb. 10-12 at the Marriott in downtown Portland, was instigated by the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health and sponsored by NOAA and other organizations.

A free public session will be held on Thursday, Feb. 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Marriott, during which a panel of national experts will discuss with the public and news media the effects of harmful algal blooms on coastal communities and present their plans for a harmful algal bloom monitoring network and forecasting system for the West Coast.

Harmful algal blooms are increasing worldwide and are of significant concern to coastal communities, organizers say. Though phytoplankton blooms are critical for ocean production, some of them produce toxins that accumulate in razor clams and other shellfish, poisoning those who consume them and closing clam, oyster and mussel beds to commercial and recreational harvests.

These harmful blooms are not only a public health threat, they can have a significant economic impact, according to Peter Strutton, an Oregon State University oceanographer and one of the coordinators of the summit.

One such bloom in 2002-03 caused razor clam and Dungeness crab closures in Washington that resulted in losses of more than $10 million, and a closure of the razor clam fishery in Clatsop County cost local communities an estimated $4.8 million. Toxic algae also have been blamed for 14,000 sick or dead seals, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins, birds and gray whales along the West Coast.”

Phytoplankton blooms are normal ocean phenomena occurring along the West Coast after spring and summer winds bring to the surface cold, deep, nutrient-rich water in a process called “upwelling.” When that water is exposed to sunlight, it creates blooms of phytoplankton. These tiny plants are a source of food for zooplankton and other marine creatures, which in turn are feasted upon by larger animals.

But certain species of phytoplankton have the ability to produce toxins that can be harmful to humans, according to Strutton. One called Pseudo-nitzschia produces domoic acid, which bio-accumulates in the tissues of razor clams, mussels and oysters and causes a syndrome known as amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans. Another species, Alexandrium, produces saxitoxin, which can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning if ingested.

Of course, not all phytoplankton blooms are toxic, Strutton pointed out, and even the species that are potentially toxic don’t always produce toxins.

“We’re not sure what causes phytoplankton to suddenly become toxic,” Strutton said said. “Some scientists believe it may be stress from a lack of nutrients. But one thing that is critical is to develop a coordinated approach to monitoring, responding to, and forecast these blooms – and we hope that will result from this summit.”

Story By: 

Pete Strutton,

OSU Oceanographer, Forest Hydrologist Named AGU Fellows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Clare Reimers, a professor of chemical oceanography at Oregon State University, and Jeffrey McDonnell, an OSU forest hydrologist, have been elected fellows of the American Geophysical Union.

The international scientific organization focuses on the understanding of the Earth and space, and promotes research, education and outreach in fields including geology, oceanography, atmospheric sciences, hydrology, seismology, and others.

Acceptance as AGU fellows is restricted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the association’s members.

Reimers is on the faculty of OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, and also works out of the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Her research has focused on the biogeochemistry of ocean sediments and the development of chemical sensors for quantifying ocean chemical distribution and fluxes. Most recently she received attention for her efforts to develop long-term power sources for ocean sensors that harness energy from marine sediments and phytoplankton.

These power sources are similar to batteries but they are fueled with decaying plankton and catalyzed by bacteria. “The ocean is rich in microorganisms adept at shuttling electrons to fuel cell electrodes,” Reimers said.

Reimers also is leading a research program aimed at developing the capability to assess from ocean observatories how the benthic component of the coastal carbon cycle may vary over time and contribute or respond to human impacts and climate variability. Her studies have been funded by the National Science Foundation, NOAA, the Department of Defense and other sources.

McDonnell is a professor of forest engineering and holder of the Richardson Chair in Watershed Science in OSU’s College of Forestry. He is an expert on watershed hydrology, runoff processes and modeling, isotope hydrology and watershed theory. He leads the hill slope and watershed hydrology group at OSU, which tries to gain a general understanding of runoff generation processes in diverse watersheds. It answers basic questions such as where water goes when it rains, or what path it takes to the stream channel.

An OSU faculty member since 1999, McDonnell has received many career awards and honors, and authored more than 150 professional journal articles. He has received the Dalton Medal from the European Geophysical Union, the Gordon Warwick Award from the British Geomorphological Research Group, the Nystrom Award from the Association of American Geographers and the DSc from the University of Canterbury.

Last year, three OSU faculty members were elected as AGU fellows – all from the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences – Dudley Chelton, Robert Duncan and Anne Trehu. Nick Pisias, a professor in the college, was named a fellow in 1999. Emeritus faculty John Allen, Brent Dalrymple and Bernd Simoneit also are members.

Reimers and McDonnell will be honored at the association’s general assembly May 24-27 in Toronto, Canada.

Story By: 

Clare Reimers,

Experts Explore Pathways to Salmon Resilience in New Journal Issue

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Is there anything really new to be said about the prospects for salmon in the Pacific Northwest? Yes, says a group of experts, including several from Oregon State University, in a series of perspectives collected in a special feature issue of the online journal Ecology and Society.

The special feature issue is titled “Pathways to Resilient Salmon Ecosystems”; access to the journal is free and open to the public (http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/).

Scientists, politicians, pundits and the public have been discussing the future of salmon since at least the 1870s, said Dan Bottom, an editor of the special issue and a research fisheries biologist for both NOAA Fisheries and courtesy faculty in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“The special issue of Ecology and Society offers on the one hand a critique of traditional command-and-control management of natural resources and on the other a search for scientific, political, and institutional alternatives for salmon conservation,” said Bottom.

“Unlike previous assessments of the ‘salmon problem,’ our special feature proposes an alternative conceptual framework for understanding human and natural interactions with salmon and for designing conservation approaches that will strengthen salmon ecosystem resilience.”

Resilience – the ability of a system to absorb disturbance without losing its characteristic structure or function – is the key idea that links articles in the issue together. The articles arose from a 2007 Oregon Sea Grant conference that assembled a broad range of experts for an unprecedented exchange about social-ecological resilience.

Among the OSU co-editors and authors of the “Pathways” special feature, besides Bottom, is Courtland Smith, professor emeritus of anthropology. Susan Hanna, an OSU Professor of agricultural and resource economics, is a contributing author, as are Carmel Finley of the history department and Gordon Reeves, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and courtesy faculty in the OSU fisheries and wildlife department.

Seven articles are online and several more papers will be added soon. The editors introduce the issue with an overview of key features of ecosystems that have been overlooked by conventional fishery management approaches but that become a focal point when resilience thinking is applied to salmon. Case studies in salmon ecosystem resilience and articles that synthesize a range of research and case studies follow.

Contemporary gillnetters on the Columbia River have adapted their own strategies for resilience, but as author Irene Martin explains, depleted salmon populations and recent listings under the Endangered Species Act have taken a severe toll on local communities and could threaten their continued advocacy on behalf of salmon.

Yet, as several of the papers discuss, an adequate accounting of social and ecological resilience has far-reaching implications for natural resource management. Historian Finley concludes that historical entrenchment of the maximum sustained yield concept in fisheries policy, science, and law has made it difficult for scientists and policy makers to implement new policies that enhance ecological resilience.

OSU economist Hanna discusses the challenge of designing institutions to promote ecosystem and human system resilience, emphasizing two critical elements of salmon ecosystem management that are missing from the existing institutional infrastructure – incentives and transaction costs.

For more news about science, marine education and related activities on the Oregon coast, subscribe to “Breaking Waves,” the Oregon Sea Grant news blog, at: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/blogs/.


Dan Bottom,

Marine Reserves Featured at New Google Ocean Site

SAN FRANCISCO – One part of a new Google Earth feature that was announced today, Ocean in Google Earth, will highlight marine reserves – one of the most promising approaches to conserving biodiversity, restoring decimated fish populations and other marine species, and bringing significant parts of the world’s oceans back to health.

The newest version of Google Earth, which enables users to dive beneath the surface of the sea and explore the world's oceans, was revealed today at an event in San Francisco and is available for download at http://earth.google.com/ocean/.

Through it, people around the world will now be able to see the locations of marine reserves, which are a type of marine area that is fully protected and classified as a “no-take” zone. Users can also follow links at these sites to easily learn more about the science of marine reserves and their value and limitations, obtain large amounts of data and see colorful animated illustrations of how marine reserves are protecting ocean ecosystems.

“This is an unparalleled opportunity to share this wealth of information about marine reserves with huge numbers of Google Earth users,” said Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, a faculty research assistant at Oregon State University and marine reserve science coordinator for the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, or PISCO. “To have all of this available to a diverse and global audience is what scientists dream of.”

Viewers will be able to take a trip beneath the sea, possibly at a marine reserve near them, and learn how fish, plant life and other marine species are doing, and easily compare the present to the past, before the reserve was established. The animations are based on sound science from peer-reviewed publications – many of which are recent, as research on this topic has exploded in the last few years.

“The number of peer-reviewed studies on marine reserves has doubled in the past decade,” Grorud-Colvert said. “We know so much more now than we did even a few years ago, and it’s very rewarding to be able to provide that information to the public in a novel, interesting and colorful format.”

The new Ocean in Google Earth feature also contains content from Protect Planet Ocean, a web site that is coordinated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and found at http://www.protectplanetocean.org/.

Information about marine reserve success stories, and lessons learned, was provided by PISCO in a project led by researchers at OSU and the University of California/Santa Barbara, which compiled scientific information about reserves from around the world.

Ocean in Google Earth has animation and details on five marine reserves or reserve networks, located at the Channel Islands in California, the Dry Tortugas in Florida, Apo Island and Sumilon Island in the Philippines, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. To tour these sites, visit http://www.piscoweb.org/ocean_in_earth. Additional sites will be added in the next few months. When complete, they will have information on 124 reserves from around the world. Thirteen additional in-depth case studies are hosted on Protect Planet Ocean.

Much of the marine reserves content for Ocean in Google Earth reflects findings from a two-year project just completed by PISCO, done with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Fully protected marine reserves are permanently protected from any extractive or destructive activities such as fishing, aquaculture, dredging or mining, but usually allow recreational activities such as swimming, boating and scuba diving.

“There have historically been a lot of unknowns and wild assertions about marine reserves,” Grorud-Colvert said. “Some people argued they would solve every problem we have in our oceans, others suggested they were useless. Some insisted they might work in tropical waters but not temperate zones, or were needed only in places with no fisheries management. There were just a lot of questions.

“The new synthesis of studies from global oceans provides useful, credible information to clarify just what is known or not known.”

Among the findings about marine reserves that have emerged in recent years:

• The positive effects of reserves are similar in both temperate and tropical ocean zones;

• The marine species that respond the most to protection are often those that have been most heavily fished;

• In marine reserves, fish are growing older and much larger, and often as a result have a hugely higher reproductive potential;

• Not all species are responding at the same rate – some changes happen quickly and then level off, while other species are still changing after 35 years;

• Reserves help to re-establish normal interactions between species, including important predator and prey relationships;

• Marine reserves are much more effective in protecting or recovering key species than marine protected areas that provide only partial protection;

• On average, marine reserves around the world result in a large increase in marine populations, body size and density – a greater than 400 percent increase on average in biomass, average density increases of more than 150 percent, average body size more than 25 percent and average overall biodiversity more than 20 percent;

• Marine reserves alone cannot address such larger issues as pollution, climate change or overfishing.

“In one California reserve, for example, lobsters were heavily fished before the marine reserve was established,” Grorud-Colvert said. “But lobsters were part of what controlled populations of sea urchins. With less control on the sea urchins, they took over and were ravaging the kelp forests, with severe impacts on hundreds of other species that depend on the kelp, including lobsters.

“This is the type of thing you often get when a key predator is removed,” she said. “Following establishment of the marine reserve and increases in the number of lobsters, we’re now seeing strong recovery throughout the ecosystem.”

There are about 4,500 marine protected areas with varying protection levels around the world in 45 nations, providing some type of restrictions on about 0.6 percent of the world’s oceans. The fully protected marine reserves protect less than 0.01 percent of the oceans. Most reserves are quite small.

More information on marine reserves can also be found at the PISCO web site, at http://www.piscoweb.org/outreach/pubs/reserves. At that same site, people can also obtain either an electronic or printed copy, for free, of a new, 20-page booklet on the science of marine reserves, available in both English and Spanish.

Story By: 

Kirsten Grorud-Colvert,

Sea Grant Extension Veterinarian Helps Control Virus in Koi Ponds

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Call him the koi doctor. An ichthyologist a la koi. The koi keeper’s confidant.

His patients are living works of art – brilliantly painted Picassos that swim in elaborate ponds and fetch up to $70,000 apiece. When disease strikes, the fallout can be disastrous, costing koi keepers in Oregon and around the world hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One half of a two-man SWAT team called in to render medical support for ornamental fish, Oregon State University’s Tim Miller-Morgan is a Sea Grant Extension veterinarian for aquatic pets, based at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore.

His specialty is koi, brightly colored varieties of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) originally developed in the mountainous Niigata region of Japan in the 1800s. Rice farmers who were raising carp for food noticed interesting color variations on certain fish and began breeding them for the unusual patterns.

Miller-Morgan’s success as a fish doctor is the result of a gamble taken by the OSU Extension Service and Oregon Sea Grant. They hired him six years ago to work alongside OSU professor Jerry Heidel, director and pathologist at the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and launch an ornamental pet fish health program in the state.

It was a gamble that’s paid off, putting OSU – and Miller-Morgan and Heidel – at the epicenter of ornamental fish health and disease prevention practices.

“Oregon Sea Grant took a chance to develop this program in a state where ornamental fish are not thought of much,” Miller-Morgan said. “The fact this has blossomed into a international program shows there was a real need. It’s been amazing.”

Through the program, Miller-Morgan has taught seminars in 25 states within the U.S., as well as in Indonesia, Israel and Japan – and next month he’s off to India.

The ornamental fish industry worldwide is estimated at $15 billion. In the Pacific Northwest, water gardening and koi keeping are major hobbies, particularly in the metro areas. One Portland couple, for instance, installed an elaborate koi pond then built their house around it.

What’s unique about the OSU program is that Miller-Morgan and Heidel are serving ornamental fish hobbyists, as well as the small business owners that sell fish to hobbyists.

“Nobody’s doing this,” he said. “Other extension programs primarily serve the fish farmers. We also serve the small dealers, helping them implement good health management practices, which keeps disease from spreading to hobbyist aquariums and ponds.”

Miller-Morgan spends about half his time working with koi keepers, retailers and importers, mainly trying to prevent the spread of a hard-to-detect koi herpes virus that can be fatal for the fish and devastating for hobbyists.

“When I was hired, I never imagined that koi would be such a big part of the job,” he said. “But this virus can kill off 90 percent of the population in a pond in about 14 days. And if any fish survive, they’re carriers for life, so you can’t ever show them again.”

Because many koi are so valuable, Miller-Morgan’s work has taken on a critical urgency. No vaccine is available yet in the U.S. to prevent the virus, which first appeared 10 years ago and has evolved into seven different strains.

The virus attacks the fish’s gills, destroying cells, and also affects the skin, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, damaging the fish so severely that other disease agents move in.

That was part of the reason it took years to positively identify the virus. The secondary diseases mask the virus, and detecting it requires advanced diagnostic techniques. The virus was first identified in the United States by a fish veterinarian working in the Midwest.

Miller-Morgan said this shows the value of veterinarians being involved in the ornamental fish industry. Now that the virus can be identified, he and Heidel and their program are taking steps to prevent its spread.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years educating people about the importance of quarantine on disease,” Miller-Morgan said. “Fish are often moved through the system so quickly the disease doesn’t develop until the fish are in the hobbyist’s pond.”

Although the United States has no quarantine requirements in place, Miller-Morgan and Heidel are developing a certification process for U.S. dealers who adhere to practices that reduce the risk of introducing the virus. Through a series of seminars and presentations, they hope koi dealers will eventually become certified – a change hobbyists will welcome.

What draws people to koi keeping? Miller-Morgan’s not sure. But for some, it appears to be akin to collecting art. “It’s like they’re buying a Picasso…a piece that will live 30 to 40 years and grow up to 36 inches long,” he said.

Most local hobbyists are not into the reproduction, breeding or developing lines. Fish farmers do that.

“Local hobbyists simply enjoy the fish as pets,” Miller-Morgan said. “You can almost think of koi as Labradors that live in water. They will eat out of your hand, and they eventually recognize the person who feeds them.”

Even amid the economic downturn, these hobbyists are very committed to keeping up their ponds, he said. Which means Miller-Morgan will continue making the rounds as the koi doctor, dispensing medical advice and helping ensure the ornamental fish industry stays healthy.

Visit Tim Miller-Morgan’s blog, “Words from a Wet Vet” at: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/blogs/wetvet


Tim Miller-Morgan