OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

Researchers going public on quest to identify plankton species

NEWPORT, Ore. – Researchers using an innovative underwater imaging system have taken millions of photos of plankton ranging from tiny zooplankton to small jellyfish – and now they are seeking help from the public to identify the species.

The “Plankton Portal” project is a partnership between the University of Miami, Oregon State University and Zooniverse.org to engage volunteers in an online citizen science effort.

“One of the goals of the project is discovery,” said Robert Cowen, new director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., who led the project to capture the images while at Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “Computers can take pictures and even analyze images, but it takes humans to identify relationships to other organisms and recognize their behavior.

“Computers don’t really care about context – whether something is up or down in the water column and what else might be in the neighborhood,” he added. “People can do that. And we hope to have thousands of them look at the images.”

Interested persons may sign up for the project at www.planktonportal.org, which goes online this week (the official launch is Sept. 17).

Zooniverse.org is a popular citizen science website that engages millions of participants to study everything from far-away stars, to whale sounds, to cancer cells – and aid scientists with their observations. It works by training volunteers and validating their credibility by how often their observations are accurate.

“It is an increasingly popular pursuit for people interested in science and nature – from high school students to senior citizens,” said Jessica Luo, a University of Miami doctoral student working with Cowen.

“Each image is looked at by multiple users and identification is done by a weighting system,” said Luo, who is now working at OSU’s Hatfield center. “The system not only looks for consensus, but rapidity of conclusion. It works amazingly well and the data from this project will help us better begin to explore the thousands of species in the planktonic world.”

With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Geosciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Cowen developed the “In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System,” or ISIIS, while at Miami – along with Cedric Guigand of UM and Charles Cousin of Bellamare, LLC.

ISIIS combines shadowgraph imaging with a high-resolution line-scan camera to record plankton at 17 images per second. Cowen and his colleagues have used the system to study larval fish, crustaceans and jellyfish in diverse marine systems, including the Gulf of Mexico, the mid-Atlantic Ocean, the California coast, and the Mediterranean Sea.

At the same time ISIIS is capturing images, he says, other instruments are recording oceanographic conditions, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other measurements. These data, coupled with the images, are available to the public via Zooniverse.org.

“In three days, we can collect data that would take us more than three years to analyze,” Cowen said, “which is why we need the help of the public. With the volume ISIIS generates, it is impossible for a handful of scientists to classify every image by hand, which is why we are exploring different options for image analysis – from automatic image recognition software to crowd-sourcing to citizen scientists.”

Luo said the researchers hope to secure future funding to study plankton – which includes a variety of crustaceans and jellyfish in the water column – off the Pacific Northwest coast.

“Most images of plankton are taken in a laboratory, or collected from nets on a ship,” said Cowen, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “ISIIS gives us the rare ability to see them in their natural environment, which is a unique perspective that will enable us to learn more about them and the critical role they play in the marine food web.”

Other researchers on the project include graduate student Adam Greer, and undergraduate students Dorothy Tang, Ben Grassian and Jenna Binstein – all at the University of Miami.

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Jessica Luo, 650-387-5700; Jessica.luo@rsmas@miami.edu;

 

Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211; Robert.Cowen@oregonstate.edu

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Plankton Portlal

plankton_crew

Plankton Portal

Viruses associated with coral epidemic of “white plague”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – They call it the “white plague,” and like its black counterpart from the Middle Ages, it conjures up visions of catastrophic death, with a cause that was at first uncertain even as it led to widespread destruction – on marine corals in the Caribbean Sea.

Now one of the possible causes of this growing disease epidemic has been identified – a group of viruses that are known as small, circular, single-strand DNA (or SCSD) viruses. Researchers in the College of Science at Oregon State University say these SCSD viruses are associated with a dramatic increase in the white plague that has erupted in recent decades.

Prior to this, it had been believed that the white plague was caused primarily by bacterial pathogens. Researchers are anxious to learn more about this disease and possible ways to prevent it, because its impact on coral reef health has exploded.

“Twenty years ago you had to look pretty hard to find any occurrences of this disease, and now it’s everywhere,” said Nitzan Soffer, a doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology at OSU and lead author on a new study just published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology. “It moves fast and can wipe out a small coral colony in a few days.

“In recent years the white plague has killed 70-80 percent of some coral reefs,” Soffer said. “There are 20 or more unknown pathogens that affect corals and in the past we’ve too-often overlooked the role of viruses, which sometimes can spread very fast.”

This is one of the first studies to show viral association with a severe disease epidemic, scientists said. It was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Marine wildlife diseases are increasing in prevalence, the researchers pointed out. Reports of non-bleaching coral disease have increased more than 50 times since 1965, and are contributing to declines in coral abundance and cover.

White plague is one of the worst. It causes rapid tissue loss, affects many species of coral, and can cause partial or total colony mortality. Some, but not all types are associated with bacteria. Now it appears that viruses also play a role. Corals with white plague disease have higher viral diversity than their healthy counterparts, the study concluded.

Increasing temperatures that stress corals and make them more vulnerable may be part of the equation, because the disease often appears to be at its worst by the end of summer. Overfishing that allows more algae to grow on corals may help spread pathogens, researchers said, as can pollution caused by sewage outflows in some marine habitats.

Viral infection, by itself, does not necessarily cause major problems, the researchers noted. Many healthy corals are infected with herpes-like viruses that are persistent but not fatal, as in many other vertebrate hosts, including humans.

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Coral disease

Coral with white plague


Marine research

Taking samples

OSU among best Earth and environmental sciences programs in the world

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is ranked among the strongest Earth and environmental sciences programs in the world by the journal Nature.

OSU is ranked 30th among all programs (which includes both universities and federal agencies), 20th among world universities, and 16th among American universities.

The rankings are based on the number of articles by researchers associated with an institution that appear in one of 68 natural science journals that comprise the Nature Index, with a weighted score given to articles with a large number of citations by other researchers, as well as the amount of attention received online.

The top five institutions are all agencies, led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In second was the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, followed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in third; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), fourth; and the French National Centre for Scientific Research, fifth.

The leading university is the California Institute of Technology, which overall ranked sixth in the world. Other leading U.S. universities included the University of Colorado, seventh; the University of California at San Diego, eighth; and the University of Washington, 10th.

Among non-U.S. academic institutions, the University of Tokyo was ranked highest at 11th. Other international leaders were the University of Oxford, 14th; Utrecht University in The Netherlands, 23rd; and Australian National University, 29th.

Oregon State has strong international programs in Earth and marine sciences – primarily in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, but also in several other colleges.

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Jack Barth, 541-737-1607; barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

Oregon Hatchery Research Center to host open house, festival

CORVALLIS, Ore – The Oregon Hatchery Research Center will hold its annual Fall Creek Festival on Saturday, Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The center, which is jointly operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, is located 13 miles west of Alsea on Highway 34. The event is free and open to the public.

The center is an important research site for studying similarities and differences between hatchery-raised and wild salmon and steelhead. It is located on Fall Creek, a tributary of the Alsea River.

“There has been a strong run of salmon this year throughout the Northwest, and festival participants should have an opportunity to view a number of fish,” said David Noakes, a professor of fisheries at OSU and science director for the center.

A free lunch will be provided during the festival, which also includes a number of children’s activities and workshops. Workshops begin at both 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., with topics including fish printing, water color painting, wire wrap jewelry-making, salmon cycle jewelry, bird house building, and stamping.

Registration for the festival is required since space is limited. Call 541-487-5512, or email oregonhatchery.researchcenter@state.or.us

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David Noakes, 541-737-1953, david.noakes@oregonstate.edu

Coast conference to explore marine issues

FLORENCE, Ore. – The State of the Coast conference will be held in Florence on Oct. 25, a program designed to bring coastal citizens, business leaders and local government representatives together with scientists and students to explore the current and future state of Oregon’s marine environment.

The day-long event will be at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St. It is open to the public, and registration fees are $35 for general admission, $25 for students. Registration opens at 8 a.m. and sessions start at 9 a.m. Lunch is included.

Built on a rich, 10-year history as the Heceta Head Coastal Conference, the 2014 State of the Coast is now being organized by Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University. It features a keynote address by Paul Greenberg, the James Beard Award-winning author of the best-selling "Four Fish” and "American Catch" books about seafood and ocean sustainability.

The program includes talks and panel discussions about new marine research, a report on sea star wasting syndrome, coastal seafood cooking demonstrations and a debate featuring OSU fisheries and wildlife students considering the question "Should Oregon promote wave and wind energy in our coastal waters?"

Attendees will have a chance to learn about some of the graduate and undergraduate ocean and coastal research going on at OSU and elsewhere, and talk informally with the young scientists.  More information and registration is available online at http://www.stateofthecoast.com/

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Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1339

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Wave Energy

Wave energy testing device

Iron, steel in hatcheries may distort magnetic “map sense” of steelhead

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Exposure to iron pipes and steel rebar, such as the materials found in most hatcheries, affects the navigation ability of young steelhead trout by altering the important magnetic “map sense” they need for migration, according to new research from Oregon State University.

The exposure to iron and steel distorts the magnetic field around the fish, affecting their ability to navigate, said Nathan Putman, who led the study while working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, part of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Just last year Putman and other researchers presented evidence of a correlation between the oceanic migration patterns of salmon and drift of the Earth’s magnetic field. Earlier this year they confirmed the ability of salmon to navigate using the magnetic field in experiments at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. Scientists for decades have studied how salmon find their way across vast stretches of ocean.

“The better fish navigate, the higher their survival rate,” said Putman, who conducted the research at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in the Alsea River basin last year. “When their magnetic field is altered, the fish get confused.”

Subtle differences in the magnetic environment within hatcheries could help explain why some hatchery fish do better than others when they are released into the wild, Putman said. Stabilizing the magnetic field by using alternative forms of hatchery construction may be one way to produce a better yield of fish, he said.

“It’s not a hopeless problem,” he said. “You can fix these kinds of things. Retrofitting hatcheries with non-magnetic materials might be worth doing if it leads to making better fish.”

Putman’s findings were published this week in the journal Biology Letters. The research was funded by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, with support from Oregon State University. Co-authors of the study are OSU’s David Noakes, senior scientist at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, and Amanda Meinke of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center.

The new findings follow earlier research by Putman and others that confirmed the connection between salmon and the Earth’s magnetic field. Researchers exposed hundreds of juvenile Chinook salmon to different magnetic fields that exist at the latitudinal extremes of their oceanic range.

Fish responded to these “simulated magnetic displacements” by swimming in the direction that would bring them toward the center of their marine feeding grounds. In essence, the research confirmed that fish possess a map sense, determining where they are and which way to swim based on the magnetic fields they encounter.

Putman repeated that experiment with the steelhead trout and achieved similar results. He then expanded the research to determine if changes to the magnetic field in which fish were reared would affect their map sense. One group of fish was maintained in a fiberglass tank, while the other group was raised in a similar tank but in the vicinity of iron pipes and a concrete floor with steel rebar, which produced a sharp gradient of magnetic field intensity within the tank. Iron pipes and steel reinforced concrete are common in fish hatcheries.

The scientists monitored and photographed the juvenile steelhead, called parr, and tracked the direction in which they were swimming during simulated magnetic displacement experiments. The steelhead reared in a natural magnetic field adjusted their map sense and tended to swim in the same direction. But fish that were exposed to the iron pipes and steel-reinforced concrete failed to show the appropriate orientation and swam in random directions.

More research is needed to determine exactly what that means for the fish. The loss of their map sense could be temporary and they could recalibrate their magnetic sense after a period of time, Putman said. Alternatively, if there is a critical window in which the steelhead’s map sense is imprinted, and it is exposed to an altered magnetic field then, the fish could remain confused forever, he said.

“There is evidence in other animals, especially in birds, that either is possible,” said Putman, who now works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We don’t know enough about fish yet to know which is which. We should be able to figure that out with some simple experiments.”

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Nathan Putman, 205-218-5276 or Nathan.putman@gmail.com; or David Noakes, 541-737-1953, David.noakes@oregonstate.edu

Marine Science Day: An opportunity to explore behind-the-scenes

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will host its popular Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 12, offering the public an opportunity to meet many of the scientists working at the research facility, as well as take tours and explore the exhibits.

The center also will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES), which is the nation’s first Experiment Station dedicated to marine sciences.

The activities are free and open to the public, running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hatfield Center, located at 2030 S.E. Marine Science Drive in Newport, just south of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay. An online schedule of events is available at: hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday

The event will feature scientists and educators from OSU, federal and state agencies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the NOAA Marine Operations Center-Pacific. It is a chance for the public to explore one of the nation’s leading marine science and education centers.

Visitors can tour the research facilities of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, and see genetics laboratories, animal husbandry areas, and get a close-up view of ongoing research projects. Interactive research exhibits will feature larval fish ecology, bioacoustics of whales, volcanoes and deep ocean vents, and oceanographic tools such as a glider to study low-oxygen on the West Coast. Activities for children include a Bird Beak Buffet from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Mystery Fossil Dig by Oregon Sea Grant. Scheduled events include:

  • 10 a.m. – The open house begins, lasting until 4 p.m.
  • 11 a.m. – “Pumped up for Pinnipeds: Seals and Sea Lions of the Oregon Coast,” a presentation by Oregon Coast Aquarium staff, Hennings Auditorium (repeated at 2 p.m.);
  • 1:30 p.m. – Octopus feeding in the Visitor’s Center;
  • 3 p.m. – “A Food Chain of Fisheries Research: The Amazing Story of Oregon’s Marine Experiment Station,” a presentation by Gil Sylvia, director of COMES; Terry Thompson, a commercial fisherman, county commissioner and COMES board member; and Michael Morrissey, director of the Food Innovation Center in Portland. State Sen. Arnie Roblan will introduce the speakers.

The Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station is located in both Newport and Astoria. Researchers in Newport focus on fishery policy and management, marketing, fish stock assessment, aquaculture, ecology, genetics and marine mammal conservation. Astoria researchers at the OSU Seafood Laboratory work on seafood science, processing, safety and innovation.

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Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234; maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu

NOAA planning leader to direct Oregon Sea Grant program

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Shelby Walker, a marine scientist and administrative leader with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been named director of the Oregon Sea Grant College Program.

She will assume leadership of Oregon Sea Grant, the Oregon State University-based marine research, outreach, education and communication program, on July 7.

Walker has been the strategic planning team leader for the Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation in NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research since August 2009. In that role, she has been responsible for the agency’s research and development planning efforts.

She also has been associate director for the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, an initiative funded through civil penalties resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that aims to increase scientific understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and improve the region’s sustainability.

“Oregon Sea Grant deals with a range of marine issues that impacts the lives and livelihoods of Oregonians,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at Oregon State. “Shelby Walker is an experienced leader and a superb collaborator who will be able to develop partnerships in research, education, communications and outreach to address these issues, which include natural hazards, climate change and managing our marine resources in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

Prior to joining NOAA, Walker was associate program director in the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Sciences Division, where she worked in the Ocean Technology and Interdisciplinary Coordination Program. She served as program officer for the Ocean Observatories Initiative, one of the largest oceanographic infrastructure investments in history. The OOI is a $386 million project to monitor the world’s oceans for environmental changes and their effects on biodiversity, coastal ecosystems and climate, led by several universities including OSU.

Walker also has been project manager for the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, a group of 25 federal agencies with responsibilities for ocean research and technology development.

Her research has focused on organic contaminants in coastal systems, including highly industrialized urban estuaries. Walker received her Ph.D. in marine science from the College of William and Mary, and worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory.

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Rick Spinrad, 541-737-0664; rick.spinrad@oregonstate.edu

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Shelby Walker
Shelby Walker

OSU’s Hatfield Center to host regional STEM hub

NEWPORT, Ore. – One of six regional “STEM” hubs funded by the Oregon Department of Education and serving the Oregon coast from Astoria to Coos Bay will be headquartered at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

A series of meetings will begin next month along the coast to help launch the initiative.

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM hubs are designed to boost the proficiency of K-14 students in these areas.

The Lincoln County School District was awarded a grant of $664,000 to coordinate the effort, partnering with OSU, Oregon Sea Grant, the Tillamook School District, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The new regional STEM hub will expand an existing program called the Oregon Coast Regional STEM Center, according to Tracy Crews, project manager for the newly formed coastal hub.

“Lincoln and Tillamook counties, along with 23 other partners, have been offering STEM support under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education,” Crews said. “What this new grant will do is allow us to expand the program up and down the coast, and enlist new partners and offer more resources for STEM-related instruction.”

In the first phase of the project, Crews and other hub coordinators will host a series of meetings along the coast to conduct a needs assessment and engage new partners. These meeting are scheduled as follows:

  • Newport: April 17, at Oregon Coast Community College;
  • Astoria: May 1 at Clatsop Community College;
  • Tillamook: May 7 at Tillamook Bay Community College;
  • Coos Bay: May 15, at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Times and location will be set later, with information available by contact Tracy Crews at 541-867-0329, or tracy.crews@oregonstate.edu. A website is being be developed for the coast STEM hub.

“We hope to engage not only the K-12 schools and community colleges, but industry, local government, scientific agencies, community leaders and parents,” Crews said. “Once we determine some of the needs, we can begin connecting people with the appropriate resources.”

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 Tracy Crews, 541-867-0329; tracy.crews@oregonstate.edu

National survey reveals coastal concerns over climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The American public may be divided over whether climate is changing, but coastal managers and elected officials in nine states say they see the change happening – and believe their communities will need to adapt.

That's one finding from a NOAA Sea Grant research project, led by Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University. The projected involved multiple other Sea Grant programs, which surveyed coastal leaders in selected parts of the nation's Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf and Great Lakes coasts, as well as Hawaii. 

Three-quarters of coastal professionals surveyed – and 70 percent of all participants – said they believe that the climate in their area is changing.

While national polls dating back more than a decade, including several by Gallup, have revealed some public skepticism and polarization about climate change, the Sea Grant findings are in line with a number of recent surveys – including several by the Yale Project on Climate Change and Communication – suggesting a growing majority of  Americans believes the earth's  climate is changing. However, many express uncertainty that anything can be done about it.

The Sea Grant survey was developed to understand what coastal and resource professionals and elected officials think about climate change, where their communities stand in planning for climate adaptation and what kinds of information they need, said project leader Joe Cone, assistant director of Oregon Sea Grant.

Sea Grant programs in Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois-Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington – states that represent most of NOAA's coastal regions – took part, administering the survey between January 2012 and November 2013.

Among 30 questions, survey participants were asked how informed they felt about climate change in their area and whether they thought that the climate in their area is changing.  Participants identified where their agencies and communities stood in planning to adapt to climate change, and hurdles they have encountered and overcome. They also identified climate-related topics important to their work and how much information they had about those topics.

Overall, three-quarters of the 355 coastal/resource professionals who responded felt that the climate in their area is changing.  Most (68 percent) felt that they were moderately- to very well-informed about the local effects of climate change. A common hurdle respondents encountered was a lack of agreement over the importance of those effects. Shoreline change and flooding concerns were among the topics respondents considered important to their own work.

A newly published report by Oregon Sea Grant  presents the combined results for all survey respondents, as well as the responses from each participating state.  

Cone said this national survey, funded in part by Sea Grant's national focus team on hazard resilient coastal communities, represents an initial attempt to understand the opinions and information needs of coastal/resource professionals regarding climate change adaptation and planning.  Participating Sea Grant programs are already using the survey results to assist communities develop local adaptation strategies. In addition, Cone said he hoped that this survey may stimulate additional survey research by Sea Grant, NOAA, and other coastal interests on this vital topic.

The survey report is available as a free download from Oregon Sea Grant at: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sgpubs/s14001-national-climate-survey-report

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