marine science and the coast

Low-oxygen ‘dead zones’ in North Pacific linked to past ocean-warming events

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has found a link between abrupt ocean warming at the end of the last ice age and the sudden onset of low-oxygen, or hypoxic conditions that led to vast marine dead zones.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, are being published this week in the journal Nature.

Large-scale warming events about 14,700 and again 11,500 years ago occurred rapidly and triggered loss of oxygen in the North Pacific, raising concern that low-oxygen areas will expand again as the ocean warms in the future. Anomalous warmth occurring recently in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea – dubbed “The Blob” – is of a scale similar to the events documented in the geologic record, the researchers say. If such warming is sustained, oxygen loss becomes more likely.

Although many scientists believe that a series of low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Pacific Ocean off Oregon and Washington during the last decade may be caused by ocean warming, evidence confirming that link has been sparse.

However, the new study found a clear connection between two prehistoric intervals of abrupt ocean warming that ended the last ice age with an increase in the flux of marine plankton sinking to the seafloor, ultimately leading to a sudden onset of low-oxygen conditions, or hypoxia.

“Our study reveals a strong link between ocean warming, loss of oxygen, and an ecological shift to favor diatom production,” said lead author Summer Praetorius, who conducted the research as part of her doctoral studies at Oregon State University and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Institution for Science.

“During each warming event, the transition to hypoxia occurred abruptly and persisted for about 1,000 years, suggesting a feedback that sustained or amplified hypoxia.” Praetorius added.

Warmer water, by itself, is not sufficient to cause diatom blooms, nor hypoxia, the researchers note. Just as warming soda pop loses its fizzy gas, warmer seawater contains less dissolved oxygen, and this can start the oxygen decline. But it isn’t until there is accelerated blooming of microscopic diatoms – which have large shells and tend to sink more efficiently than other smaller types of plankton – that deoxygenation is amplified.

Diatoms are known to thrive in warm, stratified water, but they also require sources of nutrients and iron, according to Alan Mix, a professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the Nature study.

Surface warming also reduces upward mixing of nutrients from the deep sea. “So there are some competing effects,” Mix said, “and the final story depends on which effect wins.”

“The high-latitude North Pacific is rich in the common nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate, but it is poor in iron and this seems to be the key,” Mix said. “A partial loss of oxygen causes a chemical reaction that releases iron previously trapped in continental margin sediments – and this iron then fuels the diatoms, which bloom, die, and sink toward the seafloor, consuming oxygen along the way.”

The concern is just how rapid the ocean can respond, the researchers say.

“Many people have assumed that climate change impacts will be gradual and predictable,” Mix said, “but this study shows that the ecological consequences of climate change can be massive and can occur pretty fast, with little warning.”

Because the competing effects of mixing and iron may happen on different timescales, the exact sequence of events may be confusing.  On the scale of a few years, mixing may win, but on the scale of decades to centuries, the bigger effects kick into gear.  The geologic record studied by Praetorius and colleagues emphasized these longer scales.

The new discovery was the result of a decades-long effort by numerous researchers at Oregon State to collect marine sediment cores from the North Pacific, creating comprehensive, high-resolution records of climate change in the region. The temperature records come from trace quantities of organic molecules, called biomarkers, produced by plankton. This method of temperature sensing from sedimentary records was developed and tested by Fred Prahl, a professor emeritus at OSU.

“We tested many different strategies for reconstructing past temperature and looked at the imperfections of the geologic record, but these temperature records emerged as the most precise available,” Prahl said.

In addition to “The Blob” – the unusually warm ocean temperatures seen across the North Pacific – this year has seen a record-breaking algal bloom dominated by a certain species of diatom, Praetorius noted.

“While it’s too soon to know how this event ties into the long-term climate patterns that will emerge in the future, the current conditions seem eerily reminiscent of the past conditions that gave way to extended periods of hypoxia,” she said.

Media Contact: 

Summer Praetorius, 510-648-5027, spraetorius@carnegiescience.edu; Alan Mix, 541-737-5212, mix@ceoas.oregonstate.edu

Two OSU faculty receive prestigious ‘early career’ awards

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two Oregon State University faculty members have received prestigious early career awards from national entities. 

Both are in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Emily Shroyer received a 2015 Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research. An expert in the physics of oceans and atmospheres, Shroyer received the award for her proposal to study the small-scale processes that control the movement and mixing of heat and fresh water within the ocean. Her work investigates “internal waves” that propagate beneath the ocean’s surface, redistributing energy and mass.

“Waves beneath the ocean's surface can break and mix water very effectively. They can transport mass, plankton, and larvae from one region to another. And, the large fluctuations in temperature that accompany these waves alter sound propagation through the local environment,” Shroyer said.

Angelicque “Angel” White has been named a 2015 recipient of the Ocean Sciences Early Career Award, which she will receive this December at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. White, an ocean ecologist and biogeochemist, was cited for her contribution to the understanding of the relationship between microbial communities and surrounding seawater.

“Understanding the biological and physical relationships in the ocean is a daunting challenge,” White said. “We dunk bottles in the ocean, we send little drones into the seas, we tether moorings and launch drifters, we scan the surface with satellites, yet in the end, we see so very little of this immense, moving, alive and fluid ocean.”

Media Contact: 

Abby Metzger, 541-737-3295, ametzger@coas.oregonstate.edu 

NSF selects Oregon State to build cohorts of leaders in marine science, data and policy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University this fall will begin selecting graduate students for a bold new program to train cohorts of students that will tackle emerging issues in marine science.

The National Science Foundation chose Oregon State to develop the program, which focuses on the use of “big data” to analyze and understand the effects of human activities and climate change on the ocean system around the world. It also requires students to look at the impact of potential management decisions on the stakeholders – the fishing industry, for example – as well as the environment. 

This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) program is being funded by a five-year, $3 million grant from NSF.

“This really is a new approach to the training of students in natural resource education,” said Lorenzo Ciannelli, a professor of ocean ecology in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and principal investigator on the project. “Typically, students in science focus on a comparatively narrow area of the discipline and work individually. 

“In our NRT program, students will address marine science issues with significant societal impact and will have to work in a group with 2-3 other students who have different backgrounds and expertise,” he added. “They will not only have to understand the science, but what it means for the resource management, and the people that it impacts.”

A core group of faculty from the colleges of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Science will provide leadership on the project, bringing to the initiative such diverse backgrounds as mathematics, human development and family science, sociology, genetics, computer science, ocean modeling, statistics, geography and others. 

Requiring students to work across disciplines is what they’ll encounter in the working world, said Sastry Pantula, dean of OSU’s College of Science, which is actively involved in the new program.

“Solving major complex issues related to climate change, marine studies and risk assessment requires people to have a diversity of expertise to work together,” Pantula said. “No single person has expertise in all sciences, mathematics and statistics. Bringing an interdisciplinary cohort together will enhance depth in core areas, breadth of communication across various fields, and strength in statistical and computational skills. This program takes advantage of the unique collaborative spirit of OSU.”

The program will provide for more than 30 fellowships for OSU master’s and doctoral students, and has room for perhaps an additional 30 students if they have an alternative funding source, Ciannelli said. The students and participating faculty will decide on the projects.

One example of an issue is what the university included in its proposal to NSF – the management of chinook salmon along the Oregon coast. 

“If you look at chinook, the management is rather complicated,” Ciannelli pointed out. “The fishery is comprised of numerous different stocks, some of which are doing well, like the Columbia River, and others which are struggling, like that of the southern range, including the Klamath River and Sacramento River.

“But when you catch fish out in the ocean, you aren’t sure where they’re from, so how do you gauge the impact on a particular river basin system?” he added. “The challenge is to see if you can create a fine-scale management tool that might be allow more fishing, yet protect depleted stocks. Or it may turn out that the students will find the current management system is the best approach for the situation.”

OSU researchers, including Professor Michael Banks, Ph.D. student Renee Bellinger and others, already are involved in a project along the coast to use genetic identification on fish caught in the ocean to identify their river of origin in hopes of enabling “real-time” management protocols. 

“I would envision some of our students working on that project,” Ciannelli said.

Pantula said the amount of data involved in such studies can be staggering, weaving in not only salmon catch data, but also ocean conditions, genetic analysis, historic data, and climate data. The program’s focus on ‘big data,’ risk assessment and uncertainty quantification is important, he said, because such analysis is becoming an increasingly important research tool. The integration of policy implications and communication to stakeholders and the public is essential. 

“This program also fits in greatly with OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative and the critical need to enhance data science on campus,” Pantula said.

Media Contact: 

Lorenzo Ciannelli, 541-737-3142, lciannelli@coas.oregonstate.edu; Sastry Pantula, 541-737-4811, Sastry.Pantula@oregonstate.edu

OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center to turn 50 years of age

NEWPORT, Ore. – Fifty years ago this summer, Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center opened its doors as a fledgling research and education facility envisioned to help the depressed central Oregon coast economy revive.

Today it stands as one of the most important and unique marine science facilities in the country, bringing together a plethora of scientists from different agencies to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the world’s oceans, educating a new generation of students about these issues, and reaching out to inform the public about their impacts.

This month, OSU and the Hatfield Marine Science Center will commemorate their half century of success with a celebration and reception on Friday, Aug. 7, at the center. The public is invited.

“This is an opportunity to look at the past and honor the people and events that have made the Hatfield Marine Science Center such a special place,” said Bob Cowen, director of the center. “It’s also a time to celebrate the future, as OSU is launching its Marine Studies Initiative and working on plans to expand the center and its capacity.”

The 50th anniversary celebration will begin at 4:30 p.m. just outside the Hatfield Marine Science Center, located south of the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport. The celebration will feature speakers, displays, a historical slide show, and a video featuring faculty, student and community perspectives on the center’s future plans. A reception will follow from 5:30 to 7 p.m.; the events are free and open to the public.

Earlier in the day, a special presentation by Rick Spinrad, chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be held in the Visitor Center Auditorium. His talk, “How Oceanography Saved the World,” beginning at 3 p.m., is part of the 50th Anniversary Alumni Speaker Series. He is former vice president for research at OSU – and a former graduate student at the center.

Other speakers include former Oregon State President John Byrne, a former NOAA administrator.

Event information and links to HMSC archives, historic photos, video and a timeline of landmarks for the Hatfield Marine Science Center can be found at: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/50th.

Media Contact: 

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

Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211, robert.cowen@oregonstate.edu

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Link to archival photo: https://flic.kr/p/wh6uPg













Natural Resources Leadership Academy 2012




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.

Media Contact: 

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

Media Contact: 

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/

Media Contact: 

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.”

Media Contact: 

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.

Media Contact: 

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.

Media Contact: 

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

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Shelby Walker
Shelby Walker