OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

New tag revolutionizes whale research - and makes them partners in science

NEWPORT, Ore. – A sophisticated new type of “tag” on whales that can record data every second for hours, days and weeks at a time provides a view of whale behavior, biology and travels never before possible, scientists from Oregon State University reported today in a new study.

This “Advanced Dive Behavior,” or ADB tag, has allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of whale ecology to areas deep beneath the sea, over thousands of miles of travel, and outline their interaction with the prey they depend upon for food.

It has even turned whales into scientific colleagues to help understand ocean conditions and climate change.

The findings, just published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, showed sperm whales diving all the way to the sea floor, more than 1000 meters deep, and being submerged for up to 75 minutes. It reported baleen whales lunging after their food; provided a basis to better understand whale reactions to undersea noises such as sonar or seismic exploration; and is helping scientists observe how whales react to changes in water temperature.

The ADB tag is a pretty revolutionary breakthrough,” said Bruce Mate, professor and director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “This provides us a broad picture of whale behavior and ecology that we’ve never had before.

“This technology has even made whales our partners in acquiring data to better understand ocean conditions and climate change,” Mate said. “It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We’re learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet.”

The new tag, the researchers say, expands by several orders of magnitude the observations that can be made of whale feeding and behavior. Researchers say it’s showing what whales do while underwater; when, how and where they feed; how they might be affected by passing ships or other noises; and what types of water temperatures they prefer.

In the new study, researchers outlined the continued evolution and improvements made in the ADB technology from 2007-15, in which it was used on sperm, blue and fin whales. The research has been supported by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Navy and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers.

“By using this technology on three different species, we’ve seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species,” said Daniel Palacios, a co-author on the study. “Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low.”

Unlike earlier technology that could not return data from the deep sea for much longer than a day, the new ADB tags are designed to acquire data constantly, for up to seven weeks at a time, before they detach from the whale, float to the surface and are retrieved in the open sea to download data. The retrieval itself is a little tricky – scientists compare it to searching for a hamburger floating in thousands of square miles of open ocean – but it has worked pretty well, thanks to the tags transmitting GPS-quality locations and flashing LED lights once they have released.

The tag can sense water depth, whale movement and body orientation, water temperature and light levels.

“With this system we can acquire much more data at a lower cost, with far less commitment of time by ships and personnel,” said Ladd Irvine, the corresponding author on the study. “This tag type yields amazing results. It’s going to significantly expand what we can accomplish, learning both about whale ecology and the ocean itself.”

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Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202

bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu

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Whale with tag


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Whale with tag

Whale travels
Whale travel and feeding

Advance in intense pulsed light sintering opens door to improved electronics manufacturing

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Faster production of advanced, flexible electronics is among the potential benefits of a discovery by researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Engineering.

Taking a deeper look at photonic sintering of silver nanoparticle films – the use of intense pulsed light, or IPL, to rapidly fuse functional conductive nanoparticles – scientists uncovered a relationship between film temperature and densification. Densification in IPL increases the density of a nanoparticle thin-film or pattern, with greater density leading to functional improvements such as greater electrical conductivity.

The engineers found a temperature turning point in IPL despite no change in pulsing energy, and discovered that this turning point appears because densification during IPL reduces the nanoparticles’ ability to absorb further energy from the light.

This previously unknown interaction between optical absorption and densification creates a new understanding of why densification levels off after the temperature turning point in IPL, and further enables large-area, high-speed IPL to realize its full potential as a scalable and efficient manufacturing process.

Rajiv Malhotra, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at OSU, and graduate student Shalu Bansal conducted the research. The results were recently published in Nanotechnology.

“For some applications we want to have maximum density possible,” Malhotra said. “For some we don’t. Thus, it becomes important to control the densification of the material. Since densification in IPL depends significantly on the temperature, it is important to understand and control temperature evolution during the process. This research can lead to much better process control and equipment design in IPL.”

Intense pulsed light sintering allows for faster densification – in a matter of seconds – over larger areas compared to conventional sintering processes such as oven-based and laser-based. IPL can potentially be used to sinter nanoparticles for applications in printed electronics, solar cells, gas sensing and photocatalysis.

Earlier research showed that nanoparticle densification begins above a critical optical fluence per pulse but that it does not change significantly beyond a certain number of pulses.

This OSU study explains why, for a constant fluence, there is a critical number of pulses beyond which the densification levels off.

“The leveling off in density occurs even though there’s been no change in the optical energy and even though densification is not complete,” Malhotra said. “It occurs because of the temperature history of the nanoparticle film, i.e. the temperature turning point. The combination of fluence and pulses needs to be carefully considered to make sure you get the film density you want.”

A smaller number of high-fluence pulses quickly produces high density. For greater density control, a larger number of low-fluence pulses is required.

“We were sintering in around 20 seconds with a maximum temperature of around 250 degrees Celsius in this work,” Malhotra. “More recent work we have done can sinter within less than two seconds and at much lower temperatures, down to around 120 degrees Celsius. Lower temperature is critical to flexible electronics manufacturing. To lower costs, we want to print these flexible electronics on substrates like paper and plastic, which would burn or melt at higher temperatures. By using IPL, we should be able to create production processes that are both faster and cheaper, without a loss in product quality.”

Products that could evolve from the research, Malhotra said, are radiofrequency identification tags, a wide range of flexible electronics, wearable biomedical sensors, and sensing devices for environmental applications.

The advance in IPL resulted from a four-year, $1.5 million National Science Foundation Scalable Nanomanufacturing Grant in collaboration with OSU researchers Chih-hung Chang, Alan Wang and Greg Herman. The grant focuses on overcoming scientific barriers to industry-level nanomanufacturing. Support also came from the Murdock Charitable Trust and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Unsintered, left, and sintered nanoparticles

Wave energy center receives $40 million to construct world’s premier test facility

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center today was awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, to create the world’s premier wave energy test facility in Newport.

The NNMREC facility, known as the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site, or PMEC-SETS, is planned to be operational by 2020. It will be able to test wave energy “converters” that harness the energy of ocean waves and turn it into electricity. Companies around the world are already anticipating construction of the new facility to test and perfect their technologies, OSU officials say.

“We anticipate this will be the world’s most advanced wave energy test facility,” said Belinda Batten, the director of NNMREC and a professor in the OSU College of Engineering.

“This is a tribute to the support we received from the state of Oregon, and the efforts of many other people who have worked for the past four years – in some cases since the mid-2000s – to see this facility become a reality. It will play an integral role in moving forward on the testing and refinement of wave energy technologies.”

Those technologies, Batten said, are complex and expensive.

“These devices have to perform in hostile ocean conditions; stand up to a 100-year storm; be energy efficient, durable, environmentally benign – and perhaps most important, cost-competitive with other energy sources,” Batten said. “This facility will help answer all of those questions, and is literally the last step before commercialization.”

The DOE award is subject to appropriations, federal officials said today, and will be used to design, permit, and construct an open-water, grid-connected national wave energy testing facility. It will include four grid-connected test berths.

“OSU researchers are already international leaders on several new sources of energy that will be dependable, cost-competitive and efficient,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray.

“This is another enormous step for alternative energy, especially for an energy resource that Oregon is so well-suited to pursue. In coming years this new facility, aided by the assistance of OSU experts, will provide great learning opportunities for our students and have repercussions for wave energy development around the world.”

In making the award, the agency noted that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of coastlines, offering America the potential to develop a domestic wave energy industry that could help provide reliable power to coastal regions.

Investments in marine and hydrokinetic energy technology will encourage domestic manufacturing, create jobs, and advance this technology to help achieve the nation’s energy goals, DOE officials said in their announcement of this award. Studies have estimated that even if only a small portion of the energy available from waves is recovered, millions of homes could be powered.

The new facility and award also received support from a range of academic and political leaders:

Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden: “This is great news for OSU and its partners and will launch a new level of local job creation and clean energy innovation. Oregon will use this opportunity to build on its solid position nationally and internationally as a leader in renewable wave energy."

Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley: "This is a huge success story for Oregon State University, and I thank the Department of Energy for helping us harness the enormous potential of wave energy off the Oregon coast. This test facility will make Oregon the leader in bringing wave energy to the United States, which will create good-paying local jobs, and strengthen our coastal economies."

Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader: "Being able to tap into our rich marine energy resources will unleash the potential for billions of dollars in investment along our coastlines. The research that will be made possible through this grant is absolutely critical to the full and effective implementation of wave energy converters into the U.S. green energy portfolio. This federal support is terrific news for OSU and the entire local economy as it allows Oregonians to lead the pack here at home on wave energy."

Oregon U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici: "OSU is at the forefront of wave energy research. Wave energy has tremendous potential as a renewable resource to put our country on a path to a clean energy future. This critical federal support will allow the university, researchers, and students to continue to investigate and test the potential of wave energy. With this investment we are one important step closer to harnessing the power of the ocean to meet our nation’s clean energy needs, create good-paying jobs, and spur economic growth in our communities.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: “I commend the talented team of Oregon State University researchers, staff, and students who lead the nation in research and development of wave energy technology. This U.S. Department of Energy grant announcement of up to $40 million leverages years of work and partnership with our state. This innovative work will contribute to Oregon and the nation’s clean energy mix of the future.”

Oregon State Sen. Arnie Roblan: “After the work of the coastal caucus during the 2016 session to secure a state match for this grant, I am pleased by this news. This grant will enable cutting edge research that will bring a variety of individual innovators to the Oregon coast. We are uniquely positioned to help the nation determine the efficacy of their energy devices to Oregon.”

Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research at OSU: “This award is a major win for Dr. Batten and her team.  It comes after years of collaboration among OSU researchers, state and federal agencies, and industry partners. With it, we are one step closer to a clean, affordable and reliable energy future.”

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Belinda Batten, 541-737-9492

belinda.batten@oregonstate.edu

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Wave energy test center

OSU, PNNL to lead part of a major national program in ‘chemical process intensification’

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories will co-direct a key component of a new five-year, $70 million advanced manufacturing institute, with the goal of greater energy efficiency, increased manufacturing innovation, and more jobs in the nation’s chemical industries.  

The new institute, Rapid Advancement of Process Intensification Deployment, or RAPID, was announced last week by the U.S. Department of Energy. It will be coordinated by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

“Through matching grants and other support by state governments, private businesses and industry, this will encourage more than $140 million of technology development, education and training,” said Scott Ashford, the Kearney Professor and dean of the OSU College of Engineering.

“The emphasis will be on chemical process intensification, which is the development of chemical manufacturing equipment that is smaller, lighter-weight and more energy efficient. The result will be lower costs, and modular production of chemical plants that will help to boost the nation’s economic growth.”

OSU and PNNL, who have worked collaboratively for more than a decade to develop and commercialize process intensification technologies, will lead the Module Manufacturing Focus Area within the RAPID institute, and work with chemical equipment suppliers to advance lower-cost process intensification equipment. To date, RAPID consists of 75 companies, 34 academic institutions, seven national laboratories and other organizations.

“The selection of OSU and our colleagues at PNNL to lead this focus area is a tribute to 15 years of commitment by state leaders, Oregon businesses and our research universities,” said Brian Paul, the Tom and Carmen West Faculty Scholar of Manufacturing Engineering in the OSU College of Engineering, and leader of the new focus area.

“That long-term commitment is what it takes to become a national player that can advance technology with industry and create new job opportunities for Oregonians. Contract negotiations to finalize funding for the new institute are underway, and we hope to hit the ground running by next summer, launching some of the projects outlined in the original RAPID proposal.”

The new focus area, Paul said, is an outgrowth of the collaboration between OSU and PNNL through the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute which began in 2001. The success of that partnership has evolved into the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute, located on the Hewlett Packard campus in Corvallis. It focuses on the research and commercialization of advanced materials and technologies being developed within OSU, in concert with research partners across Oregon and throughout the world.

The broader program approved last week will seek to improve domestic energy productivity, energy efficiency, cut operating costs and reduce waste in chemical industries as diverse as oil and gas, pulp and paper, and biofuel processing. Improved technologies, officials say, have the potential to save more than $9 billion annually just in process costs. Gains of 20 percent in efficiency and productivity within five years are being sought.

“In the module manufacturing focus area, we’ll work to create chemical equipment that is lighter, smaller and less expensive than existing equipment,” Paul said. “This will enable distributed chemical processing, like efforts to use solar energy to augment the energy content of natural gas. This could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, using solar thermal processes that are 70 percent solar-to-chemical efficient.”

The RAPID institute will work with downstream module manufactures and chemical companies to identify common intensified components that need to be mass produced.  By pooling resources and combining markets, these companies will encourage suppliers to make capital investments critical to reducing intensified component costs. And cheaper, lighter-weight equipment will enable module manufacturers to build chemical plants with greater efficiency and lower costs.

All of these steps, officials say, will improve the competitiveness of U.S. chemicals on the world stage.

The state of Oregon made significant cost share contributions to the RAPID institute, Paul said, which will help Oregon companies lead the way in creating new high-wage jobs and products to export from the Pacific Northwest.

This is the tenth institute aimed at improving the nation’s manufacturing competitiveness through a multi-agency network known as Manufacturing USA, supported with $700 million from the federal government. RAPID is one part of a commitment by the Obama administration to double U.S. energy productivity by 2030. The goal of all of these programs is to ultimately become self-supporting with heavy business and industry involvement.

OSU and Oregon expertise in microchannel manufacturing, 3D-inkjet printing, advanced materials, fine chemicals, microelectronics, food and beverage, advanced wood products, bio-refining, and carbon-free power generation - such as small modular nuclear reactors - are all part of the technological ecosystem that could benefit from RAPID investments in Oregon, officials say.

“The cumulative economic impact from these industries could one day mean billions of dollars and thousands of high-wage jobs for Oregonians,” Paul said. “We are creating the building blocks for an economy with staying power and the ability to export sustainable technologies to the world.”

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Brian Paul, 541-737-7320

brian.paul@oregonstate.edu

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Chemical reactor
Chemical reactor

New study: Weakening of North Atlantic current can be prevented by reducing carbon emissions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Continued melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet could have a significant impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a system of surface and deep ocean currents – including the Gulf Stream – in the Atlantic Ocean that keeps upper North America and Europe temperate.

A new international study incorporating a comprehensive assessment of Greenland Ice Sheet melting suggests the freshwater influx could weaken the AMOC over the next three centuries, though the impact could be offset if human-caused carbon emissions decline and global temperatures stabilize.

However, if carbon emissions continue unabated, there is a 44 percent likelihood of a collapse of the system by the year 2300, the researchers say.

The findings are being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Previous studies and assessment reports, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have not considered the impacts on the AMOC from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, or they have looked at it simplistically,” said Andreas Schmittner, an Oregon State University climate scientist and co-author on the study.

“Our study, using eight state-of-the-science global climate models, incorporates a realistic assessment of the ice sheet melting and shows a definite weakening of the AMOC system, but one that can be partially mitigated by a decline in carbon emissions.”

The study also suggests that the freshwater influx from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet will have less of an impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation than will overall global warming, rising sea surface temperatures, and intensification of the water cycle leading to more precipitation and evaporation.

“The good news is that we can still do something to lessen the impact of AMOC weakening and prevent an unlikely, but still possible collapse of the system,” said lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

“Our models predict that the ice sheet may not melt as rapidly as another recent study has suggested, but everything comes down to what will we in the United States, and people in other countries, do to lessen our carbon emissions.”

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation brings warm waters up from the tropics and transports cooler water to the south. A weakening of the system could mean that the North Atlantic would not warm as rapidly or thoroughly as it does now, affecting regional climate in North America and northern Europe.

The AMOC also is important for preserving ocean ecosystems, affecting nutrient transport.

“A weakening of the AMOC system would probably lead to more stratification of ocean waters and less biological productivity,” Schmittner said. “It may create more sea ice in the North Atlantic, which could be beneficial in some ways. At the same time, however, it would likely reduce the transport of cooler water to the south and shift rainfall patterns near the equator.”

The study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other agencies.

 

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Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de

Undersea volcano may provide clues to terrestrial eruptions

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Axial Seamount, located some 300 miles off the Oregon Coast, has become one of the most intensely studied volcanoes on Earth – and it may provide clues to better understand how and when terrestrial volcanoes erupt.

Three new papers published this week detail the workings of the most active undersea volcano in the northeast Pacific Ocean, which erupted in 1998, 2011 and 2015 – the latter of which was forecast seven months in advance by researchers from Oregon State University, NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The key to the researchers’ forecast was a gradual inflation of the seafloor created by intruding magma, noted William Chadwick, an Oregon State volcanologist and co-author on two of the three papers, which are being published in Science and Geophysical Research Letters. Chadwick also is with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

“We’re beginning to really understand how this volcano works and some of these lessons can be applied to other volcanoes in a general way,” Chadwick said. “During its eruptions, Axial’s seafloor drops suddenly by about eight feet, and then over the next several years it gradually rises back up. When it re-inflates to a certain level, the volcano is almost ready to erupt again.

“Axial inflates and deflates like a balloon, except it’s filling with magma instead of air.”

Chadwick said that following the 2015 eruption, Axial began re-inflating rapidly at first but the rate has been slowing. The volcano has regained just less than half of the eight feet of seafloor it lost during the 2015 eruption.

“Now we’ll just have to watch and see how fast it builds back up,” Chadwick said. “We’ll be trying to forecast the next eruption again, but right now it’s a little too early to tell.”

Chadwick calls Axial Seamount a “great natural laboratory” because it is close to land, has a simple structure and is frequently active, yet not a hazard to people.

“Ironically, in some ways we can learn more about how volcanoes work by studying them underwater because the seismic imaging works so much better in the oceans,” Chadwick said. “Previous surveys created the images of where the magma is and because ships can go everywhere over the volcano we get a lot more data. On land, you have to drill a hole, set off an explosion, and record it with a few scattered seismometers. It’s not nearly as effective.”

That previous seismic data helped the researchers interpret the monitoring data collected during the 2015 eruption.

The researchers also have benefited from the Ocean Observatories Initiative, a National Science Foundation-funded program to study the world’s oceans that includes the Cabled Array, a network of sensors that helped them make real-time seismicity and geodetic measurements.

The instruments recorded a growing number of tiny earthquakes that increased from fewer than 500 a day to more than 2,000. During the eruption, there were 600 earthquakes every hour, according to William Wilcock at the University of Washington.

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Lava flow

Research outlines how low-dose aspirin can help prevent cancer

PORTLAND, Ore. – Researchers have outlined for the first time a key mechanism by which low-dose aspirin may inhibit cancer cell proliferation and metastasis.

Aspirin reduces the ability of blood platelets to raise the levels of a particular protein that can support malignant cells and allow them to survive and spread, scientists say.

It has long been known that low-dose, or “baby” aspirin can have some benefits in protection against cardiovascular disease, and there’s increasing evidence it may be useful in cancer prevention as well – especially colon cancer. The new study reveals at least one of the ways the cancer inhibition may take place.

The research was published by scientists from Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University in AJP-Cell Physiology, with support from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and Altarum Institute.

Low-dose aspirin does not appear to directly affect cancer cells, the researchers said. Instead, it inhibits the normal function of blood platelets and reduces their ability to upregulate an “oncoprotein” called c-MYC, which plays an important role in cancer cell proliferation and survival.

“The benefit of aspirin may be due to its effect on blood cells called platelets, rather than acting directly on tumor cells,” said senior author Owen McCarty, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Oregon Health & Science University.

“Our work suggests that the anti-cancer action of aspirin might be in part as follows: during their transit in the blood, circulating tumor cells interact with platelets, which spur tumor cell survival by activating oncoproteins such as c-MYC. The inhibition of platelets with aspirin therapy reduces this signaling between platelets and tumor cells, thus indirectly reducing tumor cell growth.”

C-MYC in its normal biological role orchestrates the expression of more than 15 percent of all genes, including those involved in cell cycles, survival, protein synthesis and cell metabolism. But it also appears to be overexpressed, the researchers said, in a large number of human cancers, including colon, pancreas, breast, lung and prostate cancers.

“Early cancer cells live in what’s actually a pretty hostile environment, where the immune system regularly attacks and attempts to eliminate them,” said Craig Williams, a professor in the OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy, and co-author on the study. “Blood platelets can play a protective role for those early cancer cells and aid metastasis. Inhibition with aspirin appears to interfere with that process and c-MYC may explain part of that mechanism.”

Also of interest, the researchers said, is that this effect of aspirin on platelet function is as great at low doses as it is at the higher doses which are sometimes used to treat inflammation, headaches or pain. This is consistent with epidemiological studies which show that the anti-cancer benefit of aspirin occurs at these very low doses.

This is significant, because using low doses of aspirin allows clinicians to minimize the risk of bleeding, which is a serious concern with any antiplatelet medication.

Blood platelets in healthy biological systems play an important role in blood clotting after injuries, and also in the repair of the walls of blood vessels. Unfortunately, they have also been found to play a role in tumor survival, growth, proliferation and metastasis.

This study shows for the first time the ability of platelets to regulate the expression of the oncoprotein c-MYC in cancer cells. Elevated expression of c-MYC has been found in almost one-third of colon cancers and 42 percent of advanced pancreatic cancer, the researchers noted in the study.

Anyone considering use of low-dose aspirin should do so only in consultation with their physician, researchers said, in order to balance the potential benefits against known risks.

“Because the interaction between platelets and cancer cells is believed to occur early… the use of anti-platelet doses of aspirin might serve as a safe and efficacious preventive measure for patients at risk for cancer,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

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Craig Williams, 503-494-1598

williacr@ohsu.edu

New, complex call recorded in Mariana Trench believed to be from baleen whale

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.

“It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.”

Recorded via passive acoustic ocean gliders, which are instruments that can travel autonomously for months at a time and dive up to 1,000 meters, the Western Pacific Biotwang most closely resembles the so-called “Star Wars” sound produced by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia, researchers say.

The Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans, lies between Japan to the north and Australia to the south and features depths in excess of 36,000 feet.

Minke whales are baleen whales – meaning they feed by using baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from seawater – and live in most oceans. They produce a collection of regionally specific calls, which in addition to the Star Wars call include “boings” in the North Pacific and low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic.

“We don’t really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes,” said Nieukirk, lead author on the study whose results were recently published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. “The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn’t spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies.”

Nieukirk said the Western Pacific Biotwang has enough similarities to the Star Wars call – complex structure, frequency sweep and metallic conclusion – that it’s reasonable to think a minke whale is responsible for it.

But scientists can’t yet be sure, and many other questions remain. For example, baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year.

“If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” said Nieukirk, part of the team at the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a partnership between OSU and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed.”

The call is tricky to find when combing through recorded sound data, Nieukirk explains, because of its huge frequency range. Typically acoustic scientists zero in on narrower frequency ranges when analyzing ocean recordings, and in this case that would mean not detecting portions of the Western Pacific Biotwang.

“Now that we’ve published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound,” Nieukirk said. “More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what’s making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Dwarf minke whale

OSU Press publishes first guide to Oregon freshwater fishes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first comprehensive guide to Oregon’s freshwater fishes has been published by the Oregon State University Press.

Written by Professor Emeritus Douglas Markle in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State, the guide includes tips on identifying the state’s 137 known species and subspecies, along with photos and illustrations of native and non-native fish.

“A Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Oregon” is available in bookstores, by calling 1-800-621-2736, or by ordering online at osupress.oregonstate.edu

The guide includes information about Oregon’s most iconic fishes – including Chinook and coho salmon – as well as those species not as well-known, such as sculpins and minnows. Markle notes that the number of introduced, non-native fishes continues to increase and “they often are responsible in part for the decline of native fishes.”

“The book is a great guide for anglers and others who may encounter a fish that they cannot easily recognize,” said Marty Brown, marketing coordinator for the OSU Press. “Many groups of Oregon fishes are difficult to identify because of their size, diversity of forms, or lack of study, and there are ongoing debates about the actual number of species and subspecies of fish in the state.”

The guide covers fish both large and small. The white sturgeon is Oregon’s largest freshwater fish, reaching sizes of up to 19 feet and 1,800 pounds, and it is the most long-lived reaching estimated ages of close to 100 years. Among the smaller fish are minnows, which are the largest family of fishes in Oregon, and include such species as the Oregon chub and Umpqua chub – species only found in this state.

Markle is a long-time faculty member at Oregon State who parlayed a childhood interest in aquarium fish into a career teaching and conducting research on deep-sea fishes, coral reef fish, and a variety of freshwater fishes.

In addition to the many color photographs in “A Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Oregon” are numerous illustrations by well-known fish artist Joseph R. Tomelleri.

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Marty Brown, 541-737-3866, marty.brown@oregonstate.edu;

Doug Markle, 541-737-1970, douglas.markle@oregonstate.edu

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Freshwater Fishes of Oregon

Douglas F. Markle

Douglas Markle

New study shows impact of Antarctic Ice Sheet on climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have known for decades that small changes in climate can have significant impacts on the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now a new study suggests the opposite also is true. An international team of researchers has concluded that the Antarctic Ice Sheet actually plays a major role in regional and global climate variability – a discovery that may also help explain why sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere has been increasing despite the warming of the rest of the Earth.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Nature.

Global climate models that look at the last several thousand years have failed to account for the amount of climate variability captured in the paleoclimate record, according to lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

The research team’s hypothesis was that climate modelers were overlooking one crucial element in the overall climate system – an aspect of the ocean, atmosphere, biosphere or ice sheets – that might affect all parts of the system.

“One thing we determined right off the bat was that virtually all of the climate models had the Antarctic Ice Sheet as a constant entity,” Bakker said. “It was a static blob of ice, just sitting there. What we discovered, however, is that the ice sheet has undergone numerous pulses of variability that have had a cascading effect on the entire climate system.”

The Antarctic Ice Sheet, in fact, has demonstrated dynamic behavior over the past 8,000 years, according to Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“There is a natural variability in the deeper part of the ocean adjacent to the Antarctic Ice Sheet – similar to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or El Niño/La Niña but on a time scale of centuries – that causes small but significant changes in temperatures,” Schmittner said. “When the ocean temperatures warm, it causes more direct melting of the ice sheet below the surface, and it increases the number of icebergs that calve off the ice sheet.”

Those two factors combine to provide an influx of fresh water into the Southern Ocean during these warm regimes, according to Peter Clark, a paleoclimatologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“The introduction of that cold, fresh water lessens the salinity and cools the surface temperatures, at the same time, stratifying the layers of water,” Clark said. “The cold, fresh water freezes more easily, creating additional sea ice despite warmer temperatures that are down hundreds of meters below the surface.”

The discovery may help explain why sea ice has expanded in the Southern Ocean despite global warming, the researchers say. The same phenomenon doesn’t occur in the Northern Hemisphere with the Greenland Ice Sheet because it is more landlocked and not subject to the same current shifts that affect the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“One message that comes out of this study is that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is very sensitive to small changes in ocean temperatures, and humans are making the Earth a lot warmer than it has been,” Bakker said.

Sediment cores from the sea floor around Antarctica contain sand grains delivered there by icebergs calving off the ice sheet. The researchers analyzed sediments from the last 8,000 years, which showed evidence that many more icebergs calved off the ice sheet in some centuries than in others. Using sophisticated computer modeling, the researchers traced the variability in iceberg calving to small changes in ocean temperatures.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers an area of more than 5 million square miles and is estimated to hold some 60 percent of all the fresh water on Earth. The east part of the ice sheet rests on a major land mass, but in West Antarctica, the ice sheet rests on bedrock that extends into the ocean at depths of more than 2,500 meters, or more than 8,000 feet, making it vulnerable to disintegration.

Scientists estimate that if the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise some 200 feet.

Other authors on the study include Nicholas Golledge of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and Michael Weber of the University of Bonn in Germany.

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Peter Clark, 541-737-1247, clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu;

Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de