OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Oregon State launches humanitarian engineering program

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The Oregon State University College of Engineering has recently launched a humanitarian engineering program like few others in the nation, partly as a response to a growing number of students who want to make an impact both locally and globally.

Undergraduate students can now minor in this field, taking classes that emphasize the importance of socio-cultural, economic, environmental and resource management factors. Work in ethics, social justice and cross-cultural communication is also part of the program.

Humanitarian engineering emphasizes science and engineering-based solutions that help to improve the human condition, access to basic human needs, the quality of life or level of community resilience. OSU’s program is one of only a few in the nation based in an academic curriculum.

The program reflects an engaged concept of service and the university’s historic land grant mission, officials say. Through it, students will explore case studies of development projects and a historic perspective on humanitarian interventions.

One OSU student who understands that concept is Grace Burleson, a graduating senior majoring in mechanical engineering. She grew up as a missionary child and was raised by parents with a passion for helping underserved populations.

“When I got to college, I loved my engineering coursework but never got excited by applying it to things like cars or computers,” said Burleson. “I began research in humanitarian engineering and landed an internship in Uganda, working where I developed a sustainable business plan for the construction, distribution and maintenance of BioSand water filters.”                    

As a formalized academic program, humanitarian engineering will contribute to the effort of the OSU College of Engineering to become a recognized model as an inclusive and collaborative community.

“The program is attracting a more diverse group of prospective students than is typically attracted to engineering, including women,” said mechanical engineering professor Kendra Sharp, who directs the program, and was appointed the first Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering.

OSU is also one of just 10 universities nationwide to offer a Peace Corps Master’s International program in engineering. The university was the first in Oregon to join this initiative, which allows graduate students in several disciplines to get a master’s degree while doing a full 27-month term of service in the Peace Corps.

Multiple student organizations, including Oregon State’s award-winning Engineers Without Borders chapter and the American Society of Civil Engineering student chapter, have also been working on water, energy and other projects in the developing world. 

“Students at Oregon State receive an accredited engineering degree, so adding on this minor opens many more doors and perspectives with how we look at engineering,” said Burleson. “It creates a gateway for really exciting and impactful projects.”

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Krista Klinkhammer, 541-737-4416

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Kendra Sharp, 541-737-5246

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Engineering study in Uganda

Liver recovery difficult even with improved diet, but faster if sugar intake is low

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Liver damage caused by the typical “Western diet” – one high in fat, sugar and cholesterol that’s common in developed countries such as the United States – may be difficult to reverse even if diet is generally improved, a new study shows.

The research, published today in PLOS ONE by scientists from Oregon State University, found that a diet with reduced fat and cholesterol helped, but did not fully resolve liver damage that had already been done – damage that in turn can lead to more serious health problems, such as cirrhosis or even cancer.

This study, done with laboratory animals, showed that diets low in fat and cholesterol could in fact aid with weight loss, improved metabolism and health. But even then, if the diet was still high in sugar there was much less liver recovery, the scientists concluded.

The findings are significant, scientists say, because liver problems such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are surging in the U.S., affecting 10-35 percent of adults and an increasing number of children. The incidence of this problem can reach more than 60 percent in obese and type-2 diabetic populations.

“Many people eating a common American diet are developing extensive hepatic fibrosis, or scarring of their liver, which can reduce its capacity to function, and sometimes lead to cancer,” said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute, and corresponding author on this research.

“There’s a lot of interest in finding ways to help the liver recover from this damage, but this research suggests that diets lower in fat and cholesterol, even if they help you lose weight, are not enough,” Jump said. “For more significant liver recovery, the intake of sugar has to come down, probably along with other improvements in diet and exercise.”

The issues are both serious and complex, the researchers said.

“Everyone recognizes this is a serious problem,” said Kelli Lytle, an OSU doctoral candidate and lead author on this study. “We’re trying to find out if some of the types of dietary manipulation that people use, such as weight loss based on a low fat diet, will help address it. However, a common concern is that many ‘low-fat’ food products have higher levels of sugar to help make them taste better.”

Weight loss does appear to help address some of the problems associated with the Western diet, the research shows. But according to this study, a diet with continued high levels of sugar will significantly slow recovery of liver damage that has already been done.

Complications related to liver inflammation, scarring and damage are projected to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020, the researchers noted in their study. Such scarring was once thought to be irreversible, but more recent research has shown it can be at least partially reversed with optimal diet and when the stimulus for liver injury is removed.

In this report, scientists studied two groups of laboratory mice that had been fed a “Western diet” and then switched to different, healthier diets, low in fat and cholesterol.

Both of the improved diets caused health improvements and weight loss. But one group that was fed a diet still fairly high in sugar – an amount of sugar comparable to the Western diet - had significantly higher levels of inflammation, oxidative stress and liver fibrosis.

More research is still needed to determine whether a comprehensive program of diet, weight maintenance, exercise and targeted drug therapies can fully resolve liver fibrosis, the study concluded.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Donald Jump, 541-737-4007

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Thousands of landslides in Nepal earthquake raise parallels for Pacific Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research teams have evaluated the major 7.8 magnitude subduction zone earthquake in Gorkha, Nepal, in April 2015, and identified some characteristics that may be of special relevance to the future of the Pacific Northwest.

Most striking was the enormous number and severity of landslides.

Many people understand the damage that can be caused to structures, roads, bridges and utilities by ground shaking in these long-lasting types of earthquakes, such as the one that’s anticipated on the Cascadia Subduction Zone between northern California and British Columbia.

But following the Nepal earthquake – even during the dry season when soils were the most stable – there were also tens of thousands of landslides in the region, according to reconnaissance team estimates. In their recent report published in Seismological Research Letters, experts said that these landslides caused pervasive damage as they buried towns and people, blocked rivers and closed roads.

Other estimates, based on the broader relationship between landslides and earthquake magnitude, suggest the Nepal earthquake might have caused between 25,000 and 60,000 landslides.

The subduction zone earthquake expected in the future of the Pacific Northwest is expected to be larger than the event in Nepal.

Ben Mason, a geotechnical engineer and assistant professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, was a member of the Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance team that explored the Nepal terrain. He said that event made clear that structural damage is only one of the serious threats raised by subduction zone earthquakes.

“In the Coast Range and other hilly areas of Oregon and Washington, we should expect a huge number of landslides associated with the earthquake we face,” Mason said. “And in this region our soils are wet almost all year long, sometimes more than others. Each situation is different, but soils that are heavily saturated can have their strength cut in half.”

Wet soils will also increase the risk of soil liquefaction, Mason said, which could be pervasive in the Willamette Valley and many areas of Puget Sound, Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, especially along the Columbia River.

Scientists have discovered that the last subduction zone earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest was in January 1700, when – like now - soils probably would have been soggy from winter rains and most vulnerable to landslides.

The scientific study of slope stability is still a work in progress, Mason said, and often easier to explain after a landslide event has occurred than before it happens. But continued research on earthquake events such as those in Nepal may help improve the ability to identify areas most vulnerable to landslides, he said. Models can be improved and projections made more accurate.

“If you look just at the terrain in some parts of Nepal and remove the buildings and people, you could think you were looking at the Willamette Valley,” Mason said. “There’s a lot we can learn there.”

In Nepal, the damage was devastating.

Landslides triggered by ground shaking were the dominant geotechnical effect of the April earthquake, the researchers wrote in their report, as slopes weakened and finally gave way. Landslides caused by the main shock or aftershocks blocked roads, dammed rivers, damaged or destroyed villages, and caused hundreds of fatalities.

The largest and most destructive event, the Langtang debris avalanche, began as a snow and ice avalanche and gathered debris that became an airborne landslide surging off a 500-meter-tall cliff. An air blast from the event flattened the forest in the valley below, moved 2 million cubic meters of material and killed about 200 people.

Surveying the damages after the event, Mason said one of his most compelling impressions was the way people helped each other.

“Nepal is one of the poorest places, in terms of gross domestic product, that I’ve ever visited,” he said. “People are used to adversity, but they are culturally rich. After this event it was amazing how their communities bounced back, people helped treat each other’s injuries and saved lives. As we make our disaster plans in the Pacific Northwest, there are things we could learn from them, both about the needs for individual initiative and community response.”

Aside from landslides, many lives were lost in collapsing structures in Nepal, often in homes constructed of rock, brick or concrete, and frequently built without adequate enforcement of building codes, the report suggested. Overall, thousands of structures were destroyed. There are estimates that about 9,000 people died, and more than 23,000 were injured. The earthquake even triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 19 people.

The reconnaissance effort in Nepal was made possible by support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the OSU College of Engineering, and other agencies and universities around the world.

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Ben Mason, 541-737-2014

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New approach to medication counseling shown to be highly effective

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It takes about one minute longer, but pharmacists who employ an unconventional, interactive patient counseling technique can more than double the chance that people will understand key issues on how to take, understand and manage their use of prescription drugs.

A new study just published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association provides compelling evidence that this technique could significantly improve the understanding of drug use and storage, possible side effects, what to expect from a medication and what to do if something isn’t working.

“This approach to prescription drug counseling has now been shown to be a dramatic improvement over conventional methods,” said Robert Boyce, director of pharmacy services in the Student Health Center Pharmacy at Oregon State University, and corresponding author on the study. “This is the first real analysis to prove that it works, and that the approach could be extremely important for health care in America.”

Historically, pharmacists who provided patients with information about their prescription medications – when that was done at all – most often used what was called a “lecture format,” essentially a one-way form of communication that was often referred to as reading off the label. The efficacy of this system varied widely, and gave little assurance that patients had heard and understood a range of details about the drug they were preparing to take.

By contrast, Boyce co-developed an alternative approach during a 21-year career with the Public Health Service pharmacy program of the Indian Health Service, a federal health program for American Indians and Alaskan natives. It emphasizes a questioning of patients on their understanding of the drug they have been prescribed, and answers questions about whatever they don’t understand.  It’s a discussion, not a presentation.

The concept, Boyce said, was released in 1991 to every school and college of pharmacy, and is now gaining much wider acceptance across the nation. This study, which included a survey of 500 participants at four community pharmacies in Oregon, is the first of its type to confirm the value of the new approach. A lead author was Naomi Lam, a pharmacy resident at the OSU Student Health Center Pharmacy at the time of the research.

In this approach, patients are asked three basic, open-ended questions, relating to the name and purpose of the medication; how to use and store it; and what possible side effects there might be, and what to do if they occur.

The new study found that 71 percent of patients using the new counseling approach could answer all three questions correctly, compared to 33 percent of patients who were instructed with the conventional system.

With either approach, most people understood what medication they were taking and what it was for. However, with the new system, four times as many people understood how and when to take their medication, and also could answer basic questions about adverse effects.

According to this study, the average time it took pharmacists to use the new counseling system was a little over two minutes, compared to 75 seconds for conventional counseling.

“For a busy pharmacist, some might suggest this is a significant additional amount of time,” Boyce said. “But when you compare that to the risks of something not going right when a patient does not understand what the specific directions are, or what to expect from their medication, the additional effort seems minimal.”

Patient counseling about medications, Boyce said, is still an evolving aspect of health care. Prior to federal legislation that became law in January, 1993, which mandated pharmacist counseling for Medicare patients receiving new prescriptions, pharmacist counseling was quite variable, and often not done at all.

Since that time, all but three states in the country have enacted laws that require patient counseling on medication, or an offer to counsel, be made available. As a result, the activity of counseling is far more common. The alternative system being proposed, however, has the ability to take such counseling and make it far more effective, Boyce said.

“This approach to counseling can find out what a patient does and doesn’t understand,” Boyce said. “It’s especially important when it comes to drug efficacy and side effects. If a medication isn’t working properly, patients learn what actions to take. If they experience side effects, they know better how to handle it and when to contact their doctor or pharmacist.”

The conversational, interactive approach also becomes highly favored by patients once it is implemented, Boyce said. People better remember what they heard and discussed, feel as if they are being listened to, and they appreciate the attention, he said. Gaps in understanding are addressed during the conversation and before moving on to the next question.

Some common sense concerns can also be immediately identified with this format, which may be less obvious in conventional counseling. A patient may have hearing problems; language barriers; or cognitive circumstances that must be considered. An immediate understanding of that can significantly improve the level of communication.

Previous research has shown that when people do not understand the proper use of their medications, adherence rates plummet. Also, studies show that patients are most interested in information on adverse effects, but that this topic historically was one of those least discussed by both doctors and pharmacists.

The study suggested that additional research with more groups be done to verify the value of the new system. It also outlined stages of improvement as pharmacists adapt to the new approach, become more comfortable with it and increase both their speed and communication effectiveness.

 

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Robert Boyce, 541-231-7323

Research identifies key genetic link in the biology of aging

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research at Oregon State University suggests it may be possible to slow age-related disease with new types of treatments.

Scientists have tracked the syndromes associated with aging to their biochemical roots, and identified a breakdown in genetic communication as part of the problem. The findings imply that aging happens for a reason, and that while aspects of it may be inevitable, there could be ways to slow down disease development.

The newest study relate to a protein, Nrf2, that helps regulate gene expression and the body’s reaction to various types of stressors. The research was published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, in work supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon.

“We’re very excited about the potential of this area of research,” said Tory Hagen, corresponding author on this study, and the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Health Aging Research in the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the College of Science.

“At least one important part of what we call aging appears to be a breakdown in genetic communication, in which a regulator of stress resistance declines with age,” Hagen said. “As people age and their metabolic problems increase, the levels of this regulator, Nrf2, should be increasing, but in fact they are declining.”

Nrf2 is both a monitor and a messenger, OSU researchers say. It’s constantly on the lookout for problems with cells that may be caused by the many metabolic insults of life – oxidative stress, toxins, pollutants, and other metabolic dysfunction.

When it finds a problem, Nrf2 essentially goes back to the cellular nucleus and rings the alarm bell, where it can “turn on” up to 200 genes that are responsible for cell repair, detoxification of carcinogens, protein and lipid metabolism, antioxidant protection and other actions. In their report, the scientists called it a “longevity-assurance” factor.

Nrf2 is so important that it’s found in many life forms, not just humans, and it’s constantly manufactured by cells throughout the body. About half of it is used up every 20 minutes as it performs its life-protective functions. Metabolic insults routinely increase with age, and if things were working properly, the amount of Nrf2 that goes back into the nucleus should also increase to help deal with those insults.

Instead, the level of nuclear Nrf2 declines, and the OSU scientists say they have discovered why.

“The levels of Nrf2, and the functions associated with it, are routinely about 30-40 percent lower in older laboratory animals,” said Kate Shay, director of the Healthy Aging Core Laboratory at OSU and co-author on this study. “We’ve been able to show for the first time what we believe is the cause.”

The reason for this decline, the scientists said, is increasing levels of a micro-RNA called miRNA-146a.

Micro-RNAs have been one of the most profound scientific discoveries of the past 20 years. They were once thought to be “junk DNA” because researchers could see them but they had no apparent biological role. They are now understood to be anything but junk – they help play a major role in genetic signaling, controlling what genes are “expressed,” or turned on and off to perform their function.

In humans, miRNA-146a plays a significant role. It can turn on the inflammation processes that, in something like a wound, help prevent infection and begin the healing process. But with aging, this study now shows that miRNA-146a expression doesn’t shut down properly, and it can significantly reduce the levels of Nrf2.

This can cause part of the chronic, low-grade inflammation that is associated with the degenerative diseases that now kill most people in the developed world, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and neurological disease.

“The action of miRNA-146a in older people appears to turn from a good to a bad influence,” Shay said. “It may be causing our detoxification processes to decline just when we need them the most.”

Some of the things found to be healthy for individuals, in diet or lifestyle, may be so because they help to conserve the proper balance between the actions of miRNA-146a and Nrf2, the OSU researchers said. Alternatively, it may be possible to reduce excessive levels of miRNA-146a with compounds that interfere with its function. There may also be other micro-RNAs associated with this process, they said, that need further research.

“Overall, these results provide novel insights for the age-related decline in Nrf2 and identify new targets to maintain Nrf2-dependent detoxification with age,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

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Tory Hagen, 541-737-5083

Tooth fillings of the future may incorporate bioactive glass

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A few years from now millions of people around the world might be walking around with an unusual kind of glass in their mouth, and using it every time they eat.

Engineers at Oregon State University have made some promising findings about the ability of “bioactive” glass to help reduce the ability of bacteria to attack composite tooth fillings – and perhaps even provide some of the minerals needed to replace those lost to tooth decay.

Prolonging the life of composite tooth fillings could be an important step forward for dental treatment, the researchers say, since more than 122 million composite tooth restorations are made in the United States every year. An average person uses their teeth for more than 600,000 “chews” a year, and some studies suggest the average lifetime of a posterior dental composite is only six years.

The new research was just published in the journal Dental Materials, in work supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“Bioactive glass, which is a type of crushed glass that is able to interact with the body, has been used in some types of bone healing for decades,” said Jamie Kruzic, a professor and expert in advanced structural and biomaterials in the OSU College of Engineering.

“This type of glass is only beginning to see use in dentistry, and our research shows it may be very promising for tooth fillings,” he said. “The bacteria in the mouth that help cause cavities don’t seem to like this type of glass and are less likely to colonize on fillings that incorporate it. This could have a significant impact on the future of dentistry.”

Bioactive glass is made with compounds such as silicon oxide, calcium oxide and phosphorus oxide, and looks like powdered glass. It’s called “bioactive” because the body notices it is there and can react to it, as opposed to other biomedical products that are inert. Bioactive glass is very hard and stiff, and it can replace some of the inert glass fillers that are currently mixed with polymers to make modern composite tooth fillings.

“Almost all fillings will eventually fail,” Kruzic said. “New tooth decay often begins at the interface of a filling and the tooth, and is called secondary tooth decay. The tooth is literally being eroded and demineralized at that interface.”

Bioactive glass may help prolong the life of fillings, researchers say, because the new study showed that the depth of bacterial penetration into the interface with bioactive glass-containing fillings was significantly smaller than for composites lacking the glass.

Fillings made with bioactive glass should slow secondary tooth decay, and also provide some minerals that could help replace those being lost, researchers say. The combination of these two forces should result in a tooth filling that works just as well, but lasts longer.

Recently extracted human molars were used in this research to produce simulated tooth restoration samples for laboratory experiments. OSU has developed a laboratory that’s one of the first in the world to test simulated tooth fillings in conditions that mimic the mouth.

If this laboratory result is confirmed by clinical research, it should be very easy to incorporate bioactive glass into existing formulations for composite tooth fillings, Kruzic said.

The antimicrobial effect of bioactive glass is attributed, in part, to the release of ions such as those from calcium and phosphate that have a toxic effect on oral bacteria and tend to neutralize the local acidic environment.

“My collaborators and I have already shown in previous studies that composites containing up to 15 percent bioactive glass, by weight, can have mechanical properties comparable, or superior to commercial composites now being used,” Kruzic said.

This work was done in collaboration with researchers from the School of Dentistry at the Oregon Health & Science University and the College of Dental Medicine at Midwestern University.

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Jamie Kruzic, 541-737-7027

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Harbor seal deaths show presence of bacterial infection

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study by microbiologists at Oregon State University has concluded that an unsuspected bacterial infection, rather than a viral disease, was associated with the stranding and death of seven harbor seals on the California coast in 2009.

The research, made with a powerful investigative method called “meta-transcriptomics,” found a high incidence of infection in the seals with the bacterial pathogen Burkholderia, and provides the first report in the Americas of this bacteria in a wild harbor seal.

The bacteria probably did not directly cause the death of the seals, researchers say, but this provides  further evidence of the increase in emerging marine pathogens, and the need for improved monitoring and study of zoonotic diseases that could affect both human and wildlife populations.

In light of these findings, OSU researchers also remind the public that they should not touch stranded or dead marine mammals.

The research was recently published in PLOS ONE, in work supported by the Oregon Sea Grant program and the National Science Foundation.

“We now have improved tools to better identify new diseases as they emerge from natural reservoirs, and can record and track these events,” said Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an assistant professor of microbiology in the OSU College of Science. “It’s becoming clear there are more pathogens than we knew of in the past, and that some of them can move into human populations.

“This is why it’s increasingly important that we accurately pinpoint the cause of these diseases, and understand the full range of causes that may factor into these deaths.”

Cases such as this, the researchers said, point out that it’s not always a single pathogen that causes death, but a combination of pathogens, changing environmental influences, weakened hosts and other forces. In this seal-stranding event, the scientists also found evidence of Coxiella burnettii, another bacterial pathogen, at high levels in one animal.

Advances in this type of monitoring are being made with the comparatively new field of meta-transcriptomics, which has been referred to as a way to eavesdrop on the viral and microbial world, to catalogue and compare sequences from suspected pathogens. It’s just now being applied to marine systems, which are often reservoirs for pathogens that can emerge into terrestrial populations.

This phenomenon seems to be picking up speed, the researchers noted in their study.

About 61 percent of emerging human diseases arise from zoonotic pathogens, and about 70 percent of these originate from wildlife. The recent Ebola outbreak in Africa was one example; the bacterial pathogen that causes tuberculosis was introduced to the Americas from pinnipeds; and influenza has been shown to be transmitted from seals to humans.  In recent years, viral disease has been implicated in the deaths of tens of thousands of harbor seals.

Almost half of marine mammals die from unknown causes, the researchers said, but the use of new high-speed, analytic tools could offer ways to change that. The techniques don’t require prior information about the viruses and bacterial infections that may be affecting wildlife.

In the case of the stranded harbor seals in this study, it was initially suspected that viruses were the cause. This study largely ruled that out, but identified bacterial infection in the animals’ brains. The final cause of death is still unknown and research on that issue is continuing.

“These analytic tools should be increasingly useful in the future, and show us just what genes the pathogens may be using during an infection,” said Stephanie Rosales, a doctoral student in the OSU College of Science, and lead author on this study.  “A lot of new environmental changes and stresses are taking place that may lead to new emerging diseases, and we should be tracking them as they evolve.”

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Rebecca Vega-Thurber, 541-737-1851

OSU/NOAA study: Warm-water years are tough on juvenile salmon

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new analysis of juvenile Chinook salmon in the Pacific Ocean documents a dramatic difference in their foraging habits and overall health between years of warm water and those when the water is colder.

The study found that when the water is warmer than average – by only two degrees Celsius – young salmon consume 30 percent more food than during cold-water regimes. Yet they are smaller and skinnier during those warm-water years, likely because they have to work harder to secure food and the prey they consume has less caloric energy.

Results of the research, conducted by researchers from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are being published this week in the journal PLOS One.

“When young salmon come out to sea and the water is warm, they need more food to keep their metabolic rate up, yet there is less available food and they have to work harder,” said Elizabeth Daly, an Oregon State senior faculty research assistant with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a joint program of OSU and NOAA.

“Our long-term data set contradicts the long-held assumption that salmon eat less during warm-water regimes,” Daly added. “They actually eat more. But they still don’t fare as well. When the water is warm, salmon are smaller and thinner.”

Daly teamed with Richard Brodeur, a NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center researcher, to examine 19 years of juvenile salmon surveys, from 1981-85 and 1998-2011. The rich, long-term data set revealed the trophic habits, size and condition of yearling Chinook salmon caught soon after they migrated to the ocean. The researchers found that during both warm- and cold-water regimes, the diet of the salmon is primarily fish, but when the water is cold, they also consume more lipid-rich krill and Pacific sand lance. When the water is warmer, the salmon’s diet had more juvenile rockfish and crab larvae.

Previous research led by Bill Peterson, a NOAA fisheries biologist and courtesy professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS), found that the makeup of copepods during cold-water years differs greatly than during warm-water years. In cold years, these small crustaceans drift down from the north and are lipid-rich, with much higher nutrient levels than copepods from the south.

And though salmon may not directly consume these copepods, they are eating the fish that do consume them, noted Brodeur, also a courtesy faculty member in CEOAS.

“The warm years typically have less upwelling that brings the cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface,” Brodeur said. “Or in the case of 2005, the upwelling was so late that many of the salmon died because there was no food when they entered the ocean.”

“Salmon populations may be able to handle one year of warm temperatures and sparse food,” Brodeur added. “But two or three years in a row could be disastrous – especially for wild fish populations. They may have to travel much farther north to find any food.”

Hatchery-raised salmon that are released in similar numbers in warm- or cold-water years may fare slightly better during bad ocean conditions, the researchers noted, because they tend to be larger when they enter the marine environment.

Daly and Brodeur, who work out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, said that the 19 survey years they analyzed included 10 warm-water years and nine cold-water years. In some cases, the warm water was a result of an El Niño, while in other years it was a lack of upwelling.

During the last two years, an unusually large, warm body of water has settled into the ocean off the Pacific Northwest that scientists have dubbed “The Blob,” which is forecast to be followed this winter by a fairly strong El Niño event. Though recent spring Chinook salmon runs have been strong due to cooler ocean conditions in 2012-13, the impact of this long stretch of warm water on juvenile fish may bode poorly for future runs.

“So far this year, we’ve seen a lot of juvenile salmon with empty stomachs,” Daly said. “The pressure to find food is going to be great. Of those fish that did have food in their stomachs, there was an unusual amount of juvenile rockfish and no signs of Pacific sand lance or krill.

“Not only does this warm water make it more difficult for the salmon to find food, it increases the risk of their own predation as they spend more time eating and less time avoiding predators,” she added.

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Elizabeth Daly, 541-867-0404; elizabeth.daly@oregonstate.edu;

Ric Brodeur, 541-867-0335, Richard.Brodeur@noaa.gov

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Oregon Sea Grant announces 2016-18 research grant recipients

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon Sea Grant, a marine research, outreach, education and communication program based at Oregon State University, is awarding $1.7 million in competitive, federally funded research grants for 2016-18.

The grants will go to eight principal investigators at OSU, Oregon Health & Science University, and the University of Oregon for research into marine-related issues.

"Oregon Sea Grant is committed to supporting the science needed to address challenges facing our coastal communities and ecosystems,” said Shelby Walker, director of Oregon Sea Grant. “These projects reflect a broad array of issues important to the future of coastal Oregonians, communities and our environment."

The projects and their principal investigators are listed below (click on the links for additional information):

  • “Indexing the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of marine shellfish to combined stressors of ocean acidification and hypoxia,” Francis Chan, OSU Department of Integrative Biology. (Co-PIs are Eli Meyer and Kristin Milligan, OSU; and Steven Rumrill, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) More information.
  • “Does ocean productivity contribute to dune ecosystem function? Connecting wrack subsidies to Oregon dune coastal protection and conservation services,” Sally Hacker, OSU Department of Integrative Biology. (Co-PIs are Peter Ruggiero and Francis Chan, OSU) More information.
  • “Distribution and degradation of the anti-diabetic drug, Metformin, and its breakdown product, guanylurea, in the Columbia River basin,” Tawnya Peterson, OHSU Institute of Environmental Health. (Co-PI is Joseph Needoba, OHSU). More information.
  • “Utilizing uranium-to-calcium ratios to determine best management practices for shell planting and oyster culture to mitigate ocean acidification impacts,” Alyssa Shiel, OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. (Co-PIs Adam Kent and George Waldbusser, OSU). More information.
  • “Improving coastal ocean forecasting and visualization through collaboration in discovery, learning and practice,” Ted Strub, OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. (Co-PIs Flaxen Conway and Alexander Kurapov, OSU). More information.
  • “Predatory impacts of large medusa on ichthyoplankton in the Northern California Current,” Kelly Sutherland, University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. (Co-PI Richard Brodeur, NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center). More information.
  • “Evaluating the vulnerability of Oregon seagrass beds to eutrophication,” Fiona Tomas Nash, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. (Co-PIs Steven Rumrill and Anthony D’Andrea, ODFW; James Kaldy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Bree Yednock and Joy Tally, South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve; and Renee O’Neill, OSU). More information.
  • “Competing effects of relative sea-level rise and fluvial inputs on blue carbon sequestration in Oregon salt marshes,” Robert Wheatcroft, OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. (Co-PIs Laura Brophy and Michael Ewald, Institute for Applied Ecology; Erin Peck, OSU). More information.

As part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s nationwide Sea Grant College Program, Oregon Sea Grant receives a share of congressionally appropriated research dollars every two years to award via a competitive process to university-based scientists studying ocean and coastal issues important to the region and the nation.

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Shelby Walker, 541-737-6200, Shelby.walker@oregonstate.edu

72 scientists ink letter to U.S. presidential candidates urging leadership on clean energy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A group of 72 leading climate change scientists have written a letter to major United States presidential candidates urging strong American leadership on clean energy – and calling for a “vibrant economy free from carbon pollution by mid-century.”

The effort began as a letter from nine scientists from Harvard University, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, Tufts and elsewhere – part of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Other scientists, including Philip Mote of Oregon State University, recently joined the initiative.

Mote, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State, and also provides leadership on two joint federal climate change centers at the university, said focusing on clean, renewable sources of energy is not a choice between a strong economy and a healthy environment.

“These are not mutually exclusive,” said Mote, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Many of the largest and most influential companies in the world are using energy from renewable sources, including Apple, Google and others. It’s not just a good environmental strategy – they see it as a good business strategy.”

“Oregon’s emission of greenhouse gases peaked in 1999 and has been declining, showing that we can grow the economy and reduce emissions,” Mote added.

In their letter, the climate scientists point to the gradual shift away from non-sustainable fossil fuels to solar and wind power – in part because of rapidly advancing technology. The next U.S. president “will be uniquely positioned to ensure that our nation sustains and accelerates this transition,” they wrote. “The dangers of inaction are also increasingly apparent and lend great urgency to this appeal.”

The letter is being released this week as policy-makers and others convene in Paris for the annual international climate summit.  Limiting carbon emissions from fossil fuels is critical in slowing the rate of warming the Earth is experiencing, the scientists note, and the effects are being seen world-wide – from rapidly warming and acidifying oceans to melting glaciers.

Yet much of the public – and many political leaders – has been slow to accept what many scientists say is overwhelming evidence that our planet is in peril, Mote said.

“This week, as some of Oregon’s rivers are rising, we are reminded that a warming climate accentuates existing risks like flooding,” Mote said.  “Additional risks for the region include increased wildfires and coastal inundation. Limiting emissions will reduce the size of future changes."

The scientists call for the next president to pursue key goals, including:

  • Following through on the U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025;
  • Phasing out fossil energy subsidies and putting a price on carbon to “ensure a level playing field” for renewable energy, nuclear power and other low- or zero-carbon technologies;
  • Modernizing antiquated energy transmission, distribution and transportation systems;
  • Increasing investment in clean energy research.

Mote was a lead author on the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which led to a Nobel Prize, and a lead author for the fifth IPCC report in 2013 in a chapter focusing on the cryosphere.

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Phil Mote, 541-737-5692, pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu