OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Science Pub focuses on getting ready for school

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you want to know if your kindergartener will succeed in school, look to Simon Says for an answer. Or to Red Light/Green Light. Or to the marshmallow game. 

At the Corvallis Science Pub on Sept. 9, Megan McClelland will demonstrate how these and other tasks can be used to determine if a child is ready for school. Her Science Pub presentation begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, located at 341 S.W. Second St. in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

“We’re talking about being able to sit still, follow directions and play well with other kids,” said McClelland, an associate professor in the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences. To be prepared for school, “they need to have some self-control as well as some basic academic skills.”

These games, she added, give children an opportunity to demonstrate self-regulation, the ability to control their behavior, thoughts and emotions.

McClelland specializes in early childhood development, but self-regulation turns out to be critical for success later in life as well. In 2012, McClelland reported that stronger self-regulation in young children is associated with later success in college.

McClelland is the director of the Early Childhood Research Core in the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at Oregon State. Her research focuses on social and cognitive development in young children and pathways to school readiness.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

 

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Megan McClelland, 541-737-9225

Winter depression not as common as many think, OSU research shows

The study this article is based on can be found at: http://hdl.handle.net/1957/41955.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research suggests that getting depressed when it’s cold and dreary outside may not be as common as is often believed.

In a study recently published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers found that neither time of year nor weather conditions influenced depressive symptoms. However, lead author David Kerr of Oregon State University said this study does not negate the existence of clinically diagnosed seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, but instead shows that people may be overestimating the impact that seasons have on depression in the general population.

“It is clear from prior research that SAD exists,” Kerr said. “But our research suggests that what we often think of as the winter blues does not affect people nearly as much as we may think.”

Kerr, who is an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU, said the majority of studies of seasonal depression ask people to look back on their feelings over time.

“People are really good at remembering certain events and information,” he said. “But, unfortunately, we probably can’t accurately recall the timing of day-to-day emotions and symptoms across decades of our lives. These research methods are a problem.”

So Kerr and his colleagues tried a different approach. They analyzed data from a sample of 556 community participants in Iowa and 206 people in western Oregon. Participants completed self-report measures of depressive symptoms multiple times over a period of years. These data were then compared with local weather conditions, including sunlight intensity, during the time participants filled out the reports.

In one study, some 92 percent of Americans reported seasonal changes in mood and behavior, and 27% reported such changes were a problem. Yet the study suggests that people may be overestimating the impact of wintery skies.

“We found a very small effect during the winter months, but it was much more modest than would be expected if seasonal depression were as common as many people think it is,” said Columbia University researcher Jeff Shaman, a study co-author and a former OSU faculty member. “We were surprised. With a sample of nearly 800 people and very precise measures of the weather, we expected to see a larger effect.”

Kerr believes the public may have overestimated the power of the winter blues for a few reasons. These may include awareness of SAD, the high prevalence of depression in general, and a legitimate dislike of winter weather.

“We may not have as much fun, we can feel cooped up and we may be less active in the winter,” Kerr said. “But that’s not the same as long-lasting sadness, hopelessness, and problems with appetite and sleep – real signs of a clinical depression.”

According to Kerr, people who believe they have SAD should get help. He said clinical trials show cognitive behavior therapy, antidepressant medication, and light box therapy all can help relieve both depression and SAD.

“Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for depression, whether or not it is seasonal,” he said. “Cognitive behavior therapy stands out because it has been shown to keep SAD from returning the next year.”

Kerr is an expert on the development of depression and risky behavior in youth in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts. He received a 2010 New Investigator Award from the Oregon Health and Science University Medical Research Foundation to conduct this research, which is building upon two ongoing studies that have been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers from OSU, Columbia University, the Oregon Social Learning Center, Iowa State University and the University of California, Davis contributed to this study.

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David Kerr, 541-737-1364

Pass the salt: Common condiment could enable new high-tech industry

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Chemists at Oregon State University have identified a compound that could significantly reduce the cost and potentially enable the mass commercial production of silicon nanostructures – materials that have huge potential in everything from electronics to biomedicine and energy storage.

This extraordinary compound is called table salt.

Simple sodium chloride, most frequently found in a salt shaker, has the ability to solve a key problem in the production of silicon nanostructures, researchers just announced in Scientific Reports, a professional journal.

By melting and absorbing heat at a critical moment during a “magnesiothermic reaction,” the salt prevents the collapse of the valuable nanostructures that researchers are trying to create. The molten salt can then be washed away by dissolving it in water, and it can be recycled and used again.

The concept, surprising in its simplicity, should open the door to wider use of these remarkable materials that have stimulated scientific research all over the world.

“This could be what it takes to open up an important new industry,” said David Xiulei Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science. “There are methods now to create silicon nanostructures, but they are very costly and can only produce tiny amounts.

“The use of salt as a heat scavenger in this process should allow the production of high-quality silicon nanostructures in large quantities at low cost,” he said. “If we can get the cost low enough many new applications may emerge.”

Silicon, the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, has already created a revolution in electronics. But silicon nanostructures, which are complex structures much smaller than a speck of dust, have potential that goes far beyond the element itself.

Uses are envisioned in photonics, biological imaging, sensors, drug delivery, thermoelectric materials that can convert heat into electricity, and energy storage.

Batteries are one of the most obvious and possibly first applications that may emerge from this field, Ji said. It should be possible with silicon nanostructures to create batteries – for anything from a cell phone to an electric car – that last nearly twice as long before they need recharging.

Existing technologies to make silicon nanostructures are costly, and simpler technologies in the past would not work because they required such high temperatures. Ji developed a methodology that mixed sodium chloride and magnesium with diatomaceous earth, a cheap and abundant form of silicon.

When the temperature reached 801 degrees centigrade, the salt melted and absorbed heat in the process. This basic chemical concept – a solid melting into a liquid absorbs heat – kept the nanostructure from collapsing.

The sodium chloride did not contaminate or otherwise affect the reaction, researchers said. Scaling reactions such as this up to larger commercial levels should be feasible, they said.

The study also created, for the first time with this process, nanoporous composite materials of silicon and germanium. These could have wide applications in semiconductors, thermoelectric materials and electrochemical energy devices.

Funding for the research was provided by OSU. Six other researchers from the Department of Chemistry and the OSU Department of Chemical Engineering also collaborated on the work.

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David Xiulei Ji, 541-737-6798

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Silicon nanostructure

Silicon nanostructures


Table salt

Table salt

Oregon State University students produce interactive iBook Atlas of the Columbia River Basin

Another version of this story is available on Terra magazine at Oregon State.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The Columbia River Basin comes to life in a new digital atlas produced by Oregon State University cartography students. Starting with ArcMap, they created an iBook — accessible via Apple’s iPad — which combines the look and feel of a traditional paper book with the touch-screen features of a tablet computer.

Through colorful maps, animations, photos and video, the new atlas allows users to explore the basin’s geology, climate, social history and land use. It shows the location and extent of historical and current tribal lands — Kootenai, Nez Perce, Umatilla and others — the region’s population centers and a time-lapse display of dam construction from 1900 to the present. Maps also show the location of salmon runs, recreation sites and public lands. 

Under the guidance of Bernhard Jenny, cartographer and assistant professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, 17 graduate and undergraduate students published the Atlas of the Columbia River Basin. It can be downloaded free as a PDF or iBook from the cartography and visualization group at Oregon State. Jenny has submitted it to Apple’s iTunes library.

Creating the interactive and static maps required the use of three different software packages, says Jenny. Students used ArcMap to merge geospatial data from different sources and design the maps. They reprojected the maps to a local coordinate system that was optimized for the portrayal of the transboundary Columbia Basin. After exporting the maps from ArcMap into Adobe Illustrator, they fine-tuned symbolization, labeling and layout. The last step consisted of placing the maps in iBooks Author, the authoring software for creating eBooks for the iPad. The maps were combined with interactive features, text, diagrams and other elements and laid out in this authoring software.

Unlike most atlases that are restricted by national and state borders, this atlas crosses the boundary between Canada and the United States, says Kimberly Ogren, an Oregon State Ph.D. student. Ogren helped to develop the 33-page document as a student in Jenny’s course on computer-assisted cartography.

“If you apply cartography concepts in the right way,” she says, “you will create a map that draws people to the information and conveys it effectively. People will want to learn more. That’s our hope for this atlas.”

Not Just Another Digital Map

More than a useful resource about the Columbia basin, the new atlas is also a milestone in cartography. “Cartographers haven’t used these new formats with all their features,” says Jenny. He notes that the first digital map (The Electronic Atlas of Canada) was created in 1981, but it and its successors have been more useful for specialists than for the general public.

“Those atlases don’t have individual page layouts or elements like diagrams and pictures,” he says. “They’re more standardized in their appearance and functionality.” In essence, most digital atlases provide a visual interface for viewing and analyzing data rather than an educational resource for the public.

In contrast, the Atlas of the Columbia River Basin presents information in a format that is accessible. It includes a table of contents and chapters. It integrates digital data with other book-like features and touch-screen functions that are familiar to any smart phone or tablet computer user.

The advantage for mapmakers, says Jenny, lies in the ease with which such atlases can be created. The downside is that creativity in terms of interactivity is limited to what the authoring software allows. In addition, e-books cannot be exported to multiple brands of devices. Apple’s iBook authoring software, for example, creates e-books only for Apple devices.

The evolution of atlases to tablet computers follows the growth in sales of iPads, Amazon’s Kindle and other tablets in the last few years. In 2014, says Jenny, sales of tablet computers are expected to outpace sales of desktop and notebook PCs combined. E-books have grown in popularity as well and accounted for about 20 percent of publishers’ revenues in 2012. In 2011, sales of e-books outpaced sales of hardcover adult fiction.

Jenny plans to continue incorporating iBook publishing in his cartography classes. Both he and Ogren say that students in the cartography class benefited by creating a product that they could show to future employers as well as family and friends.

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Bernhard Jenny, 541-737-1204

Cognitive decline with age is normal, routine – but not inevitable

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you forget where you put your car keys and you can’t seem to remember things as well as you used to, the problem may well be with the GluN2B subunits in your NMDA receptors.

And don’t be surprised if by tomorrow you can’t remember the name of those darned subunits.

They help you remember things, but you’ve been losing them almost since the day you were born, and it’s only going to get worse. An old adult may have only half as many of them as a younger person.

Research on these biochemical processes in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University is making it clear that cognitive decline with age is a natural part of life, and scientists are tracking the problem down to highly specific components of the brain. Separate from some more serious problems like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, virtually everyone loses memory-making and cognitive abilities as they age. The process is well under way by the age of 40 and picks up speed after that.

But of considerable interest: It may not have to be that way.

“These are biological processes, and once we fully understand what is going on, we may be able to slow or prevent it,” said Kathy Magnusson, a neuroscientist in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, and professor in the Linus Pauling Institute. “There may be ways to influence it with diet, health habits, continued mental activity or even drugs.”

The processes are complex. In a study just published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that one protein that stabilizes receptors in a young animal – a good thing conducive to learning and memory – can have just the opposite effect if there’s too much of it in an older animal.

But complexity aside, progress is being made. In recent research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, OSU scientists used a genetic therapy in laboratory mice, in which a virus helped carry complementary DNA into appropriate cells and restored some GluN2B subunits. Tests showed that it helped mice improve their memory and cognitive ability.

The NMDA receptor has been known of for decades, Magnusson said. It plays a role in memory and learning but isn’t active all the time – it takes a fairly strong stimulus of some type to turn it on and allow you to remember something. The routine of getting dressed in the morning is ignored and quickly lost to the fog of time, but the day you had an auto accident earns a permanent etching in your memory.

Within the NMDA receptor are various subunits, and Magnusson said that research keeps pointing back to the GluN2B subunit as one of the most important. Infants and children have lots of them, and as a result are like a sponge in soaking up memories and learning new things. But they gradually dwindle in number with age, and it also appears the ones that are left work less efficiently.

“You can still learn new things and make new memories when you are older, but it’s not as easy,” Magnusson said. “Fewer messages get through, fewer connections get made, and your brain has to work harder.”

Until more specific help is available, she said, some of the best advice for maintaining cognitive function is to keep using your brain. Break old habits, do things different ways. Get physical exercise, maintain a good diet and ensure social interaction. Such activities help keep these “subunits” active and functioning.

Gene therapy such as that already used in mice would probably be a last choice for humans, rather than a first option, Magnusson said. Dietary or drug options would be explored first.

“The one thing that does seem fairly clear is that cognitive decline is not inevitable,” she said. “It’s biological, we’re finding out why it happens, and it appears there are ways we might be able to slow or stop it, perhaps repair the NMDA receptors. If we can determine how to do that without harm, we will.”

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Kathy Magnusson, 541-737-6923

Climate center at OSU gets major grant to study forest mortality

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received a five-year, $4 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to investigate increasing impacts of drought, insect attacks and fires on forests in the western U.S., and to project how the influence of climate change may affect forest die-offs in the future.

The researchers will also enhance an earth system model to allow them to predict when forests are becoming vulnerable to physiological stress and then create strategies to minimize impacts of climate, insects and fire.

“The western United States has gone through two decades of devastating forest loss and we don’t even fully know why it happened, much less how to predict these events,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU and a principal investigator on the grant. “Certainly wildfire, bark beetle infestation and drought play a role, but the intersection of these factors with forest management decisions hasn’t been well-explored.

“A change in severity of drought, for example, can make the difference between trees losing some needles and wiping out the entire stand,” added Mote, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU. “The margin between life and death in the forest can be rather small.”

Other lead investigators from OSU on the project include Beverly Law, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, who will focus on modeling forest processes with the Community Land Model; and Andrew Plantinga, a professor in the Department of Applied Economics, whose expertise is on the economics of land use, climate change and forests.

“Climate variation and extremes can impact trees differently depending on species-specific traits that determine how they compete and respond to environmental conditions,” Law said. “We know little about how physiological limits vary by species, and have not incorporated such knowledge in earth system models.”

The OSU researchers note that forest management decisions could potentially play a role during periods of drought, for example. Drought-stressed trees become vulnerable when they experience vapor pressure deficits – and cannot take in enough water to sustain them, or to remain vigorous enough to help repel invading bark beetles, said Law, who is co-lead principal investigator on the project.

An excess of trees in an area of limited water might benefit from targeted thinning so fewer trees remain to compete for the same amount of water, Law noted. However, forests that already have low densities “are not expected to respond well,” she said.

“What we don’t know,” Mote said, “is what the threshold is between stress and mortality, which trees to thin and how many, and whether such a strategy not only works, but is economically feasible for landowners.”

Law said the intervention strategies “should not result in potentially harmful ecological impacts on habitat and soil quality.”

Among the goals of the project are to:

  • Improve the ability of a leading land surface model to predict tree mortality;
  • Map the vulnerability of western forests to mortality under present and future climate conditions,  particularly in Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho;
  • Apply forest vulnerability data to forest sector models to help land managers better predict ecological and economic outcomes, including timber production, forest recreation and water use.

As part of the study, the researchers will run computer models that will utilize a crowd-sourced computing effort called Weatherathome.net, through which a network of thousands of volunteers will use their home computers to run climate model scenarios. Such a network can equal or exceed the output of a supercomputer.

The OSU grant is part of the inter-agency Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models Program, which is coordinated by the National Science Foundation and includes USDA and the Department of Energy.

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Phil Mote, 541-737-5694

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Dying trees

Forest die-off

New companies, research ideas chosen to join OSU Venture Accelerator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Administrators of the Venture Accelerator at Oregon State University have chosen the first 12 research concepts or spinoff companies to participate in the program, which is designed to spur the creation of new companies from university-based research.

The Venture Accelerator is one component of the Oregon State University Advantage, an educational, research and commercialization initiative begun earlier this year. Officials say it should increase industry investment in OSU research by 50 percent and lead to the creation of 20 new businesses within five years.

With the announcement of its first participants, some of those companies may already be taking shape.

In the future this could lead to innovative types of automobiles, improved heating systems, more efficient solar cells, electricity produced from wastewater, an enhanced online shopping experience or – in a pinch – a safe and efficient caesarian delivery of a baby in small, rural hospitals.

“These concepts and companies are emerging from OSU or the Corvallis community, and we feel good about the commercial potential of all of them,” said John Turner, co-director of the Venture Accelerator Program.

“We think the Venture Accelerator will contribute at all stages of their commercial development and really speed the companies toward success,” Turner said. “It’s also worth noting that we’ve chosen some technologies that are incremental advances in a field, and others may represent breakthroughs of global importance. There’s a place for both in what we’re trying to do in job creation and economic advancement.”

The Venture Accelerator at OSU is designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies, and then streamline their development with the legal, marketing, financial and mentoring needs that turn good ideas into real-world businesses. The approach can be customized to each client’s needs and also allows them to tap into the resource of OSU students who can assist in research and business development.

The new companies and innovations include:

  • Waste2Watergy – A Corvallis startup company to commercialize OSU research on the production of electricity from wastewater, while also treating the wastewater.
  • Valliscor, LLC –Valliscor is a chemical manufacturing company that provides innovative solutions to access compounds for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, polymer and electronics industries.
  • MOVE – Referring to “methane opportunities for vehicle energy,” this company is being developed from research at OSU-Cascades to allow a car that runs on methane to compress its own fuel and be re-fueled from a homeowner’s natural gas supply.
  • Macromolecular structure characterization – This is based on a patent of a new way to solve protein structures that could transform biological research.
  • Heating systems – Devices using microchannel arrays to heat air or water that are small or portable could offer much higher efficiency for residential or other uses.
  • Beet – A solar cell device will be developed based on patented absorber material that allows high conversion efficiency.
  • Multicopter Northwest – This company will develop and sell small helicopter and photographic systems to produce photos or video at an altitude up to 400 feet.
  • PlayPulse – The physiological responses of video game users will be measured to help producers understand user behavior.
  • InforeMed – The company will create serious games for health care education.
  • BuyBott – This online website will simplify shopping and enhance social interaction.
  • Bauer Labs LLC – Technology from the company includes a facilitator for emergency caesarean delivery, a special challenge in rural hospitals.
  • FanTogether – Sports fans will stay connected to their favorite teams or individuals.

The OSU Venture Accelerator is a component of the South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN, which was made possible by recent legislative approval and funding of $3.75 million.

The University of Oregon and OSU, along with the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Albany and Corvallis, are all collaborating in this broad initiative that taps into the research and educational expertise of academia and aggressively moves it toward private economic growth.

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John Turner, 541-737-9219

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Electricity from sewage

Electricity from wastewater

Of bears and berries: return of wolves aids grizzly bears in Yellowstone

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is beginning to bring back a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century – berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation.

It’s one of the first reports to identify the interactions between these large, important predators, based on complex ecological processes. It was published today by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

The researchers found that the level of berries consumed by Yellowstone grizzlies is significantly higher now that shrubs are starting to recover following the re-introduction of wolves, which have reduced over-browsing by elk herds. The berry bushes also produce flowers of value to pollinators like butterflies, insects and hummingbirds; food for other small and large mammals; and special benefits to birds.

The report said that berries may be sufficiently important to grizzly bear diet and health that they could be considered in legal disputes – as is white pine nut availability now - about whether or not to change the “threatened” status of grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act.

“Wild fruit is typically an important part of grizzly bear diet, especially in late summer when they are trying to gain weight as rapidly as possible before winter hibernation,” said William Ripple, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, and lead author on the article. “Berries are one part of a diverse food source that aids bear survival and reproduction, and at certain times of the year can be more than half their diet in many places in North America.”

When wolves were removed from Yellowstone early in the 1900s, increased browsing by elk herds caused the demise of young aspen and willow trees – a favorite food – along with many berry-producing shrubs and tall, herbaceous plants. The recovery of those trees and other food sources since the re-introduction of wolves in the 1990s has had a profound impact on the Yellowstone ecosystem, researchers say, even though it’s still in the very early stages.

“Studies like this also point to the need for an ecologically effective number of wolves,” said co-author Robert Beschta, an OSU professor emeritus. “As we learn more about the cascading effects they have on ecosystems, the issue may be more than having just enough individual wolves so they can survive as a species. In some situations, we may wish to consider the numbers necessary to help control overbrowsing, allow tree and shrub recovery, and restore ecosystem health.”

As wolves help reduce elk numbers in Yellowstone and allow tree and shrub recovery, researchers said, this improves the diet and health of grizzly bears. In turn, a healthy grizzly bear population provides a second avenue of control on wild ungulates, especially on newborns in the spring time.

Yellowstone has a wide variety of nutritious berries – serviceberry, chokecherry, buffaloberry, twinberry, huckleberry and others – that are highly palatable to bears. These shrubs are also eaten by elk and thus likely declined as elk populations grew over time. With the return of wolves, the new study found the percentage of fruit in grizzly bear scat in recent years almost doubled during August.

Because the abundant elk have been an important food for Yellowstone grizzly bears for the past half-century, the increased supply of berries may help offset the reduced availability of elk in the bears’ diet in recent years. More research is needed regarding the effects of wolves on plants and animals consumed by grizzly bears.

There is precedent for high levels of ungulate herbivory causing problems for grizzly bears, who are omnivores that eat both plants and animals. Before going extinct in the American Southwest by the early 1900s, grizzly bear diets shifted toward livestock depredation, the report noted, because of lack of plant-based food caused by livestock overgrazing. And, in the absence of wolves, black bears went extinct on Anticosti Island in Canada after over-browsing of berry shrubs by introduced while-tailed deer.

Increases in berry production in Yellowstone may also provide a buffer against other ecosystem shifts, the researchers noted – whitebark pine nut production, a favored bear food, may be facing pressure from climate change. Grizzly bear survival declined during years of low nut production.

Livestock grazing in grizzly bear habitat adjacent to the national park, and bison herbivory in the park, likely also contribute to high foraging pressure on shrubs and forbs, the report said. In addition to eliminating wolf-livestock conflicts, retiring livestock allotments in the grizzly bear recovery zone adjacent to Yellowstone could benefit bears through increases in plant foods.

The research was supported by private, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey.

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William Ripple, 541-737-3056

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Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear


Serviceberry

Serviceberries

Global warming to cut snow water storage 56 percent in Oregon watershed

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/13ZLzl1

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new report projects that by the middle of this century there will be an average 56 percent drop in the amount of water stored in peak snowpack in the McKenzie River watershed of the Oregon Cascade Range -  and that similar impacts may be found on low-elevation maritime snow packs around the world.

The findings by scientists at Oregon State University, which are based on a projected 3.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, highlight the special risks facing many low-elevation, mountainous regions where snow often falls near the freezing point. In such areas, changing from snow to rain only requires a very modest rise in temperature.

As in Oregon, which depends on Cascade Range winter snowpack for much of the water in the populous Willamette Valley, there may be significant impacts on ecosystems, agriculture, hydropower, industry, municipalities and recreation, especially in summer when water demands peak.

The latest study was one of the most precise of its type done on an entire watershed, and was just published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, with support from the National Science Foundation. It makes it clear that new choices are coming for western Oregon and other regions like it.

“In Oregon we have a water-rich environment, but even here we will have to manage our water resources differently in the future,” said Eric Sproles, who led this study as a doctoral student at OSU.

“In the Willamette River, for instance, between 60-80 percent of summer stream flow comes from seasonal snow above 4,000 feet,” he said. “As more precipitation falls as rain, there will more chance of winter flooding as well as summer drought in the same season. More than 70 percent of Oregon’s population lives in the Willamette Valley, with the economy and ecosystems depending heavily on this river.”

Annual precipitation in the future may be either higher or lower, the OSU researchers said. They did calculations for precipitation changes that could range 10 percent in either direction, although change of that magnitude is not anticipated by most climate models.

The study made clear, so far as snowpack goes, that temperature is the driving force, far more than precipitation. Even the highest levels of anticipated precipitation had almost no impact on snow-water storage, they said.

“This is not an issue that will just affect Oregon,” said Anne Nolin, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and co-author of the study. “You may see similar impacts almost anywhere around the world that has low-elevation snow in mountains, such as in Japan, New Zealand, Northern California, the Andes Mountains, a lot of Eastern Europe and the lower-elevation Alps.”

The focus of this study was the McKenzie River, a beautiful, clear mountain river that rises in the high Cascade Range near the Three Sisters volcanoes, and supplies about 25 percent of the late summer discharge of the Willamette River. Researchers said this is one of the most detailed studies of its type done on a large watershed.

Among the findings of the study:

  • The average date of peak snowpack in the spring on this watershed will be about 12 days earlier by the middle of this century.
  • The elevation zone from 1,000 to 1,500 meters will lose the greatest volume of stored water, and some locations at that elevation could lose more than 80 days of snow cover in an average year.
  • Changes in dam operations in the McKenzie River watershed will be needed, but will not be able to make up for the vast capability of water storage in snow.
  • Summer water flows will be going down even as Oregon’s population surges by about 400,000 people from 2010 to 2020.
  • Globally, maritime snow comprises about 10 percent of the Earth’s seasonal snow cover.
  • Snowmelt is a source of water for more than one billion people.
  • Precipitation is highly sensitive to temperature and can fall as rain, snow, or a rain-snow mix.

The model developed for this research, scientists said, could be readily adapted to help other regions in similar situations determine their future loss of snow water in the future.

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Eric Sproles, 541-729-1377

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McKenzie River watershed

McKenzie River watershed


McKenzie River

McKenzie River

Study explains Pacific equatorial cold water region

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study published this week in the journal Nature reveals for the first time how the mixing of cold, deep waters from below can change sea surface temperatures on seasonal and longer timescales.

Because this occurs in a huge region of the ocean that takes up heat from the atmosphere, these changes can influence global climate patterns, particularly global warming.

Using a new measurement of mixing, Jim Moum and Jonathan Nash of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University have obtained the first multi-year records of mixing that permit assessment of seasonal changes. This is a significant advance beyond traditional shipboard measurements that are limited to the time that a ship can be away from port. Small instruments fueled by lithium batteries were built to be easily deployed on deep-sea equatorial moorings.

Moum employs a simple demonstration to show how mixing works.

He pours cold, white cream into a clear glass mug full of hot, black coffee, very carefully, using a straw to inject the heavier cream at the bottom of the mug, where it remains.

“Now we can wait until the cream diffuses into the coffee, and we’ll have a nice cuppa joe,” Moum says. “Unfortunately, the coffee will be cold by then. Or, we can introduce some external energy into the system, and mix it.”

A stirring spoon reveals motions in the mug outlined by the black/white contrasts of cream in coffee until the contrast completely disappears, and the color achieves that of café au lait.

“Mixing is obviously important in our normal lives, from the kitchen to the dispersal of pollutants in the atmosphere, reducing them to levels that are barely tolerable,” he said.

The new study shows how mixing, at the same small scales that appear in your morning coffee, is critical to the ocean. It outlines the processes that create the equatorial Pacific cold tongue, a broad expanse of ocean near the equator that is roughly the size of the continental United States, with sea surface temperatures substantially cooler than surrounding areas.

Because this is a huge expanse that takes up heat from the atmosphere, understanding how it does so is critical to seasonal weather patterns, El Nino, and to global climate change.

In temperate latitudes, the atmosphere heats the ocean in summer and cools it in winter. This causes a clear seasonal cycle in sea surface temperature, at least in the middle of the ocean. At low latitudes near the equator, the atmosphere heats the sea surface throughout the year. Yet a strong seasonal cycle in sea surface temperature is present here, as well. This has puzzled oceanographers for decades who have suspected mixing may be the cause but have not been able to prove this.

Moum, Nash and their colleagues began their effort in 2005 to document mixing at various depths on an annual basis, which previously had been a near-impossible task.

“This is a very important area scientifically, but it’s also quite remote,” Moum said. “From a ship it’s impossible to get the kinds of record lengths needed to resolve seasonal cycles, let alone processes with longer-term cycles like El Nino and La Nina. But for the first time in 2005, we were able to deploy instrumentation to measure mixing on a NOAA mooring and monitor the processes on a year-round basis.”

The researchers found clear evidence that mixing alone cools the sea surface in the cold tongue, and that the magnitude of mixing is influenced by equatorial currents that flow from east to west at the surface, and from west to east in deeper waters 100 meters beneath the surface.

“There is a hint – although it is too early to tell – that increased mixing may lead, or have a correlation to the development of La Niña,” Moum said. “Conversely, less mixing may be associated with El Niño. But we only have a six-year record – we’ll need 25 years or more to reach any conclusions on this question.”

Nash said the biggest uncertainty in climate change models is understanding some of the basic processes for the mixing of deep-ocean and surface waters and the impacts on sea surface temperatures. This work should make climate models more accurate in the future.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, and deployments have been supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Continued research will add instruments at the same equatorial mooring and an additional three locations in the equatorial Pacific cold tongue to gather further data.

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Jim Moum, 541-737-2553

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