OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

New dispatch system could save money for trucking industry, make life easier for drivers

The study this story is based on is available online: http://hdl.handle.net/1957/38433

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University are studying a new approach to organize and route truck transportation that could save millions of dollars, improve the quality of life for thousands of truck drivers and make freight transportation far more efficient.

The findings, published recently in Transportation Research Part E, show the feasibility of the new system. More research is still needed before implementation, but there’s potential to revolutionize the way that truck transportation is handled in the United States and around the world, some experts say.

Loads could be delivered more rapidly, costs could be lowered, and the exhausting experience of some truck drivers who often spend two to three weeks on the road between visits back home might be greatly reduced. This difficult lifestyle often leads them to quit their job as a result.

That turnover problem is sufficiently severe that more long-haul, full-truckload drivers quit every year than there are trucks of that type on the road.

“The perceived quality of life for long-haul truck drivers is poor, and it shouldn’t have to be that way,” said Hector Vergara, an assistant professor in the OSU School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, who is working on this project in collaboration with researchers at the University of Arkansas.

“It will take a transition for companies to see how the approach we are studying can work effectively, but it should help address several of the problems they face,” he said.

In truck transportation, some of the existing approaches include “point to point,” in which one driver stays with a full load all the way to its often-distant destination; “hub and spoke” systems in which less-than-full loads are changed at selected points; and “relay” networks in which the drivers change but the load stays on the truck.

None of these systems by themselves are ideal for long-haul transport. The hub and spoke system is among the most popular with drivers because they get home much more frequently, but it can be costly and inefficient for full-truckload transportation. Relay networks make sense in theory but are difficult to implement.

The new approach under study combines the relay system and the point-to-point system for full-truckload transport. The researchers at OSU developed a new mathematical approach to optimize the design of the dispatching system for the movement of goods and to minimize the impact on drivers. It’s one of the first models of its type to create a mixed-fleet dispatching system at a large scale.

“We now know this approach can work,” Vergara said. “Compared to point-to-point, this system should cut the length of trips a driver makes by about two-thirds, and get drivers back to their homes much more often. We can also keep loads moving while drivers rest, and because of that save significant amounts of money on the number of trucks needed to move a given amount of freight.”

The computer optimization determines the best way to dispatch loads and tells where to locate relay points, and how different loads should be routed through the relay network.

Truck transportation systems will never be perfect, researchers concede, because there are so many variables that can cause unpredictable problems – weather delays, road closures, traffic jams, truck breakdowns, driver illnesses. But the current system, especially for long-haul, point-to-point transport, is already riddled with problems, and significant improvements based on computer optimization should be possible.

Disillusionment with existing approaches led to a shortage of 125,000 truck drivers in 2011, the researchers noted in the study. The negative economic impacts of this system also reach beyond just the trucking industry, they said.

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Hector Vergara, 541-737-0955

Genetics of cervical cancer raise concern about antiviral therapy in some cases

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new understanding of the genetic process that can lead to cervical cancer may help improve diagnosis of potentially dangerous lesions for some women, and also raises a warning flag about the use of anti-viral therapies in certain cases – suggesting they could actually trigger the cancer they are trying to cure.

The analysis provides a clearer picture of the chromosomal and genetic changes that take place as the human papillomavirus sometimes leads to chronic infection and, in less than 1 percent of cases, to cervical cancer. It is the first to identify specific genes that are keys to this process.

Researchers say they want to emphasize, however, that the HPV vaccine commonly used by millions of women around the world is perfectly safe if done prior to infection with the virus. The concerns raised by this study relate only to viral therapies or possible use of a therapeutic vaccine after the virus has already been integrated into human cells.

“It’s been known for decades that only women with prior infection with HPV get cervical cancer,” said Andrey Morgun, an assistant professor and a leader of the study in the OSU College of Pharmacy. “In about 90 percent of cases it’s naturally eliminated, often without any symptoms. But in a small fraction of cases it can eventually lead to cancer, in ways that have not been fully understood.”

These findings were published recently in Nature Communications by researchers from Oregon State University and a number of other universities or agencies in the United States, Norway and Brazil. Collaborators at OSU included Natalia Shulzhenko, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

The study found that some pre-cancerous lesions can acquire a higher level of chromosomal imbalances in just a small number of cells. These new features appear to do two things at the same time – finally eliminate the lingering virus that may have been present for many years, and set the stage for the beginning of invasive cancer.

So long as the virus is not eliminated, it helps to keep under control viral oncogenes that have been integrated into the patient’s genome, researchers said.

“Some of what’s taking place here was surprising,” Morgun said. “But with continued work it should help us improve diagnosis and early monitoring, to tell which lesions may turn into cancer and which will not.”

The study also concludes it could be dangerous to use antiviral treatments or therapeutic vaccines with women whose lesions already show signs of HPV integration.

This may help explain why use of the antiviral drug interferon had inconclusive results in the past, in some studies of its value in treating cervical cancer. Patients with existing HPV lesions may wish to discuss findings of this study with their physicians before starting such treatments, researchers said.

Other researchers using a similar analytical approach also found key driver genes in melanoma, according to the report. This approach may have value in identifying genomic changes that are relevant to a range of malignant tumors, scientists said.

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Andrey Morgun, 541-737-3424

Dam construction to reduce greenhouse gases causes ecosystem disruption

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/14XWxBu

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers conclude in a new report that a global push for small hydropower projects, supported by various nations and also the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, may cause unanticipated and potentially significant losses of habitat and biodiversity.

An underlying assumption that small hydropower systems pose fewer ecological concerns than large dams is not universally valid, scientists said in the report. A five-year study, one of the first of its type, concluded that for certain environmental impacts the cumulative damage caused by small dams is worse than their larger counterparts.

The findings were reported by scientists from Oregon State University in the journal Water Resources Research, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

The conclusions were based on studies of the Nu River system in China but are relevant to national energy policies in many nations or regions – India, Turkey, Latin America - that seek to expand hydroelectric power generation. Hydropower is generally favored over coal in many developing areas because it uses a renewable resource and does not contribute to global warming. Also, the social and environmental problems caused by large dam projects have resulted in a recent trend toward increased construction of small dams.

“The Kyoto Protocol, under Clean Development Mechanism, is funding the construction of some of these small hydroelectric projects, with the goal of creating renewable energy that’s not based on fossil fuels,” said Desiree Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

“The energy may be renewable, but this research raises serious questions about whether or not the overall process is sustainable,” Tullos said.

“There is damage to streams, fisheries, wildlife, threatened species and communities,” she said. “Furthermore, the projects are often located in areas where poverty and illiteracy are high. The benefit to these local people is not always clear, as some of the small hydropower stations are connected to the national grid, indicating that the electricity is being sent outside of the local region.

“The result can be profound and unrecognized impacts.”

This study was one of the first of its type to look at the complete range of impacts caused by multiple, small hydroelectric projects, both in a biophysical, ecological and geopolitical basis, and compare them to large dam projects. It focused on the remote Nu River in China’s Yunnan Province, where many small dams producing 50 megawatts of power or less are built on tributaries that fall rapidly out of steep mountains. There are already 750,000 dams in China and about one new dam is being built every day, researchers say.

Among the findings of the report as it relates to this region of China:

  • The cumulative amount of energy produced by small hydroelectric projects can be significant, but so can the ecological concerns they raise in this area known to be a “hotspot” of biological diversity.
  • Per megawatt of energy produced, small tributary dams in some cases can have negative environmental impacts that are many times greater than large, main stem dams.
  • Many dams in China are built as part of a state-mandated policy to “Send Western Energy East” toward the larger population and manufacturing centers.
  • Small dams can have significant impacts on habitat loss when a river’s entire flow is diverted into channels or pipes, leaving large sections of a river with no water at all.
  • Fish, wildlife, water quality and riparian zones are all affected by water diversion, and changes in nearby land use and habitat fragmentation can lead to further species loss.
  • The cumulative effect on habitat diversity can be 100 times larger for small dams than large dams.
  • Policies encouraging more construction of small dams are often developed at the national or international level, but construction and management of the projects happen at the local level.
  • As a result, mitigation actions and governance structures that would limit social and environmental impacts of small hydropower stations are not adequately implemented.

“One of the things we found generally with small dams is that there was much less oversight and governance with the construction, operation and monitoring of small hydropower,” Tullos said. “On the large, main stem dams, people pay attention to what’s going on. On a small hydropower project, no one notices if minimum flows are being maintained. Or if a pump breaks, the hydropower station might sit idle for long periods of time.”

Researchers said the key finding of the research, contrary to prevailing but unvalidated belief, is that “biophysical impacts of small hydropower may exceed those of large hydropower, particular with regard to habitat and hydrologic change.”

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Desiree Tullos, 541-737-2038

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Normal water flow
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Water diverted by dam

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Bullfrogs may help spread deadly amphibian fungus, but also die from it

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Amphibian populations are declining worldwide and a major cause is a deadly fungus thought to be spread by bullfrogs, but a two-year study shows they can also die from this pathogen, contrary to suggestions that bullfrogs are a tolerant carrier host that just spreads the disease.

When researchers raised the frogs from eggs in controlled experimental conditions, they found at least one strain of this pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, also called Bd or a chytrid fungus, can be fatal to year-old juveniles. However, bullfrogs were resistant to one other strain that was tested.

The findings, made by researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Pittsburgh, show that bullfrogs are not the sole culprit in the spread of this deadly fungus, and add further complexity to the question of why amphibians are in such serious jeopardy.

About 40 percent of all amphibian species are declining or are already extinct, researchers say. Various causes are suspected, including this fungus, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, invasive species, increased UV-B light exposure, and other forces.

“At least so far as the chytrid fungus is involved, bullfrogs may not be the villains they are currently made out to be,” said Stephanie Gervasi, a zoology researcher in the OSU College of Science. “The conventional wisdom is that bullfrogs, as a tolerant host, are what helped spread this fungus all over the world. But we’ve now shown they can die from it just like other amphibians.”

The research suggests that bullfrogs actually are not a very good host for the fungus, which first was identified as a novel disease of amphibians in 1998. So why the fungus has spread so fast, so far, and is causing such mortality rates is still not clear.

“One possibility for the fungal increase is climate change, which can also compromise the immune systems of amphibians,” said Andrew Blaustein, a distinguished professor of zoology at OSU and international leader in the study of amphibian declines. “There are a lot of possible ways the fungus can spread. People can even carry it on their shoes.”

The average infection load of the chytrid fungus in bullfrogs, regardless of the strain, is considerably lower than that of many other amphibian species, researchers have found. Some bullfrogs can reduce and even get rid of infection in their skin over time.

While adult bullfrogs may be carriers of some strains of Bd in some areas, the researchers concluded, different hosts may be as or more important in other locations. International trade of both amphibian and non-amphibian animal species may also drive global pathogen distribution, they said.

The findings of this study were published in EcoHealth, a professional journal.

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Andrew Blaustein, 541-737-3705

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Bullfrog

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Study: Ocean acidification killing oysters by inhibiting shell formation

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For the past several years, the Pacific Northwest oyster industry has struggled with significant losses due to ocean acidification as oyster larvae encountered mortality rates sufficient to make production non-economically feasible.

Now a new study led by researchers at Oregon State University has documented why oysters appear so sensitive to increasing acidity. It isn’t necessarily a case of acidic water dissolving their shells, researchers say. Rather it is a case of water high in carbon dioxide altering shell formation rates, energy usage and, ultimately, the growth and survival of the young oysters.

Results of the study have been published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“From the time eggs are fertilized, Pacific oyster larvae will precipitate roughly 90 percent of their body weight as a calcium carbonate shell within 48 hours,” said George Waldbusser, an OSU marine ecologist and lead author on the study. “The young oysters rely solely on the energy they derive from the egg because they have not yet developed feeding organs.”

Under exposure to increasing carbon dioxide in acidified water, however, it becomes more energetically expensive for organisms to build shell. Adult oysters and other bivalves may grow slower when exposed to rising CO2 levels, other studies have shown. But larvae in the first two days of life do not have the luxury of delayed growth, the researchers say.

“They must build their first shell quickly on a limited amount of energy – and along with the shell comes the organ to capture external food more effectively,” said Waldbusser, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “It becomes a death race of sorts. Can the oyster build its shell quickly enough to allow its feeding mechanisms to develop before it runs out of energy from the egg?”

The study is important, scientists say, because it documents for the first time the links among shell formation rate, available energy, and sensitivity to acidification.

“The failure of oyster seed production in Northwest Pacific coastal waters is one of the most graphic examples of ocean acidification effects on important commercial shellfish,” said Dave Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the study.  “This research is among the first to identify the links among organism physiology, ocean carbonate chemistry and oyster seed mortality.”

The authors say that the faster the rate of shell formation, the more energy is needed and oyster embryos building their first shell need “to make a lot of shell material on short order.”

“As the carbon dioxide in seawater increases, but before waters become corrosive, calcium carbonate precipitation requires significantly more energy to maintain the higher rates of shell formation found during this early stage,” Waldbusser said.

The OSU researchers worked with Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Netarts Bay, Ore., on the study.  Using stable isotopes, they found that on the second day of life, 100 percent of the larval tissue growth was from egg-derived carbon.

“The oyster larvae were still relying on egg-derived energy until they were 11 days old,” said Elizabeth Brunner, a graduate student working in Waldbusser’s laboratory and co-author on the study.

The earliest shell material in the larvae contained the greatest proportion of carbon from the surrounding waters, with increasing amounts of carbon from respiration incorporated into the shell after the first 48 hours, indicating ability to isolate and control shell surfaces where calcium carbonate is being deposited.

Waldbusser notes that adult bivalves are well-adapted to grow shell in conditions that are more acidified, and have evolved several mechanisms to do including use of organic molecules to organize and facilitate the formation of calcium carbonate; pumps that remove acid from the calcifying fluids; and outer shell coatings that protect the mineral to some degree from surrounding waters. These adaptations allow bivalves to generate calcium carbonate more rapidly than is possible without biological intervention.

The study notes that kinetics, or the rate of reaction, provides a physical constraint on the calcification process in seawater absent of life; for calcium carbonate the rate is proportional to the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) present, before water actually becomes corrosive to the mineral

Waldbusser said the study helps explain previous findings at Whiskey Creek Hatchery of larval sensitivity to waters that are elevated in CO2 but not corrosive to calcium carbonate. They also explain carryover effects later in larval life of exposure to elevated CO2, similar to neonatal nutrition.

The discovery may actually be good news, scientists say, because there are interventions that can be done at the hatcheries that may offset some of the effects of ocean acidification.

Some hatcheries have begun “buffering” water for larvae – essentially adding antacid to the incoming water – including the Whiskey Creek Hatchery and the Taylor Shellfish Farm in Washington. The OSU-led study provides a scientific foundation for the target level of buffering.

“Whiskey Creek Hatchery figured this out by trial and error in the last couple years arriving at an amount of buffering that was more than we initially thought would be needed,” Waldbusser said. “On the energy side, you can make sure that eggs have more energy before they enter the larval stage, so a well-balanced adult diet may help larval oysters cope better with the stress of acidified water.”

Breeding for specific traits is another strategy, researchers say. Chris Langton, a co-author on the study, who for years directed the Molluscan Broodstock Program at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., is leading an effort to use selective breeding to isolate certain favorable traits in oysters.

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George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964

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Oyster larvae

Oyster larvae

 

 

Whiskey Creek Hatchery

Whiskey Creek Hatchery

 


Oyster larvae and acidification

Effects of acidification

Jane Lubchenco kicks off OSU speaker series at da Vinci Days

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Jane Lubchenco, Oregon State University professor and former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will give the opening night keynote address at Corvallis’ annual da Vinci Days festival on Friday, July 19.

Her presentation, “From the Silly to the Sublime: Stories about Science in D.C,” will begin at 7 p.m. in the Whiteside Theater. It is free and open to the public.

Lubchenco will reflect on her experiences with NOAA, the federal agency in charge of weather forecasts and warnings, climate records and outlooks. NOAA is also the nation’s ocean agency, managing fisheries, monitoring changes, and being the steward of ocean health in federal waters. NOAA’s satellites, ships, planes and other platforms and its cadre of scientists provide the information and understanding that support those activities.

Since stepping down from NOAA, Lubchenco has been on leave at Stanford University and plans to return to Oregon State in June.

Lubchenco’s talk will launch a weekend series of family-friendly talks by Oregon State researchers that will focus on the ongoing Mars rover mission, decoding the golden ratio, underwater photography from Antarctica and invasive bullfrogs in our lakes and streams.

All weekend presentations will be held in Kearney Hall, which is located on the university campus across from the da Vinci Days festival site. They are also free and open to the public.

Steve Amen, host of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s popular Oregon Field Guide, will conclude the series as the festival’s closing speaker. His presentation, “Oregon’s Splendor,” will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday in Kearney Hall. He will share some of his favorite spots in Oregon, from the high desert to the coast.

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s left-brain-meets-right-brain genius, the first da Vinci Days festival was held in 1989. In addition to the speaker series, this celebration of arts, science and technology features independent films, live music and a kinetic sculpture race. Hands-on exhibition booths and demonstrations on the Oregon State campus invite students and families to explore the many creative sides of OSU and the Corvallis community. 

See more about da Vinci Days at www.davincidays.org.

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Michael Dalton, 541-992-1929

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Study finds disincentives to energy efficiency can be fixed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study finds that utilities aren't rewarded for adopting energy efficiency programs, and that reforms are needed to make energy efficiency as attractive as renewables.

The article, just published in the current issue of Environmental Law, examines key differences between energy efficiency projects and renewable resources. Author Inara Scott, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, outlines ways to increase the amount of energy utilities save each year through efficiency programs.

“Right now, the system actually discourages utilities from building programs to increase efficiency,” she said. “We need to start addressing efficiency as we do renewable energy – by looking at it systemically and removing the barriers.”

Scott spent a decade as a lawyer specializing in energy and regulatory law. Her research in the College of Business centers on the transformation of utility systems, clean energy, energy efficiency, and utility regulation.

Her study makes four key recommendations: redesigning rate structures, setting hard targets, streamlining cost-effective tests and addressing market barriers.

Cost-recovery systems for many investor-owned utilities in the United States are based on an old rate structure model – the more energy that is produced, the higher return for shareholders. “You don’t want to penalize utilities for selling less energy,” Scott said.

Instead, she said, states can use ratemaking mechanisms to decouple the link between utility sales and revenues and establish performance incentives for the adoption of efficiency programs.

“Decoupling mechanisms may add complexity to utility rate structures, but they are essential to eliminating environmentally nonsensical ratemaking models that reward utilities for higher sales and penalize them for efficiency.”

Setting hard targets is doable, she said. The state of Oregon has set a goal for 25 percent of its energy to be consumed through renewables by 2025. Scott said other states also could set aspirational goals for energy efficiency.

“If states are committed to reducing the strain on the electric grid, diversifying utility resource portfolios, reducing dependence on foreign markets, and reducing carbon emissions through the adoption of renewable resources, they should be just as willing to do so through the adoption of energy efficiency as they are through the purchase of renewable resources.”

Streamlining cost-effectiveness tests will be difficult, Scott said, because a simple, accurate way to measure energy efficiency does not exist. “The difficulty is that you’re trying to measure energy you didn’t use. So really, you’re measuring something that doesn’t exist.”

Many of the tests that do exist are so complicated that they may discourage utilities from adopting energy efficiency. Issues with cost-effectiveness testing will be difficult to fully remedy, Scott said, but these steps —conducting assessments at a programmatic level, streamlining the precision of tests, and considering the development of national standards — will move the bar forward.

Market barriers, Scott said, can be addressed through incentives. Some states, including Colorado and Michigan, have increased the size of incentives for consumers to take on energy efficiency programs (including, in some cases, reimbursing consumers 100 percent of their investment) and finding ways to make incentives more attractive to customers through advertising and education.

“There needs to be better marketing around efficiency,” Scott said. “We need to make increasing energy efficiency as attractive as opting for ‘green’ or ‘salmon-friendly’ renewables.”

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Inara Scott, 541-737-4102

New navigation system for airplanes modernizes old technology

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research at Oregon State University has developed a new airplane navigation system based on concepts that were developed in the 1940s but are still popular and affordable, and it uses new technology to make the system even smaller, simpler and more accurate.

The new product is just one inch tall – half the size of other navigational systems on the market – and should be of special interest for the homebuilt airplane market, its designers say.

It was created by three OSU seniors in electrical and computer engineering and improves UHF-VHF technology. Called the NAV 2000, the system is the newest product for VAL Avionics, an Oregon company that already has several orders pending.

The navigation system receives and processes signals and a separate navigational indicator unit translates the information for the pilot. It’s compatible with several indicator systems including the old-style needle display, and a more modern video display called an electronic flight instrument system.

According to the developers, this approach is more affordable than the use of newer and more expensive GPS technology.

“Much of the equipment that is out there still uses the old analog technology,” said James MacInnes, one of the student designers. “As an aspiring electrical engineer, I felt that we should look at simplifying and improving upon that technology to receive the UHF-VHF signal.”

The system can direct pilots from point-to-point using signals broadcast by airport and other towers, and guide airplanes for landings with existing runway transmitters. The unit conveys both horizontal and vertical information which allows pilots to land even in poor visibility conditions.

 “I’m incredibly impressed with how accurate the students have been able to make this system,” said Jim Harr, president of VAL Avionics. “It's more accurate than anything I've seen.”

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Researchers document acceleration of ocean denitrification during deglaciation

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As ice sheets melted during the deglaciation of the last ice age and global oceans warmed, oceanic oxygen levels decreased and “denitrification” accelerated by 30 to 120 percent, a new international study shows, creating oxygen-poor marine regions and throwing the oceanic nitrogen cycle off balance.

By the end of the deglaciation, however, the oceans had adjusted to their new warmer state and the nitrogen cycle had stabilized – though it took several millennia. Recent increases in global warming, thought to be caused by human activities, are raising concerns that denitrification may adversely affect marine environments over the next few hundred years, with potentially significant effects on ocean food webs.

Results of the study have been published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience. It was supported by the National Science Foundation.

“The warming that occurred during deglaciation some 20,000 to 10,000 years ago led to a reduction of oxygen gas dissolved in sea water and more denitrification, or removal of nitrogen nutrients from the ocean,” explained Andreas Schmittner, an Oregon State University oceanographer and author on the Nature Geoscience paper. “Since nitrogen nutrients are needed by algae to grow, this affects phytoplankton growth and productivity, and may also affect atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.”

“This study shows just what happened in the past, and suggests that decreases in oceanic oxygen that will likely take place under future global warming scenarios could mean more denitrification and fewer nutrients available for phytoplankton,” Schmittner added.

In their study, the scientists analyzed more than 2,300 seafloor core samples, and created 76 time series of nitrogen isotopes in those sediments spanning the past 30,000 years. They discovered that during the last glacial maximum, the Earth’s nitrogen cycle was at a near steady state. In other words, the amount of nitrogen nutrients added to the oceans – known as nitrogen fixation – was sufficient to compensate for the amount lost by denitrification.

A lack of nitrogen can essentially starve a marine ecosystem by not providing enough nutrients. Conversely, too much nitrogen can create an excess of plant growth that eventually decays and uses up the oxygen dissolved in sea water, suffocating fish and other marine organisms.

Following the period of enhanced denitrification and nitrogen loss during deglaciation, the world’s oceans slowly moved back toward a state of near stabilization. But there are signs that recent rates of global warming may be pushing the nitrogen cycle out of balance.

“Measurements show that oxygen is already decreasing in the ocean,” Schmittner said “The changes we saw during deglaciation of the last ice age happened over thousands of years. But current warming trends are happening at a much faster rate than in the past, which almost certainly will cause oceanic changes to occur more rapidly.

“It still may take decades, even centuries to unfold,” he added.

Schmittner and Christopher Somes, a former graduate student in the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, developed a model of nitrogen isotope cycling in the ocean, and compared that with the nitrogen measurements from the seafloor sediments. Their sensitivity experiments with the model helped to interpret the complex patterns seen in the observations.

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

Researchers help threatened wheat crops in Asia

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have helped develop new environmental monitoring technology that will allow farmers thousands of miles away, in west and central Asia, to save millions of dollars while more effectively combatting a pest that is threatening their wheat crops.

Twenty million acres of wheat in parts of Asia and North Africa are threatened by the “Sunn pest,” a bug that can destroy the value of wheat. Speed in confronting this pest is essential – even minor delays in use of pesticides can cut wheat yield by 90 percent, and if just 2-5 percent of the grains have been affected, the entire crop becomes unusable for making bread.

A solution to that problem lies in an unusual collaboration between an entomologist, a rangeland specialist and an OSU computer scientist who are using mobile technology and cloud computing for better management of the devastating pests.

Mustapha El Bouhssini, a senior entomologist for the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, an organization based in Lebanon, learned about research done by Doug Johnson, an OSU professor of rangeland ecology and management, which uses geo-referenced photos of rangelands for environmental monitoring.

“When I heard about the OSU imaging system, I knew immediately we could use this for Sunn pests,” El Bouhssini said. “Because of the Sunn pest, governments treat infested wheat fields with pesticides; $150 million is spent annually on chemical control. But it’s not just the cost that is a concern.

“That’s a lot of pesticide to dump in the environment,” he added. “It kills the bees, and pollutes the water and the environment.”

OSU professor and computer scientist Bechir Hamdaoui joined the project to develop an integrated data acquisition system that could collect and process photos from the field quickly and accurately. Now, smart phones or smart cameras will be used by workers in the field to capture location information and transmit it wirelessly to a remote OSU server for automatic processing.

Decision-makers in places like Turkey and Uzbekistan will be able to find out the number of Sunn pests in their fields and spray only when conditions warrant action. The data collected for pest management can also be examined year-to-year, along with other factors like temperature and weather for prediction modeling.

“We would like to have an impact for these countries where wheat is very important,” Hamdaoui said. “It's an essential part of their lives.”

The researchers expect the technology will expand to many other areas of research and management.

“Already we’ve had people talk to us about other applications such as rust on wheat,” Johnson said. “People are quite interested.”

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Bechir Hamdaoui, 541-737-9843

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Sunn pest on wheat
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