OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

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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Ocean buoy

Buoy at sea

Athletes need to be careful to monitor diet, weight to maintain muscle mass

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Athletes seeking a healthy performance weight should eat high fiber, low-fat food balanced with their training regimen in order to maintain muscle while still burning fat, according to a report by an Oregon State University researcher.

The United States now has a record number of overweight athletes, a population many think of as untouched by the obesity crisis. Nationally, more than 45 percent of high school linebackers are obese, and the number of overweight students entering college level-sports is increasing.

In a peer-reviewed literature review published this summer in the Nestle Nutritional Institution Workshop Series, OSU researcher Melinda Manore looked at the benefits of teaching athletes how to consume what she calls a low-energy-dense diet, or high-fiber, high-water, but lower-fat foods. She said too many athletes are pushed into fad diets or try to restrict calorie intake too much in a way that is unhealthy and unsustainable.

“Depending on the sport, athletes sometime want to either lose weight without losing lean tissue, or gain weight, mostly lean tissue,” she said. “This is very difficult to do if you restrict caloric intake too dramatically or try to lose the weight too fast. Doing that also means they don’t have the energy to exercise, or they feel tired and put themselves at risk of injury.”

Manore is professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. She said the overwhelming body of research shows that just counting calories does not work. What does work is a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained, even during breaks or when not in training. She said an athlete’s optimum body weight should include the following criteria:

  • Weight that minimizes health risks and promotes good eating
  • Weight that takes into consideration genetic makeup and family history
  • Weight that is appropriate for age and level of physical development, including normal reproductive function in women
  • Weight that can be maintained without constant dieting and restraining food intake

In the paper, Manore outlined some strategies that athletes can use to maintain a healthy weight and remain performance-ready. It’s important, she said, to adopt a low-energy-dense diet, which includes a large amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy. Avoid beverages high in sugar, especially soda and alcohol. Manore said half of a plate of food should be filled with fruits and veggies, and processed food should be avoided.

“Always opt for the food over the drink, don’t drink your calories,” Manore said. “Instead of drinking orange juice, eat an orange. It has more fiber, and fills you up more.”

Other key points:

  • Eat breakfast. Data from the National Weight Control Registry shows that 80 percent of people who lost at least 30 pounds in a year and kept it off were breakfast eaters. Eat a breakfast rich with high-fiber whole grains, fruit, high-quality protein such as egg whites, and low-fat dairy. Skip the processed cereals.
  • Get plenty of protein. Most athletes get plenty of protein, but they may not be strategic about making sure to refuel after exercise, and spreading their protein intake throughout the day. Depending on the goals, some athletes may need to get as much as 30 percent of their calories from protein, but many get that in one large meal. Spreading that protein out throughout the day is a better strategy; and nuts, beans and legumes are a great source of protein, not just meat.
  • Exercise regularly. This may seem obvious for an athlete, but many seasonal athletes can pack on pounds during off-seasons, making it that much harder to get performance-ready.
  • Avoid fad diets. Combining severe calorie restriction with intense training can result in metabolic adaptions that actually can make it more difficult to lose weight. Severe weight loss also makes an athlete stressed out and tired, and that is never good for sport.

While her paper is aimed at competitive and recreational athletes, Manore said all of these tips can apply to anyone who wants to change their diet and head in a healthier direction.

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Melinda Manore, 541-737-8701

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OSU soccer playing
Students playing soccer at Legacy Park in Corvallis. April 2013. (photo by Jan Sonnenmair)

melinda_manore
Melinda Manore

Energy Balance graphic
Energy balance graphic

New study finds “nighttime heat waves” increasing in Pacific Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has found that heat waves are increasing in the western portions of the Pacific Northwest, but not the kind most people envision, with scorching hot days of temperatures reaching triple digits.

These heat waves occur at night.

Researchers documented 15 examples of “nighttime heat waves” from 1901 through 2009 and 10 of those have occurred since 1990. Five of them took place during a four-year period from 2006-09. And since the study was accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, another nighttime heat wave took place at the end of this June, the authors point out.

“Most people are familiar with daytime heat waves, when the temperatures get into the 100s and stay there for a few days,” said Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University and a co-author on the study. “A nighttime heat wave relates to how high the minimum temperature remains overnight.

“Daytime events are usually influenced by downslope warming over the Cascade Mountains, while nighttime heat waves seem to be triggered by humidity,” said Dello, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Elevated low-level moisture at night tends to trap the heat in.”

In their study, Dello and co-authors Karin Bumbaco and Nicholas Bond from the University of Washington defined heat waves as three consecutive days of temperatures at the warmest 1 percentile over the past century. Using that standard criterion, they documented 13 examples of daytime heat waves during the time period from 1901 to 2009. Only two of those occurred in the last 20 years.

In contrast, nighttime heat waves have been clustered over the past two decades, with what appears to be accelerating frequency. A warming climate suggests the problem may worsen, studies suggest.

“If you look at nighttime temperatures in Oregon and compared them to say the Midwest, people there would laugh at the concept of a Pacific Northwest heat wave,” Dello said. “However, people in the Midwest are acclimated to the heat while in the Northwest, they are not. People in other regions of the country may also be more likely to have air conditioning in their homes.

On occasion, daytime and nighttime heat waves coincide, Dello said, as happened in 2009 when temperatures in the Pacific Northwest set all-time records in Washington (including 103 degrees at SeaTac), and temperatures in Oregon surpassed 105 degrees in Portland, Eugene, Corvallis and Medford. It was the second most-intense daytime heat wave in the last century, but lasted only three days by the 1 percentile definition.

However, that same stretch of hot weather in 2009 results in a nighttime heat wave that extended eight days, by far the longest stretch since records were kept beginning in 1901.

The latest nighttime heat wave began in late June of this year, and continued into early July, Dello said.

“Like many nighttime heat waves, a large high-pressure ridge settled in over the Northwest, while at the same time, some monsoonal moisture was coming up from the Southwest,” she pointed out. “The high swept around and grabbed enough moisture to elevate the humidity and trap the warm air at night.”

Dello frequently provides weather facts and historical data via Twitter at: www.twitter.com/orclimatesvc.

The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute is supported by the state of Oregon, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and other agencies.

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Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927

Hospice workers struggle on front lines of physician-assisted death laws

The study this story is based on is available in ScholarsArchive@OSU: http://bit.ly/130Fqi3

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Laws that allow physician-assisted death in the Pacific Northwest have provisions to protect the rights of patients, doctors and even the state, but don’t consider the professionals most often on the front lines of this divisive issue – hospice workers who provide end-of-life care.

The existing system, a new analysis concludes, has evolved into a multitude of different and contradictory perspectives among hospice organizations and workers, who historically have opposed physician-assisted death but now are the professionals taking care of most of the people who use it.

The study – titled “Dignity, Death and Dilemmas” - was just published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management by researchers from Oregon State University, and outlines a complex system in which many well-intentioned caregivers struggle to organize their thoughts, beliefs and actions when dealing with a concept they traditionally oppose. It was based on an analysis of 33 hospice programs in Washington state.

When first proposed, it was feared by some that physician-assisted death might displace the palliative and supportive care offered by hospice. Now, in practice, between 85-95 percent of the people in Oregon and Washington who choose assisted death also use hospice – but the interplay they have with their caregivers can vary widely.

“It might seem a little surprising that most people who use physician-assisted death also use hospice,” said Courtney Campbell, the Hundere Professor in Religion and Culture in the OSU School of History, Philosophy and Religion. “Some hospice workers were originally concerned this concept would make them unnecessary, but in fact the level of hospice usage has actually increased.”

Hospice is a national program in which trained professionals provide care to terminally ill patients, ensuring they get proper medical care, adequate pain control, are involved in decision-making and have other needs met in a home environment. They work with both the patient and family to help make death a natural and accepted part of life.

However, hastening or actually causing death is not an accepted part of the hospice philosophy, even though hospice programs acknowledge the right of patients to make that choice where it’s allowed by law. But balancing core beliefs, such as compassion and non-abandonment of a patient, with the new laws has been difficult at best for hospice professionals, Campbell said.

“About 75 percent of hospice organizations will not allow their workers to even be present when a fatal dose of medication is used,” Campbell said.

The reaction in hospice to physician-assisted death varies from one national organization to another, from one agency to another, from one worker to another. There is little consistency to many complex questions about how, whether, and when hospice workers will get involved as individuals they care for make this choice. Approaches can range from outright opposition to non-participation or non-interference.

In recent years it’s become even more difficult as assisted-death has become politicized, Campbell said. Even the words used in describing the serious issues involved are emotionally-charged and inherently contentious, the researchers noted in their report, making reference to legislation that embraced “ending life in a humane and dignified manner” while working its way around such topics as “suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing and homicide.”

Somewhat caught in the middle, and caring for the people who are affected by those laws, are the hospice workers with marginal guidance and conflicted reactions, researchers said.

“The conventional approach to the question of legalized physician-assisted death . . . has missed the issue of how the requirements of a new law are carried out by the primary caregiving institution, hospice care,” the researchers wrote in their report.

The OSU research offered no simple solutions to this issue, but rather outlined a broad list of questions that could form the basis for more informed discussions – either among hospice providers, the organizations they work for or the general public.

These includes such topics as the hospice mission, patient access to information, questions about legal options, how to discuss emotional or religious factors, response to specific patient requests, documentation of conversations, responsibility to the patient’s family, and many other issues.

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Courtney Campbell, 541-737-6196

Scientists outline long-term sea-level rise in response to warming of planet

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study estimates that global sea levels will rise about 2.3 meters, or more than seven feet, over the next several thousand years for every degree (Celsius) the planet warms.

This international study is one of the first to combine analyses of four major contributors to potential sea level rise into a collective estimate, and compare it with evidence of past sea-level responses to global temperature changes.

Results of the study, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, are being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The study did not seek to estimate how much the planet will warm, or how rapidly sea levels will rise,” noted Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and author on the PNAS article. “Instead, we were trying to pin down the ‘sea-level commitment’ of global warming on a multi-millennial time scale. In other words, how much would sea levels rise over long periods of time for each degree the planet warms and holds that warmth?”

“The simulations of future scenarios we ran from physical models were fairly consistent with evidence of sea-level rise from the past,” Clark added. “Some 120,000 years ago, for example, it was 1-2 degrees warmer than it is now and sea levels were about five to nine meters higher. This is consistent with what our models say may happen in the future.”

Scientists say the four major contributors to sea-level rise on a global scale will come from melting of glaciers, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, and expansion of the ocean itself as it warms. Several past studies have examined each of these components, the authors say, but this is one of the first efforts at merging different analyses into a single projection.

The researchers ran hundreds of simulations through their models to calculate how the four areas would respond to warming, Clark said, and the response was mostly linear. The amount of melting and subsequent sea-level response was commensurate with the amount of warming. The exception, he said, was in Greenland, which seems to have a threshold at which the response can be amplified.

“As the ice sheet in Greenland melts over thousands of years and becomes lower, the temperature will increase because of the elevation loss,” Clark said. “For every 1,000 meters of elevation loss, it warms about six degrees (Celsius). That elevation loss would accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.”

In contrast, the Antarctic ice sheet is so cold that elevation loss won’t affect it the same way. The melting of the ice sheet there comes primarily from the calving of icebergs, which float away and melt in warmer ocean waters, or the contact between the edges of the ice sheet and seawater.

In their paper, the authors note that sea-level rise in the past century has been dominated by the expansion of the ocean and melting of glaciers. The biggest contributions in the future may come from melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which could disappear entirely, and the Antarctic ice sheet, which will likely reach some kind of equilibrium with atmospheric temperatures and shrink significantly, but not disappear.

“Keep in mind that the sea level rise projected by these models of 2.3 meters per degree of warming is over thousands of years,” emphasized Clark, who is a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “If it warms a degree in the next two years, sea levels won’t necessarily rise immediately. The Earth has to warm and hold that increased temperature over time.

“However, carbon dioxide has a very long time scale and the amounts we’ve emitted into the atmosphere will stay up there for thousands of years,” he added. “Even if we were to reduce emissions, the sea-level commitment of global warming will be significant.”

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Peter Clark, cell phone: 541-740-5237 (clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu)

Lionfish expedition: down deep is where the big, scary ones live

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Last month, the first expedition to use a deep-diving submersible to study the Atlantic Ocean lionfish invasion found something very disturbing – at 300 feet deep, there were still significant populations of these predatory fish, and they were big.

Big fish in many species can reproduce much more efficiently than their younger, smaller counterparts, and lionfish are known to travel considerable distances and move to various depths. This raises significant new concerns in the effort to control this invasive species that is devastating native fish populations on the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean Sea.

“We expected some populations of lionfish at that depth, but their numbers and size were a surprise,” said Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University, who participated in the dives. OSU has been one of the early leaders in the study of the lionfish invasion.

“This was kind of an ‘Ah hah!’ moment,” she said. “It was immediately clear that this is a new frontier in the lionfish crisis, and that something is going to have to be done about it. Seeing it up-close really brought home the nature of the problem.”

OSU participated in this expedition with researchers from a number of other universities, in work supported by Nova Southeastern University, the Guy Harvey Foundation, NOAA, and other agencies. The five-person  submersible “Antipodes” was provided by OceanGate, Inc., and it dove about 300 feet deep off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., near the “Bill Boyd” cargo ship that was intentionally sunk there in 1986 to create an artificial reef for marine life.

That ship has, in fact, attracted a great deal of marine life, and now, a great number of lionfish. And for that species, they are growing to an unusually large size – as much as 16 inches.

Lionfish are a predatory fish that’s native to the Pacific Ocean and were accidentally introduced to Atlantic Ocean waters in the early 1990s, and there became a voracious predator with no natural controls on its population. An OSU study in 2008 showed that lionfish in the Atlantic have been known to reduce native fish populations by up to 80 percent.

Eradication appears impossible, and they threaten everything from coral reef ecosystems to local economies that are based on fishing and tourism.

Whatever is keeping them in check in the Pacific – and researchers around the world are trying to find out what that is – is missing here. In the Caribbean, they are found at different depths, in various terrain, are largely ignored by other local predators and parasites, and are rapidly eating their way through entire ecosystems. They will attack many other species and appear to eat constantly.

And, unfortunately, the big fish just discovered at greater depths pose that much more of a predatory threat, not to mention appetite.

“A lionfish will eat almost any fish smaller than it is,” Green said. “Regarding the large fish we observed in the submersible dives, a real concern is that they could migrate to shallower depths as well and eat many of the fish there. And the control measures we’re using at shallower depths – catch them and let people eat them – are not as practical at great depth.”

Size does more than just increase predation.  In many fish species, a large, mature adult can produce far more offspring that small, younger fish. A large, mature female in some species can produce up to 10 times as many offspring as a fish that’s able to reproduce, but half the size.

Trapping is a possibility for removing fish at greater depth, Green said, and could be especially effective if a method were developed to selectively trap lionfish and not other species. Work on control technologies and cost effectiveness of various approaches will continue at OSU, she said.

When attacking another fish, a lionfish uses its large, fan-like fins to herd smaller fish into a corner and then swallow them in a rapid strike. Because of their natural defense mechanisms they are afraid of almost no other marine life, and will consume dozens of species of the tropical fish and invertebrates that typically congregate in coral reefs and other areas. The venom released by their sharp spines can cause extremely painful stings to humans.

Aside from the rapid and immediate mortality of marine life, the loss of herbivorous fish will also set the stage for seaweed to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist.

This newest threat follows on the heels of overfishing, sediment deposition, nitrate pollution in some areas, coral bleaching caused by global warming, and increasing ocean acidity caused by carbon emissions. Lionfish may be the final straw that breaks the back of Western Atlantic and Caribbean coral reefs, some researchers believe.

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Stephanie Green, 541-737-5364

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Submersible research

Submersible in Florida


Exploring sunken ship

Lionfish near sunken ship


Lionfish

Lionfish

Fear of deportation not an issue for farmworkers who get care from community health centers

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Migrant workers are more likely to receive medical care from community health centers in partnership with faith-based organizations, a new study shows, because fear of deportation is lower than they might face at other medical facilities.

The study was recently published online in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health.

Daniel López-Cevallos, associate director of research at Oregon State University’s Center for Latino/a Studies and Engagement, said this research points to the importance of health services being administered to migrant farmworkers by trusted institutions.

López-Cevallos, who is lead author of this study, is an expert on migrant farmworker health and has worked in public health projects with rural, indigenous, and low-income communities in Ecuador, and with Latino immigrants in Oregon.

“It has been assumed in most of the literature that fear of deportation is associated with use of health services, across the board,” he said. “There is a strong belief by many workers that they don’t want to touch the system because it might hurt their chances of someday becoming documented or jeopardize their children’s well-being.”

However, that fear wasn’t a factor with Oregon migrant workers in this study. The researchers interviewed 179 Mexican-origin indigenous and mestizo farmworkers who attended a community health center in the northern Willamette Valley. While the majority of workers – 87 percent – said they were afraid of deportation, this fear was not tied to their use of medical or dental care.

“So this fear of deportation exists, but in this particular community, it was not associated with use of medical services,” López-Cevallos said.

The researchers found two important factors influencing use of medical services – these workers were being served by a trusted community health organization that has served the area for decades, and those who attended a local church were more likely to use dental care.

“Some churches provide support to migrant farmworkers, which may include connecting them with needed dental care,” he said. “So we see that when services are offered by trusted institutions, such as a community health center or a faith-based organization, it can make all the difference.”

Despite the relative confidence migrant workers expressed about community health centers and churches, only 37 percent of the farmworkers surveyed had used medical care in the previous year, a number similar to national statistics on migrant workers. López-Cevallos believes many workers fear losing their jobs if they take time to see a doctor, and most don’t have health insurance.

Because of these barriers and others, it’s even more important to make sure safe, adequate health care is available to workers, he said, especially at times and locations that work best with fieldwork schedules.

“Migrant and seasonal farmworkers are an integral part of our food system, creating over $3 billion in economic activity annually, just in Oregon,” López-Cevallos said. “We get the benefit of their labor through our inexpensive food. It is in our best interest as a society to make sure that they, and their children, are healthy and cared for.”

Junghee Lee and William Donlan with Portland State University co-authored this study, which was funded by a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.

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Daniel López-Cevallos, 541-737-3850

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Harvesting potatoes
Historic photo of Mexican braceros harvesting potatoes on an Oregon farm in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of OSU Special Collections