OSU researcher seeks better rip current forecasts

Rip current warning signRip currents – strong channels of water flowing seaward from the shore – kill more Americans than do hurricanes. Caught off guard, people are swept out to sea, where they exhaust themselves swimming against the pull of the strong, outrushing current, and drown.

While scientists and the National Weather Service have made progress predicting the probability of rip currents in given locations, they so far lack a method ot accurately forecast whether and when they’ll actually occur, and how strong they might be.

Oregon State University’s Tuba Ozkan-Haller is hoping to change all that. For the last five years, she’s been working to develop a model to identify the location of rip currents up to a day in advance – something that would be a boon to swimmers, surfers and lifeguards around the world, and could save hundreds of lives a year.

Ozkan-Haller, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences, surveys the topography of the ocean floor to figure out how waves will travel over it; this allows her to see how that mass of water can escape back from shore via a rip current. She plugs these factors into a mathematical model she developed that predicts where and when rip currents will occur – and how strong they will be.

Helping her efforts are cutting-edge surveying technologies that allow her to observe properties at the water’s surface and infer the underlying bathymetry from those observations. This is a much more efficient and accurate way to get a sense of the sea floor than the standard procedure of surveying from a boat.

“I’m totally floored by how well we can do compared to traditional surveying methods,” says Ozkan-Haller. “You can set up a radar system near a beach and get continuous estimates of the bathymetry as it evolves from day to day without ever stepping foot into the water.”

The rip current effort is part of Ozkan-Haller’s broader interest in underwater coastal topography and how it helps shape the ocean’s waves. Oregon Sea Grant has supported some of that work, including a related project to develop a model for predicting nearshore wave patterns and heights. A reliable wave forecast system would benefit navigation, fishing, transportation, beach safety and even wave-energy siting.

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Early-bird deadline looms for Wild Seafood Exchange

NEWPORT – Fishermen, restaurants and seafood retailers have until March 4 to take advantage of early-bird registration prices for the 11th annual West Coast Wild Seafood Exchange, coming to Newport on March 20.

Originally a direct-marketing conference for independent coastal and Columbia River fishermen, the exchange has evolved into a broad discussion of branding and distribution of wild seafood,  with an additional focus on legislative and regulatory issues.

Registration through March 4 is $70; after that it is $90. On-site registration at the conference is $120.

The 2013 Exchange features:

  • Restaurant chefs talking about what they look for in seafood products, from fish quality and variety to volume and delivery
  • Discussion of processing and distribution, with an emphasis on maintaining product safety and quality
  • Fisheries policy and regulatory policy, featuring
  • Successful direct-marketing The future of direct marketing

Panelists include Laura Anderson, owner-operator of Local Ocean seafood restaurant/market in Newport; Oregon Sea Grant’s Jeff Feldner, past member of the Oregon Salmon Commission and Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Mark Whitham, seafood safety specialist; and Gil Sylvia, a resource economist who directs the Oregon State University’s Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station.

National symposium will address access to, uses of working waterfronts

Sea Grant signs describe Newport's working waterfrontTACOMA, WA – Sea Grant programs in Oregon and Washington are bringing a national gathering of coastal and Great Lakes waterfront interests to the Pacific Northwest in March.

The third National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Symposium, March 25-28 in Tacoma, Wash., will address challenges facing the nation’s waterfronts and provide a forum for stakeholders to meet, address their common problems and share solutions.

Sponsored by Washington and Oregon Sea Grant programs, this year’s symposium includes sessions on:

  • Economic and social impacts of and on working waterfronts;
  • Successful local, regional, state and federal strategies to address working waterfront issues;
  • The future of working waterfronts, including potential impacts of changing uses and climates;
  • Keeping waterfront industries commercially viable.

Attendees from all over the United States are expected to include local, regional, tribal and national decision-makers; members of the commercial fishing, marine, and tourism industries; developers and property owners; businesspeople; community planners and waterfront advocates. The first day will be devoted to field trips around the Tacoma waterfront and the region.

Oregon State University’s Jamie Doyle, a Sea Grant Extension marine community development specialist based in Coos County, serves on the symposium steering committee. Other Oregon Sea Grant faculty scheduled to present at the symposium include Kaety Hildenbrand, Newport-based Extension marine fisheries educator, and Mark Farley and Becca Harver from the Sea Grant-run visitor center at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

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For information and registration, visit the symposium website at http://depts.washington.edu/uwconf/workingwaterfronts/ or contact Washington Sea Grant Coastal Management Specialist Nicole Faghin, conference coordinator, at wwaters2013@uw.edu or 206-685-8286.


Survey: Climate Change a Concern but not a Priority to Oregon Coast Professionals

Many public officials and community leaders on the Oregon coast believe their local climate is changing and the change will affect their communities. But, overall, addressing the changing climate is not among their most urgent concerns.

These are among the findings of a 2012 survey by Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University (OSU).

Sea Grant surveyed coastal professionals, elected officials and other local  leaders and found that approximately 60 percent of the 140 survey respondents believe the local climate is changing. By contrast, 18 percent think it is not, and 22 percent don’t know.

While most believe that their professional efforts toward addressing climate change would benefit the community, both elected officials and other coastal professionals also believe that a combination of governments and other organizations should be the ones to initiate local responses to the likely effects of climate change.

Overall, actions appear to be lagging behind beliefs and concerns, according to Oregon Sea Grant’s communication and the leader of the survey, Joseph Cone. “As of last May, many coastal professionals – about 44 percent of the survey respondents — were not currently involved in planning to adapt to its effects,” said Cone.

Cone will discuss the survey findings  on Wednesday, Feb. 20, in a brief talk to the OSU Climate Club “Conversations Across Disciplines” Lunch, in room 348 of Strand Agricultural Hall on the OSU campus. The lunches are open to the public; bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies are provided.

The survey results placed climate change effects next to the bottom on a list of seven significant “potential stressors on your community during the next ten years.” Coastal professionals scored climate change effects considerably lower (46% of respondents moderately to extremely concerned) than the top-ranked stressors: a weak economy, and tsunami or earthquakes (approximately 70% moderately to extremely concerned for each).

The hurdles to planning most often noted by survey respondents were lack of agreement over the importance of climate change effects, and a lack of urgency regarding them. Where planning has begun, the survey showed it mainly in an early fact-finding stage.

Anticipating this, the survey asked coastal professionals to identify their specific climate change information needs; and they ranked a variety of environmental and social questions as “highly needed”:

  • Information about flooding or saltwater intrusion
  • Species and habitat vulnerability
  • Predictions of ecosystem impacts
  • Social and economic vulnerabilities
  • The cost of climate adaptation
  • How to communicate climate risks

The survey was administered online to 348 individuals, including some who had responded to a similar Oregon Sea Grant climate change study in 2008 which sampled Oregon coastal managers and practitioners. A report on the findings was prepared by OSU doctoral candidate Kirsten Winters

The Oregon survey was based in large part on a California coastal assessment conducted by California Sea Grant and its partners, and is part of a national Sea Grant study on coastal communities and climate change adaptation, led by Cone.

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Clever video aims to reduce rockfish deaths from barotrauma

This clever video  uses a catchy rap tune, a wise-cracking puppet and some simple, practical instructions to engage fishermen in protecting rockfish from dying of barotrauma, by reaching them how to return their excess catch to the deeps – alive.

Barotrauma results when a rockfish is caught and hauled rapidly to the surface and its internal, air-filled swim bladder expands, often causing the animal’s eyes to bulge and even pushing its stomach out of its mouth. If thrown back in the water, the inflated bladder can cause the fish to float, making it easy prey for seabirds and other hungry animals.

But if the animal can be returned to the deeps quickly, water pressure will often reverse the expansion, allowing the  fish to survive. The video demonstrates a number of effective tools – home-made and commercial – for getting the fish back to the bottom quickly and with as little harm as possible.

The video, funded in part by California Sea Grant, was produced by a team including Alena Pribyl, a NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center researcher who earned her PhD. at Oregon State University while studying barotrauma.

Magnetic navigation may hold a key to salmon migration

Salmon - photo by Jeffrey BasingerAfter years at sea, sockeye salmon returning to their freshwater homes may be guided by an early memory of the Earth’s magnetic field, encoded at the site where natal streams empty into the Pacific Ocean, according to a an Oregon Sea Grant-supported study published today in Current Biology.

Oregon State University’s Nathan Putnam and David Noakes, along with researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the University of Washington, and the University of California Davis, pored over 56 years of dta from federal fishery scientists who tracked the movements of salmon at the mouth of British Columbia’s Fraser River, where fish must choose to swim north around Vancouver Island, or around to the south. They matched that data with  measurements of the Earth’s geomagnetic field, which shifts predictably in strength and orientation over time and found that fish tended to choose the path where the field strength was more similar to that of the river mouth when they’d left, two years before.

Scientists hope the finding will help solve the mystery of how salmon find their way back to the rivers of their birth across thousands of miles of ocean. It’s already accepted that in the final stages of the journey to their breeding grounds, salmon use odors to guide them back to the stream or inlet where they hatched. But how the fish find their target river remains a mystery, although scientists have suspected for a while that magnetic cues play a role. Last summer, a team including UNC-Chapel Hill researcher Kenneth Lohmann – also part of this study – reported that rotating magnetite crystals in a fish nose responded to magnetic field orientation, providing a possible biological mechanism for magnetic field tracking.

The OSU researchers hope to further investigate the magnetic field correlation by subjecting captive fish to artificial magnetic fields and studying their behavior.

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New online booklet explores export capacity of live shellfish in Oregon

The booklet Development of Live Shellfish Export Capacity in Oregon is available as a free download from Oregon Sea Grant.

There are many opportunities for seafood exporters to earn substantial profit in Asian markets. The trade in live shellfish exports to China could be especially lucrative. In many respects, Oregon’s shellfish industry is well positioned to meet this demand. However, due to certain impediments, interested parties remain largely unable to establish effective means of competing in the Chinese marketplace.

At the request of Oregon Sea Grant, a project was undertaken to provide stakeholders with recommendations for the continuing development of live shellfish export capacity in Oregon. The project was carried out by two investigators in three parts under the direction of Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, Oregon Sea Grant Extension veterinarian at Oregon State University. Investigations consisted of reviews of literature on current live shellfish shipping practices, research of the prevailing export procedures and the economic and regulatory environments, and visits to sites of special interest and interviews with representative stakeholders.

Findings from this joint investigation formed the basis of this report.