header image

Demystifying modeling

Posted by: | September 15, 2014 Comments Off |

Want to predict the population of a particular whale species 50 years into the future? There’s a model for that. Want to know exactly how much water is moving around one spot of the ocean at any given time? There’s a model for that too.

Modeling has a long history in science, and advancements in technology have significantly improved the capabilities in recent years. Yet, despite our fondness for some new technology – smartphnes, for instance – many people seem to greet scientific models with more skepticism than fascination.

To find out more about modeling and how it can help researchers, Oregon Sea Grant talked with some of the scientists we fund and collaborate with who specialize in modeling.

In its simplest form, a model is a mathematical way of estimating variables that can’t readily be measured in the field.

Selina Hepp3ll teaches teachersWhen laypeople express skepticism or mistrust about models, it may be that they’re nervous or uncertain about the arithmetic.

“Most people don’t think that they can do math,” said Selina Heppell, a Fisheries and Wildlife professor at Oregon State University who specializes in population models. “When in fact they can do math. They use math all of the time although they don’t necessarily realize that they’re doing it.”

Another way to think about a model is as a laboratory experiment where you hold one variable constant and see what happens to the others.

“The point of doing a lab experiment isn’t to know what’s going to happen in the real world, it’s to control factors that you can’t control in the real world so you can see the effect of a couple of variables,” explained Julie Alexander, a postdoctoral researcher studying aquatic invertebrates. “That’s the same goal of a model, to see the effect of variables that you can’t manipulate in the lab.”

MODELS FEEDING MODELS

If you were a scientist trying to study the presence of particular larvae in Yaquina Bay, you would need information on tides, currents and more. Many of these data can be found in come from existing models, and they are combined with field data to answer research questions.

Moreover, there is a tendency to add additional factors into your system (precipitation, for example) in an attempt to make the model more accurate. In fact, Heppell explains, this approach can make the models less reliable.

“Making a more complicated model adds more parameters which adds more uncertainty,” she said. “That uncertainty can be accounted for, but adding too many details that you don’t know much about can make the model hard to understand and not very useful.”

Each model has its own level of uncertainty based on the data that went into making it. That problem only expands as you combine multiple models with the uncertainty already present in your own data.

To account for this, scientists spend a lot of time analyzing model outputs to ensure the results are reasonable. Microbiology professor Jerri Bartholomew is the lead biologist in her lab studying pathogens, and she constantly checks that the data correlates with her prior knowledge of the species.

“I think transparency is very important. You have to be very honest about what you can say with your model,” she said, adding that her lab also calibrates its models annually against new field data to ensure accuracy.

PROJECTING THROUGH TIME

Technological advancements are improving our ability to reduce uncertainty and run multiple simulations in a short period of time. But new technology does little to help explain models to the general public or decision-makers.

 A large portion of Heppell’s work is reviewing the models used to set fisheries harvest regulations and explaining the outputs to fishermen and coastal leaders. As a modeler, she puts fish life cycle information into equations and simulations to show how various species will be impacted by new policies. She uses Microsoft Excel to help managers see how the model was created and how the outputs change with new information.

“The reason I use Excel is because it’s a platform that everybody has,” she said. “I create modeling tools that I can then give to a manager and they can manipulate it and look at what if this changes and what if that changes.

As models become more widely used in science, it’s important for those who make them know where the data came from, and for those who use them to understand their limitations. Whether field data or computer-generated values are fueling the model, the strength of the source makes all the difference in the usefulness of the model.

YOU ARE A MODELER

Let’s look at a simple model. The link below will take you to an Excel worksheet with information on whale populations. Through this model you can estimate changes in whale abundance over 50 years in the face of changing survival or reproduction affected by stressors like pollution, ship traffic and climate change. By tweaking simple variables such as lifespan and number of offspring, you will be able to see first hand how we can get a sense of the impact our policies have on animals with lifespans as long as your own.

You can find the model here: Modeling Practice

under: fisheries, marine science, Oregon Sea Grant, research

COASTALearning Symposium Oct. 9-10

Posted by: | September 5, 2014 Comments Off |

NEWPORT – Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub are partnering with the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Lincoln County School District to run the annual COASTALearning Symposium in Newport on October 9 and 10.

This professional development event is expected to reach 350 teachers and administrators on the Oregon Coast and focuses on using marine science and coastal natural resources as a context for learning across grades and subjects.  Breakout sessions include topics such as Marine Debris, Fish Habitat and Passage, Ocean Engineering, Watershed Studies, Stewardship Projects, and more.

Learn more:

under: courses, classes and workshops, marine education, ocean literacy, STEM education, symposium

Confluence: Oregon communities respond to climate change

Posted by: | September 3, 2014 Comments Off |
Confluence cover

Cover by artist Earl Newman

Climate change: Some people feel overwhelmed by it, others argue about it. Oregon Sea Grant researchers, Extension specialists and communicators, meanwhile are working to better understand what a changing climate is already doing to the ocean and coast – and helping coastal communities better prepare themselves for higher and more damaging waves, stronger storms, rising sea level and other anticipated changes.

The latest issue of OSG’s Confluence magazine examines some of the issues coastal Oregon faces, and ways in which Sea Grant is helping citizens and scientists address them, from anticipating the effects of climate change to building resilience in the face of them – and better understanding how people with different backgrounds and philosophies can even communicate about the topic.

Other articles in this issue include

  • Profiles of several Oregon Sea Grant Scholars, and how their student experiences in Sea Grant internships and fellowships helped prepare them for careers in marine science and public policy
  • A new app that helps coastal visitors identify critters they find on the beach – and contribute to citizen science by reporting them.
  • A study of how juvenile Dungeness crab move through coastal waters as they mature, and an exhibit at the Hatfield Marine Science Center that explains what scientists are learning, and how it might benefit the crab fishery.

Learn more

under: climate, coastal hazards, Confluence, crab, engineering, environment, fellowships, fisheries, HMSC Visitor Center, marine policy, marine science, ocean literacy, outreach and engagement, publications, research, scholarships, science communication, social science

Marine debris – trash, refuse, stuff lost at sea — can often seem like a problem that’s difficult to make headway against. New short videos produced by Oregon Sea Grant can change that impression.

Responding to the Risks of Marine Debris: Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris, documents the aftermath of the devastating 2011 tsunami that washed millions of tons of personal belongings, along with other industrial and structural debris, in to the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan. Since then, Japanese tsunami marine debris both large and small has come ashore along the U.S. West Coast, providing a unique window on the ways in which debris moves throughout the oceans, the risks associated with marine debris, including invasive species, and the responses people — from scientists to citizens — are making to marine debris.

The 10-minute documentary video is online at the Oregon Sea Grant Vimeo channel in high definition at vimeo.com/98582981

. . . and on our YouTube channel (where closed captioning is also available):

This video was produced by Oregon Sea Grant in a cooperative project with NOAA West and the West Coast Sea Grant programs.

 

under: Oregon Sea Grant

New Videos: Derelict Fishing Gear: Oregon fishermen interviews

Posted by: | August 28, 2014 Comments Off |

Extended interviews are now online with two Oregon fishermen, Al Pazar and Nick Furman, who reflect on derelict gear programs with the Dungeness crab fleet in which they were directly involved.

The interviews are in high definition at the Oregon Sea Grant Vimeo channel:

Al Pazar, former chairman, Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission

Nick Furman, former Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission exec. director

The videos were produced by Oregon Sea Grant in cooperation with NOAA West, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and the Sea Grant programs of Washington, California, and the University of Southern California.

under: Oregon Sea Grant

Marine debris – trash, refuse, stuff lost at sea — can often seem like a problem that’s difficult to make headway against. New short videos produced by Oregon Sea Grant can change that impression.

Responding to the Risks of Marine Debris: Derelict Fishing Gear, highlights the dramatic success that the Washington-based Northwest Straits Foundation has had in removing lost commercial fishing nets in the Puget Sound vicinity.

The six-minute documentary-style video is online at the Oregon Sea Grant YouTube channel (where closed captioning is also available):

Oregon Sea Grant Presents: Derelict Fishing Gear

. . . and in  high definition on Vimeo:  Derelict Fishing Gear (Vimeo HD version)

The documentary was produced by Oregon Sea Grant in cooperation with NOAA West, the NOAA Marine Debris program, and the Sea Grant programs of Washington, California, and the University of Southern California.

Stay tuned for additional videos in coming days.

under: Oregon Sea Grant
Tags: , , , , ,

Dark Horse releases new comic about earthquake preparedness

Posted by: | August 26, 2014 Comments Off |

Without Warning comic coverDark Horse Comics, the Oregon-based publisher of such iconic titles as Star Wars, Sin City and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has teamed with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and the Cascadia Region Earthquake  Group to produce a new, free comic about earthquake preparedness.

Without Warning tells the story of a girl who lives on the Oregon Coast and is trying to reunite with her family after a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. The digital version of the 16-page, full-color comic, written for audiences age 12 and up, can be downloaded free from Dark Horse; free printed copies are available from the Office of Emergency Management.

Oregon is located in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 600 hundred mile earthquake fault stretching from offshore Northern California to Southern British Columbia. Experts predict a large 9.0 or higher earthquake could strike Oregon at any time. Oregon Sea Grant, through its coastal natural hazards program, works to help coastal towns and residents prepare for the Big One.

Learn more:

under: earthquake, tsunami

The Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB) has enlisted the help of Oregon Sea Grant to help publicize floating restrooms and waste dumping stations across the state in an effort to protect water quality.

Boaters that are on the water for long periods of time accumulate sewage that they inevitably have to dispose of. In some areas, that waste has found its way back into the environment and caused a decline in water quality.

“Oregon is being proactive,” said Megan Kleibacker, watershed education coordinator for Oregon Sea Grant. “This money was available federally, we applied for it, and we are able to bring a heightened level of awareness to boaters before it became an issue.”

Pump and Dump Station

The pump and dump stations sit together like a washer and dryer set. These waste systems are helping protect the water quality of lakes and rivers throughout Oregon (Photo by Jeffrey Basinger).

Pump stations provide a way for boats with onboard holding tanks to drain their waste into sewers rather than the environment. Dump stations, on the other hand, are for boaters with a porta-potty setup that can be emptied. Together, Kleibacker says the pump and dump machines look like a washer and dryer next to the water.

OSMB was awarded money through the Clean Vessel Act to install these pump and dump stations along with floating restrooms for various bodies of water across the state. Following a successful invasive species partnership with Oregon Sea Grant, OSMB recruited the agency to help publicize the underutilized services.

The campaign is using short, clever videos produced by OSG to make boaters aware of the problem without pointing fingers. Each video is less than one minute, and features a sailor’s voice using entertaining phrases such as, “any skipper worth his salt.”

“What we’ve found is that boaters want to be a steward of clean water,” said Kleibacker. “They love boating and they want their water and their experience out there to be as clean and as nice as possible.”

Kleibacker and her team found that the most effective communication was the simplest: signage. Through focus groups, interviews, and conversations, they have developed effective signs and informational materials that are now placed around the sites.

Sea Grant has shared the results with both OSMB and other states involved in the grant funding. Three of those states have adopted the signage developed here, which Kleibacker says makes her feel like she is making a difference.

“We don’t have a lot of programs that are currently reaching out to recreational boaters, and I think that is such a heavy use group along the Oregon coast that it is a really important relationship for Sea Grant to have,” Kleibacker said.

Next summer, Kleibacker hopes to hire interns to help maintain that relationship. These students would spend the summer visiting the coastal sites to check on the facilities and talk with boaters and marine operators and staff about the program.

The pump and dump and floating restroom videos will soon be displayed on both the Oregon Sea Grant and OSMB websites. Until then, watch them – and share – on YouTube:

You can find a map of where to find pump and dump stations, along with floating restrooms at: http://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/pages/access/access.aspx#Where_to_Launch_in_Oregon

under: environment, Oregon Sea Grant, outreach and engagement, public communication, recreational boating, summer activities, videos, water quality & conservation

Comments on Oregon Sea Grant sought

Posted by: | August 15, 2014 Comments Off |

Oregon Sea Grant will be reviewed on Sept. 23-24, 2014 by a Site Review Team convened by the Director of the National Sea Grant College Program. Those associated or familiar with Oregon Sea Grant are invited to provide the review team with comments on any aspect of the program or its work up to one week prior to the review (no later than Sept. 16). You may submit written comments to oar.sg.feedback@noaa.gov

Additional information on the Oregon Sea Grant program can be found at http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/

under: Oregon Sea Grant

Learn to safely can fresh-caught tuna

Posted by: | August 4, 2014 Comments Off |

Fresh-caught tunaNEWPORT – Tuna are abundant and available on the Oregon coast at the best prices of the year – so now’s a great time to learn how to safely can your own tuna at home.

Sea Grant Extension’s seafood product development specialist Mark Whitham and Ruby Moon, fishery Extension agent, will lead a workshop in home-canning tuna on Friday, Sept. 12 at Newport’s First Presbyterian Church, 227 NE 12th Street, from 9 am to 3 pm.

Participants will learn to safely and successfully can tuna, and the skills to do it all at home. Participants will also leave with the jars of tuna they can during the workshop.

Registration is $40 per person and space is limited; register by Sept. 1 with the Lincoln County Extension Office, 29 SE 2nd Street, Newport or by calling 541-574-6534.

Learn more:

under: courses, classes and workshops, events, seafood, Seafood preparation, seafood safety

Older Posts »

Categories