Category Archives: Uncategorized

This time, it actually is rocket science: computational tools for modeling combustion

A.J. Fillo is in his final year of his PhD in Mechanical Engineering in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering, within the College of Engineering. Working with Dr. Kyle Niemeyer. A.J. is studying combustion, or how things burn; specifically, A.J. is working to better understand how the microscopic motion of molecules impacts the type of combustion that we use in jet engines.

From A.J.’s masters work, and an photo-art series A.J. did on combustion, Turbulent, premixed jet fuel air Bunsen burner with a fuel rich jet fuel air flame. Fuel is commercially available ‘Jet-A.’ Photo shot at 1/8000 second shutter speed and aperture of f/2.8

            To understand combustion, first it’s helpful to understand energy.  If you drop a ball at the top of a hill, it will roll to the bottom, if you place a tea bag into a hot glass of water, the flavors will move through the water until you have tea. Both of these processes take something from its high energy state, to a more stable lower energy state. In our tea cup, molecular diffusion is what moves that energy around. Diffusion is the process of molecules becoming evenly dispersed by moving from high to low concentration and happens at very small scales, and affects everything around us including the combustion that we use in jet engines.

Diffusion is only part of the story though.  In fluid mechanics, the study of how gasses and liquids move around, diffusion controls the smallest aspects of motion but what processes control motion on a larger scale? To answer that A.J. used the example of an airplane wing. In physics class, many of us have seen a drawing or a demonstration of an airplane wing with smooth streaks of air flow over it, we call those smooth air streaks streamlines.  These smooth streamlines represent something called laminar flow, which is very smooth and predictable, but fluid flows are rarely predictable, usually they are swirly, changing, and chaotic.  These chaotic flows are called turbulence and exist all around us, they cause planes to bounce around when we fly through rough air, they drive the little vortex tornado the forms when our sink drains, and they can even impact the motion, structure, and chemistry of a jet fuel flame.

2D slice of a 3D simulation results for a turbulent, premixed, n-heptane air flame looking at flame temperature. Flow is from left to right.

Both turbulence and diffusion work to move energy around in combustion, but we don’t yet have a firm understanding of how these two different processes interact to control the combustion we use to propel us through the air.

Turns out, flames are hard to study because as you can imagine, anything you would use to measure a flame, does not want to be in a flame; measurement tools like thermocouples and pressure transducers can melt, or even combust themselves.  But there is another tool at our disposal.  We can use super computers to simulate how combustion is happening in jet engines and even use it to study how turbulence and diffusion interact, or how molecules are moving around during combustion.

From A.J.’s masters work, and an photo-art series A.J. did on combustion, Turbulent, premixed jet fuel air Bunsen burner with a fuel lean jet fuel air flame. Fuel is commercially available ‘Jet-A.’ Photo shot at 1/8000 second shutter speed and aperture of f/2.8

A.J.’s research focuses on developing computational tools to look at these effects. The sum total of reactions happening during jet fuel combustion are large and complex, meaning that the equations are not easy to solve, and trying to do so can take thousands of computer cores for several days. By developing a more efficient computer algorithm to look at these reactions we can make these simulations faster, more efficient, and less expensive.

In reality, Jet fuel is a mixture of hundreds of different chemicals, so to simplify things, A.J. uses fuels like hydrogen (H2), n-heptane (H3C(CH2)5CH3), and toluene (C6H5CH3) as representative fuels. Although a single, simpler compound, even as simple as just hydrogen, has hundreds of chemical reactions and dozens of different radical molecules that form during its combustion. To get around the limitation of computer memory and speed up how quickly his simulations run, A.J. created an algorithm to optimize how the computer handles the math to make sure things run as smoothly as possible.  You can think of it a bit like going to the DMV, usually the line takes forever because people are rarely ready with their paper work in hand when they get to the front of the line, instead people must get out of line, get more paper work, and start over.  Using this analogy, A.J.’s algorithm works to make sure everyone in line arrive with their paper work completed, ready to hand off, and let the next person through. This reduces dramatically reduced the amount of computer memory needed to solve these combustion simulations and speeds up the math.

3D simulation results for a turbulent, premixed, hydrogen air flame looking at peak flame temperature colored by chemical composition. Flow is from back to front

A.J. became interested in mechanical engineering because of his love of magic. A.J. started his academic journey at the University of Missouri Columbia as a journalism major but transferred to OSU for the engineering program. A.J. has always loved performing, which is why science outreach has been such a large part of his graduate school experience. Partnered with the Corvallis Public Library, A.J. hosts LIB LAB, a hands-on multimedia educational YouTube series focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education, which he previously talked about on our GRADx event.

A.J. standing with the Oregon State University Drumline in OSU’s Reser Stadium while filming an episode of his YouTube show LIB LAB about vortex smoke rings.

To find out more about A.J.s research, outreach, and journey to grad school, join us on Sunday, May 12 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live.

 

Repair, don’t replace: developing a new treatment for lower back pain

Chances are that you, or someone you know, has had lower back pain get in the way of daily life. For some people it is merely an inconvenience, but for many, it is debilitating. In the United States, over 70% of adults suffer from back pain at some time during their lives. Lower back pain is the second-most common reason for missed work, after the common cold. Lost productivity due to lower back pain is estimated to be over $30 billion dollars annually.

Out of the myriad causes of lower back pain, one of the most common is degeneration of the intervertebral disk. The intervertebral disk is like a shock absorber between bones in the spine. As people age, wear-and-tear on these disks leads to damage: essentially only children have intervertebral disks without any signs of deterioration. By middle age, lower back pain is sometimes bad enough that people resort to invasive surgeries.

Ward presenting his research at the Graduate Research Showcase, 2019.

Ward Shalash, a first-year PhD student studying bioengineering with Dr. Morgan Giers, is working to find a better way to treat deteriorated intervertebral disks. Currently, the primary method for treating severe back pain caused by a deteriorated intervertebral disk is to either replace the disk with an artificial disk, or to remove the disk and fuse the neighboring vertebra. Although these methods are effective in relieving pain, patients often need to have the procedure redone after ten years. In addition, particularly for the method where vertebra are fused, patients experience loss of flexibility. In 2003 a new method, cell replacement therapy, was demonstrated on a rabbit. This treatment involves collecting mesenchymal stem cells from a patient (generally from fat cells), and injecting them into the gel-like material in the center of the intervertebral disk. Ideally, this process allows the disk to be restored in place. While this treatment has been applied with some success to human patients, the procedure is not yet standardized or tested well enough for FDA approval in the US. In particular it isn’t yet clear how to determine the number of cells to inject for best results.

This is where Ward’s research comes in. “The goal is to develop a method so that doctors can know whether cell replacement therapy will work for patients or not,” said Ward. An intervertebral disk consists of three main parts: the nucleous puplosus, a jelly-like substance in the center; the anulus fibrosus, stiff, fibrous walls around the jelly center; and cartilage endplates above and below.

Cross-section of an intervertebral disk. As the disk deteriorates, the gel-like nucleus pulposus leaks into the fibers of the anulus fibrosus.

Cells require a supply of nutrients to survive; as there is no blood flow into the disk, cells inside rely on water seeping through the cartilage endplates. Dissolved in the water are nutrients such as glucose and oxygen which are vital for cell survival.

Ward uses a combination of MRI imaging and mathematical modeling to study the flow of water through the intervertebral disk. From this information, he hopes to find a method doctors can use to determine the number of stem cells to inject. Ward hopes that the ability to algorithmically predict the success of treatment this way would cut down the cost of clinical trials.

Ward’s parents at the commencement ceremony in 2018. As a first-generation college student Ward mentions that his family’s support was important for him to continue his education towards a PhD degree.

Ward first came to Oregon as an exchange student from Israel. After finishing an associate’s degree at Portland Community College, he came to Oregon State to study bioengineering. He has a dream of a world where people don’t have to worry about injuries. One of his concerns is making sure that progress in bioengineering is ethical.  For example, says Ward, “How do you make sure that it’s accessible for all kinds of people?”

Along with his academic pursuits, Ward enjoys the outdoors, playing the oud, and volunteering. To hear more about Ward’s story and his science, tune in this Sunday at 7PM (PST). You can stream the show live online, or listen to the interview live on the air at 88.7 KBVR FM, Corvallis. If you miss the broadcast, you can also listen to the episode on our podcast soon after the broadcast.

In the background is Mt. Broken Top in the Deschutes Basin. Despite common belief that PhD degrees are scary and stressful, Ward believes that there is always time for adventures!

 

References:
Summary of stem cell treatment for back pain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3347696/
Discussion of current strategies for treatment of lower back pain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651638/

 

 

Being the Multilingual, Racialized “Other” in an English Dominated Linguistic Landscape

Jason at the whiteboard

Consider the language and messages you process each day. As you navigate your daily routine, what language do you hear and see most frequently? For folks living in the Corvallis, Oregon, the answer is probably English. In the last month, how many times, when, and where have you been exposed to spoken words or even signs in another language? For those of us on the Oregon State University campus, you could easily overhear or may participate in a conversation in Spanish, Chinese, or Arabic in the Memorial Union or Valley Library. How does the “linguistic landscape” (written or spoken words you encounter in life) affect you? What do you feel and how do you react to hearing a language you don’t understand? Have you been told that you don’t speak English well enough?

Shenanigans in Portland with Pat

Jason Sarkozi-Forfinski, a PhD student in Anthropology, wants to gain insight into the linguistic landscape students at Oregon State University are exposed to and their actions and feelings about about it, especially for students from non-English speaking countries. Jason’s research involves interviewing students and community members about their experiences in the US such as:

  • How do Thai-speaking folks fair when practicing English with a non-American accent?
  • How does a (white) American- English speaker from Roseburg regard different accents?
  • How do Mandarin speakers from Malaysia react to others speaking English with different accents?
  • How does an Arabic speaker from the Gulf region perceive their own accent?
  • How comfortable do Japanese speakers feel speaking a language other than English in the US?
  • How is all of this connected to the institutionalized tool of racism?

Jason has found that folks have preferences or biases about their linguistic landscape. Oregon State recruits both students from around the world and a large multilingual community of more local students. His respondents have reported being discouraged from speaking in a non-English language or facing negative social and professional consequences for speaking other languages or English with a non-(white)American accent. Could a preference for English with a (white) American accent perpetuate division? Or even bigoted practices?

Jason’s current research developed from years of conversations with friends and colleagues about being multilingual in the US. He began exploring language in his undergraduate education where he majored in Spanish and also studied Portuguese. He also studied English in Miami,

Grilled cheese on a school bus in Portland with Veronica (left) and husband, Nick.

Florida, and worked to understand how non-English languages influences local English. Before coming to OSU for his PhD, Jason has worked as a Spanish and English instructor in the US, Spain, Japan, and China.

Tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM on Sunday March, 10 at 7 PM to hear more about Jason’s research and his path to graduate school. Stream the show live or catch this episode as a podcast.

Clarification [See Podcast at 25:45]: Asking someone to change their accent, according to Lippi-Green a linguistic who wrote “Speaking with an Accent,” is like asking someone to change their height. It’s doable (with lots of surgery) but would require a lot of intervention. The point here is that it’s not realistic to ask someone to work on their accent. It’s also rather demeaning.

The Hidden Side of Graduate School: Finding your place within your discipline

Summary: Graduate student researchers Brian Erickson and Chelsea Behymer talk about their transition from natural sciences to social sciences and the process of finding their place within their disciplines.

As graduate students, many of our academic conversations focus around our research. But graduate school is about more than just designing and carrying out a project; it also involves finding your place within a larger community.

Chelsea Behymer and Brian Erickson met through a science communication course in the Integrative Biology department (IB599), and they quickly found common ground. Although their research interests are very different, both have had experiences that sparked interest and conviction to explore the human dynamic of the ecological systems with which they are more familiar. While neither is new to academia, they find themselves navigating new identities as they explore what it means to be a social scientist working on human components of environmental issues.

Chelsea takes guests onboard a coastal Alaskan expedition on an intertidal walk.

Chelsea is a first-year Ph.D student in the Environmental Sciences graduate program, with a focus on informal science education. For the past six years, Chelsea has engaged diverse groups of people in marine biology and natural history as a Naturalist onboard both large and smaller, expedition style cruise ships. Interacting with a diversity of people in shared travel and learning experiences across the world’s oceans has been one of the most rewarding roles of her career. At the same time, being immersed in nature-based tourism has opened her eyes to the nature-based tourism industry as not only a place where human connections to the natural world are fostered, but provides wonderful opportunities for science communication.

With the growing nature-based tourism industry, perhaps the opportunities to connect have never been more abundant. Chelsea’s research interests aim to understand the potential for citizen science in nature-based tourism to act as both an effective means of engaging people with local scientists, while at the same time providing opportunities for the kind of collaborative environment where meaningful conversations between scientists and the public can occur.

Brian presents work on ocean acidification education during the State of the Coast conference.

Brian is also a first-year Ph.D student studying fisheries social science in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Growing up in the midwest, he first fell in love with the ocean while working as a field technician in the US Virgin Islands, Panama, and the Northwest Hawaiian islands. Partially because he defined himself as a biologist, it took him almost a decade to realize that he was interested in answering social science questions. Brian is generally interested in applying what we know about human behavior to improve marine conservation outcomes for people and the planet. His master’s work at OSU focused on exploring a commonly held assumption – that knowledge of environmental problems leads to action to fix those problems – through the lens of a high school ocean acidification curriculum. For his PhD work, Brian will be collaborating with the SMART Seas Africa Programme to examine social aspects of marine conservation in East Africa.

In this special segment, Chelsea and Brian will talk with ID host Kristen Finch about the challenge of finding their way as social scientists in a field that is working towards interdisciplinary collaboration. Don’t miss this conversation; tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM at 6 pm PST on Sunday March, 10. Stream the show live or catch the podcast.

Written by Chelsea Behymer and Brian Erickson. Edited by Kristen Finch.

Who Runs the World? Exploring Gender Diversity in the Forest Sector

The following article was written by Pipiet Larasatie and edited by Kristen Finch.

Pipiet Larasatie is a third year PhD student in Wood Science and Engineering Department, College of Forestry, at Oregon State University. Her friends and close colleagues describe her as “Ms. Social” and “Ms. Doing-All.”

And she is! Pipiet is currently involved with four research projects and has standing on four committees at the Department and College level (e.g. College of Forestry’s Diversity Equity Inclusion Committee). Additionally, she is a digital communications coordinator for the International Society of Wood Science and Technology. One of her initiatives is #WomenInWoodScience or a network for women who are associated with wood science.

Pipiet working in the Forest Sciences Dept. University of Helsinki in 2017.

As a woman and a first generation student in her male dominated family, Pipiet has a high passion on empowering young females. For this reason, Pipiet switched her research focus from wood centric to gender diversity in the forest sector.

So far, Pipiet’s research involved collaboration with folks at OSU (her advisor and a Master’s student), but also international collaboration with a professor and a Master’s student in University of Helsinki, Finland. During this part of the project, the team interviewed female executives in the global forest sector companies about gender aspects in the North American and Nordic industries. Some trends became apparent across interview responses. Their respondents agreed that the North American and Nordic forest sector is a historically male-oriented and male-dominated industry, which can lend itself to characteristics of a chauvinistic and masculine culture. This also was clear: to be successful in the male-dominated work setting, young females need a support on multiple levels e.g. good bosses/leaders, mentors, and networks. The interviewees also voiced that education is important when finding a niche in the workplace and for making young females more competitive in the job market. 

Pipiet with one of her mentees joining a faculty led summer course, “The Forest Sector in Alpine Europe.” Photo shows group at University of Primorska, Slovenia.

Tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM to hear our special segment with Pipiet at 7 pm on March 3, 2019. Pipiet present her research findings alongside pop songs from Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. Later, Pipiet will be accompanied by one of her mentees, Taylor Barnett, a third year undergraduate student studying Natural Resources at College of Forestry. Taylor will share her experience with mentorship programs at OSU and how these mentorship has aided her professional development.

Not a local listener? No sweat! Stream the show live or check out the podcast version of this special episode.

Feather collections and stressed-out owls

Ashlee Mikkelsen holding a juvenile northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen.

For six months out of every year, Ashlee Mikkelsen spends her days hiking for miles off-trail in the Ponderosa pine-filled forests of central Washington, hooting like an owl, and carefully listening for responses. These days, responses can be few and far between. You see, Ashlee isn’t just a wildlife enthusiast; she is a research assistant in a long-term US Forest Service monitoring program focused on the northern spotted owl.

Since being listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990, populations of northern spotted owls have continued to decline. In some areas, the number of spotted owls has decreased by more than half in only 20 years (see (Dugger et al. (2016)). Northern spotted owls are inhabitants of old-growth forests. Although northern spotted owls historically could be found in almost every forest from northern California to British Columbia, as forests have shrunk in size through timber harvesting and through changing land use, the amount of suitable habitat has drastically decreased. A second major contributor to the decline of the northern spotted owl is arrival during the last century of the barred owl, which are native to northeastern North America. Barred owls competed with spotted owls for territory and resources, and have been observed fighting with spotted owls.  Ashlee’s master’s research at Oregon State aims to quantify the stress experienced by spotted owls.

Northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen.

When birds experience stress, their bodies respond by releasing larger-than-usual quantities of the hormone corticosterone. Similar to cortisol in humans, corticosterone is always present, but having levels that are very high or that are very low is associated with poor health outcomes. It used to be that in order to measure the physical stress response of a bird, researchers had to take a blood sample. The problem with this is that the process of taking a blood sample itself is a source of stress for the bird. Recently, however, a new technique was introduced based on the fact that corticosterone is also present in feathers. Being able to use feathers is a distinct advantage: birds are constantly dropping feathers, so collecting feathers is fairly non-invasive, and importantly, similar to the benefits of measuring cortisol in hair, feather corticosterone measurements show the average level of the hormone over a long period, rather than just the instant that the feather is collected.

Ashlee banding a juvenile northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen

Ashlee banding a juvenile northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen

Working with professor Katie Dugger (who, incidentally, was Ashlee’s supervisor in the owl-monitoring field crew for the two years prior to beginning graduate school), Ashlee is analyzing a collection of feathers that spans over a 30-year time period. Measuring corticosterone levels in feathers is a high-tech process involving organic chemistry and radioactive isotopes. Although there are many complications that need to be accounted for, tracking the levels of corticosterone in these feathers gives Ashlee insight into the impact of stressors such as environmental degradation and competition with barred owls. Because the data spans so many years, she is able to examine the average stress in spotted owls over periods of change in the populations of barred owls. Ashlee’s data shows a strong response in corticosterone in spotted owls when the number of barred owls in the neighborhood goes up. This supports the view that spotted owls’ woes are not just due to habitat loss, but also due to competition with barred owls.

To hear more about Ashlee’s path to OSU, experiences in research, and of course about northern spotted owls, tune in Sunday, February 16th at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/, or download our
podcast on iTunes!

 

Exploring immigrant identity through poetry

As a 2nd year MFA student in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, Tatiana Dolgushina is writing her history through poetry as a way to understand herself and the country she came from that no longer exists. Born in Soviet Russia, Tatiana and her family fled the country after it collapsed in 1991. Tatiana grew up in South America and came to the US when she was 12, settling in Ohio. She remarks, “so much cultural history of Soviet Russia is influencing who I am today.” Central to her work are ideas of identity formation and childhood displacement. Through writing, she is digging deeper into her experience as an immigrant growing up in multiple countries.

To better understand the root of her identity, Tatiana is reading about the history that led to the dissolution of Soviet Russia. Reading about the history has helped her to understand the events that led to her family’s displacement. She grew up with silence surrounding why they had left, explaining, “Soviet culture is based on a fear of talking about historical events.” She reflects on feeling shame associated with being an immigrant, and in “not belonging to the old place or the new place.” A fractured in-between place. “As a kid, when you’re displaced, you lose so much: language, traditions, and culture.” She further explains, “you seek assimilation as a kid, and either forget these things, or push them away.”

Tatiana explains that poetry is a catalyst for understanding herself and more broadly, for us to understand ourselves as humans. It’s about connecting the dots. Her family doesn’t speak about what transpired. But reading the history, it begins to make sense. “When you’re a kid, you’re focused on survival.” She reflects that she has been trying to compensate for certain things, and is now understanding how and why she is different. She realized, “the older I get, the more I feel it, my immigrant self emerging.” Her experience growing up in multiple countries has contributed to her identity formation, but she admits that she doesn’t have a space to talk about it. “I blend in, but still feel like an outsider. I am not of this culture, and I realize that I really have no home because my home is not a country.”

Tatiana is still trying to figure out what her writing is about, but articulates that writing is a process of not being able to say certain things in the beginning. It’s about writing through the memory and being able to see the things you need to see when you’re ready, peeling away each layer of experience. Approaching the writing process linearly, Tatiana began writing about early memories, then proceeded beyond to older memories, asking, for example, “why did I write about that nightmare I had when I was 4 years old?”

Originally trained as a wildlife biologist, Tatiana decided to change directions after spending time pursuing a Master’s degree. When she initially began the MFA program, she was shocked at the discussion of subjective ideas, which is so different from many areas of scientific discourse. In science, the focus is not so much on identity. But, she explains, “science and art are coming from the same place. It’s about observation, and understanding through observation.”

As a personal goal, Tatiana is working towards publishing a book. It has been something she has wanted to do for many years. “The hope is that a 15 year old immigrant kid in the library will read it and be able to relate to my story.”

Tatiana studies with Dr. Karen Holmberg and will be graduating this Spring. Tune in on Sunday, February 3rd at 7pm on KBVR 88.7 FM to hear more from Tatiana about her thesis work and experience as a graduate student at OSU. You can also stream the show or download our podcast on iTunes!

Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words might unintentionally enforce gendered behavior

Hey guys, do you notice when you or others use gendered language? As with the last sentence, gendered language has become part of our culture’s vocabulary and we may use it without a second thought. There is a growing field of research that studies how language can shape perceptions of ourselves and others.

Jeana presenting “Decolonizing Masculinities” with Nyk Steger and Minerva Zayas at the 2018 Examining Masculinities Conference at OSU

Jeana Moody is a second year Masters student in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies working with Professor Bradley Boovy. Her thesis research focuses on the use and impact of gendered words and phrases in the English language, such as “throw like a girl”, “man up”, and “don’t be a bitch.” What are the implications of saying “man up” to someone who presents as a woman? As a man? Does the gender of the speaker play a role?

To explore this, Jeana designed a study to collect data through in-person interviews and anonymous online surveys, asking participants to describe situations when they have either used such statements or have been the subject of the statements. The questions include: where did this happen? Who was there? Were there any power dynamics? How did it make you feel then, and now?

For any research involving human participants, OSU researchers must submit a proposal to and be approved by Oregon State’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). This rigorous process requires submission of interview questions, the number of participants, how the data will be collected, and how consent will be obtained from the participants. Additionally, since there is always the possibility of triggering a participant’s traumatic memories from survey questions, help resources must be provided to participants. Jeana’s study was just approved last week.

Jeana hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California

From the data collected, Jeana hopes to gain insight into feelings of and implications on participants in the study, and present the anecdotal evidence within a cultural context. This research draws from the subjects of feminist sociolinguistics and critical race theory. It addresses the idea that language begets culture, and culture begets language. Her interest in the subject arose from working with non-native English speakers. She observed that they often use American swear words and racist words without understanding the impact of the words they were using. Just because someone doesn’t understand those words doesn’t mean they don’t hold an impact.

Jeana hiking in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon

When Jeana is not conducting research, she is the instructor of record for Men and Masculinities and is a Teaching Assistant for several other classes. She is originally from Pullman, Washington and attended Western Washington University as part of the Fairhaven College (an interdisciplinary liberal arts college). She enjoys hiking and being anywhere outdoors, and she loves to cook and draw. When not in Corvallis, she can likely be found in Prague where she has taught English and worked for a travel agency.

If you are interested in participating in Jeana’s research study online or in-person, please email moodyje@oregonstate.edu to set up an interview or with any questions you may have, or follow the link to her Gendered Language Online Survey.

Written by Maggie Exton.

Testing Arctic climate models: how much detail can we capture?

Many of us have heard that as a consequence of climate change, Arctic sea ice is rapidly decreasing and that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. It’s a complicated system that we don’t understand very well: few people live in the Arctic, and the data from limited study sites may not be representative of the region as a whole. How will Arctic climates change at different timescales in the coming years? What could this mean for coastal Arctic communities that rely on sea ice for preventing erosion or fishing in deep waters? How will navigation and shipping routes change? And in addition, how does a changing Arctic affect climates at lower latitudes?

Visualization of winter sea ice in the Arctic by Cindy Starr, courtesy the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.

Daniel Watkins is a fourth-year PhD student of Atmospheric Science in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science (CEOAS). Working with Dr. Jennifer Hutchings, he is analyzing climate model experiments in order to find answers to these questions. An important step in this is to evaluate the quality of climate simulations, which he does by matching up model output with real-life observations of temperature, sea ice, and cloud cover. Climate scientists have many models that predict how these factors will change in the Arctic over the next several decades. No model can take every detail into account, so how accurate can its predictions be? For example, the frigid Arctic temperatures can cause water molecules in low-lying clouds to trap heat in a very different way than they do here in the Pacific Northwest. Is it necessary to take a detail like this into account?

In cold regions like the Arctic where surface ocean temperatures are much warmer than the overlying atmosphere, the ocean transfers a lot of heat into the air. Sea ice insulates the ocean and prevents heat transfer to the atmosphere, so when there is less ice, a cycle of increasing warming can perpetuate. Because water has a higher heat capacity than air, the ocean doesn’t cool off as much as the atmosphere warms. This is particularly bad news for the Arctic, where layers of cold, dense air often sit beneath warmer air in a phenomenon called a temperature inversion. Effectively, this prevents heat from moving on to higher layers of the atmosphere, so it stays low where it could melt more sea ice. This contributes to a phenomenon called Arctic Amplification, where for every degree of warming seen in the global average, the Arctic surface temperature warms by about four degrees. While it may be tempting to build a model containing every cloud in the atmosphere or chunk of ice in the Arctic Ocean, these could make it too computationally difficult to solve. Daniel has to simplify, because his goal is not to provide a weather forecast, but to evaluate how well models match observed measurements of Arctic temperatures.

Daniel by the Skogafoss in Iceland in June 2018. If you’re lucky (and he was), you can see sea ice, turbulent boundary layer cloud layers, and the Greenland ice sheet when you fly between Portland and Iceland.

To accomplish this, Daniel uses model output data, re-analyzed data that fits models to observations, and temperature measurements from weather balloons. These sources contain terabytes of data, so he has written code and contributed to open-source software that subsets and analyzes these datasets in a meaningful way. Daniel then uses the re-analyzed and weather balloon data to test whether the model reproduces various features of the Arctic climate, such as widespread temperature inversions. Working with this vast amount of information requires some mathematical prowess. While studying as an undergraduate at BYU Idaho, Daniel decided to major in math when he heard a professor describe mathematics as “a toolbox to solve science problems with”. An internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory later suggested geophysical modeling as a worthy task to tackle.

When he’s not modeling the future of the Arctic, Daniel spends time with his children, Milo and Owen, and plays in a rock band he formed with his wife, Suzanne, called Mons La Hire. Daniel is also a DJ on KBVR and is excited to become the newest host of Inspiration Dissemination. To hear more, tune in on Sunday, December 2nd at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show, or catch our podcast!

Finding hope in invaded spaces

While Senecio triangularis, native to Western Oregon, was not the intended hostplant of the introduced cinnabar moth, it has been supporting moth populations for decades.

Invaded places are not broken spaces

“It was some of the hardest work I have done,” says this week’s guest, Katarina Lunde recounting her arduous work interning with the Nature Consortium in the Duwamish region of Seattle. Katarina was passionate about her work in conservation ecology, spending countless hours leading groups of volunteers in restoration projects and educating the community about the restoration sites. But it was somewhere in the bone-chilling cold tearing out invasive species like the Himalayan blackberry and English ivy that Katarina had a shift in perception – these spaces were not broken. Katarina realized that informed decisions could tip the scales in the right direction in these vulnerable spaces. There was still hope to be found in the midst of these invasions. The desire to study ecology more deeply led Katarina to pursue a master’s degree in plant ecology with Dr. Peter McEvoy in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University.

Learning to tip the scales

In the 1920s, tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) was first observed in the Portland, Oregon. This introduced, noxious weed, was causing severe liver failure and even death for grazing cattle and deer. The major economic implications on livestock prompted the Oregon Department of Agriculture to intervene. By the 1960s, the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) was released as one of three insect biological control agents. The role of the cinnabar moth was to reduce tansy ragwort populations by depositing their eggs on the underside of the leaf and allowing newly hatched caterpillars to feed on and eventually kill the plant. However, there was an unintended consequence. When these very hungry caterpillars were released in the mountainous Cascade region, they found that a closely-related native plant species, arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis), was also quite appetizing.

Cinnabar caterpillars strip late-season Senecio triangularis stems of foliage. Luckily, most plants will have set seed and stored energy before the caterpillars reach peak feeding stages.

Despite this outcome, the release of the cinnabar moth has been largely viewed as a success, even though this biocontrol agent likely would not have been released under current standards. This system does then provide an ideal model system to identify long-term risks and benefits of biocontrol use. When it comes to biological invasions, the cost of inaction is often too high, so what are the risks and benefits?

Katarina Lunde installs experimental plots at a field site with the help of fellow lab members. She measured Senecio triangularis seedling recruitment under seed addition/reduction scenarios to assess potential impacts of seed loss due to cinnabar moth herbivory.

By studying seed loss and plant recruitment – do more seeds equal more plants? – on Marys Peak in Oregon’s coastal range, Katarina has been able to assess the risk that cinnabar moths pose on native plant survival. The answers are nuanced, of course, as this deals with a dynamic natural system, but Katarina’s work is allowing for better questions to be asked that will in turn better inform decision making regarding biological controls.

Finding the perfect fit

Katarina studied plants and plant systematics at Oberlin College where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology and creative writing. With student loans to pay off and a desire to find a career that fit her unique abilities and interests, Katarina spent six years working in fine dining and exploring future career paths in Seattle, WA, volunteering with various non-profits. Through her restoration program internship with the Nature Consortium, she was finally able to hone-in on the field of plant ecology. Katarina is currently nearing the end of her master’s program and seeks to apply her newly learned skills in an urban conservation and restoration setting, where she can continue to ask questions and interact with her work in a tangible way.

Katarina’s research has been supported by a NIFA grant and several awards from agencies that focus on native plant restoration and conservation, including: the Hardman Foundation Award, the Native Plant Society of Oregon, and the Portland Garden Club.

Join us on Sunday, November 18 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about the nuance of biological controls and Katarina’s journey to graduate school.