Category Archives: College of Earth Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences

Heavy Digging

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Mine Algae!!!

When I think of mining, the first thing that comes to mind is the classic gold rush miners from the mid-1800s. Someone that looks a lot like Stinky Pete from Toy Story 2. I don’t mean to imply that this is, or isn’t, what a miner looks like. However, this does say something about the general lack of thought about mining practices. The EPA certainly isn’t as ignorant about mines as I am; in fact, as of 2014, they had designated over 1,300 sites around the country as superfund sites requiring extensive cleanup efforts. Tullia Upton is also thinking about mines much more deeply than the average person, and she is uncovering some alarming information.

During a road trip through southern Oregon, Tullia was bummed when she was told it was unsafe to swim in a local river, so she decided to dive a bit deeper, figuratively of course. She learned that this area has become dangerously polluted due to waste products of the Formosa mine.

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The Formosa mine near Riddle, OR

Mining practices involve extensive digging and extracting of heavy metals which are normally buried in a reducing environment deep down within the earth’s sediment. The process of digging up these heavy metals leaves behind a staggering amount of unused material, known as tailings. Mining also exposes the metals to oxygen and allows them to leach into soils and the watershed. Due to runoff from the tailings and other waste at the Formosa mine, there is now an estimated 18 mile dead zone where no organism can live. The full extent of the damage being done to the local watershed has not been thoroughly mapped though.

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Tullia analyzing samples in the lab

As she learned more about the dangerous metals coming from the mine, Tullia immediately got involved as a volunteer and secured research funding to study the pollution occurring at the Formosa mine. Tullia hopes to map the full extent of runoff from the Formosa mine and provide a better picture of the mess for the EPA, and other scientists, working on the cleanup process. When she finishes her Ph.D. here in Environmental Sciences, Tullia hopes to move on to a post-doc and eventually run her own research lab.

Tune in this Sunday, October 9th at 7pm PST to hear more about mine pollution and Tullia’s unique journey to grad school at OSU.

Heat and oxygen exchange at the interface of ocean and atmosphere.

 

Jenessa aboard OSU's vessel the R/V Oceanus during a cruise for a field work course. She is deploying a vertical microstructure profile attached to a large winch: fishing for the big one!

Jenessa aboard OSU’s vessel the R/V Oceanus during a cruise for a field work course. She is deploying a vertical microstructure profile attached to a large winch: fishing for the big one!

As a physical oceanographer in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Masters candidate Jenessa Duncombe is investigating how the movement of water impacts heat and oxygen exchange at the interface of the ocean and atmosphere. Combining analytical and modeling approaches in the labs of Roger Samelson and Eric Skyllingstad, Jenessa uses linear stability analysis to predict the circulation of water in the upper 300 feet of the ocean.  Jenessa focuses on regions in the ocean with high rates of ocean and atmosphere exchange; those areas are common throughout the ocean, typically occurring near river mouths, along upwelling regions, or along strong surface currents, like the Gulf Stream. These regions can be thought of as the lungs of the ocean, responsible for the majority of oxygen and carbon dioxide uptake into the ocean. Jenessa’s goal for her research is to improve how surface ocean circulation is accounted for in global climate change models, hopefully making model predictions more accurate.

Satellite sea surface temperature image of the Gulf Stream. The red colors show the warm Gulf Stream waters traveling from the Gulf of Mexico, along the east coast, then traveling out into the Atlantic. Whirlpools of warm and cold water, called eddies, pinch off as the Gulf Stream becomes unstable heading into the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean eddies are (in Jenessa’s opinion) the coolest type of ocean circulation! For a dynamic look at ocean surface currents, check out this video from NASA called Perpetual Ocean. You can see the Gulf Stream and other strong currents, as well as whirlpools of warm and cold water spinning up in the ocean!

Jenessa’s interest in earth science began during middle school with encouragement from an inspirational teacher.  During her undergraduate studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Jenessa decided to major in earth science after becoming acquainted with other earth science majors who shared her interest in hiking. Structural geology and a physics course on the topic of waves and oscillations were among her favorite courses. In particular, waves and oscillations provided insight and clarity into her realization that visual patterns can be described by a mathematical equation. Jenessa cites a summer REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) at the University of Maryland through the NSF as a critical introduction to research. During the summer after finishing her undergraduate studies, Jenessa worked at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, acquiring experience in research related to harnessing power generated from wave energy. After finishing her Masters degree, Jenessa plans to pursue a career in science writing.

Tune in on September 25th 2016 at 7PM to hear more from Jenessa about her research related to the movement of water in the ocean and the role it may play in climate change. You can listen on the radio at 88.7FM KBVR Corvallis or by streaming live.

Hungry, Hungry Microbes!

Today ocean acidification is one of the most significant threats to marine biodiversity in recorded human history. Caused primarily by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the decreasing pH of the world’s oceans is projected to reach a level at which a majority of coral reefs will die off by 2050. This would have global impacts on marine life; when it comes to maintaining total worldwide biodiversity, coral reefs are the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet.

Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that ocean acidification might proceed at levels even faster than those predicted. Large resevoirs methane hydrates locked away in deep sea ice deposits under the ocean floor appear to be melting and releasing methane into the ocean and surrounding sediments due to the increasing temperature of the world’s oceans. If this process accelerates as waters continue to warm, then the gas escaping into the ocean and air might accelerate ocean acidification and other aspects of global climate change. That is, unless something– or someone– can stop it.

The area of the seafloor Scott studies lies several hundred to a few thousand meters below the surface–much too deep (and cold!) to dive down. Scott gets on a ship and works with a team of experienced technicians who use a crane to lift a device called a gravity corer off the ship deck and into the water, lowering it until it reaches the bottom, capturing and retrieving sediment.

The area of the seafloor Scott studies lies several hundred to a few thousand meters below the surface–much too deep (and cold!) to dive down. Scott gets on a ship and works with a team of experienced technicians who use a crane to lift a device called a gravity corer off the ship deck and into the water, lowering it until it reaches the bottom, capturing and retrieving sediment.

This is where methanotrophs and Scott Klasek come in. A 3rd year PhD student in Microbiology at Oregon State University, Scott works with his advisor in CEOAS Rick Colwell and with Marta Torres to study the single celled creatures that live in the deep sea floor and consume excess methane. Because of their importance in the carbon cycle, and their potential value in mitigating the negative effects of deep sea methane hydrate melting, these methanotrophs have become a valuable subject of study in the fight to manage the changes in our environment occurring that have been associated with anthropogenic climate change.

 

Here Scott is opening a pressure reactor to sample the sediment inside. Sediment cores retrieved form the ocean floor can be used for microbial DNA extraction and other geochemical measurements. Scott places sediment samples in these reactors and incubates them at the pressure and temperature they were collected at, adding different amounts of methane to them to see how the microbial communities and methane consumption change over weeks and months.

Here Scott is opening a pressure reactor to sample the sediment inside. Sediment cores retrieved form the ocean floor can be used for microbial DNA extraction and other geochemical measurements. Scott places sediment samples in these reactors and incubates them at the pressure and temperature they were collected at, adding different amounts of methane to them to see how the microbial communities and methane consumption change over weeks and months.

Most people don’t wake up one morning as a kid and say to themselves, “You know what I want to be when I grow up? Someone who studies methanotrophs and the threat of warming arctic waters.” Scott Klasek is no exception, in fact, he went into his undergraduate career at University of Wisconsin, Madison expecting to pursue an academic career path in pre med. To learn all about Scott’s research, and the twists and turns that led him to it, tune in this Sunday, April 10th, at 7pm to 88.7 KBVR FM or stream the show live!

 

 

From the River to the Sea: Rare metal cycles and the Circle of Life

Sometime around 3.4 billion years ago, the planet earth was covered in an atmosphere of nitrogen and carbon dioxide poisonous to life as we know it today. Then something changed. Tiny photosynthetic organisms called cyanobacteria started converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, and over billions of years seaweed, kelp, and finally terrestrial plants with roots systems covered the globe, making  the entire history of animal life of Earth possible. We know this because a rare metal called molybdenum, found in ocean floor sediment cores, can be measured to show when the atmosphere changed.

Or maybe not. Maybe we’re wrong about all of that. Who can say? Here to challenge the accepted timeline of life as we know it is Elizabeth King. This Sunday Liz will walk us through a comparative study she has been working on in Oregon and the Big Island, Hawaii, underneath Dr. Julie Pett-Ridge. A Graduate student in Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry (CEOAS), and working with the Crop and Soil Science deparment through her advisor, Dr. Pett-Ridge, Liz hopes to uncover the truth about molybdenum. Showing that this metal travels from rivers to the ocean and back through precipitation in a cycle that is dependent on the soil and weathering processes in these different volcanic regions, Liz argues that scientists haven’t been seeing the big picture of molybdenum’s environmental history.

Liz at a sampling location

Liz at a sampling location

Molybdenum is increasingly recognized as an important agricultural nutrient, and understanding how it travels through the soil, streams, and waters of the Pacific Northwest and the world is highly valuable in keeping our land fertile and productive. To learn more, tune in Sunday night at 88.7 FM Pacific time, or steam the show live!

Liz at the mouth of a river she studies on the Big Island, Hawaii.

Liz at the mouth of a river she studies on the Big Island, Hawaii.

The Winds of Mars

False-color image of channel-confined TARs in the Amenthes Rupes Region, Mars (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

False-color image of channel-confined TARs in the Amenthes Rupes Region, Mars (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

On our own world, dust storms can carry sands from the Sahara around the globe.On Mars, immense dust storms worthy of a Mad Max reference and formations called Transverse Aeolian Ridges up to a meter tall are common sights. Unlike Earth, where we constantly see geoactive forces like water, ice, and volcanic activity changing the landscape around us, the only force we can see actively changing the landscape of Mars is the wind. With desertification increasing on our own planet dune fields in many locations are moving into existing agricultural areas. Might we eventually be living on a world where the impact of wind on the land is as great as it is on Mars? Can the windswept world of Mars tell us what life will be like someday here on Earth?

Gravel ripple wind-formed bedforms in Puna de Atacama, Argentina (de Silva et al., 2013)

Gravel ripple wind-formed bedforms in Puna de Atacama, Argentina (de Silva et al., 2013)

Rover image of Transverse Aeolian Ridges (TARs) in Endurance Crater, Mars (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Rover image of Transverse Aeolian Ridges (TARs) in Endurance Crater, Mars (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle Neely, a master’s student in Geology and Geophysics studying under Shan de Silva, is investigating just that. By studying wind shaped formations called symetrical bed forms in the high desert of Argentina, which are the Earth’s closest analog to the ridges formed by the winds of Mars, Michelle hopes to learn how wind processes work on both worlds. If terrestrial desertification leaves our Blue Planet looking a lot more like the Red Planet, this research will prove invaluable.

For more on the geological history of Mars and our own future, tune in to 88.7 FM Sunday November 8th at 7pm PST or stream live to find out!

 

From Records in the Reef to Stories in the Snow: One Student’s Journey from Florida to Antarctica to Study the Geological History of the Earth

Tonight at 7 pm Pacific time Nilo Bill joins the hosts of Inspiration Dissemination to discuss his research in the Geology Program of the College of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. Tune in to 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis, or stream the show live, here!

Working underneath Peter U. Clark, Nilo studies paleoclimate, the ancient climate of the Earth. By examining erratic boulders in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet moved by glacial decay between 10 and 20 thousand years ago Nilo tries to understand when and why the Antarctic ice sheets began to recede. For example: How much of this change can be attributed to CO2 increases in the atmosphere?  When the sea levels rose after the last ice age, what glaciers did most of the water come from?

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The West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Image from: http://learningfromdogs.com/tag/west-antarctic-ice-sheet/

Nilo became interested in the question of ancient climate and sea level rise far from Oregon State or any ice sheets, in the geomicrobiology lab at University of Miami, where he studied coral reefs to learn how much water levels rose 10 to 20 thousand years ago during the last large scale glacial melt.

Nilo’s work on ancient climate allows us not only to better understand the history of the world, but also where we are headed, as we continue to contribute to increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. Increases in atmospheric CO2 that have been linked to global climate changes and glacial melt in the past are being seen again in our own time, but at much faster rates. Whereas in the past these changes occurred over a span of nine to ten thousand years, humans have artificially increased global CO2 by comparative levels in only one hundred years.

By understanding how the earth has behaved under similar circumstances in the past, Nilo hopes that we might better predict what will occur in our own future.