Author Archives: klaseks

Beyond doom and gloom: highlighting solutions to ocean acidification

When we hear news coverage of global environmental changes, it can easily overwhelm us. We mentally curl up into the fetal position and conclude there is nothing we can do to stave off the changes that Earth is projected to experience. One of these changes is ocean acidification–a phenomenon where carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean. As carbon dioxide levels increase in our atmosphere, more of it is able to dissolve into the ocean and lower its pH, making it more acidic. A decrease of 0.1 pH unit in the global ocean since the beginning of the 1900s may not seem like a lot, but because pH is represented on a logarithmic scale, it actually represents about a 30% increase in hydrogen ions. This makes it harder for organisms like oysters, clams, and corals to build hard shells and skeletons. It is uncertain how this phenomenon could affect the long-term fate of these organisms, as well as the fish that depend on them.

Brian flying in a hot air balloon north of Mt. Rainer, WA.

This is where Brian Erickson comes in. Brian, a masters student in Marine Resource Management in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, observed that most curricula designed to teach high school students about ocean acidification do not discuss actionable solutions that most people can take in their everyday lives to mitigate their carbon footprints. Do student attitudes change when presented with solutions like insulating homes to save on heat, swapping incandescent bulbs with LEDs, or consolidating trips to the store to minimize gas consumption?

Brian at work during his first field biology job, studying the sexual reproduction of tropical seaweeds in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and San Blas, Panama. It’s easy to fall in love with the ocean when you snorkel on coral reefs for two summers!

A former high school science teacher himself, Brian grew up in St. Louis and received his undergraduate degree in biology from Lewis and Clark College. As an undergraduate, he first became acquainted with environmental research as a field technician in St. Croix in the Caribbean. After participating in Teach For America in New York City, he took many environmental research and education jobs before deciding to return to the ocean to bridge his interests of outdoor education and social science. As his masters draws to a close, Brian will be staying at OSU to begin a PhD in Fisheries and Wildlife working to bring multiple perspectives to marine conservation efforts in East Africa.

Helping students dissect a shark at Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School (Bronx, NY).

Taking students on their first canoe trip with Parks in Focus near Pictured Rocks, MI.

To hear more about Brian’s research and experiences in education, tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM at 7 pm on April 15th, or stream it online here. If you’re busy at that time, the show will appear on our podcast later this week.

 

How can humans help oysters adapt to stresses from ocean acidification?

The Pacific Northwest supports a 270 million dollar per year shellfish industry. Human-induced climate change has increased global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. More carbon dioxide then enters ocean water, making it more corrosive. As a consequence, oysters and other shellfish that rely on alkaline seawater conditions to precipitate calcium carbonate and build their shells find it harder to grow. The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Tillamook, which supplies Netarts Bay with oysters and also sells larvae to farmers across the Northwest, experienced larval die-offs of nearly 75% in 2007.

This catastrophe spawned increased research efforts to prevent future die-offs. Sophie Wensman, a second-year Ph.D. student working with Dr. Alyssa Shiel in

OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, is working on an unusual new way of growing oysters in Netarts Bay. She is placing large bags of dead oyster shells in the bay and then growing oysters on top of them. Similar to antacids, dead oyster shells neutralize corrosivity in the water by dissolving into carbonate, which the live oysters can then incorporate into their shells. Think of it as a short-circuited version of the circle of life.

Sophie attaching predator bags to shell plantings in Netarts Bay. Photo credit Tiffany Woods, Oregon Sea Grant.

Spat on shell, or baby oysters that have attached to old dead oyster shells. These are what the oysters looked like at the start of the project in August 2015. Now each of those little brown spots are around 9 cm (~3.5 in). Photo Credit Sophie Wensman.

Besides investigating how these oysters will grow, Sophie plans on using her background in chemistry to develop a technique to examine how ocean chemistry  is recorded in the oysters shells, layer by layer. Like all of us, oysters are not perfect. Besides calcium carbonate, they incorporate some impurities into their shells, like certain forms of uranium carbonates. Based on what we know about forams, sea-dwelling zooplankton that also mineralize calcium carbonate shells, Sophie expects the amount of uranium the oysters mineralize will increase under more corrosive conditions, where less carbonate is available. To accomplish this, she will use a technique called laser ablation mass spectrometry, where she will shoot lasers onto samples of oyster shells. The shell bits will vaporize, and the machine will record the amounts of uranium and calcium present. Looking at this uranium-to-calcium ratio and how it relates to the measured seawater chemistry in Netarts Bay could be helpful for other oyster growers to see whether their animals are also experiencing stress from ocean acidification.

Adult oyster shell that has been cut in half to expose the hinge of the shell (left). This hinge is what we are using to trace water chemistry in Netarts Bay. Photo credit Tiffany Woods, Oregon Sea Grant.

Sophie’s mother, who home-schooled her until the age of twelve, instilled in her a curiosity about science and the natural world from a young age. At the age of eight, Sophie became the youngest Marine Docent through the University of New Hampshire’s Sea Grant program. She also worked as a rocky shore naturalist and camp counselor at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, NH, teaching people of all ages about the rocky shore ecosystem. Sophie attended the University of Michigan studying secondary science education, but interning with Dow Corning and stumbling across an interview with a chemical oceanographer on the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week program provided her another career idea. This led her to an NSF-sponsored Research Experience as an Undergrad (REU) program at the University of Washington, a 36-day research cruise between Hawaii and Alaska, and a job as a technician in Joel Blum’s lab at the University of Michigan studying mercury isotope geochemistry. Sophie intends to continue her passions of education and chemical oceanography by pursuing an academic position at a research university.

Tune in to 88.7 FM at 7:00 pm Sunday evening to hear more about Sophie and her research on oyster health and chemistry, or stream the program live right here.

You can download her iTunes Podcast Episode!

Ocean basins are like trumpets– no, really.

We’re all familiar with waves when we go to the coast and see them wash onto the beach. But since ocean waters are usually stratified by density, with warmer fresher waters on top of colder, saltier ones, waves can occur between water layers of different densities at depths up to hundreds of meters. These are called internal waves. They often have frequencies that are synched with the tides and can be pretty big–up to 200 meters in amplitude! Because of their immense size, these waves help transfer heat and nutrients from deep waters, meaning they have an impact on ocean current circulation and the growth of phytoplankton.

The line of foam on the surface of the ocean indicates the presence of an internal wave.

We still don’t understand a lot about how these waves work. Jenny Thomas is a PhD student working with Jim Lerczak in Physical Oceanography in CEOAS (OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences). Jenny studies the behavior of internal waves whose frequencies correspond with the tides (called internal tides) in ocean basins. This requires a bit of mathematical theory about how waves work, and some modeling of the dimensions of the basin and how it could affect the height of tides onshore.

Picture a bathtub with water in it. Say you push it back and forth at a certain rate until all the water sloshes up on one side while the water is low on the other side. In physics terms, you have pushed the water in the bathtub at one of its resonant frequencies to make all of it behave as a single wave. This is called being in a normal mode of motion. Jenny’s work on the normal modes of ocean basins suggests that the length-to-width ratio and the bathymetry of an ocean basin influence the structure of internal tides along the coast. Basically, if the tidal forcing and the shape of the basin coincide just right, they can excite a normal mode. The internal wave can then act like water in a bathtub sloshing up the side, pushing up on the lower-density water above it.

It turns out that water isn’t the only thing that can have normal modes. The air column in a wind instrument is another example. Jenny grew up a child of two musicians and earned a degree in trumpet performance from the University of Iowa, and she occasionally uses her trumpet to demonstrate the concept of normal modes. She can change pitches by buzzing her lips at different resonant frequencies of the trumpet–the pitch is not just controlled by the valves.

Jenny uses her trumpet to explain normal modes.

Near the end of her undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa, Jenny discovered that she had a condition called fibrous dysplasia that could potentially cause her mouth to become paralyzed. Deciding a career as a musician would be too risky, and realizing her aptitude for math and physics, she went back to school and earned a second undergraduate degree in physical oceanography at Old Dominion University. After a summer internship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution conducting fieldwork for the US Geological Survey, she decided to pursue a graduate degree at OSU to further examine the behavior of internal waves.

Tune in to 88.7 KBVR Corvallis to hear more about Jenny’s research and background (with a trumpet demo!) or stream the show live right here.

You can also download Jenny’s iTunes Podcast Episode!

Jenny helps prepare an instrument that will be lowered into the water to determine the density of ocean layers.

Jenny isn’t fishing. The instrument she is deploying is called a CTD for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth–the three things it measures when in the water.

The Breathing Seafloor

In the cold, dark depths of the seafloor across the world, microbes living in sediments and on rocks are quietly breaking down organic material and sucking dissolved oxygen out of the seawater. The continental shelf off of Oregon’s coasts, home to a fishing industry that brings in over a hundred million dollars of revenue per year, is no exception. Does oxygen consumption, and therefore carbon cycling, vary by location, or across seasons? Setting a baseline to investigate these patterns of oxygen drawdown is crucial to understanding habitats and distributions of fish stocks, but will also establish what “normal” oxygen consumption looks like off our shores. Measurements like these are also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to estimate global patterns of carbon burial. If any forces were to shift these patterns in the future, we’d at least have a baseline to allow us to diagnose any “abnormal” conditions.

Peter Chace is a third-year PhD student of Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS). Peter’s research focuses on developing a technique of measuring fluxes of oxygen across the seafloor called Eddy covariance. This technique takes high-resolution time measurements of three-dimensional velocities of water moving in turbulent whorls, or random circular patterns, within the boundary layer of a fluid like air or water. Eddy covariance has been employed to measure fluxes across air layers on land for decades, but has only recently been applied in marine systems. A point-source oxygen measurement within this turbulent layer is measured with a microelectrode and combined with the velocity data to develop a flux. Why go through all this trouble? Other ways to measure oxygen fluxes, like putting chambers over an area of seafloor and waiting to measure an oxygen drawdown, require a lot of work and give little temporal resolution.

Workers on the RV Oceanus, Oregon State’s largest research vessel, deploy a benthic (seafloor) oxygen sensor.

Peter can calibrate his microelectrodes to measure other chemicals and obtain their fluxes across the seabed, but he is mainly focused on oxygen. To measure fluxes off the Oregon coast, Pete and his advisor, Dr. Clare Reimers, will head to sea on the RV Oceanus several times this fall and winter to deploy their sensor on the seafloor for days at a time. The desk-sized seafloor lander and the microelectrode attached to it are fragile, and the rough seas offshore Oregon in fall and winter will make it a challenging endeavor. We hope they pack enough seasickness medication and barf bags!

You get right up close and personal with the ocean when you send down these instruments… and this is on a clear day with calm seas!

Since growing up as a child in New Jersey, Peter has always wanted to learn about the ocean. While studying chemistry and marine biology at Monmouth University (in New Jersey) as an undergraduate, he completed a summer REU (Research Experience as an Undergraduate) with his current advisor, Clare Reimers, here at Oregon State University. He also interned for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association), analyzing the chemistry of hydrothermal vent fluids with Dr. David Butterfield. Pete revisited a hydrothermal system on a cruise to the East Pacific Rise off of Central America where he got a remarkable opportunity to dive in Alvin, the submersible that discovered the wreckage of the Titanic.

Here’s Pete in the submersible Alvin just before the dive, checking his microelectrodes.

To hear more about Peter’s research on sensor development and his seafaring expeditions, tune in to Inspiration Dissemination on Sunday, October 15th at 7pm on 88.7 KBVR Corvallis. Or stream it online here!

Characterizing off-channel habitats in the Willamette River: Fish need to cool off too!

During the summer, when the mercury clears triple digits on the Fahrenheit scale, people seek out cooler spaces. Shaded parks, air conditioned ice cream parlors, and community pools are often top places to beat the heat. If you’re a resident of Corvallis, Oregon, you may head downtown to dip your toes in the Willamette River. Yet while the river offers a break from the hot temperatures for us, it is much too warm for the cold water fishes that call it home.

Where do fish go to cool off?

As a master’s student in the Water Resources Graduate Program at Oregon State University, Carolyn Gombert is working to understand where cold water habitat is located along the Willamette River. More importantly, she is seeking to understand the riverine and geomorphic processes responsible for creating the fishes’ version of our air conditioned ice cream parlors. By placing waterproof temperature loggers along sites in the upper Willamette, she hopes to shed light both on the temporal and spatial distribution of cold water patches, as well as the creation mechanisms behind such habitats.

 

The cart before the horse: seeking to reconcile science and policy

Because the Willamette Basin is home to Cutthroat trout and Chinook salmon, the river is subject to the temperature standard adopted by the state of Oregon in 2003. Between May through October, Cutthroat and Chinook require water cooler than 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Currently, the main channel of the Willamette regularly exceeds this threshold. The coolest water during this time is found in side channels or alcoves off the main stem. While Oregon law recognizes the benefits these “cold water refuges” can provide, our scientific understanding of how these features change over time is still in its early stages.

Emerging stories

Data collection for Carolyn’s project is slated to wrap up during September of 2017. However, preliminary results from temperature monitoring efforts suggest the subsurface flow of river water through gravel and sediment plays a critical role in determining water temperature. By pairing results from summer field work with historical data such as air photos and laser-based mapping techniques (LiDAR) like in the image below, it will be possible to link geomorphic change on the Willamette to its current temperature distributions.

Between 1994 and 2000, the Willamette River near Harrisburg, Oregon shifted from a path along the left bank to one along the right bank. This avulsion would have happened during a high flow event, likely the 1996 flood.

No stranger to narratives

Prior to beginning her work in hydrology at OSU, Carolyn earned a bachelor’s in English and taught reading at the middle school level. Her undergraduate work in creative writing neither taught her how to convert temperature units from Fahrenheit to Celsius nor how to maneuver in a canoe. But the time she spent crafting stories did show her that characters are not to be forced into a plot, much like data is not to be forced into a pre-meditated conclusion. Being fortunate enough to work with Stephen Lancaster as a primary advisor, Carolyn looks forward to exploring the subtleties that surface from the summer’s data.

If you’d like to hear more about the results from Carolyn’s work, she will be at the OSU Hydrophiles’ Pacific Northwest Water Research Symposium, April 23-24, 2018. Feel free to check out past Symposiums here. Additionally, to hear more about Carolyn’s journey through graduate school, you can listen to her interview on the Happie Heads podcast.

Carolyn conducting field work on the Willamette.

Carolyn Gombert wrote the bulk of this post, with a few edits contributed by ID hosts.