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Best tsunami protection? Higher ground  June 3rd, 2010

Here in the PNW, we live with the threat of earthquakes and tsunamis. But those who don’t live on the coast may not fully appreciate the challenge of surviving a big quake-driven wave: In some areas, warning time of an approaching wall of water could be as brief as five minutes.

Scientists at OSU’s Hinsdale Wave Laboratory — the largest wave modeling facility in the Western Hemisphere — are helping coastal communities come to terms with the tsunami challenge. Most recently, they’re working with the city of Cannon Beach, Ore., on a new City Hall building that would double as a tsunami vertical evacuation structure, allowing individuals who can’t get out of harm’s way to get to at least 50 feet above sea level and thereby survive the surge.

AP writer Abby Haight was one of many media types who made their way to Hinsdale for a first-hand look at wave tests on a scale model of the structure and Cannon Beach in late May. Her story in the Seattle Times and elsewhere documents efforts to create the $4-million City Hall building, a facility that could save as many as 1,500 lives in the event of a big wave.

Hinsdale, as always, is an irresistible target for media. Since the 2004 massive tsunami tragedy in Sumatra, it has drawn reporters from around the planet covering for major television networks, big print outlets, national radio systems and more. Its unique capabilities to model all varieties of waves and its support by key partners (National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research Research, other universities) ensure that whatever work is taking place there, it’s almost always important for emergency preparedness purposes and visually interesting.

Whales, dolphins and big feature films  February 4th, 2010

For the second time in two years, an Oregon State University professor is in the limelight as part of an acclaimed feature film on marine mammals.

This time, it’s Scott Baker, an associate professor and associate director of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute in Newport and an internationally recognized authority on illegal trafficking in whale and dolphin meat. He’s included prominently in “The Cove,” a documentary on Taiji, Japan, where fishers hunt dolphins to sell their (mercury-tainted) meat or to capture for use in the “dolphin entertainment industry.”

“The Cove” has won a long list of honors from some of the world’s best film festivals — Toronto, Sydney and Hot Docs, to name just a few — as well as big prizes from the Director’s Guild, the New York Film Critics, the Screenwriters Guild, the National Board of Review and more. Earlier this week, it was named one of five contenders for Best Documentary Feature for the big kahuna — the Oscar.

Given all the acclaim “The Cove” has earned thus far, Baker feels good about its chances with the Academy. But more than that, he’s pleased with the attention it’s drawing to the plight of dolphins in Taiji.

Last year, OSU Marine Mammal Institute Director Bruce Mate had a major presence in “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” a National Geographic Channel film (narrated by Tom Selleck) that became the channel’s most widely seen documentary ever. The film followed 15 blue whales off the coasts of California and Costa Rica — whales tagged by Mate, a pioneer in tagging and monitoring the giant sea creatures. OSU watchers will also remember that Mate was the center of significant attention in 2008, when Terri Irwin, widow of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, came to OSU with daughter/TV star Bindi with a donation to underwrite two humpback whale research projects under Mate’s direction.

This is all emblematic of the growing stature of the Marine Mammal Institute, which, though still relatively small, is widely recognized for the importance and impact of its science. Mate, Baker,  Asst. Prof. Markus Horning and a team of 20 research and administrative staff and graduate students have made Newport a hotbed of scientific activity around whales, sea lions, dolphins, seals and other mammals of the sea.

“The Cove” should elevate that recognition further. Portlanders and others in the metro area will get to hear/see more of Baker in KGW TV’s popular “Live @ 7” show, which interviewed him yesterday. The segment is set to air Friday night.

Bigger waves = a high tide of news coverage  January 29th, 2010

Coastal Engineering isn’t a journal that one usually associates with big science news headlines. But when OSU geosciences faculty member Peter Ruggiero published a study there this month that detailed the growing average height of waves off the Oregon coast, what followed was a virtual tsunami of coverage.

Outlets ranging from to Oregon Public Broadcasting to United Press International jumped on the study (put forth expertly by OSU senior science writer David Stauth in a Jan. 15 news release), which revealed that the biggest waves are now as high as 46 feet, up from 33 feet as recently as 1996.

“Possible causes might be changes in storm tracks, higher winds, more intense winter storms, or other factors,” Ruggiero told Stauth. “These probably are related to global warming, but could also be involved with periodic climate fluctuations such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and our wave records are sufficiently short that we can’t be certain yet. But what is clear is the waves are getting larger.”

OSU scientists like Ruggiero continue to play leading roles in academic research regarding climate change, as well as coastal and marine science, particularly when it comes to interpreting issues related to the Pacific Ocean.

The colleges of Science and Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences are homes to most, but the expertise isn’t limited to them. Bruce Mate, an internally recognized whale expert and director of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute, for instance, holds the Marine Mammal Research Professorship in the College of Agricultural Sciences, where he’s a member of the renowned Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife (the department is ranked no. 1 nationally in wildlife science and no. 2 in fisheries science, while OSU overall is ranked tops nationally in conservation biology).

All of which means, when stories such as this pop up at OSU, media typically take note. And that makes our jobs not only easier, but tremendously rewarding.

OSU bridges Portland with orange  November 24th, 2009

Portland’s historic Morrison Bridge turned a healthy shade of Oregon State orange on Nov. 23, thanks to a couple of loyal Beavers and more than 1,000 light-emitting diodes.

OSU alums Pat Reser, co-chair of the Campaign for OSU fund-raising effort, and KPAM morning host Bob Miller made the arrangements for the bridge’s lights to glow orange from the 23rd through Dec. 3, when OSU takes on Oregon in the annual Civil War football game. The stakes are especially high this year, with the winner guaranteed a Rose Bowl invitation.

The bridge and its lights looked great on the front page of the Barometer this morning, as well as on and the OSU home page. Portland TV outlets KGW and KOIN showed the span on last night’s newscasts, and video and images will no doubt pop up in other media over the rest of the week.

Unlike in years past, when OSU was dependent on a few media to feature a fun story like this, Twitter, Facebook and other services make it easy to spread this sort of thing around the Internet in a hurry. Thanks to all the Tweeters/Retweeters for making that happen!

Choosing a new NCAA chief: President Ray heading the search  October 29th, 2009

Once again, Oregon is playing a significant role in the leadership of the NCAA.

As collegiate athletics’ governing body announced today, OSU President Ed Ray is the new chair of the NCAA Executive Committee; in that role, he’ll also chair the search for a replacement for the late Myles Brand, who died in September after a long battle with cancer.

NCAA watchers and Oregonians know well that Brand’s previous role was as president of the University of Oregon. His successor at the UO, Dave Frohnmayer, served on the NCAA Executive Committee during Brand’s leadership stint. The Beaver State has been well represented, indeed.

Through Ray, the NCAA search is certainly in capable hands. He is not only a respected economist, who served as provost and economics department head for years at The Ohio State University before coming to OSU in 2003, Ray is now the Oregon University System’s longest-serving current president. During tough economic times with no small amount of instability in the air, having an experienced hand providing leadership should serve the NCAA well.

OSU in New York Times, LA Times, NSF Web site and more  October 21st, 2009

It’s hard to miss the quantity and quality of research stories coming out of OSU these days. The resulting media coverage is interesting not only for the stories highlighted, but for the high-impact visibility of the outlets in which they are published.

We’ve hit the venerable New York Times twice this week for OSU research on how climate change is affecting growth of Pacific Northwest trees in high-elevation areas and for OSU’s international leadership in the hottest new alternative energy area — ocean wave power. The latter was actually written by a Paris-based reporter (Lisa Pham) for the Times’ overseas publication, The International Herald-Tribune, and places OSU’s work alongside wave park projects under development in Portugal, Scotland, Australia and elsewhere, underscoring OSU’s impact as an international research university.

Los Angeles Times science writer Kim Murphy offered an interesting take on the PNW tree research, that it presents an upside of climate change.

The National Science Foundation Web site, where OSU enjoys regular prominence, features us today as its lead “Discoveries” feature, with a fascinating feature by OSU graduate student Mary Beth Oshnack on her research regarding building tsunami-resistant cities. The story is accompanied by four very cool videos of her “HouseSmash” project.

We haven’t forgotten the media closer to home, either. The Oregonian has turned to us for stories this week on OSU research of toxic algae blooms, which are thought to be growing around the state, and for my personal favorite, an account of a ferret that got H1N1 from its owner — perhaps first documented case of human-to-animal transmission anywhere.

Interesting reading, all. And it’s only Wednesday morning…

Great white under the knife and media glare in Newport  October 3rd, 2009

A 12-foot great white shark that had the bad luck to get tangled recently in the ropes of a crab pot made a posthumous contribution to science last Thursday and Friday and became a media sensation in the process.

Researchers at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, the university’s Newport campus, performed a necropsy on the big guy over two days, televising much of the process via closed circuit to members of the media and public in an auditorium also at the Center. One might think carving up a dead fish wouldn’t be so appealing to news types, but when that creature is a relative of Jaws, the interest factor increases exponentially.

The Los Angeles Times wins points for most gruesome blog post related to the dissection display. Its coverage included a photo of the beast suspended in the bed of a pickup truck, its menacing teeth in full, frightening view. With the fish hung upside down, its length is even more impressive.

Eugene’s Register-Guard got in on the coverage, and an abbreviated version of its story popped up in other outlets, including Portland’s, via AP.

Hatfield Marine Education Specialist William Hanshumaker, also an Oregon Sea Grant Extension faculty member, coordinated the necropsy, which included scientists from OSU as well as other institutions.  Dr. Brion Benninger of Oregon Health & Science Univesity’s Neurological Sciences Institute took part, for instance. Samples from the necropsy are being shared with Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, Monterey Bay Aquarium and others.

Big media waves at OSU tsunami research lab  September 30th, 2009

In light of yesterday’s big Pacific quake and subsequent tsunami that left at least 100 dead in American Samoa and many more homeless,  OSU’s singular Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory is of hot interest to media today. It’s the world’s largest facility to model and study tsunamis, and many networks and other big media used it heavily to put in context the Indonesian tsunami of 2004.

Discovery Channel and CBS are among today’s visitors, and the news crew here are fielding more requests by the minute. The Hinsdale Lab is supported by the National Science Foundation — which only last week taped a story at the facility for its Science Nation show, debuting this fall on WETA in Washington, D.C. — as well as the Office of Naval Research.

Hinsdale recently installed a new wavemaker in the lab, one that focuses on hurricane-style waves. The first project with that intriguing new research capability is one that will look at waves and levees, a study supported by the Dept. of Homeland Security. Check out this vid in which the wavemaker smashes a concrete wall.

$252 million and rising  September 25th, 2009

At simultaneous media briefings this week in Portland and Corvallis, OSU released the remarkable news that it has surpassed a quarter-billion dollars in annual research funding, and that the research funding will almost certainly grow, significantly, this fiscal year.

Quite an accomplishment for Oregon’s only campus ranked in the top tier of national research universities by the Carnegie Foundation, especially when other PNW schools are seeing only modest growth or shrinkage in scientific contracts and grants. Outlets from OPB to the Oregonian to KGW and four other TV stations turned out to capture the news, as well as get info on a new deal with Intel that makes it easier for the computer giant to license innovations coming out of the OSU College of Engineering. The agreement puts OSU in select company among research universities that Intel works with in that way.

Check out coverage of the big day, including research funding totals from other Oregon campuses, at the Oregonian site, the Portland Business Journal, OPB or the Gazette-Times.

By the way, all of this was part of the public launch of the hugely popular Powered by Orange campaign — a celebration of OSU’s impact, both current and historic, on Oregon, its people and communities and the world beyond. Beavers flocked to events in Portland and Corvallis — including great after-hours parties at Jimmy Mak’s in the Pearl District and the venerable Squirrel’s in downtown Corvegas — to get in on the fun and learn about what’s new and exciting for Beaver Nation. Check out the site, where links to social media sites and cool downloads-a-plenty await.

Or maybe Woods Hole is the OSU of the East?  September 8th, 2009

Lori Tobias of the Oregonian articulated in print what many have been whispering behind the scenes for some time now: The ascent of Oregon State University’s marine, oceanic, atmospheric and near-coastal science programs in recent years is transforming the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center and Newport, Ore., into the “Woods Hole of the West.”

That comparison might have seemed outlandish years ago — as Tobias notes, “Woods Hole is the largest nonprofit ocean research organization of its kind in the world.” But with OSU riding a wave of marine science accomplishments that includes recent announcements of a major new seafloor mapping project, a key role in the mammoth $386.4-million Ocean Observatories Initiative and helping to land the relocation of the NOAA Pacific Fleet from Seattle to Newport, folks seem to be getting more comfortable with such a characterization.

Fueling the upbeat feelings for Hatfield/Newport is the seemingly good possibility that Hatfield may be chosen for a new federally funded Marine Mammal/Marine Genomics Building. The work of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, already housed at Hatfield, is well known: Institute Director Bruce Mate was featured prominently earlier this year in a National Geographic Channel documentary on the blue whale, which last spring became the channel’s highest-rated documentary program ever. Colleagues Scott Baker and Markus Horning, like Mate, are developing international reputations for the excellence of their research and scholarship on whales, seals, genetics of marine mammals and more.

In describing the impact of Hatfield, Tobias summed it up nicely through the words of one of the faculty members working there:

“The amount of science here is mind boggling,” says Gil Sylvia, a marine resource economist and superintendent of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experimental Station. “It spans everything. Agencies here are studying where fish stocks are located in the ocean, how fish age and how that relates to their migration. We study oceanographic conditions and the relationship to fishery productivity. We are helping map the bottom of the ocean. We study underwater volcanoes and earthquakes.

“It’s huge and incredibly diverse, touching on everything from applied work to very, very fundamental science work.”