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Freshman Emily Pickering will be researching lionfish in the Bahamas this summer — and blogging about it.

Emily Pickering
Emily Pickering

To read about Emily Pickering’s research and day-to-day experiences in the Bahamas, read her blog, A Chronicle of the Invasion.

When you consider Emily Pickering’s lifelong passion for marine biology —childhood trips to Newport to see Keiko the whale; convincing her family, year after year, to see Orcas in the wild off Vancouver Island; becoming SCUBA-certified at age 11 and having 95 dives under her belt by age 19 — it’s unsurprising that she’ll soon count an upcoming research trip to the Bahamas with coral-reef fish expert Mark Hixon among her experiences.

Pickering, a University Honors College student and biology major, is the first freshman ever to accompany Hixon and his group to tiny Lee Stocking Island, where they will spend much of their summer underwater surveying the invasive lionfish — a Pacific species that was introduced into the Atlantic, where it is undergoing a population explosion and rapidly consuming native fishes on coral reefs.

“As a long-time SCUBA diver, Emily is extremely enthusiastic to apply her underwater skills to studying coral reefs,” says Hixon.

Pickering will be title to the Bahamas with grant money from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which funds undergraduate research. “I was ecstatic when I got the grant,” Pickering says. “Writing it was an amazing experience. I felt so proud of the work I’d done.”

The first time Pickering heard about Hixon’s research at a lecture for incoming Honors students, she thought, “Wow, that could be me.” The fact that she heard about it from another undergraduate, Megan Cook, who had accompanied Hixon to Lee Stocking Island the year before, made working for a world-class researcher seem like a possibility.

From there, it was all about the legwork.

Pickering contacted Cook and asked for her advice. She spoke with biochemistry professor and HHMI director Kevin Ahern, who mentored her throughout the grant process and gave her confidence that she had something to offer Hixon — despite her lack of lab experience and freshman status. And most importantly, Pickering contacted Hixon on her own.

“It was a little intimidating to approach Mark Hixon and say, ‘Hey, I want to work for you,’ but he quickly responded to my calls, and before I knew it, I was in his office talking about his work and being a part of his research team,” says Pickering. Hixon sent Pickering to graduate zoology student Mark Albins, who helped her with the HHMI grant proposal.

“I wrote my version of the proposal and sent it to Mark (Albins). It came back smothered in red ink. But it didn’t matter — I learned so much from the process and from the people I talked to that actually getting the grant almost seemed like an added bonus. It felt good to produce something I had put everything into and that I knew was my best work,”

During her three months on Lee Stocking Island, Pickering will be spending her days helping Albins survey lionfish and with his research on population dynamics. In the free time she has, Pickering will run her own experiments — she’ll be studying lionfish prey preference and digestion.

She will also be blogging about her experiences in the Bahamas, so that readers and students get an idea of what day-to-day life at a research station is like.

OSU researchers journey into the deep ocean to study undersea eruptions.

Northwest Rota-1
Northwest Rota-1

When OSU’s William Chadwick and Robert Dziak traveled to the Mariana Islands northwest of Guam in 2004, they observed something no one had seen before — a live, deep-ocean volcanic eruption from a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV.

They repeated the feat in 2006, gathering video footage of such high quality that their expedition drew national attention. Now, Chadwick (a volcanologist and chief scientist on the project), Dziak (an oceanographer) and an international team of scientists will return to the volcano in a project funded by the National Science Foundation to further study undersea eruptions. Called Northwest Rota-1, the volcano is still showing signs of activity, according to data retrieved from an underwater hydrophone.

”We don’t know if it will be active when we are there, how intense that activity could be, or even whether we will be able to see much,“ cautions Chadwick. ”But if it is active, this will be an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about undersea volcanoes and some of the significant impacts they can have.“

The scientists’ goal in this expedition is to put more science behind their observations.

”What we’ve done thus far has been to capture a brief scientific ‘snapshot’ of an undersea volcano,“ Chadwick says. ”We know a great deal about the impact of terrestrial volcanoes, but very little about those that erupt beneath the sea — from the underwater explosion processes to the chemical impacts on the ocean and the effects on deep-sea ecology.“

Northwest Rota-1 remains the only undersea volcano scientists have witnessed erupting, making it a unique site for research. Chadwick and his team will report their findings on a blog so that science students and classes from middle school through college — as well as the general public — can follow their progress.

Hear the NW Rota volcano erupt:


Claire Rogan is learning what sustainable harvesting means.

Claire Rogan
Claire Rogan

When Claire Rogan tells people she is a logger, she gets a range of reactions — anything from a sense of camaraderie from those who live the same lifestyle, to anger from people who think logging is utterly destructive. But for the Oregon State sophomore and University Honors College student, education has been the key to her understanding of the practice, its focus on sustainability, as well as the way to improvements.

“It’s like mountaintop coal removal in West Virginia,” she says. “People usually don’t say ’this is bad and we should do this instead.’ If you’re going to have a strong opinion about something, you need to go in scientifically and say ’this is why, and this is how.’”

Rogan is learning how to answer questions about logging and its impacts as a dual-degree major in forest and civil engineering. And as a member of the Student Logging Crew in the College of Forestry, Rogan gets hands-on experience working with a crew sustainably managing stands in the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest. “Pretty much any logging you see in Oregon is sustainably done. People are becoming more aware of working with, not just in, the environment,” says Rogan.

Working with the environment — for Rogan and others — means creating forest health, says Jeff Wimer, who heads the student crew. “We thin, taking out trees that are dead and dying and leaving a stand that will grow healthily,” he says. They also identify stands where growth has stalled and decide whether to harvest depending on the market and demand, the whole time keeping stream and water health in mind. “The majority of loggers love and enjoy the land where they work,” says Wimer. “They wouldn’t be there otherwise.”

The same is true of Rogan. Growing up in rural West Virginia, she always loved being in the woods. She learned the names of trees from her grandfather. She drove a tractor around her family’s small farm, and her parents instilled in her a deep regard for the natural world. She liked math, too, and science and engineering, which is why OSU was ideal. “The forest and civil engineering dual degree was perfect for me. It was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.

As a member of the logging crew, Rogan learned to run all aspects of a logging operation, from planning to the actual harvest. She learned to set chokers (a chain or cable used to haul logs from the woods) and cut timber. She graduated from using what she calls “a teeny tiny saw” to a 32-inch bar. Rogan appreciated how she wasn’t treated differently on the crew because she is a woman — and still a minority in the field.

For Rogan, the College of Forestry became such a home away from home that she applied to become an ambassador for it. Rogan talks to alumni at events, and helps recruit prospective students. “It’s so much fun for me,” she says. “I love getting to tell students how awesome it is. It’s provided so many opportunities for me.”

National Geographic documentary on Bruce Mate’s blue whale research receives record ratings.

Bruce Mate
Bruce Mate

A blue whale’s heart is the size of a Mini Cooper; its body longer than a basketball court. They are the largest creatures ever to live on our planet, and the sounds they make are equivalent to those of a jet engine. But despite their immensity, blue whales are so rare they remain mysterious. However, Oregon State University’s Bruce Mate and his colleague John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Cooperative are looking to reveal more about these elusive giants.

People are eager to know more, which is why the National Geographic film, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which aired on the National Geographic Channel on March 8, became its highest-rated nature documentary ever. “Kingdom” follows Mate and Calambokidis on their trek off the coast of California, where they tagged 15 blue whales, to their wintering grounds at the Costa Rica Dome.

bruce-mate-sidebar“It was quite an adventure,” Mate says. “But the more we learn about these great animals the better chance we have to protect them.”

On their trip, Mate and Calambokidis discovered that the Costa Rica dome is a key location for blue whales’ calving, breeding and feeding. They also learned that not all of the whales there came from California. “That suggests that some migrate there from elsewhere and we would like to know where that is,” says Mate. “These are incredibly important finds about blue whales, which we know so little about.”

For more on Mate, see National Geographic’s micro-site on his work and the article on his research in the March issue.

Read about OSU students’ experiences as they travel through the Middle East.

Oregon State student Sarah Sheldrick is among the students who traveled to Israel and Palestine this term. In this photo she stands on the border of Syria.
Oregon State student Sarah Sheldrick is among the students who traveled to Israel and Palestine this term. In this photo she stands on the border of Syria.

Imagine a dry, ancient place that is known mostly for its modern-day political strife and bloodshed. Imagine several sources of water — all precious and needed — that ignore political boundaries. And imagine conflicts over water like we experience in Oregon, between rural and urban users and concerned environmentalists. But imagine them in an area of absolute scarcity, where some people don’t even have enough water to drink.

Then imagine going there to learn how people manage these issues in their day-to-day lives. That’s what a group of 19 Oregon State University students is doing right now, as they travel through Israel and Palestine studying the geography and geology of the Middle East’s water supply and sources, as well as how those factors affect cities, agriculture and, ultimately, politics.

“It felt natural to take the students there to look at these separate issues, and then look at them together,” says geosciences professor Aaron Wolf, who lived in Israel for 10 years, and who is the faculty adviser for the group. “I think all of them will get a much more nuanced view of the region.”

The group, all of whom are members of the Oregon State Geo Club or Hydrophiles, is blogging about the trip, which includes meeting with stakeholders, as well as with groups like Friends of the Earth Middle East, an organization that makes tremendous progress in water conflict management.

“It’s stuff you never hear about, which is so sad,“ says Wolf. “But day in and day out, there is a huge amount of interaction and cooperation with resource management that nobody here knows about because the conflict supersedes everything.”

Read the Geo Club and Hydrophiles’ Trip Blog.

Taryn Luna is attending the New York Times Student Journalism Institute.

Taryn Luna
Taryn Luna

When Taryn Luna found out she was one of only 20 students nationwide chosen to attend the New York Times Student Journalism Institute in Miami this January, she was stunned. Luna, an OSU junior majoring in New Media Communications, thought the opportunity seemed too good to be true.

Participants at the Institute, which is for members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, often go on to intern or work at prestigious news organizations like The Washington Post, the Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and, of course, The New York Times itself.

Although Luna considered it a long shot when she wrote her 500-word essay and sent samples of her work to apply for the Institute, she has no reservations about going. “I’m so excited to work with students who are passionate about doing this for a living,” says Luna.

While at the 10-day Institute, Luna and her fellow students will work alongside veteran journalists from the Times, The Boston Globe and the Time’s Company’s regional newspapers in a newsroom environment. Past participants have been dispatched into Miami to cover presidential speeches and campaign events, the funeral of a famous mob leader, issues such as immigration, and dozens of other stories.

Luna started at OSU as an English major, but soon decided that writing papers on Shakespeare wasn’t for her. She switched majors and joined the staff at the Barometer, where she likes most to cover stories that have an impact, like OSU professor Dennis Hruby’s smallpox vaccine.

“Taryn is exactly the kind of student who will thrive in the Times’ program,” says New Media Communications professor Pam Cytrynbaum, who recommended Luna for the Institute. “It is especially an honor for her to be selected because she isn’t coming from a traditional journalism program, but from our New Media program.”

Throughout her time in Miami, Luna plans on keeping a blog to chronicle her experiences reporting there.

“It’s great that I have Oregon State backing me,” says Luna. “Everyone in the department has been so supportive.”

New Climate Report: Look for more drought and melting glaciers, says OSU’s Peter Clark.

Peter Clark
Peter Clark

To a geoscientist, the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” is an outlandish imagining of abrupt climate change, even down to heartthrob Jake Gyllenhaal’s geeky heroics in the lead role.

But abrupt climate change is not only plausible; it’s likely to occur in this century — even faster in some ways than previous reports have indicated. That’s the conclusion of a recent report by OSU geosciences professor Peter Clark and colleagues for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

The report — one of 21 of its kind developed by academic and government agency researchers around the country — specifically identifies faster-than-expected loss of sea ice, rising sea levels and a possibly permanent state of drought in the American Southwest as likelihoods in the near future. It is one of the first reports that describes possible impacts on the North American continent in such detail.

“If the earth warms you can push it to a point where change happens more quickly than expected,” he says. “We’re forcing changes with global warming at a rate the Earth’s climate system has experienced only a few times in history,” says Clark. Generally climate change is understood to have occurred, but is believed to have taken place slowly, over hundreds or thousands of years. But the Earth’s climate — at times — has also changed surprisingly quickly, on the order of decades.

The report evaluated four mechanisms for abrupt climate change that have taken place prehistorically, including rapid changes in glaciers, ice sheets and sea level; widespread changes to the hydrologic cycle; abrupt changes in ocean current patterns; and rapid release to the atmosphere of methane trapped in permafrost or on continental margins.

“All of these have the potential to change quickly due to global warming,” Clark says. The report concluded that we should not expect catastrophic changes in ocean current patterns or abrupt release of methane into the atmosphere, but that rapid change in the other mechanisms may already be in place. “The possibility that the Southwest may enter a permanent drought state is not yet widely appreciated,” says Clark. “Sea ice in the summer is likely to disappear entirely this century. We don’t know how much sea levels will rise, but we’ve concluded it may be more than previously projected.”

The “overarching” recommendation of the report is the need for committed and sustained monitoring of these climatic forces that could trigger abrupt climate changes, the researchers concluded. “We need to monitor the vital signs of our planet,” Clark said.

Service is a way of life for Nick Christensen.

Nick Christensen
Nick Christensen

Nick Christensen and his Red Cross teammates stopped at Strawns on their last day in Shreveport, Louisiana. They had been regulars there for breakfast during their two weeks volunteering for victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. When they were getting ready to pay, their waitress told them it was taken care of. She pointed to a man in a booth in the back. The man said, “Thank you for what you do.”

For Christensen, an OSU senior and natural resource management major, getting that message was important, because he weaves service to others so tightly into his day-to-day life. In this Q&A, Christensen talks about his history of service and his work in Louisiana.

Describe your history of service.

I’ve been a Boy Scout for the last 16 years, and run a summer camp north of Mt. Hood National Forest along with three other people.

I’ve worked for Dixon for four years, which has been great. I’ve done safety programs, Emergency Response and Red Cross classes. Right now I supervise the emergency responders who go to high-impact sporting events around campus. I sit on the board of Rec Sports and am the president of the Student Activities Committee there, and in my spare time I officiate sports for high schools around Oregon

What motivates you to serve?

Serving is fun for me. I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t. I want to do positive things. I want to help people and meet new people. Serving just seems like a logical thing to do.

Did working with the Red Cross in Louisiana give you a different appreciation for the work they do?

They teach you in disaster training to be flexible, but I never understood it until I went to Louisiana. I’d come with the understanding I would be doing mass care in Baton Rouge. But when I got there I was assigned to Shreveport, six hours to the north. I was supposed to work in a shelter there, but ended up fixing computers and working in staffing services. You go where they need you.

Who were the people on your Red Cross team in Shreveport?

A lot of the people I worked with were older and had a different appreciation for what disaster did to communities and people. One was a doctor. One worked for Hummer. One was retired military. Everyone there enjoyed helping. They were all very different people, very different backgrounds. I’ve never worked with a group that hated taking days off so much. I never heard anyone complain that we were there until 9 at night.

How were you received in the community?

The people in Shreveport were absolutely hospitable. This community had been bombarded with people from all over the state, but they were happy to have us there. I love the people there. They’re amazing.

What’s it like working for people who are experiencing a disaster like Gustav or Ike?

It’s by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. By the time people got to me, it was because they couldn’t find a shelter. They were frantic and upset. So for me it was, ‘how can we get these people what they need as quickly and correctly as possible?’ It was a sensitive time — Gustav and Ike hit so close to the anniversary of Katrina, and lots of these people had been through that. You have to remember that you’re not there for yourself. You’re down there to help people.

Luke Leineweber took advantage of Ecampus classes in Iraq — and beyond.

In recognition of Veteran’s Day, we’ve gone to our archives to reflect on some of the amazing OSU people who’ve combined education with military service. We salute our veterans and value their contributions to both the nation and our university community.

Luke Leineweber
Luke Leineweber

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For Luke Leineweber, life as a Naval aircrewman on a base in Balad, Iraq had a rhythm — a day flying missions, a day of office work, a day off — but routine did not lead to relaxation. The C-130 aircraft in which he flew and relayed messages to convoys on the ground was shot at regularly at takeoff and landing. The base where he lived during his 2008 deployment (his second) is one of the largest in Iraq, and was mortared daily.

“You never do get used to it,” Leineweber says. “You can’t tell your body not to react in a certain way. Your adrenaline gets going, and your heart rate.”

It meant that his day-to-day routines on the base had even more value. In his off time Leineweber went to the base’s pool. He played games and watched movies. And he could often be found at the base’s small library, working on Ecampus classes in pursuit of a political science degree from OSU.

“You can focus on getting into a paper or finishing reading,” says Leineweber. “It’d be weird sometimes. You’d land from a mission after some pretty intense stuff and then you have to switch to school mode to try and get to some work that’s due.”

Leineweber started taking Ecampus classes in 2004, after seeing his high school friends graduate from college. “I felt left behind,” he says. “So I looked at OSU’s online program and was admitted.”

After being discharged in September, Leineweber is back in his native Portland, happy to be around his friends and family and still taking Ecampus classes. “It will take time to settle back into civilian life, but I’ll be snowboarding at Mt. Hood a lot in the winter,” he says. “And I missed the beach when I was gone. I consider Oregon my home.”

Transmissions from the Ice Sheet

This November, Logan Mitchell will spend two months working at the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide research station in Antarctica, along with 45 other scientist, students and technicians from across the United States. The NSF-funded project aims to collect a 3.5 kilometer-long ice core over three summer seasons, with the intention of providing Antarctic records of environmental change for the last 100,000 years. Portions of that core will ultimately end up in Ed Brook’s lab at OSU.

Mitchell, whose funding also comes from the NSF, faces a lengthy journey. He must first get to Christchurch, New Zealand, where he will board a military plane bound for McMurdo Station — a miniature polar city capable of housing 1,200 people — on the Antarctic coast. There, he’ll undergo a week of survival training for conditions that, even in the Antarctic summer, where temperatures average -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). He’ll learn simple mountaineering and how to deal with a crevasse, a crack in the ice that can swallow a person. And then he’ll head 1,000 miles northwest to the WAIS station. Because it is so remote, Mitchell underwent the most extensive physical evaluation he’d ever experienced. As a precaution, people visiting the WAIS must have their wisdom teeth removed. The knee-length parka Mitchell will wear is bright red; if he’s injured, it’ll make him easy to spot on the flat, white landscape.

Although he’ll have limited access by satellite to the Internet at the WAIS outpost, Mitchell is planning on filling in the OSU community on his day-to-day life, from his work as a core handler to the things, like the “ice Olympics,” polar researchers do for fun.

Check out his blog at:

Ed Brook and Logan Mitchell
Ed Brook and Logan Mitchell

Studying ice cores gives Ed Brook and Logan Mitchell a picture of climate change.

For most, a polar landscape conjures a feeling of otherworldly barrenness and unrelenting cold. But for geosciences professor Ed Brook and Ph.D. student Logan Mitchell, the most far-flung, inhospitable places on the planet — the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Greenland Ice Sheet, the
Siple Coast of Antarctica, to name a few — are fruitful grounds for research. They hold the keys to understanding the history of the Earth’s climate, as well as its future.

Brook and Mitchell study the tiny air bubbles that are trapped in ancient polar ice. Measuring greenhouse gases — methane and carbon dioxide — in those bubbles helps them reconstruct climate changes throughout the past 800,000 years. “Ice cores are unique,” says Mitchell. “The bubbles in the ice core are the actual atmosphere from that time. It’s not a proxy. We’re studying the real deal.” Brook’s lab is one of the few throughout the world that can work with a high quantity of ice core samples, enabling his team to continually draw more refined pictures of past climate changes.

As a mentor, Brook helps Mitchell make connections in other ways, as well. “He’s really good about letting me take ownership of ideas,” says Mitchell. “He lets me struggle and come to conclusions myself and provides feedback that’s constructive. He doesn’t just tell me the answers.”

Not only that, Brook encourages students like Mitchell to take advantage of as many opportunities to engage in their field as possible. Brook wants his students to branch out, to go to meetings and contact researchers at other universities, which is essential in an interdisciplinary field like ice-core research. Brook and Mitchell need to know, for example, how droughts and fires are related to greenhouse gases on a global scale. They need to understand hydrology and glaciology to help put their research into context.

“For me, the most important thing is that students should be colleagues,” says Brook. “This was done for me when I was a student. It helps them get involved in the field, and it gives them responsibility. It can be hard work. Logan was one of the most responsible students I taught. He took things a little further than most.”

Mitchell’s focus on ice-core research emerged from a longstanding love of the outdoors, hiking and colder environments. When he started thinking of the places he visited with a scientific perspective, he realized he had the potential to work in a relevant and valuable field. Brook was available when Mitchell needed advice about applying to OSU and choosing a lab, and the work piqued Mitchell’s interest.

“The science is exciting,” says Mitchell, “And Ed really has a gift for making me motivated about the research.”

OSU, Brook says, is a good place to be for anyone interested in climate change research. “There’s a lot happening here,” he says. “We all gain a lot — the students in particular — because of what’s happening on this campus.”