NOAA researchers in Newport record sounds of March 11 earthquake

NEWPORT – Earthquakes are felt more often than heard, but Oregon scientists say the sound of the March 11 Japan earthquake alone could help improve our ability to detect earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the deep ocean.

Image of NOAA/PMEL sound recording

Scientists with the NOAA Vents Program at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory captured the sounds of the earthquake using an underwater microphone near the Aleutian Islands – 900 miles from the quake epicenter.

“The Japan earthquake was the largest source of ocean sound ever recorded on our hydrophone arrays. This unique record gives us insight into the physics behind how sound is transmitted from the Earth’s crust into the ocean and then propagates through the Pacific Ocean basin,” says Robert Dziak, Ph.D., a scientist with the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies (CIMRS). CIMRS is a partnership between NOAA and Oregon State University. Dziak is also the principal investigator of the Ocean Acoustic Project in the NOAA Vents Program, based in Newport.

Dziak’s team is one of many research projects taking advantage of a vast network of underwater acoustic devices (developed by the US Navy for surveillance purposes) to listen in on what’s going on deep beneath the surface of the sea. OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute has used the system, for instance, to record the voices of migrating whales as they travel around the Pacific.

Read more from NOAA and listen to the earthquake recording

Site off Newport chosen for wave-energy test facility

Wave site

Wave energy test site location

NEWPORT – A one-square-mile site off the coast near Newport has been selected for a new wave energy test program, the first of its kind in the United States and the closest one this side of Scotland.

The siting decision was announced Wednesday by officials from the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center,  a collaborative research effort of Oregon State University and the University of Washington.

The selection follows two years of discussions with the Oregon coastal community, fishermen, state agencies, wave energy developers and scientists. It is within Oregon territorial waters, near the Hatfield Marine Science Center and close to onshore roads and marine support services.

Public comments on the proposal are still being sought, officials said.

The site will be about one square mile in size, two miles northwest of Yaquina Head on the central Oregon coast, in water about 150-180 feet deep with a sandy seafloor. It is exposed to unobstructed waves that have traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. The facility is being funded by the state of Oregon and the U.S. Department of Energy.

“If all of our plans and permits are approved, we hope to have the test facility available for wave energy developers to use by this fall,” said Annette von Jouanne, an OSU professor of electrical engineering and leader with the university’s wave energy research programs.

The site will not only allow testing of new wave energy technologies, but will also be used to help study any potential environmental impacts on sediments, invertebrates and fish. In order to simplify and expedite ocean testing, the facility will not initially be connected to the land-based electrical grid.

Testing will be done using a chartered vessel or stand-alone buoy along with the wave energy devices, and most of the technology being tested will produce its energy through the up-and-down motion of the waves. Some devices may be very large, up to 100 feet tall and with a diameter of up to 50 feet, but mostly below the water line.

“The site will not necessarily be off limits to other ocean users,” said Oregon Sea Grant’s Kaety Hildenbrand, who leads Sea Grant’s wave energy public engagement efforts on the central coast.  “As part of our continuing outreach to the coastal community, we plan to have a series of dialogues with safety experts and ocean users to discuss allowable uses.”

Read more from OSU News & Research Communications  …

Malouf scholarship deadline announced

Oregon Sea Grant is accepting applications for the fourth annual Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship, open to graduate students enrolled at any college or university in Oregon working toward a degree  in a  field compatible with Oregon Sea Grant’s mandate and areas of interest.

Relevant fields could include (but are not limited to) biological, geological, physical and chemical sciences; marine resource management and policy; marine resource economics; social sciences; engineering; geology; education or public health.

This annual scholarship is intended to support the efforts of students focusing on marine-related   research, education or public engagement. The program is named for Robert Malouf, Oregon Sea Grant director from 1991-2008.

Applications for the 2011-2012 scholarship are due by 5 pm June 17.  The scholarship will provide up to $10,800 dispersed in 12 monthly payments beginning September 1, 2011

Read more information

Sam Chan returns to Science Pub Corvallis

This cream-colored tunicate, which can resemble a soft coral, can foul fishing equipment, boats, water intakes and aquaculture moorings. (photo courtesy of Vallorie Hodges, Oregon Coast Aquarium)When an aggressive non-native species, Didemnum vexillum, showed up in Winchester Bay and Coos Bay last year, Oregon Sea Grant, the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Coast Aquarium went to work. Sea Grant Extension agents began educating communities about the threat. Divers began scouring harbors and inlets for this “colonial tunicate,” which is on the top-100 list of species to be kept out of Oregon. The animal fouls nets, crab traps, boats and marine facilities. The State of Washington has spent more than $1 million control it in Puget Sound.

This cream-colored tunicate, which can resemble a soft coral, can foul fishing equipment, boats, water intakes and aquaculture moorings.

If it gets a foothold in Oregon, it wouldn’t be the first invader. English ivy, non-native crayfish, New Zealand mudsnails and European green crabs are well-established here. Non-native species enter the state in cars, recreational boats, ships, airplanes and on the wind. As an Oregon Sea Grant educator and chair of the Oregon Invasive Species Council, Sam Chan coordinates efforts to identify threats and curb new infestations.

At the May 9 Corvallis Science Pub, Chan will discuss invasives in Oregon and in other states and the economic and environmental costs of managing them. He’ll provide updates on efforts to manage the pest that causes “sudden oak death” and several pathways for new species to enter the state: biology classes in schools and campgrounds and resorts that import firewood from as far away as Asia.

Science Pub takes place at the Old World Deli, 341 SW 2nd Street, the second Monday of each month from 6-8 pm. The talks are free and open to the public. Come early to get a good table and enjoy some food and drink before the program starts. If you can’t make it to the deli, Science Pub is also streamed live on the Web, courtesy of OSU’s Terra magazine.

Read more about Oregon Sea Grant’s efforts in invasive species education.

Removing invading plants can harm native ecology

Beach grass on the Oregon coastCORVALLIS, Ore. – The removal of invasive beach grasses on the Oregon coast to improve nesting habitat for the western snowy plover, a threatened shorebird, can harm non-target, native plant species and dune ecosystems, an Oregon Sea Grant-supported study shows.

The findings, published by researchers from Oregon State University in Ecosphere, a professional journal, suggest that restoration projects to aid a threatened species should also consider the broader ecosystem in which it lives.

“By just targeting one species, you’re not reestablishing the ecosystem function and allowing the other native species that are also in decline to recover,” said Sally Hacker, an OSU associate professor of zoology. “We looked at the whole process to see if there were ways to help restore things to benefit the plover as well as other species.”

The western snowy plover, a small, open-ground nesting shorebird that prefers bare or sparsely-vegetated, low, sandy dunes, was listed as a threatened species in the early 1990s after populations in Oregon declined to only about 28 surviving individuals.

The listing triggered protection and monitoring, including restoration sites on public land along the Pacific coast. Bulldozers and other mechanical and hand methods were used to remove two invasive beach grass species, Ammophila arenaria and Ammophila breviligulata. These grasses make it difficult for the plover to nest, see predators, and access the open beaches to feed.

The non-native grasses had been introduced in Oregon in the late 1800s and early 1900s to stabilize beach sand that was inundating coastal roadways and homes, and create foredunes to protect properties from winter storm surges.

But the introduced grasses transformed vast stretches of what was once dynamic beach dunes populated by low-growing native plants into dense, static monocultures of the bristly beach grass. The invasive grasses shade out low-growing native plants and have caused continuous foredunes to form at heights of as much as 45 feet.

With support from Oregon Sea Grant, Hacker and Eric Seabloom, a former OSU professor, and doctoral candidate Phoebe Zarnetske, studied 10 of the plover restoration sites.

Read more in:

Study suggests education, manufacturing changes could reduce sea lion entanglements

Sea lion injured by entanglement - OSU photo, 2010CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study by researchers at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute suggests most entanglements of Steller sea lions in human-made marine debris along the Pacific coast could be prevented through education and changes to manufacturing and packaging processes when the entangling materials are produced.

In the first study of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, Kim Raum-Suryan, an OSU faculty research assistant, studied Steller sea lions between 2005 and 2009 at two of Oregon’s most iconic locations, the Sea Lion Caves and Cascade Head. Steller sea lions use these as “haul-outs,” places where the mammals rest on land between feeding forays.

Over the past 30 years, the Steller sea lion population has declined by more than 80 percent, resulting in its threatened status in the eastern portion of its range (central California to southeast Alaska) and endangered status in the western portion (western Alaska).

During the study, which was completed with funding from Oregon Sea Grant, Raum-Suryan witnessed 72 animals entangled in debris including: black rubber bands used on crab pots; hard plastic packing bands used around cardboard bait boxes (and other cardboard shipping boxes); and hooks and other fishing gear.

Read more…

Can warning systems save lives in near-shore tsunamis?

Oregon State University’s Chris Goldfinger has doubts. “The earthquake is the warning,” said Goldfinger, a marine quake expert who happened to be in Japan when last month’s devastating quake and the ensuing tsunami struck.

But physicist Jörn Lauterjung, who has been working on such systems since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, believes Japan’s history of seismic preparedness – including warning systems – prevented even more lives from being lost.

Near-shore quakes pose very different risks than distant ones, and the March 11 disaster illustrated the point. Despite tsunami warnings that went out within three minutes of the quake, coastal Japanese had only about 10 minutes to get to higher ground – and in some cases, that wasn’t high enough to escape the onrushing water. Coastal Oregonians, by contrast, had hours after being warned to evacuate, and by the time the wave made its way across the Pacific, it was small enough to do damage only to selected harbors.

Reverse the situation, though, and the US coast could have as little time to react as did the Japanese. Tsunami preparedness educators emphasize that point: If you’re on the coast and the ground shakes, don’t wait for a warning – or anything else – before moving to higher ground.

Read more about the issues and technology  in Scientific American: Make Or Breaker: Can a Tsunami Warning System Save Lives During An Earthquake?

Wave energy impractical? OSU researcher says “not at all.”

Check out this National Science Foundation video of Oregon State University researcher Annette Von Jouanne explaining how the power of the ocean waves could be harnessed to provide clean electricity.

Wave energy is a hot topic on the Oregon coast, where several companies have proposed pilot projects to determine whether the technology is practical, as well as possible.  Coastal communities, meanwhile, want some say in where and how wave energy “farms” are located, fearing disruption of fishing, whale migration and other ocean uses. Oregon Sea Grant’s coastal Extension faculty are helping to bridge those divergent views through community meetings and education programs.

Sea Grant provided early grant support for Von Jouanne and her lab as they investigated the engineering solutions for harnessing the power of the waves. Read more here.

More on wave energy from the NSF’s Science Nation.

Seal pups on the beaches: Leave them alone

Seal pups rest on shoreNEWPORT, Ore. – The arrival of spring has brought a number of young seal pups onto Oregon beaches, where they are at-risk from well-meaning coastal visitors who want to “rescue” them.

Oregon State University marine mammal biologist Jim Rice is urging the public to refrain from touching or approaching the seal pups, which in most cases are not orphaned or abandoned, he pointed out. They frequently are left on the beach by their mothers, who are out looking for food.

“Seal pups being left alone on the beach in the spring is perfectly normal,” said Rice, who coordinates the statewide Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network headquartered at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. “Newborn pups typically spend several hours each day waiting for their mothers to reunite with them.

Read more from OSU News & Research Communications

Download our “Seal pups rest on shore” poster (.pdf)

New Sea Grant fellows to help implement west coast ocean agreement

Salmon River EstuarySea Grant programs in Oregon, California  and Washington have teamed to place four  highly qualified young professionals in a new  West Coast Sea Grant Fellowship to support regional research and information needs and advance elements of the West Coast Governors’  Agreement on Ocean Health (WCGA).

“Sea Grant has a successful record of supporting exceptional master’s and doctoral graduates for marine research and policy fellowships, and the four California, Oregon, and Washington Sea Grant Programs are thrilled to be teaming up for our first-ever regional fellowship,” said Stephen Brandt, Oregon Sea Grant Director.

Beginning this month, the four will spent two-year assignments in federal and state agency offices in California, Oregon and Washington. The fellows will work on a variety of WCGA  initiatives, from developing a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning to advancing regional ocean and coastal research priorities.

Their work will support  the 2008 WCGA Action Plan, which describes seven key priorities facing the West Coast:

  • clean coastal waters and beaches
  • healthy ocean and coastal habitats
  • effective ecosystem-based management
  • reduced impacts of offshore development
  • increased ocean awareness and literacy among the region’s citizens
  • expanded ocean and coastal scientific information, research, and monitoring
  • sustainable economic development of coastal communities.

“We’re very excited to have this opportunity to benefit from the academic expertise, experience and enthusiasm of our four new fellows,” said Brian Baird, California’s Assistant Secretary for Ocean and Coastal Policy. “In these difficult economic times, working collaboratively to advance important ocean and coastal initiatives on the West Coast is critically important.”

Todd Hallenbeck will be based in the office of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, where he will play a key role in coastal-marine spatial planning, a science-based  process for analyzing and planning for ocean and coastal use. He will assist the WCGA   in developing a framework for the process,  including data management, decision support tools, stakeholder engagement and policy aspects. His work will help inform region-wide marine spatial planning  as he interacts with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Pacific Fishery Management Council and various federal agencies with responsibilities for ocean and coastal activities, as well as state leadership from the three West Coast states.

Hallenbeck received his undergraduate degree in Marine Science from the Univeristy of California, Santa Cruz,  and recently completed a master’s degree in Coastal Watershed Science and Policy from California State University, Monterey Bay.

Suzanna Stoike is assigned to the Washington Department of Ecology. Her work will focus on sustainable coastal communities by assisting in carrying out the soon-to-be-released implementation plan of the WCGA’s Sustainable Communities action coordination team.  Suzanna will also help connect the West Coast Ecosystem-Based Network, a partnership of six community-based initiatives focused on the successful implementation of ecosystem-based management along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, and the NOAA/WCGA Integrated Ecosystem Assessments team.

Stoike is a recent graduate of Oregon State University’s Marine Resource Management master’s degree program, with an undergraduate degree from Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. While at OSU, she worked with Sea Grant-funded researcher Selina Heppell on a project enlisting fishermen in Port Orford to determine whether different methods of releasing pregnant female fish can help sustain potentially overharvested species.

In addition to Stoike and Hallenbeck, the new fellowship program is placing graduates Alison Haupt with  California Natural Resources Agency, and Alan Lovewell with the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle.

Launched in September 2006 by the governors of California, Oregon and Washington, the WCGA advances regional ocean governance and  underscores the importance of managing activities that affect our oceans on an ecosystem basis. The governors chose the state Sea Grant programs to conduct a three-year public engagement process that gathered comments from all kinds of ocean and coastal stakeholders, public and private, and resulted in a detailed report of their  issues and concerns.

From that, the WCGA team developed a 116-page action plan and eight work plans for dealing with issues as far-reaching as sea level rise, renewable energy and marine science literacy. Those plans are all available for download from the WCGA website.