Community college and high school students to spend four days on OSU research vessel

September 14, 2018

By Sean Nealon

Students and teachers will join OSU scientists on the R/V Oceanus this month to gain at-sea research experience.

Students and teachers will join OSU scientists on the R/V Oceanus this month to gain at-sea research experience. (Photo by Pat Kight)

Oregon high school and community college students and teachers will join Oregon State University scientists on the research vessel Oceanus this month to gain at-sea research experience as part of a project to enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

The cruise, scheduled from Sept. 23 to 26, will depart from Newport, travel south along the Oregon coast to Stonewall and Heceta Banks, before veering northward to the Astoria Canyon, then into the Columbia River to Portland before returning to Newport. The research vessel will dock for two days in Portland, where there will be a series of activities, including tours for Portland area K-12 students.

Students on last year's cruise help retrieve the "Sonde," an instrument used to measure the conductivity, temperature and pressure of seawater.

Students on a 2016 cruise help retrieve the “Sonde,” an instrument used to measure the conductivity, temperature and pressure of seawater. (Photo by Tracy Crews)

The students and teachers participating in the cruise are from high schools in Bandon, Lincoln City and Warrenton, as well as Southwestern Oregon Community College and Oregon Coast Community College.

“This project will provide a transformational educational experience for high school and community college students and their teachers,” said Tracy Crews, marine education manager for Oregon Sea Grant. “By immersing students and teachers in at-sea research, we hope to increase the STEM-related skills of all participants and encourage students to seek out STEM careers.”

During the cruise, participants will conduct marine mammal and seabird surveys and correlate the presence and absence with oceanographic data. They will also conduct plankton tows where marine mammals are located to determine prey availability. Photo-identification of whales will be conducted to describe individual movement patterns, and the team will fly drones over whales to document behavior and assess body condition.

The project is a collaborative effort from Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, which serves educators, students and communities along the Oregon coast and is located at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The research vessel Oceanus is operated by Oregon State University and owned by the National Science Foundation.

Leigh Torres, an assistant professor at Oregon State and a member of the university’s Marine Mammal Institute, and Kim Bernard, an assistant professor at Oregon State who leads the Zooplankton Ecology Lab, will be the chief scientists on the excursion.

Now available: New issue of Oregon Sea Grant’s newsletter

June 21, 2018

The spring/summer 2018 issue of Confluence, a newsletter about Oregon Sea Grant’s research, outreach and educational programs, is now available for download. Inside this eight-page issue, you’ll find the following stories:

Cover of the spring/summer 2018 issue of Oregon Sea Grant's newsletter, Confluence

The spring/summer 2018 issue of Oregon Sea Grant’s newsletter, Confluence, is now available for free download.

Want to receive the next issue of Confluence in your email? Click here.

OSU to host Marine Science Day this Saturday, April 8

Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 8, giving visitors an opportunity to see laboratories behind the scenes, interact with student scientists and learn more about current marine research.

The event is free and open to the public, and takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, located in Newport southeast of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay. It will feature interactive, hands-on exhibits and opportunities to talk with researchers from OSU and other federal and state agencies.

The theme is “Celebrating Student Research,” and student scientists will be among the researchers presenting exhibits on marine mammals, oyster aquaculture, ocean acidification, ocean noise, seagrass ecology, fisheries, deep-sea vents and more. Visitors can learn about research diving with the OSU Dive Team, observe microscopic plankton, tour a genetics lab and hear about the NOAA Corps’ 100th year as a commissioned service.

Special activities for children will be offered by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The Oregon Coast STEM Hub and representatives from OSU and Oregon Coast Community College will also be available to engage K-12 students interested in pursuing marine studies.

Special events include:

  • A lecture at 2:30 p.m. by José R. Marín Jarrín, Charles Darwin Foundation, Galápagos, Ecuador, on “From Hatfield to the Charles Darwin Foundation: The importance of student research experiences”
  • Opening celebration at 10:30 a.m. for the Experimental Seawater Facility, funded by the National Science Foundation
  • A public feeding of Opal the octopus at 1 p.m. in the Visitors Center

Visitors may also learn about the progress of OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative, which seeks to host 500 students-in-residence in Newport by 2025.

“With a new teaching and research facility in the fundraising and design phase, Marine Science Day offers a great opportunity to understand why we are so excited about OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative,” said Bob Cowen, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

“It is also a chance to learn about our scientists – who we are, what we do, and how we, as university, state and federal partners, work together and with communities to better understand and solve our marine and coastal challenges.”

More information about the event is available here.

(From a news release provided by Maryann Bozza, HMSC)

Photo caption: An octopus will be among the many exhibits and activities during Marine Science Day at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)


Waldport High students help NOAA track ocean currents

R/V Oceanus crew launches Waldport High's drifter (photo by Jeff Crews)

R/V Oceanus crew launches Waldport High’s drifter (photo by Jeff Crews)

WALDPORT – Students at Waldport High School are excited about today’s successful launch of their unmanned sailboat, Phyxius, near the Equator by OSU’s R/V Oceanus, as part of a long-term national  project to better understand ocean currents and transport patterns.

The project, organized by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, is part of  NOAA’s Educational Passages program, which enlists science, technology, engineering and math classes to build the miniature vessels and set them loose in ocean and coastal waters – and follow them via a NOAA tracking site to see where they go. More than 40 of the drifters have been launched since the program began in 2008.

The unmanned mini-sailboats are self-steering and equipped with GPS tracking devices to study ocean and wind patterns and much more. The five-foot vessels sail directly downwind month after month. As these boats travel the oceans, students can track them via and learn and improve their skills in map reading, geography, earth science, oceanography and more.

Waldport’s is just the third drifter to be launched in the Pacific. Most of the others have been launched into the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico. Drifters have landed in Europe, the Caribbean, Cuba, Bahamas, Panama, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia as well as many other places. Some have left Portugal and closely duplicated Columbus’s route to the new world, and another spent time on display in an Irish pub.

Register-Guard: Changing ocean chemistry threatens marine life

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on the state’s north coast watched oyster larvae die en masse for three years in a row in the mid-2000s — depriving oyster farms along the entire West Coast of seed oysters.

Florence crabber Al Pazar saw baby octopuses, an inch or two long, climb up his crab lines to escape the sea waters in the 2005 season. When he pulled up his pots, the crab were dead.

Eugene fisherman Ryan Rogers, who drags in great piles of salmon on an Alaska purse seiner, has instead brought up nets full of jellyfish in recent years.

“Sometimes we’ll catch 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of jellyfish. They spray all around. We get stung,” he said. “It makes it difficult to bring your net in. You have to let it go and lose the salmon that are in your net.”

Scientists — including many at Oregon State University — are beginning to define the cause of these events. They call it ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Wind, currents and ocean chemistry conspire to create pools of corrosive waters that can be lethal to key commercial species in Northwest waters — and favorable to some nuisance species, such as jellyfish. …

The Eugene Register-Guard examines what OSU scientists – some of them working with Oregon Sea Grant funding – are learning about the causes and consequences of ocean acidification.

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Student ROV design and engineering regionals set for May 4

Student launches an ROV during last year's Oregon Regional competitionLINCOLN City – More than 100 junior high, high school and college students will converge on the Lincoln Community Center this Saturday (May 4) to compete in the Oregon Regional Marine Advanced Technology ROV Competition – and a chance to advance to the international finals.

Teams from Albany, Astoria, Corbett, Corvallis, The Dalles, Eddyville, Lincoln City, Salem, Toledo, Portland and Waldport are expected for the competition which runs from 8:30 am to 4:30 p.m. at the community center, 2150 NE Oar Place. The event is open to the public.

Competing teams, ranging from 6th grade to college age, have designed and built tethered underwater robots known as remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. The annual competition is sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant, the OregonCoast STEM Center, and the Oregon Chapter of the Marine Technology Society, and is intended to encourage Oregon students to learn and apply science, technology, engineering and math skills.

Full-scale ROVs are widely used in scientific research,  ocean exploration, homeland security, the offshore oil and gas industry, and other industries.  This year’s contest highlights the role ROVs play in the installation, operation, and maintenance of ocean observing systems,  collections of high-tech instruments above and below the waves that provide around-the-clock information about what is happening in the ocean. Via fiber optic cable, the data collection equipment continuously communicates information to scientists, engineers and technicians who use it to understand and make predictions about the ocean, coast, and ocean resources. Ocean Observing Systems provide critical information on climate change, toxic algal blooms, tsunamis and other ocean hazards.

Competing teams must pilot their ROVs to perform a variety of underwater mission tasks, from installing a simulated power and communications “hub” and scientific instruments in order to complete a seafloor ocean observatory to removing bio-fouling organisms from instruments and performing maintenance on moorings.

The winning team will advance to the 12th annual MATE International ROV Competition, June 20-22 in Federal Way, Wash.

The regional MATE program, one of 22 such competitions around the world, is supported by local sponsors including the Marine Technology Society, the Oregon Coast Regional STEM Center, OSU’s Pre-College Programs, Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators, the Siletz Tribe Charitable Funds, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Pro-Build, Advanced Research Corporation, and the NOAA Officers Family Association. Local marine technology professionals volunteer as judges for the competition, evaluating the students’ ROVs, poster displays, and engineering presentations.

OSU researcher seeks better rip current forecasts

Rip current warning signRip currents – strong channels of water flowing seaward from the shore – kill more Americans than do hurricanes. Caught off guard, people are swept out to sea, where they exhaust themselves swimming against the pull of the strong, outrushing current, and drown.

While scientists and the National Weather Service have made progress predicting the probability of rip currents in given locations, they so far lack a method ot accurately forecast whether and when they’ll actually occur, and how strong they might be.

Oregon State University’s Tuba Ozkan-Haller is hoping to change all that. For the last five years, she’s been working to develop a model to identify the location of rip currents up to a day in advance – something that would be a boon to swimmers, surfers and lifeguards around the world, and could save hundreds of lives a year.

Ozkan-Haller, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences, surveys the topography of the ocean floor to figure out how waves will travel over it; this allows her to see how that mass of water can escape back from shore via a rip current. She plugs these factors into a mathematical model she developed that predicts where and when rip currents will occur – and how strong they will be.

Helping her efforts are cutting-edge surveying technologies that allow her to observe properties at the water’s surface and infer the underlying bathymetry from those observations. This is a much more efficient and accurate way to get a sense of the sea floor than the standard procedure of surveying from a boat.

“I’m totally floored by how well we can do compared to traditional surveying methods,” says Ozkan-Haller. “You can set up a radar system near a beach and get continuous estimates of the bathymetry as it evolves from day to day without ever stepping foot into the water.”

The rip current effort is part of Ozkan-Haller’s broader interest in underwater coastal topography and how it helps shape the ocean’s waves. Oregon Sea Grant has supported some of that work, including a related project to develop a model for predicting nearshore wave patterns and heights. A reliable wave forecast system would benefit navigation, fishing, transportation, beach safety and even wave-energy siting.

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OSU to take lead in designing new NSF research ships

R/V Oceanus, OSU's current primary research vesselOregon State University has been chosen to lead a project to design and build as many as three new coastal research vessels, the first multi-ship expansion of the National Science Foundation’s academic research fleet since the 1970s, and one intended to boost the marine science research capabilities of the United States.

The new vessels, which could take a decade to design, build and equip, will become part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, the nationwide program which provides research-capable ships to universities which could not afford to build and own the vessels themselves in order to advance the nation’s marine science capacity.

OSU initially will receive nearly $3 million to coordinate the design phase of the project – and if funds are appropriated for all three vessels, the total grant is projected to reach $290 million over 10 years. The first phase of the project is scheduled to begin early this year. The final number of ships constructed, and where the vessels will be berthed, will be determined by the NSF based on geographic scientific requirements and availability of funding.

If all three vessels are built, it is likely that one each would be positioned on the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast, officials say. As part of its proposal to lead the effort, OSU proposed to be the operator of the first vessel.

Distributing the vessels geographically allows scientists from all over the country to book research cruise time from locations nearest to the ocean and coastal areas they are studying.

The university now operates the R/V Oceanus, which replaced the R/V Wecoma when it was retired from service last year and sent away to be scrapped. Both vessels dated to the mid 1970s, and the Oceanus is expected to be ready for retirement about the time the new research vessels become available.

A project team led by Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences will finalize the design for the 175-foot long, technically enhanced Regional Class ships, select a shipyard, oversee construction, and coordinate the system integration, testing, commissioning and acceptance, and transition to operations.

“These will be floating, multi-use laboratories that are flexible and can be adapted for different scientific purposes, yet are more seaworthy and environmentally ‘green’ than previous research vessels,” said Mark Abbott, dean of the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “These ships will be used to address critical issues related to climate change, ocean circulation, natural hazards, human health, and marine ecosystems.”

OSU vice president for research Rick Spinrad, who previously directed research programs for the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the new vessels would “revitalize and transform” coastal ocean science in the United States.

“Many of the most pressing issues facing our oceans are in these coastal regions, including acidification, hypoxia, tsunami prediction, declining fisheries, and harmful algal blooms,” Spinrad said. “Because of their flexibility, these new vessels will attract a broad range of users and will become ideal platforms to training early-career scientists and mariners.”

The project had the support of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s Office, noted OSU President Ed Ray, who said the university will benefit from the process long before the first ship hits the water in 2019 or 2020.

The successful OSU proposal was submitted to the National Science Foundation by Clare Reimers, an oceanography professor, and Demian Bailey, the university’s marine superintendent. As part of that submission, OSU proposed to be the operator of the first vessel. Additional operating institutions will be determined once the total number of vessels to be built is known.

“The National Science Foundation hasn’t authorized a multi-ship project since the 1970s,” Bailey said, “and these are likely the only ships scheduled by NSF to be built during the next decade – so this is a big deal. The endurance and size of the new ships will be similar to that of Oceanus and Wecoma but they will be much more efficient and have far greater scientific capacity and flexibility.”

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Public forum aims to demystify ocean acidification, hypoxia

How is Oregon's ocean affected by hypoxia and acidification?TILLAMOOK – Hypoxia and ocean acidification get a lot of press, but how many people know what these phenomena are, what causes them and what they mean for marine species and coastal communities? Now’s the chance to find out, in an Oct. 23 public forum that aims to take some of the mystery out of the science behind measuring, understanding and minimizing the effects of of these ocean conditions.

The forum, starting at 6:30 pm in rooms 214-215 at Tillamook Bay Community College, 4301 3rd St., is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required. For more information, visit the PISCO Website.

Organized by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Ocean (PISCO) and Oregon Sea Grant, the forum will focus on cutting edge research by scientists from many disciplines, and how resource managers and industries are responding.  A series of speakers will address:

  • The definitions of ocean acidification and coastal hypoxia, and how they are related – Francis Chan, OSU Zoology/PISCO
  • Why this is happening off our coast and what makes Oregon vulnerable – Burke Hales, OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS).
  • How scientists are monitoring the ocean for these changes – Jack Barth (CEOAS/PISCO)
  • The impacts of acidification on shellfish hatcheries – Alan Barton (Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery)

Speakers will be followed by a question-and-answer panel featuring scientists and representatives of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The event is hosted by PISCO through funding from Oregon Sea Grant.

HMSC volunteers return to sea – and blogging

Michael Courtney and Annie Thorp aboard the RV Wecoma, 2011NEWPORT – Michael Courtney and Annie Thorp, longtime volunteers at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, return to sea this week as support crew for Dr. Clare Reimers, an ocean ecologist and biogeochemist with OSU’s Colleage of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, who is studying the role of seafloor processes in ocean chemical cycles, the influences of low oxygen conditions on ocean biology, geology and chemistry, and new electrochemical tools for ocean observing networks.

Courtney and Thorp, who are husband and wife, have been volunteering at the HMSC Visitor Center since their retirement and have offered their services to shipboard research teams since 2009. They plan to once again chronicle their adventures in words and photographs through their blog, Buoy Tales.

As they wrote at the end of last year’s cruise with Dr. Reimers’ team, “Science is not just sitting in a warm, stable lab. It is also hard, hard work. Collecting the necessary data means being cold, wet, getting dirty, laying on a rough, rolling deck adjusting sensitive equipment, taking samples in an enclosed van under a dim red light, and working in a lab that won’t stand still.”

This voyage will be on board the R/V Oceanus, OSU’s new research vessel. The research team is loading and setting up equipment today, and expects to depart tomorrow for a cruise lasting until Oct. 15, taking the science team to the waters of the the continental shelf off the Pacific Northwest coast.

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