Author Archives: Lisa Hildebrand

What to do with all the whey?

You probably already know that skim milk and buttermilk are byproducts of cheese-making. But did you know that whey is another major byproduct of the cheese-making process? Maybe you did. Well, did you know that for each 1 kg of cheese obtained, there are about 9 kg of whey produced as a byproduct?! What in the world is done with all of that whey? And what even is whey? In this week’s episode, Food Science Master’s student Alyssa Thibodeau tells us all about it!

Alyssa making cheese!

Whey is the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled and strained to produce cheese (both soft and hard cheeses) and yoghurt. Whey is mainly water but it also has lots of proteins and fats, as well as some vitamins, minerals, and a little bit of lactose. There are two types of whey: acid-whey (byproduct of yoghurt and soft cheese production) and sweet-whey (byproduct of hard cheese production). Most people are probably familiar with whey protein, which is isolated from whey. The whey protein isolates are only a small component of the liquid though and unfortunately the process of isolating the proteins is very energy inefficient. So, it is not the most efficient or effective way of using the huge quantities of whey produced. This is where Alyssa comes in. Alyssa’s research at OSU is focused on trying to develop a whey-beverage. Because of the small amounts of lactose that are in whey, yeast can be used to ferment the lactose, creating ethanol. This ethanol can then be converted by bacteria to acetic acid. Does this process sound a little familiar? It is! A similar process is involved when making kombucha and the end-product in Alyssa’s mind isn’t too far off of kombucha. She envisions creating an organic, acid-based or vinegar-type beverage from whey. 

Morphology of yeast species Brettanomyces anomalus which Alyssa is planning on using for her whey-beverage.

How does one get into creating the potentially next-level kombucha? Alyssa’s route to graduate school has been backwards, one that most students don’t get to experience. While the majority of students get a degree, get a job and then start a family, Alyssa started a family, got a job, and then went to graduate school. On top of being a single mother in graduate school, she is also a first-gen student and Hispanic. To quote Alyssa: “It makes me proud every day that I am able to go back to school as a single mom. In the past, this would have maybe been too hard to do or wouldn’t have been possible for older generations but our generations are progressing and people are making decisions for themselves.”.

Intrigued by Alyssa’s research and personal journey? You can hear all about it on Sunday, January 29th at 7 pm on https://kbvrfm.orangemedianetwork.com/. Missed the live show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform!

LGBTQ+ health disparities and the impact of stress

Correlation does not equal causation. This phrase gets mentioned a lot in science. In part, because many scientists can fall into the trap of assuming that correlation equals causation. Proof that this phrase is true can be found in ice cream and sharks. Monthly ice cream sales and shark attacks are highly correlated in the United States each year. Does that mean eating lots of ice cream causes sharks to attack more people? No. The likely reason for this correlation is that more people eat ice cream and get in the ocean during the summer months when it’s warmer outside, which explain why the two are correlated. But, one does not cause the other. Correlation does not equal causation.

To date, much of the research that has been conducted on LGBTQ+ health has been correlational. Our guest this week, Kalina Fahey, hopes that her dissertation project will play a part in changing this paradigm as she is trying to get more at causation. Kalina is a 5th year PhD candidate in the School of Psychological Science working with her advisors Drs. Anita Cservenka and Sarah Dermody. Her research broadly investigates LGBTQ+ health disparities and how stress impacts health in LGBTQ+ groups. She is also interested in understanding ways in which spiritual and/or religious identities can influence stress, and thereby, health. To do this, Kalina is employing a number of methods, including undertaking a systematic review to synthesize the existing research on substance use in transgender youth, analyzing large-scale publicly available datasets to look at how religious and spiritual identity relates to health outcomes, and finally developing a safe experiment to look at how specific forms of stress impact substance use-related behaviors in real time. 

Most of Kalina’s time at the moment is being spent on the experimental portion of her research as part of her dissertation. For this study, Kalina is adapting the personalized guided induction stress paradigm, with the aim of safely eliciting minor stress responses in a laboratory setting. The experiment involves one virtual study visit and two in-person sessions. During the first visit, participants are asked to describe a minority-induced stressful event that occurred recently, as well as a description of a moment or situation that is soothing or calming. After this session, Kalina and her team develop two meditative scripts – one each to recreate the two events or moments described by the participant. When the participant comes back for their in-person sessions, they listen to one of two different meditative scripts and are asked a series of questions regarding their stress levels. Kalina and her team also are collecting saliva and heart rate readings to look at physiological stress levels. This project is still looking for participants. If you are a sexual-minority woman who drinks alcohol, consider checking out the following website to learn more about the study: https://oregonstate.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8e443Lq10lgyX66?fbclid=IwAR3XOdECIOvCbx1xn3QA5rrCtHfSezZrR5Ppkpnd9sx1SsicZRQnfYHAqb8. Kalina hopes to continue experiment-based research on LGBTQ+ health disparities in the future as she sees the lack of experimental studies to be a major gap in better understanding, and thereby supporting, the LGBTQ+ community.

Interested in learning more about Kalina’s research, the results, and her background? Listen live on Sunday, January 15, 2023 at 7 PM on 88.7 KBVR FM. Missed the live show? You can download the episode on our Podcast Pages! Also, check out her other work here or finder her on Twitter @faheypsych

“Creepy” Beer

Happy Halloween from the ID team! This week we’re chatting about a popular halloweekend beverage: Beer and a “creepy” phenomenon seen in a west coast favorite, IPAs. Hop creep may not mean that there are creepy crawlies in your beer, but it may lead to exploding cans or a beer that’s all trick and no treat. To find out more, we are talking  with Cade Jobe on his work on hops maturity and its impact on understanding this spooky problem facing the beer industry.

Cade Jobe, a 1st year masters student in FST

Cade is a 1st year masters student in the Department of Food Science and Technology at OSU, where he works under the advisement of Dr. Tom Shellhammer. In the “Beer”, or “Hops”, lab there are a wide variety of projects on the various components of beer, in addition to offering resources to the brewing industry by running standard analytical measurements on hops. Cade moved to Oregon in pursuit of joining the Hop Lab, after falling in love with home-brewing and embarking upon a career shift from law to food science. While his master’s work is going to be more focused on the impact of wildfire-smoke on hops, his post-baccalaureate work focused on hop maturity, in particular the Citra hop variety.

How does one study the impact of hop maturity? Cade worked with a hop grower in Yakima, Washington to harvest hops from 3 fields at 7 different time points during the hop picking season. These dried samples were then sent back to Corvallis where they underwent standard hop chemical analysis, sensory analysis, and enzymatic analysis.

Cade and team harvesting hops
Cade pelletizing hops

This is all great, but how does it help me drink beer? From the chemical analysis, there are standard components that are measured to give an overall hop quality measure to know if it is going to produce the desired result. From sensory analysis, they can see what aromas are associated with the different maturity levels of the hops and what aromas they would impart in beer. Spoiler: late season hops might identify if you are a vampire! And finally, going back to the exploding beer cans, the enzymatic analysis shows the potential of hop creep occurring so that brewers can mitigate the problem.

Want to learn more about the science behind beer and more on Cade’s research into hops? Tune in Sunday, October 30th, 2022 at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7FM (https://kbvrfm.orangemedianetwork.com) or wherever you get your podcasts! 

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the wide-world of brewing, check out Cade on the “BruLab” podcast.

This blog post was written by Jenna Fryer and posted by Lisa Hildebrand.

Stressed out corals

Coral reef ecosystems offer a multitude of benefits, ranging from coastline protection from storms and erosion to a source of food through fishing or harvest. In fact, it is estimated that over half a billion people depend on reefs for food, income, and/or protection. However, coral reefs face many threats in our rapidly changing world. Climate change and nutrient input due to run-off from land are two stressors that can affect coral health. How exactly do these stressors impact corals? This week’s guest Alex Vompe is trying to figure that out!

Alex is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology at OSU, where he is co-advised by Dr. Becky Vega-Thurber and Dr. Tom Sharpton. The goal of Alex’s research is to understand how coral microbe communities change over time and across various sources of stress. While the microbial communities of different coral species can differ, typically under normal, non-stressed conditions, they look quite similar. However, once exposed to a stressor, changes start to arise in the microbial community between different coral species, which can have different outcomes for the coral host. This pattern has been coined the ‘Anna Karenina principle’ whereby all happy corals are alike, however as soon as things start to go wrong, corals suffer differently.

Alex is testing how this Anna Karenina principle plays out for three different coral species (Acropora retusaPocillopora verrucosa [also known as cauliflower coral], Porites lobata [also known as lobe coral]) in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The stressors that Alex is investigating are reduction in herbivory and introduction of fertilizer. A big source of stress for reefs is when fish populations are low, which results in a lack of grazing by fish on macroalgae. In extreme situations, macroalgae can overgrow a coral reef completely and outcompete it for light and resources. Fertilizers contain a whole host of nutrients with the intent of increasing plant growth and production on land. However, these fertilizers run-off from land into aquatic ecosystems which can often be problematic for aquatic flora and fauna. 

How is Alex testing the effects of these stressors on the corals? He is achieving this both in-situ and in the lab. Alex and his lab conduct field work on coral reefs off the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Here, they have set up experimental apparatus in the ocean on coral reefs (via scuba diving!) to simulate the effects of reduced herbivory and fertilizer introduction. This field work is conducted three times a year. When not under the water surface, Alex sets up aquaria experiments on land in Moorea using coral fragments, which he has been able to grow in order to investigate the microbial communities more closely. These samples then get processed in the lab at OSU for genomic analysis and Alex uses bioinformatics to investigate the coral microbiome dynamics.

Curious to know more about Alex’s research? Listen live on Sunday, October 23, 2022 at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7FM. Missed the live show? You can download the episode on our Podcast Pages! Also, feel free to follow Alex on Twitter (@AVompe) and Instagram (@vompedomp) to learn more about him and his research.

The non-Ghostbusting Venkman: a virus that “eats” marine bacteria

Have you ever considered that a virus that eats bacteria could potentially have an effect on global carbon cycling? No? Me neither. Yet, our guest this week, Dr. Holger Buchholz, a postdoctoral researcher at OSU, taught me just that! Holger, who works with Drs. Kimberly Halsey and Stephen Giovannoni in OSU’s Department of Microbiology, is trying to understand how a bacteriophage (a bacteria-eating virus), called Venkman, impacts the metabolism of marine bacterial strains in a clade called OM43.

Bacteria that are part of the OM43 clade are methylotrophs, in other words, these bacteria eat methanol, a type of volatile organic compound. It is thought that the methanol that the OM43 bacteria consume are a by-product of photosynthesis by algae. In fact, OM43 bacteria are more abundant in coastal waters and are particularly associated with phytoplankton (algae) blooms. While this relationship has been shown in the marine environment before, there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the exact dynamics. For example, how much methanol do the algae produce and how much of this methanol do the OM43 bacteria in turn consume? Is methanol in the ocean a sink or a source for methanol in the atmosphere? Given that methanol is a carbon compound, these processes likely affect global carbon cycles in some way. We just do not know how much yet. And methanol is just one of many different Volatile Organic Carbon (VOC) compounds that scientists think are important in the marine ecosystem, and they are probably consumed by bacteria too!

Depiction of the carbon cycle within the marine food web. DOM means Dissolved Organic Material, POM stands for Particulate Organic Material. This refers to all the things that are bound within cells that gets released when for example viruses destroy cells. 

All of this gets even more complicated by the fact that a bacteriophage, by the name of Venkman, infects the OM43 bacteria. If you are a fan of Ghostbusters and your mind is conjuring the image of Bill Murray in tan coveralls at the sound of the name Venkman, then you are actually not at all wrong. During his PhD, which he conducted at the University of Exeter, part of Holger’s research was to isolate the bacteriophage that consumes OM43 bacteria (which he successfully did). As a result, Holger and his advisor (Dr. Ben Temperton, who is a big Ghostbusters fan) were able to name the bacteriophage and called it Venkman. Holger’s current work at OSU is to try and figure out how the Venkman bacteriophage affects the metabolism of methanol in OM43 bacteria and the viral influence on methanol production in algae. Does the virus increase the bacteria’s methanol metabolism? Decrease it? Or does nothing happen at all? At this point, Holger is not entirely sure what he is going to find, but whatever the answer, there would be an effect on the amount of carbon in the oceans, which is why this work is being conducted.

Holger is currently in the process of setting up experiments to answer these questions. He has been at OSU since February 2022 and has funding to conduct this work for three years from the Simons Foundation. Join us live on Sunday at 7 pm PST on 88.7 KBVR FM or https://kbvrfm.orangemedianetwork.com/ to hear more about Holger’s research and how a chance encounter with a marine biologist in Australia set him on his current career path! Can’t make it live, catch the podcast after the episode on your preferred podcast platform!

The rigamarole of RNA, ribosomes, and machine learning

Basic biology and computer science is probably not an intuitive pairing to think of, when we think of pairs of scientific disciplines. Not as intuitive as say biology and chemistry (often referred to as biochem). However, for Joseph Valencia, a third year PhD student at OSU, the bridge between these two disciplines is a view of life at the molecular scale as a computational process in which cells store, transmit, and interpret the information necessary for survival. 

Think back to your 9th or 10th grade biology class content and you will (probably? maybe?) vaguely remember learning about DNA, RNA, proteins, and ribosomes, and much more. In case your memory is a little foggy, here is a short (and very simplified) recap of the basic biology. DNA is the information storage component of cells. RNA, which is the focus of Joseph’s research, is the messenger that carries information from DNA to control the synthesis of proteins. This process is called translation and ribosomes are required to carry out this process. Ribosomes are complex molecular machines and many of them can also be found in each of our cells. Their job is to interpret the RNA. The way this works is that they attach themselves to the RNA, they take the transcript of information that the RNA contains, interpret it and produce a protein. The proteins fold into a specific 3D shape and the shape determines the protein’s function. What do proteins do? Basically control everything in our bodies! Proteins make enzymes which control everything from muscle repair to eye twitching. The amazing thing about this process is that it is not specific to humans, but is a fundamental part of basic biology that occurs in basically every living thing!

An open reading frame (ORF) is a stretch of nucleotides beginning with a start codon and ending with a stop codon. Ribosomes bind to RNA transcripts and translate certain ORFs into proteins. The Kozak sequence (bottom right, from Wikipedia) depicts the nucleotides that commonly occur around the start codons of translated ORFs.

So now that you are refreshed on your high school biology, let us tie all of these ‘basics’ to what Joseph does for his research. Joseph’s research focuses on RNA, which can be broken down into two main groups: messenger  RNA (mRNA) and non-coding RNA. mRNA is what ends up turning into a protein following the translation by a ribosome, whereas with long non-coding RNA, the ribosome decides not to turn it into a protein. While we are able to distinguish between the two types of RNA, we do not  fully understand how a ribosome decides to turn one RNA (aka mRNA) into a protein, and not another (aka long non-coding RNA). That’s where Joseph and computer science come in – Joseph is building a machine learning model to try and better understand this ribosomal decision-making process.

Machine learning, a field within artificial intelligence, can be defined as any approach that creates an algorithm or model by using data rather than programmer specified rules. Lots of data. Modern machine learning models tend to  keep learning and improving when more data is fed to them. While there are many different types of machine-learning approaches, Joseph is interested in one called natural language processing . You are probably pretty familiar with an example of natural language processing at work – Google Translate! The model that Joseph is building is in fact not too dissimilar from Google Translate, or at least the idea behind it; except  that instead of taking English and translating it into Spanish, Joseph’s model is taking RNA and translating (or not translating) it into a protein. In Joseph’s own words, “We’re going through this whole rigamarole [aka his PhD] to understand how the ins [RNA & ribosomes] create the outs [proteins].”.

A high-level diagram of Joseph’s deep learning model architecture.

But it is not as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of complexities to the work because the thing that makes machine learning so powerful is that the exact complexities that gives these models the power that they have, also makes it hard to interpret why the model is doing what it is doing. Even a highly performing machine learning model may not capture the exact biological rules that govern translation, but successfully interpreting its learned patterns can help in formulating testable hypotheses about this fundamental life process.

To hear more about how Joseph is building this model, how it is going, and what brought him to OSU, listen to the podcast episode! Also, you can check out Joseph’s personal website to learn more about him & his work!

Imaging nuclear fallout with a camera and a scintillating crystal

Our guest this week, Dr. Ari Foley, is a recent (July 2021) OSU graduate from the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering. For her PhD research, she developed a rapid imaging method for post-detonation nuclear forensics. While methods to do this work already exist, a lot of them are time- and material-intensive. Therefore, the goal of Ari’s work was to develop a method that could inform optimized destructive analysis of samples after a detonation event of a nuclear weapon, with a particular focus on reducing the amount of imaging time required. Not only was Ari able to accomplish this task but the system she developed is able to take an image of the spatial distribution of radiation omitted from an object in the same exposure as taking a traditional photograph of the object being analyzed (see Image below). How in the world did Ari do this? Read below for a short synopsis or even better listen to the episode here!

A core component of Ari’s system was an electron-magnifying charged couple device, also known as an EMCCD. The CCD part of that is essentially a normal camera but the EM part magnifies the signal collected from whatever the camera is pointed at. Ari rigged an inorganic scintillation crystal to the EMCCD, which sits in a 3D-printed holder just in front of the camera. The purpose of the crystal is that once it is held in close proximity to radioactive fallout material from a detonation, the radiation interacts with the crystal, which leads to the emission of light. This light is proportional to the amount of energy that is imparted within the crystal. The EM part of the EMCCD kicks in as the image is taken as it allows for a high intensity image to be made that magnifies the light emitted from the crystal interacting with the radiation. This process needs to occur in light tight box, however it is mobile, meaning that it can easily be taken into the field and directly be used at a nuclear detonation site to measure the intensity of radiation of fallout material.

Ari spent the last three years of her PhD time in Idaho at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), which is one of the leading nuclear research labs in the USA and has close ties with OSU. In fact, Ari was one of two students in the inaugural class of INL Graduate Fellows, which enabled her to conduct this work while working full-time at the lab. However, Ari’s career may have gone down a very different path because she had always wanted to be an Arts student or pursue a career in human rights. However, during a summer school experience during her high school years, Ari attended a class on Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations. During this class, the students took a trip to the United Nations General Assembly Building in New York, which hosts a statue from Hiroshima, Nagasaki. The statue is of a woman holding a lamb, which from the front, looks completely normal. However, when you walk around to the back of the statue, the statue is completed charred and scarred – a consequence of the atomic bomb. The same class presented case studies of radiation contamination on tribal reservations in the USA. Seeing and learning these things really riled Ari up at the time because while she had been interested by radiation in chemistry class, she was suddenly confronted by the fact that radiation contamination were actual ongoing world issues. 

Listen to the podcast episode here to learn more about the nitty-gritty of how Ari developed her nuclear forensic system, how she prevented from getting radiation in the lab, and her road to OSU!

How to help rusty plants

Plants can get rusty. No joke! There is a fungal pathogen called rust which can cover the leaves of plants. This is problematic given that leaves are the site where photosynthesis occurs, the process whereby plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water in order to grow. While a plant may still be able to photosynthesize if the leaves contain just a little bit of rust, the more and more rust spreads across the leaves, the less and less surface area there is for photosynthesis to occur. When you get rust on a metallic item, there are several home remedies you can try to remove the rust, such as baking soda or a vinegar bath. But do plants have rust-removal options too? Possibly…and it’s what our guest this week, PhD student Maria-Jose Romero-Jimenez (or Majo), is trying to figure out.

Majo, who is in her second year of graduate school in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology here at OSU, is using black cottonwood as her plant study species. Black cottonwood is a Pacific Northwest native which has many uses, including the paper industry in Oregon. Recently, the Department of Energy has also listed the black cottonwood as a plant of interest for its potential use as a biofuel. As you can imagine, with this much large-scale interest in black cottonwood, there is also huge interest in understanding how it is affected by disease and pathogens, and what can potentially be done to prevent pathogens, such as rust, from spreading.

Yeast diversity panel

Fortunately, it seems like black cottonwood has a natural ally that helps it fend off rust – yeast! Majo’s main research goal is to figure out what yeast colonies are able to prevent rust infestation of black cottonwood plants. While this task may sound relatively straightforward, it sure isn’t. Majo’s work involves both field and lab work and is started in the fall of 2020 when Majo had to isolate yeast colonies from a bunch of leaves that were collected in the PNW (primarily Washington and Oregon). This work resulted in isolating almost 400 yeast colonies, from which Majo had to select a subset to grow in the lab. Meanwhile, baby black cottonwood plants needed to be propagated, potted, and cared for to ensure that Majo would have enough grown plants for her first round of greenhouse experiments. These experiments involved a series of treatments with different combinations of yeast colonies that were applied to the black cottonwood plants before being sprayed with rust to see how plants in different yeast treatments would do.

Curious to know what the results of Majo’s first round of experiments was and what the next steps are? You can download the episode anywhere you get your podcasts! Also, check out Majo’s Instagram (@fungibrush) for some educational videos on how she conducts her research (as well as a lesson in Spanish!). 

Two ways of killing bacteria

You’re probably pretty familiar with a thing called antibiotics. You’ve most likely been prescribed them for a number of bacterial infections you may have had over the course of your life. Antibiotics are typically broad-spectrum, which can be good if the exact ailment a person is suffering from is uncertain. However, it can also be bad given that broad-spectrum antibiotics don’t just kill the bad bacteria, but they kill the good ones too. On top of this, antibiotic resistance is a pervasive issue. Alternatively, bacteriophages, which are viruses that attack bacteria, can be used to treat bacterial infections too. Bacteriophages are extremely effective at killing off a specific bacteria that you want to target. For example, there is a bacteriophage that specifically kills cholera, and nothing else. However, you have most likely never been treated with a bacteriophage for a bacterial infection. Why? Well, to understand that we’ve got to go back to the Cold War era (and even a little further). Enter Miriam Lipton, a PhD candidate in the College of Liberal Arts, whose research focuses on exactly this question.

There is speculation that the Cold War is the reason that there are these two ways to treat bacterial infections (antibiotics and bacteriophages), and Miriam is interested in this speculation as well as understanding how U.S. and Soviet scientists dealt with bacterial infections in real time during the Cold War period. To do this, Miriam is examining scientific papers and pharmaceutical trade journals from that time (1947-1991) to understand how scientists on either side thought about bacterial infections, their treatments, and antibiotic resistance. This quest has taken (or will take) Miriam to a number of different research institutions, including the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia, Caltech in California, and the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy in Wisconsin. Reading scientific publications can be difficult enough as it is, however Miriam faces an added challenge of having to read many of the Soviet publications in Russian. Luckily, Miriam’s background lends itself quite well for this difficult task as one of her triple major’s during her Bachelor’s degree was Russian and she has a Master’s in Russian Studies from the University of Oregon, all of which have led to a good proficiency of the Russian language.

Miriam’s program at OSU is called History of Science and is quite rare. In fact, it is one of only four such programs in the country and Miriam is one of only four in her cohort at OSU. She is simultaneously a historian and a scientist on a mission to better understand past perceptions and thoughts of scientists about bacterial infections, to hopefully inform the present and future. Especially given the rise of antibiotic resistance across the globe.

Listen to the podcast episode of the show here to dive deep into the history of bacterial infection science!

Hearing is believing: characterizing ocean soundscapes and assessing noise impacts on whales

“I always loved science class and science questions, and I went to science camps – but as a kid I didn’t really put it together that being a scientist was a career or something other than sitting at a microscope in a lab coat,” Our guest this week, Dr. Samara Haver, has come a long way from not realizing the myriad of careers in science when she was a child. She now works as a marine acoustician, researching underwater soundscapes and ocean noise to understand the repercussions for marine ecosystems and animals, such as humpback and blue whales. 

Noise Reference Station deployment in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (Near Santa Barbara/LA, CA). Source: S. Haver.

Samara is a recent graduate from Oregon State University (OSU) having completed both her Masters and PhD in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences (FWCS). She is continuing at OSU as a postdoctoral scholar in FWCS, where she is advised by Dr. Scott Heppell and works within the OSU/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Marine Ecosystem and Resources Studies. Her dissertation research focused on underwater recordings from 12 diverse and widespread marine habitats in U.S. waters. Data from each site was recorded by stationary hydrophone (underwater microphones), a calibrated array collectively named the NOAA/National Park Service Ocean Noise Reference Station Network (NRS). The NRS is an ongoing multi-agency collaborative effort to record underwater sound throughout the U.S. to understand about the differences and similarities of soundscapes in U.S. waters, and provide information to managers about protected species. The 12 locations are deployed along west and east coasts of the U.S., as well as in the northern and southern hemispheres, and includes locations within U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries and U.S. National Parks. One of the primary objectives of this highly collaborative and nation-wide comparison was to quantify comparable baselines of ocean noise in U.S. waters. When the NRS was first established, there weren’t any other U.S. research groups collecting passive acoustic data in these widespread locations using identical time-aligned recorders. Thus, the NRS provided new and comparable information to NOAA and the NPS about the levels and sources that contributed to underwater sound.  

Prepping a Noise Reference Station, with concrete anchor, acoustic release, hydrophone, and float for deployment near Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, near Washington state. Source: S. Haver.

Hence, Samara’s PhD research revolved around analyzing the recordings from the 12 NRSs to explore several questions regarding differences in U.S. soundscapes, including baleen whale presence which she was able to identify by their unique vocalizations. Many marine animals, including baleen whales, evolved to rely on sound as their primary sensory modality to survive in the dark environment of the ocean. Unlike humans, who rely heavily on sight, whales must find food, communicate, navigate, and avoid predators using sound. However, the ocean has become a noisy place, primarily because of increased anthropogenic (human-caused) activity, such as shipping, marine construction, and seismic surveys, to name a few. To best understand how noise is affecting the life history of baleen whales and their habitats, we need to understand how loud the ocean is, how much noisier it’s getting, and what is generating the noise.

Looking through the “big eye” binocular to search for marine mammals in the North Atlantic. Source: S. Haver.

Samara has become an expert in characterizing and understanding ocean soundscapes, uncovering a lot about the differences and similarities in U.S. soundscapes. To hear about what exactly she learned during her PhD and what management implications her results have on protected species and habitats, tune in on Sunday, November 7th at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show, or download Samara’s episode on Apple Podcasts!

Don’t want to wait until then? You can check out Samara’s publications on her GoogleScholar or follow her on Twitter!