Tag Archives: climate change

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.

Schmitty Thompson wears glasses and a sweater, and smiles at the camera while standing in front of a vast field.

What ice sheets can teach us about ancient ocean shorelines

Around 80,000 years ago, the Earth was in the middle of the late Pleistocene era, and much of Canada and the northern part of the United States was blanketed in ice. The massive Laurentide Ice Sheet covered millions of square miles, and in some places, up to 2 miles thick. Over vast timescales this ice sheet advanced its way across the continent slowly, gouging out what we now know as the Great Lakes, carving the valleys, depositing glacial tills, and transforming the surface geology of much of the southern part of Canada and northern US. Further west, the Cordilleran ice sheet stretched across what is now Alaska, British Columbia, and the northern parts of the Western US, compressing the ground under its massive weight. As these ice sheets depressed the land beneath them, the Earth’s crust bulged outwards, and as the planet warmed and the ice sheets began to melt, the pressure was released, returning the crust underneath to its previous shape. As this happened, ocean water flowed away, resulting in lower sea levels locally, but higher levels across the other side of the planet.

The effects of massive bodies of ice forming, moving, and melting are far from negligible in their impact on the overall geology of the region, the sea level throughout history, and the patterns of a changing climate. Though there are only two ice sheets on the planet today, deducing the ancient patterns and dynamics of ice sheets can help researchers fill the geological record and even make predictions about what the planet might look like in the future. Our guest on Inspiration Dissemination this week is PhD candidate and researcher Schmitty Thompson, of the Department of Geology in CEOAS. Thompson is ultimately trying to answer questions about ice distribution, sea levels, and other unknown parameters that the geologic record is missing during two different ice age warming periods. Their research is very interdisciplinary – Thompson has degrees in both math and geology, and also uses a lot of data science, computer science, and physics in their work. They are using computer modeling to figure out just what the shorelines looked like during this time period around 80,000 years ago. 

Schmitty Thompson, fourth year PhD candidate with Jessica Creveling in the Geology Department.

“I use models because the geologic record is pretty incomplete – the further back you go, the less complete it is. So by matching my models to the existing data, we can then infer more information about what the shoreline was like,” they explain. To do this accurately, Thompson feeds the model what the ice sheets looked like over the course of around 250,000 years. They also need to incorporate other inputs to the model to get an accurate picture – variables such as the composition of the interior of the Earth, the physics of Earth’s interior, and even the ice sheets’ own gravitational pull (ice sheets are so massive they exert a gravitational pull on the water around them!)

Using math to learn about ice

The first equation to describe global changes in sea level was published in 1976, with refining throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Thompson’s model builds on these equations in two versions: one which can run in about 10 minutes on their laptop, and another which can take multiple weeks and must run on a supercomputer. The quicker version uses spherical harmonics as the basis function for the pseudospectral formulation, which is basically a complex function that does math and incorporates coefficient representations of the earth’s radius, meridional wave numbers, variation across north/south and east/west, and a few other variables. The short of it is that it can perform these calculations across a 250k time span relatively quickly, but it makes assumptions about the homogeneity of the earth’s crust and mantle viscosity. Think of it like a gumball: a giant, magma-filled gumball with a smooth outer surface and even layers. So while this method is fast, the assumptions that it makes means the output data is limited in its usefulness. When Thompson needs a more accurate picture, they turn to collaborators who are able to run the models on a supercomputer, and then they work with the model’s outputs.

While the model is useful for filling in gaps in the historical record, Thompson also points out that it has uses in predicting what the future will look like in the context of a changing climate. After testing out these models and seeing how sensitive they are, they could be used by researchers looking at much smaller time scales and more sensitive constraints for current and future predictions. “There are still lots of open questions – if we warm the planet by a few degrees, are we going to collapse a big part of Antarctica or a small part? How much ice will melt?”


To learn more about ice sheets, sea levels, and using computer models to figure out how the shoreline looked thousands of years ago, tune in to Schmitty Thompson’s episode on Inspiration Dissemination this upcoming Sunday evening at 7 PM PST. Catch the show live by streaming on https://kbvrfm.orangemedianetwork.com/, or check out the show later wherever you get your podcasts!

Thompson was also recently featured on Alie Ward’s popular podcast Ologies. You can catch up with all things geology by checking out their episode here.

Warming waters, waning nutrition

Here at Inspiration Dissemination, we are fascinated by the moments of inspiration that lead people to pursue graduate studies. For our next guest, an experience like this came during a boat trip accompanying the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a research expedition. Becky Smoak, an M.S. student in OSU’s Marine Resource Management program, remembers feeling in awe of the vibrant array of marine life that she saw, including whales, sunfish, and sharks. Growing up on a farm in eastern Washington, Becky had always wanted to be a veterinarian. During her undergraduate studies at Washington State University, she came to feel that the culture of pre-veterinary students was too cutthroat. In search of something more collaborative, she came to Oregon State in summer 2019 for a Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) and was impressed by the support and inclusivity of her research mentors. A couple years later, Becky is now on the cusp of graduation after her time spent studying marine life.

Becky’s graduate work is the continuation of a long-running collaboration between Oregon State and NOAA out of the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Beginning in 1996 under the direction of Bill Peterson, a team of researchers has monitored oceanic conditions along a route called the Newport Hydrographic, which extends in a straight line eastward from the Oregon Coast and intersects the northern part of the vast Californian Current. The team takes samples of ocean water at fixed points along the route and analyzes the concentrations of plankton and other organisms or compounds of interest. 

Becky Smoak, teaching on the OSU research vessel The Elakha.

The specific biochemicals that Becky studies are Omega-3 fatty acids. In a set of experiments from the 1930s, rats fed with a diet poor in Omega-3 fatty acids eventually died, demonstrating that these compounds are essential to life and are not produced by mammals. Two types of Omega-3 fatty acids, called EPA and DHA, can only be synthesized by phytoplankton, microscopic photosynthetic organisms that live in the ocean. The ability of phytoplankton to produce fatty acids is intimately linked with oceanic temperature. Studies have shown that increases in sea surface temperature and decreases in nutrient availability can decrease the quality of fatty acids in phytoplankton, thus decreasing food availability and quality in the marine environment. Fatty acid levels have downstream effects on the ecosystem, for example on copepods, a type of zooplankton that feeds on phytoplankton. Becky’s team affectionately refers to the copepod colony of the chilly northern Pacific as the “cheeseburger” copepods, in contrast to the “celery” copepods of the southern Pacific colony. The present-day effect of temperature also points to a key ecological challenge, as warming oceans due to climate change could disrupt the supply of this vital nutrient.

In her thesis work, Becky seeks to untangle the contributions of phytoplankton community structure to oceanic Omega-3 fatty acid levels. She uses a set of statistical methodologies called nonmetric multidimensional scaling to uncover correlations in the datasets. A particularly interesting instrument used to collect her data is a flow cytometry robot dubbed ‘Lucy’. Lucy uses advanced imaging to count individual plankton and characterize their sizes. This yields an improvement in accuracy over older monitoring techniques that assumed a fixed size for all plankton. Becky’s goal for finishing her thesis is to create a statistical procedure for predicting fatty acid availability given information on phytoplankton population structure.

To hear more about Becky’s journey to OSU, her experiences as a first-generation college student, and the fascinating role of Omega-3s in marine ecosystems, be sure to tune in this Sunday October 9th at 7pm on KBVR.

This article was written by Joseph Valencia.

Environmental Justice: what it is, and what to do about it

The overlap between environmental science and social justice are rare, but it has been around since at least the early 1990’s and is becoming more well-known today. The framework of Environmental Justice was popularized by Robert Bullard when his wife, a lawyer, asked him to help her with a case where he was mapping all the landfills in the state of Texas and cross reference the demographics of the people who lived there. Landfills are not the most pleasant places to live next to, especially if you never had the opportunity to choose otherwise. Bullard found that even though Houston has a 75% white population, every single city-owned landfill was built in predominantly black neighborhoods. The environmental hazards of landfills, their emissions and contaminated effluent, were systematically placed in communities that had been – and continue to be – disenfranchised citizens who lacked political power. Black people were forced to endure a disproportionate burden of the environmental hazards, and procedural justice was lacking in the decision making process that created these realities. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation to Houston, or Texas, because this pattern continues today

Environmental justice is an umbrella term that we cannot fully unpack in a blogpost or a single podcast, but it is fundamentally about the injustices of environmental hazards being forced upon disadvantaged communities who had little to no role in creating those hazards. This is not a United States-specific issue although we do focus on state-side issues in this episode. In fact, some of the most egregious examples occur in smaller and lesser known countries (see our episode with Michael Johnson, where his motivation for pursuing marine sciences in graduate school is because the islands of micronesia where he grew up are literally being submerged by the rising seas of global warming). The issues we discuss are multifaceted and can seem impossible to fix. But before we can fix the issues we need to really understand the socio-political-economic ecosystem that has placed us exactly where we are today. 

To begin to discuss all of this, we have Chris Hughbanks who is a graduate student at Oregon State and one of the Vice Presidents of the local Linn-Benton NAACP branch and a member of their Environmental and Climate Justice committee (Disclaimer: Adrian is also a branch member and part of the committee). We begin the discussion with a flood in Chris’ hometown of Detroit. Chris describes how they never really had floods because when precipitation occurs it’s usually either not that much rain or cold enough for it to snow instead. Because it hardly rains that much, very few people have flood insurance. But that pesky climate change is making temperatures warmer and precipitation events more intense than ever before causing flooding to occur in 2014, 2016, 2019, and 2020. As you might guess, the effects of this natural disaster were not equally shared by all citizens of Detroit. We discuss the overlap between housing discrimination and flood areas, how the recovery effort left so many out to [not] dry. 

We end the episode with ways to get involved at the local level. First, consider learning more about the Linn-Benton NAACP branch, and the initiatives they focus on to empower local communities. Vote, vote, vote, and vote. Make sure you’re registered, and everyone else you know is registered to vote. And recognize these problems are generations in the making, and it will take just as long to fully rectify them. Finally, I am reminded of an episode interviewing millennial writers about what it means to be born when global warming was a niche research topic, but to come of age when climate change has become a global catastrophe. They rightfully point out that there are a myriad of possibilities for human salvation and sacrifice for every tenth of a degree between 1.5 and 3.0°C of warming that is predicted by the most recent 6th edition of the IPCC report. As grim as our future seems, what an awesome task for our generations to embark upon to try and “create a polity and economy that actually treats everybody with dignity, I cannot think of a more meaningful way to spend a human life.”

If you missed the show, you can listen to this episode on the podcast feed!

Additional Reading & Podcast Notes

The Detroit Flood – We mentioned the NPR article reporting that 40% of people living in Detroit experienced flooding, how black neighborhoods were at higher risk to flooding, and that renters (who are disproportionately black) were nearly twice as likely to experience flooding compared to those who owned their homes. We also mentioned a map of Detroit, showing which areas are more at risk of flooding. Another local article described how abnormal that summer in Detroit and the surrounding areas were compared to other years.

We listed a number of Environmental Justice links that include:

  • Dumping in Dixie, the 1990 book written by Robert Bullard which is considered essential reading for many law school courses on environmental justice.  
  • We listed the organizing principles of the modern environmental justice movement, first codified in 1991 at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit
  • A story near Los Angeles where mixed-use city zoning laws allowed industrial businesses to operate near residential areas, causing soil lead pollution that was unknown until Yvette Cabrera wrote her own grant to study the issue. Read her story in Grist: Ghost of Polluter’s Past that describes the immense efforts she and researchers had to go through to map soil lead contamination, and how the community has used that information to generate positive change for the community. 
  • Environmental [in]justice afflicts the global south as well, where a majority of forest loss since the 1960’s has occurred in the tropical regions of the world. 

Adrian mentioned a number of podcasts for further listening:

  • Two Voltz podcasts about recent  increased traffic fatalities and how to get cars out of downtowns
  • Two past Inspiration Dissemination episodes with Holly Horan on maternal infant stress in Puerto Rico and her experience conducting research after Hurricane Maria, and Michael Johnson who one of his motivation to go to graduate school was because where he grew up – Micronesia – has been feeling the rising seas of climate change long before other countries. 
  • A deep investigative journalism podcast called Floodlines about the events leading up to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and what happened after (or, what should have happened). 
  • If all this hurricane and flooding talk has got you down, consider that heat kills more people in the US than floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes according to the National Weather Service.

We also discussed the 2021 heat dome in the Pacific Northwest. This led to Oregon passing some of the strongest protections for heat for farmworkers (and others working outside). Consider reading a summary of wildfire effects on outdoor workers, and a new proposal in Oregon to pay farmworkers overtime (this proposal was recently passed in March of 2022). Related to farmworkers, Adrian mentioned the 2013 Southern Poverty Law Center’s analysis of guest visa worker programs titled Close to Slavery: Guestworker programs in the United States

We returned to the fact that housing is central to so many injustices for generations. The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America by Richard Rothstein is a historical analysis of the laws and policies that shaped today’s housing patterns. One example Rothstein often cites is the construction of freeways purposefully routed through black communities; recently one developer accidentally said the quiet part out loud in explaining where a gas pipeline was routed because they choose “the path of least resistance“. We also mentioned that in 2019 and in 2020, Corvallis has ~37% of its residents being rent burdened (meaning households spend more than 50% of their income on rent), which is the worst city in the state over both years. You can also read about a California Delta assessment that focuses on agricultural shifts in the region due to land erosion and flooding, but they mention how current flood risk is tied to historical redlining.  

Our Energy System in Transition: Pushing The Grid Towards Zero Emissions

Our climate in the next thirty years will not look the same as today, and that’s exactly why our energy systems will also soon look completely different. Energy systems are the big umbrella of how and where we create electricity, how we transport that electricity, and how we use electricity. We’re discussing the past and the future of our energy environment with Emily Richardson, a Masters of Engineering student in the Energy Systems Program.

Emily holding up a multi-colored sign with the words "FOR THE WATER WE DRINK".
Emily Richardson preparing for some good trouble

When our energy infrastructure was originally built, energy generation, transport, and usage was a one-way street. Utility companies made or acquired the electricity, built poles and wires to transport that electricity to then be used in homes and businesses. Although that infrastructure was only made to last 50 years, many are pushing 100 years of operation. 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” some might say, but we’re not living in the same energy reality when the infrastructure was originally built. For in-depth visuals of our energy generation and usage, we recommend viewing Lawrence Livermore National Labs. Now we have a different energy portfolio (e.g. wind and solar) but there’s also a two-way street of electricity movement that is required. Rooftop solar helps power individual homes, but when zero to little energy is being used in-house and it’s sunny outside, that excess energy generation on your rooftop moves back upstream and can fulfill energy needs in other places. A two-way street is quickly being paved. It’s worth remembering that energy is on demand, meaning we only make exactly as much energy as what’s being used. If there is excess generation in a highly distributed way (i.e. home solar panels) it adds another level of complexity to our energy systems because there is no “overflow” valve for electricity.

Imagine if your toilet, that slowly moves water in one direction, was suddenly expected to move water in the other direction and back and forth as quick as the speed of light? Yikes indeed. City-wide plumbing infrastructure was bult to accommodate the most extreme events like the Super Bowl flush (when everyone in the city/state/country runs to the bathroom at halftime). While it’s an extreme circumstance, the infrastructure was built to prepare for it, and it works! But our energy systems were hardly made for this kind of reverse movement of energy, especially on a large scale as more people install rooftop solar.

Beyond the two-way street, there’s also rush hour to worry about. The UK is known for their tea; at a specific time after a popular TV show ends about one-million teakettles get turned on simultaneously. Without planning and foresight this would lead to an electricity shortage and people losing power. But the UK government imports 200-600 megawatts of energy, sometimes coming from a hydroelectric dam and/or nuclear energy, to accommodate their hot tea requirements. It’s surprisingly complicated to move this much power all at once, but with strategic planning there are solutions!

Everything in the energy world is physically connected. Even if the poles and wires and outlets are hidden behind walls there’s an immense amount of planning and design that you will never see because if infrastructure is working well, you can accidently forget its existence. When it fails, it can fail catastrophically. The 2020 Holiday Farm Fire in Oregon was initiated by downed powerlines, and the 2018 Paradise Fire in California was also initiated by malfunctioning powerlines. There are a multitude of reasons why those fires were especially damaging (location of ignition, exceptionally dry fuels, extreme wind events, drought and insect stressed trees, too many trees per acre, etc.), and why wildfires will get worse in the future (rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns).

But our collective future requires energy, a lot of it, to be efficiently distributed and stored that requires a radical shift in our hardware, software, and maybe even our philosophy of energy usage. You don’t want to miss the discussion with Emily who will give us the deep dive on how we arrived at our energy reality and what our energy future will need to look like. This conversation is happening at 7pm on KBVR 88.7 FM, but you can also listen via the podcast feed.

Emily at the edge of a lake ready to begin kayaking
Emily Richardson preparing for some adventures on the kayak

Additional Notes
On air we mentioned a few resources that can provide more deep dives! The first is the Energy Gang Podcast that focuses on energy, clean technology, and the environment. The Big Switch Podcast is a five-part series on how the power grid works and how upcoming changes to the gird can help society. The Volts Podcast is an interview based show untangling our messy climate future and hopeful energy transitions. Emily mentioned a presentation titled Imagining a Zero Emissions Energy System.

Global ocean modeling, with a microscope on Micronesia

How could an equation developed by a German mathematician in 1909 help Micronesian conservation networks plan for the future in the face of climate change? 

In this week’s episode, we interview Dr. Steven Johnson, a graduate of Oregon State University’s Geography graduate program. Steven completed his doctorate earlier in 2021, under the guidance of Dr. James Watson, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. He’s now a postdoctoral fellow at Arizona State University. During his time at Oregon State, the focus of his work was oceans. “I study the ocean – in particular, people’s relationship with the ocean. The condition of the ocean has implications for people all over the world and millions depend on it for their livelihood,” he explains.

Steven Johnson, a recent graduate of OSU and now a postdoctoral fellow at Arizona State University

“There used to be this idea that the ocean was ‘too big to fail’, but Oregon State University Distinguished Professor and White House Deputy Director for Climate and the Environment Jane Lubchenco made the point that ‘the ocean is too big to fail, but too big to ignore,’” Steven recounts. “Not a single part of the ocean has not been impacted by people.” Plastic waste, rising temperatures, increasing acidification, and other byproducts of human activity have been changing the ocean as we know it, and it will continue to worsen if the problem can’t be solved. One challenge that arises as a result of these changes is the future of aquatic resource management and conservation programs, which are designed to work in current ocean and climate conditions.

So how does Steven’s research tackle these problems? In the first chapter of his thesis, he developed a novel model for predicting the way the ocean will change due to climate change. This approach is titled the Ocean Novelty Index, or the ONo Index. The Ocean Novelty Index quantifies the relative impact of climate change across all parts of the ocean, using a statistical metric applied to six different ocean surface variables (chlorophyll, O2, pH, sea surface temperature, silica, and zooplankton.) The metric is derived from the Hellinger distance, developed by a German mathematician in 1909, which is a nonparametric analysis that measures the similarity and dissimilarity between two distributions and their overlap. The baseline, or ‘normal’, conditions are derived from the period between 1970-2014, a 50 year period which recognizes 1970 as the birth of the modern Western climate movement. The model can then be used to assess and predict what climate change will do to one part of the ocean, and compare it to how that part of the ocean looked previously. The model better encapsulates the dynamic and unpredictable changes of the ocean resulting from climate change, as opposed to just rising temperatures. 

In addition to the development of this climate change index, Steven’s research also focused on conservation networks and initiatives across Micronesia, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. These networks and cooperatives are collaborative efforts between regional governments to meet certain conservation goals, taking into account the differing social, cultural, and economic needs of the different countries involved. Part of Steven’s work has focused on applying the ONo index on a local scale, to help determine what changes may occur in the regions as well as where. What will the regions of these networks look like at different points as the climate changes, and how can we create strong policies and political relationships in these cooperatives and their respective countries to ameliorate potential issues in the future? Steven discusses these topics and more with us on this week’s ID podcast.

If you are interested in learning more about the ONo index and Steven’s work, you can read his paper here.

This post was written by Grace Deitzler

A bird’s eye view: hindsight and foresight from long term bird surveys

The Hermit Warbler is a songbird that lives its life in two areas of the world. It spends its breeding season (late May-early July) in the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and migrates to Central America for the winter. Due to the long journey from the Central America to the PNW, it is dependent on food resources being available throughout its journey and when it arrives to breed. The environmental conditions across its range are tightly linked to habitat resources, and unfavorable climatic conditions, such as those becoming less frequent due to climate change, can negatively affect bird populations. Changes in bird populations are not always easy to notice, especially with small songbirds that live high in tree canopies. Studying birds for one or a few years may not be enough to signal the change in their well-being.

A Hermit Warbler singing on a lichen-covered branch in the forest canopy. Male Hermit Warblers will defend their territories ferociously against other males during the breeding season. H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, May 2017.

Fortunately, long term data sets are becoming more available thanks to long term study programs. For example, the Willamette National Forest in Oregon is home to H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest (the Andrews). Designated by the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, the Andrews forest hosts many forest research projects and has been monitored since 1948. In 1980, it was became one of the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research sites ensuring that it will remain a resource for scientists for years to come. Bird surveys at the Andrews began 11 years ago, and researchers at Oregon State University are beginning to draw connections between changing climate and bird communities in relation to the forest’s structure and compositions.

H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, where long-term bird study is launched in 2009 by Drs. Matt Betts and Sarah Frey. The forest sits on the moist foothills of western Cascades in Willamette National Forest.

One of these researchers, Hankyu Kim PhD student in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, is using this data to study the Hermit Warbler and other bird species at the Andrews. Hankyu is interested in how and why bird communities are changing over time. With 11 years of bird observations and extensive temperature data, he is attempting to estimate how population of birds persist in the forests. To begin approximating how current climate effects birds, we need to have an idea about bird communities in the past. Past conditions can help us explore how birds might respond to future climate scenarios. Without the effort of many researchers before him to monitor birds, his investigation would be impossible.

Bird surveys are conducted via point counts. Researchers stand at a point count station for 10 minutes and count all bird species they see and hear. Listen to a hermit warbler and some other background birdsongs recorded at H.J Andrews in June 2017.

Hankyu realized the importance of long-term data after reviewing the 45-years of wintering waterbird surveys collected by the Birdwatching Club at Seoul National University, Korea during his time as an undergrad. The group took annual trips to the major Rivers and Coastal Areas, and in just a couple decades the members of the club had recorded declines and disappearances of some species that were once common and widespread. This finding inspired Hankyu to pursue graduate school to study unnoticed or uncharismatic species that are in danger of decline. Every species plays a critical role in the ecosystem, even if that role has not yet been discovered.

Tune in on Sunday May, 19 at 7 pm to hear more about Hankyu Kim’s research with birds. Not a local listener? Stream the show live or catch up when the podcast episode is released.

Want more about the Hermit Warblers in Oregon? Check out this video of Oregon Field Guide featuring Hankyu and some of his colleagues from Oregon State University.

Hankyu’s episode on Apple Podcasts

Testing Arctic climate models: how much detail can we capture?

Many of us have heard that as a consequence of climate change, Arctic sea ice is rapidly decreasing and that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. It’s a complicated system that we don’t understand very well: few people live in the Arctic, and the data from limited study sites may not be representative of the region as a whole. How will Arctic climates change at different timescales in the coming years? What could this mean for coastal Arctic communities that rely on sea ice for preventing erosion or fishing in deep waters? How will navigation and shipping routes change? And in addition, how does a changing Arctic affect climates at lower latitudes?

Visualization of winter sea ice in the Arctic by Cindy Starr, courtesy the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.

Daniel Watkins is a fourth-year PhD student of Atmospheric Science in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science (CEOAS). Working with Dr. Jennifer Hutchings, he is analyzing climate model experiments in order to find answers to these questions. An important step in this is to evaluate the quality of climate simulations, which he does by matching up model output with real-life observations of temperature, sea ice, and cloud cover. Climate scientists have many models that predict how these factors will change in the Arctic over the next several decades. No model can take every detail into account, so how accurate can its predictions be? For example, the frigid Arctic temperatures can cause water molecules in low-lying clouds to trap heat in a very different way than they do here in the Pacific Northwest. Is it necessary to take a detail like this into account?

In cold regions like the Arctic where surface ocean temperatures are much warmer than the overlying atmosphere, the ocean transfers a lot of heat into the air. Sea ice insulates the ocean and prevents heat transfer to the atmosphere, so when there is less ice, a cycle of increasing warming can perpetuate. Because water has a higher heat capacity than air, the ocean doesn’t cool off as much as the atmosphere warms. This is particularly bad news for the Arctic, where layers of cold, dense air often sit beneath warmer air in a phenomenon called a temperature inversion. Effectively, this prevents heat from moving on to higher layers of the atmosphere, so it stays low where it could melt more sea ice. This contributes to a phenomenon called Arctic Amplification, where for every degree of warming seen in the global average, the Arctic surface temperature warms by about four degrees. While it may be tempting to build a model containing every cloud in the atmosphere or chunk of ice in the Arctic Ocean, these could make it too computationally difficult to solve. Daniel has to simplify, because his goal is not to provide a weather forecast, but to evaluate how well models match observed measurements of Arctic temperatures.

Daniel by the Skogafoss in Iceland in June 2018. If you’re lucky (and he was), you can see sea ice, turbulent boundary layer cloud layers, and the Greenland ice sheet when you fly between Portland and Iceland.

To accomplish this, Daniel uses model output data, re-analyzed data that fits models to observations, and temperature measurements from weather balloons. These sources contain terabytes of data, so he has written code and contributed to open-source software that subsets and analyzes these datasets in a meaningful way. Daniel then uses the re-analyzed and weather balloon data to test whether the model reproduces various features of the Arctic climate, such as widespread temperature inversions. Working with this vast amount of information requires some mathematical prowess. While studying as an undergraduate at BYU Idaho, Daniel decided to major in math when he heard a professor describe mathematics as “a toolbox to solve science problems with”. An internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory later suggested geophysical modeling as a worthy task to tackle.

When he’s not modeling the future of the Arctic, Daniel spends time with his children, Milo and Owen, and plays in a rock band he formed with his wife, Suzanne, called Mons La Hire. Daniel is also a DJ on KBVR and is excited to become the newest host of Inspiration Dissemination. To hear more, tune in on Sunday, December 2nd at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show, or catch our podcast!

Crabby and Stressed Out: Ocean Acidification and the Dungeness Crab

One of the many consequences associated with climate change is ocean acidification. This process occurs when high atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves into the ocean lowering ocean pH. Concern about ocean acidification has increased recently with the majority of scientific publications about ocean acidification being released in the last 5 years. Despite this uptick in attention, much is still unknown about the effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms.

Close-up of a Dungeness crab megalopae

Our guest this week, Hannah Gossner, a second year Master’s student in the Marine Resource Management Program, is investigating the physiological effects of ocean acidification on Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) with the help of advisor Francis Chan. Most folks in Oregon recognize the Dungeness crab as a critter than ends up on their plate. Dungeness crab harvest is a multimillion dollar industry because of its culinary use, but Dungeness crab also play an important role in the ocean ecosystem. Due to their prevalence and life cycle, they are important both as scavengers and as a food source to other animals.

Hannah pulling seawater samples from a CTD Carrousel on the R/V Oceanus off the coast of Oregon

To study the effect of ocean acidification on Dungeness crab, Hannah simulates a variety of ocean conditions in sealed chamber where she can control oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Then by measuring the respiration of an individual crab she can better understand the organism’s stress response to a range of oxygen and carbon dioxide ratios. Hannah hopes that her work will provide a template for measuring the tolerance of other animals to changes in ocean chemistry. She is also interested in the interplay between science, management, and policy, and plans to share her results with local managers and decision makers.

Hannah working the night shift on the R/V Oceanus

Growing up in Connecticut, Hannah spent a lot of time on the water in her dad’s boat, and developed an interest in marine science. Hannah majored in Marine Science at Boston University where she participated in a research project which used stable isotope analysis to monitor changes in food webs involving ctenophores and forage fish. Hannah also did a SEA Semester (not to be confused with a Semester at Sea) where she worked on a boat and studied sustainability in Polynesian island cultures and ecosystems.  Hannah knew early on that she wanted to go to graduate school, and after a brief adventure monitoring coral reefs off the coast of Africa, she secured her current position at Oregon State.

Tune in Sunday June, 17 at 7 pm PST to learn more about Hannah’s research and journey to graduate school. Not a local listener? Stream the show live or catch the episode on our podcast.

Hannah enjoying her favorite past time, diving!

How high’s the water, flood model? Five feet high and risin’

Climate change and the resulting effects on communities and their infrastructure are notoriously difficult to model, yet the importance is not difficult to grasp. Infrastructure is designed to last for a certain amount of time, called its design life. The design life of a bridge is about 50 years; a building can be designed for 70 years. For coastal communities that have infrastructure designed to survive severe coastal flooding at the time of construction, what happens if the sea rises during its design life? That severe flooding can become more severe, and the bridge or building might fail.

Most designers and engineers don’t consider the effects of climate change in their designs because they are hard to model and involve much uncertainty.

Kai at Wolf Rock in Oregon.

In comes Kai Parker, a 5th year PhD student in the Coastal Engineering program. Kai is including climate change and a host of other factors into his flood models: Waves, Tides, Storms, Atmospheric Forcing, Streamflow, and many others. He specifically models estuaries (including Coos and Tillamook Bay, Oregon and Grays Harbor, Washington), which extend inland and can have complex geometries. Not only is Kai working to incorporate those natural factors into his flood model, he has also worked with communities to incorporate their response to coastal hazards and the factors that are most important to them into his model.

Modeling climate change requires an immense amount of computing power. Kai uses super computers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to run a flood model and determine the fate of an estuary and its surroundings. But this is for one possible new climate, with one result (this is referred to as a deterministic model). Presenting these results can be misleading, especially if the uncertainty is not properly communicated.

Kai with his hydrodynamic model grid for Coos Bay, Oregon.

In an effort to model more responsibly, Kai has expanded into using what is called a probabilistic flood model, which results in a distribution of probabilities that an event of a certain severity will occur. Instead of just one new climate, Kai would model 10,000 climates and determine which event is most likely to occur. This technique is frequently used by earthquake engineers and often done using Monte Carlo simulations. Unfortunately, flooding models take time and it takes more than supercomputing to make probabilistic flooding a reality.

To increase efficiency, Kai has developed an “emulator”, which uses techniques similar to machine learning to “train” a faster flooding model that can make Monte Carlo simulation a possibility. Kai uses the emulator to solve flood models much like we use our brains to play catch: we are not using equations of physics, factoring in wind speed or the temperature of the air, to calculate where the ball will land. Instead we draw on a bank of experiences to predict where the ball will land, hopefully in our hands.

Kai doing field work at Bodega Bay in California.

Kai grew up in Gerlach, Nevada: Population 206. He moved to San Luis Obispo to study civil engineering at Cal Poly SLO and while studying, he worked as an intern at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab and has been working with the coast ever since. When Kai is not working on his research, he is brewing, climbing rocks, surfing waves, or cooking the meanest soup you’ve ever tasted. Next year, he will move to Chile with a Fulbright grant to apply his emulator techniques to a new hazard: tsunamis.

To hear more about Kai’s research, be sure to tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM this Sunday May, 27 at 7 pm, stream the live interview at kbvr.com/listen, or find it in podcast form next week on Apple Podcasts.