Week 9: Gray skies and whales

This weekend was great! We went whale watching in Depoe Bay where a resident group of gray whales reside. Our tour guide, Carrie Newell is a retired researcher from OSU who has dedicated her life to researching gray whales. Another cool thing about our tour was her dog, who can smell whales and let us know when a whale was nearby by lifting up one ear.

He senses a whale!

He senses a whale!

I was dubious at first but I can say with conviction, that dog definitely has a unique talent for spotting whales. We saw three grays, one of which was sleeping! We cut the engine of our boat and floated nearby watching the sleeping whale bob up and down in the choppy waves.

The rest of the week was spent preparing for the Sea Grant Symposium presentation and poster session. It was a great opportunity to share my research with my fellow interns and other researchers at Hatfield. While preparing for the symposium I also found myself reflecting on how much I have learned this summer. After reading over 60 scientific papers related to ocean acidification I feel much more confident in my grasp of the subject. I also know that there are many gaps in the literature and the scientific community has a lot of work ahead of them if we are to fully understand how our changing oceans will affect marine life. I hope I am able to apply the knowledge I acquired this summer and contribute to this field in my future career, hopefully starting this fall when I will be doing my oceanography senior thesis.


Week 8: Mud and Sun

This week started off early, 4 am to be exact. After noticing we were starting to lose our minds in the office, my mentors let my officemate and I off of desk duty for the day to get some field work experience. We assisted with recovering and replacing nutrient samples in a kelp bed in a section of the Yaquina Bay mud flats. We were up before the sun to take advantage of the low tide.

Fun in the mud!

Fun in the mud!

It was a great time, squelching across the mudflat, trying to watch the sunrise while at the same time making sure not standing in one place too long and risk getting stuck in the knee-deep mud. 

Later in the week I went to help out with another sea star wasting survey. This time we were at the Otter Rock Marine Reserve. The tide pools that morning held all sorts of cool critters. There were the usual purple urchins and green anemones along with some more rare finds including a blood star, a couple of different types of nudibranchs and some lined chitons. We measured and noted the condition of over 100 sea stars. Most of the stars we found were a small, six-legged species however we also found a good number of large ochre stars. 

I did still spend a lot of my time in the office this week working on my research despite the field opportunities. I have been working on getting my presentation and poster ready for the Sea Grant Symposium. As far as my research goes, we plan to meet with the rest of the CBRAT team and come up with risk thresholds on Monday so I have values to present for decapods.

Sunrise at the Otter Rock Marine Reserve

Week 7: Coastal exploration continued

Not too much happened on the research front this week. I’ve finished looking into decapod studies and began looking at fish studies. It is thought that fish will be fairly resistant to ocean acidification because they can swim away from unfavorable water conditions and do not calcify an external shell. However, there have been some recent studies on larval fish that found evidence to the contrary. Behavioral studies have found that low pH conditions have a negative effect on the ability of larval fish to detect prey, learn and reduce overall activity. Even though fish do not calcify an external shell they do calcify their ear bone, or otolith. This structure is important for balance and hearing. It also has an important use for research. Marine biologists look at otoliths in the same way that dendrologists look at tree rings. The layers of calcium carbonate can tell the age of a fish and the isotopes incorporated in the structure can be analyzed to learn about the water conditions at the time the otolith was formed.

Hiking past a beachside creek

Hiking past a beachside creek

This weekend I convinced some of my friends to make the drive down from Seattle and come see some of Oregon. We went camping at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, a 40 mile stretch of the coast covered in massive dune formations. The reason the Oregon dunes are so unique is that they extend into the forest. Over the 6,000 years since the modern shoreline was established coastal winds and waves have moved sand back, up to 2.5 miles inland. We hiked along trails that began with pine needle covered forest floor only to find ourselves struggling up a sand dune a few yards later, even as we headed away from the beach. 

Inside the sea lion caves

Inside the sea lion caves

We also visited one of the best known tourist traps along the Oregon coast, the sea lion caves. The enormous cavern extends 125ft high, making it the largest sea cave in the America’s. Unfortunately, the sea lions were not inside the caves when we visited but we could still hear the bleating of the disgruntled beasts from the cliffs overlooking the sea and watch them flop out on the sunny outcropping below.



Week 6: Beaver tales

This week I continued exploring the Oregon wilderness. Wednesday, I headed back to Beaver Creek state park for an evening kayak tour of the marsh. The cool evening weather was perfect for kayaking. Our guides had the group pull up and float together at different points along the creek stopping to point out a beaver lodge, an eagles nest and the nutria, or river rats, that have begun to invade the creek.

Kayaking on Beaver Creek

Kayaking on Beaver Creek

Nutria are an invasive species native to Latin America, introduced to North America in the 1930’s in an attempt to bolster the fur trade that was running out of over-hunted beavers. Unfortunately, the nutria furs were not particularly appealing to consumers and they further threatened the beaver populations by both competing for habitat and damaging existing habitat. In Beaver Creek nutria have started causing issues by consuming the vegetation that holds the marsh together.

We spotted about 10 nutria during the tour and learned the key differences between the strikingly similar species. Nutria have white whiskers and lack the telltale beaver tail, while Beavers are nocturnal, more skittish and bob their heads when they swim. We were beginning to think we would leave beaver creek without seeing a single beaver, luckily, one bobbed across our path just as we were heading around the last bend. He gave a loud warning slap of his tail and then slipped underwater as we passed by.

As far as work at the EPA goes, I had a slight change in research focus. My mentor asked me to look into upwelling conditions along the Pacific coast and see how seasonal pH values compare to the global average. Ocean and wind circulation patterns cause seasonal upwelling along the eastern boundary of northern hemisphere ocean basins. This process brings low pH water to the surface. It is possible that organisms that have evolved in these comparatively lower pH conditions will be better adapted to survive low pH brought on by climate change. The pH data I have looked at so far indicate that pH values at the surface down to 200m are on average much lower than the global ocean mean pH of 8.1.

Picturesque Crater Lake

Picturesque Crater Lake

I spent the weekend exploring Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park. After hiking down and going for a swim in the cool clear blue water we made our way back up the chipmunk-lined switchbacks to fit a few more sites into our nature packed weekend. We hiked to Toketee Falls and lounged in the Umpqua hot springs before heading back to Newport.

Week 5: A seal of approval

It is pupping season for the harbor seals and this week started off with a baby harbor seal sighting. Just as I made it over the dunes separating the forest from the beach, I saw the little guy flopped out on the sand. During their first three to four weeks of life baby seals need to spend time resting. Their mothers often leave them alone for hours at a time on the beach. People naturally are concerned when they find them alone and report the seals as abandoned or worse try to move them. Sure enough, I spotted a group of people not too far away peering over at him.

What a cutie :)

What a cutie :)

Putting on my concerned citizen scientist hat, I approached the group of tourists, mentally going over the marine mammal protection talking points. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I approached the group to have my talking points fed back right to me. They were not plotting out their seal selfie strategy as I had assumed but were keeping a appropriate distance and informing others to do the same.

I’ve always believed that the public wants to do the right thing when it comes to the environment, a view that is often challenged by reports of climate change deniers and the carelessly tossed trash I always find on the beach. However, moments like this one where it is clear that the message has reached the public renew my confidence. As a scientists it is so important to remember that education must be a key part of conservation if we are to protect the environments we study.

This week marks the halfway point for the summer. Friday, all of the scholars got together to present the research we have worked on the past five weeks. We attended a few seminars on science communication and then headed out for a camping trip in the beautiful Willamette National forest. The change of scenery was spectacular. It was great to trade the bunk room by the beach for a tent in the forest.

A spectacular view from the Oregon section of the PCT

A spectacular view from the Oregon section of the PCT

Hiking was my favorite part of the weekend. We explored the Willamette forest full of creeks and lakes and the headed towards Bend, Oregon and the alpine landscape surrounding Mt. Bachelor.

As far as CBRAT goes, the initial part of my crab research is nearly complete. I have compiled all of the most important research papers. Now, I am editing my spreadsheet that I will review with my mentors at our meeting next week and begin looking at which pH values indicate high, moderate or low risk for decapods. 

Week 4: Reptiles and amphibians and mollusks! Oh my!

Despite being a short week for 4th of July weekend this week was full of activity.

Morning at the Cascade Head marine reserve

Tuesday, I helped with a fellow intern with his sea star survey. We went out to the tide pools at Cascade Head and measured all of the sea stars we could find and checked them for signs of wasting. Wasting disease has decimated sea star populations all along the pacific coast. Scientists are curious to see if populations are recovering this year and how the juvenile recruits are faring. We searched on hands and knees in every nook and crevasse and found some juveniles on the scale of millimeters as well as many larger adults.

Sea stars were not the only thing we found. The tide pools at Cascade Head are some of the best I have ever seen. We found a tiny octopus, a school of rockfish and my personal favorite, opalescent nudibranchs!

Opalescent Nudibranch

Opalescent Nudibranch

The word nudibranch translates to naked-gill. This describes the tentacle-like structures, or cerata, found all over their bodies that are used for breathing, digestion and defense. Nudibranchs prey on many stinging organisms including the venomous Portuguese-Man-O-War. They can take the toxins from their prey and incorporate them into their cerata to use for their own defense.

The rest of the week was spent reading papers, CBRAT project meetings and attending an interesting seminar given by Dr. Burke Hales about the effects of ocean acidification on oyster larvae in Willapa Bay, WA.

The weekend came with unpredictable coastal weather. Saturday we managed to find a rain free window in the afternoon for some browsing at the weekly Newport farmer’s market and hiking at Beaver Creek state park. A benefit of the rainy weekend was all of the wildlife we found out on the trail.

Garter snake at Beaver Creek state park

Garter snake at Beaver Creek state park

We caught a garter snake lounging on a blackberry vine, a newt making his way through a pile of soggy leaves and a few quarter-sized frogs. The clouds may have obscured most of the viewpoints but we made up for that with many berry stops to sample the thimbleberry and not-quite-ripe blackberries lining the trail. We were clearly not the only ones enjoying the berries, every few yards we came tracks and scat from bear, deer and elk. Unfortunately, all of the mammals managed to hide from us, we didn’t end up spotting any bears. Maybe next time!



Week 3: Science for a changing world

Whoops a little overdue for an update. Week three was spent mostly reading, I’m still working through the literature related to decapods and pH. I had my most intern-like task of all this week which involved reorganizing my mentor’s bookshelves. Now I’m just waiting for the coffee orders to start coming in. Ha-ha.

Through all of my reading the thing that stands out the most is how far science has come in the past century. During our first days at HMSC it was remarked that now is a great time to be a scientist. This brings to mind the quote or curse (depends on who you ask) “may you live in interesting times.” Human caused global climate change has altered and will continue to alter our world in ways that are difficult to predict and understand. Many of the advances in science, especially ocean and atmospheric science in this century stem from pressing necessity rather than simple curiosity.

Waiting at the HMSC bus stop

The studies I look at focus on pH and its effect on marine invertebrates. Studies done after the year 2000 all include standardized methods of bubbling CO2 through ambient seawater pumped in from an area near to where organisms were collected. Multiple components of pH are measured and all other conditions are monitored constantly. Organisms are exposed to pH conditions predicted for the year 2100 determined by complex ocean/atmosphere computer models. In other words, good accurate science is being conducted.

In contrast, a study from 1975 looking at pH tolerance of crayfish simply put some crayfish in a jar of acid, a jar of NaOH and measured how long it took for them to die. Turns out crayfish will die within 24 hours if put in a beaker of HCl (Newcombe, 1975). They say there is no such thing as a bad question but there is definitely such a thing as poor scientific design and I am sure at least the crayfish involved would wonder if the question of how long an organism can live in pure acid is something we really need to answer.

Friday I caught a bus out of Newport and headed home for a long relaxing 4th of July weekend. It was nice to have a break from the bunkhouse and see family and friends. 

Week 2: Just admiring the general splendor

This week I received more information about the CBRAT project and settled into my research duties. I am starting with the effects of ocean acidification on decapods (shrimp, true crabs, hermit crabs etc.). Decapods are relatively well studied compared to other marine taxa because of their economic importance, however, they are a diverse group of organisms and have varied adaptations for living in a low pH environment. I have a lot of papers to get through and I hope some clear trends will reveal themselves in the coming weeks.


Favorite sunset shot of the week from the Yaquina Bay Bridge

Every now and then it is necessary to take a short mental break from reading scientific journals. Fortunately, my office looks out on the courtyard that is frequented by several varieties of colorful finches, hummingbirds, one large out of place seagull and European starlings. I know I promised marine organism fun facts, however, my favorite organism fact I learned this week is terrestrial. My office mate, Maya, another intern with expertise in identifying the regional wildlife told me all about how European Starlings were brought over in the 1890’s in an attempt to bring all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to the Americas. Starlings were first introduced in Central Park, now there are over 200 million taking over North America. They are highly invasive species with a range spanning the entire US where they outcompete native birds for space. Who knew such an inconspicuous little black bird would have such an interesting story.


An epic face-off about to begin

In my free time I have been exploring Newport’s beaches, which has yielded some fascinating wildlife encounters. I spent a good amount of time watching a seagull have his beak snapped at as he attempted to eat a very much still alive crab twice the size of his head, a turkey vulture stealing a dead fish from a flock of seagulls (tough week for seagulls), seals lazing about the tide pools and the highlight of my week, spotting three Orcas heading into the Bay after sunset.

This Saturday was World Ocean Day and what better way to spend it than tide pooling in the morning and wandering through the Oregon Coast Aquarium with the other interns all afternoon. We finished off the weekend with some light hiking Sunday afternoon around the coast. All in all Its been a great week.

By the way, if you somehow missed out on properly celebrating World Ocean Day go pick up some trash off of your local beach or checkout what these awesome marine advocacy groups have to say: World Ocean Day5 Gyres.






Newport: My new place

The past few weeks have been exciting and eventful. I returned home after spending a year abroad studying at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton England. Only to unpack, repack and once again say goodbye to home and move into the dorms at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon.

My first office

My first office

As far as life in Oregon goes, I am a huge fan. The beach is a 20-minute walk to the west, a campus full of marine science experts sits to the east and a sand volleyball court is just outside my doorstep. I have met some awesome young scientists that share my passion for the ocean from all corners of the USA and I get to live with three of the friendliest and funniest ones! We have spent the weekend exploring the beach and the cute casual coastal town of Newport, complete with quirky coffee shops, delicious seafood and a picturesque lighthouse.

 This week I started my internship with the EPA. After finally ticking all of the federal government’s safety training boxes and moving into my first office, I sat down with my mentors to hear all about the Coastal Biodiversity Risk Analysis Tool (CBRAT), the project I will be working on the next ten weeks.

CBRAT is a program that attempts to define the potential risks climate change poses for marine species living in the Gulf of California up through the Beaufort Sea. The first phase of CBRAT involved cataloging hundreds of marine species, their traits habitats, ranges and taxonomic information. It’s an impressive feat, and some of the data is already available to the public here: http://www.cbrat.org/.

I will be contributing to the second phase of CBRAT that looks at the primary risks climate change poses to ocean creatures through sea level rise, warmer ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.

Sunset over the dunes

Sunset over the dunes

My research focus is ocean acidification. Many marine organisms use calcium carbonate to make their shells. As the ocean becomes more acidic calcium carbonate becomes more difficult for calcifying marine organisms like shellfish and plankton to obtain. The good news is some organisms have adaptations that allow them to live in lower pH environments, but the bad news is these adaptations are highly variable and not entirely understood for many species. That’s where I come in; I will be going through the existing literature and identifying characteristics that make ocean acidification a higher or lower risk for a particular organism and developing pH tolerance parameters for different marine taxa.

I am excited for a summer full of long walks on the beach, epic sunsets, improving my sand volleyball game and lots of marine science! Stay posted for updates on my research, adventures and sea creature fun facts.