Sea Grant Extension specialist Flaxen Conway helps distressed coastal communities deal with contentious issues – and groups.

Sea Grant Extension specialist Flaxen Conway
Sea Grant Extension specialist Flaxen Conway

Retired fisherman Scott McMullen sums up Flaxen Conway with one word: “peacemaker.”

In Oregon port towns from Astoria to Brookings, the OSU sociology professor is known for guiding factions often at odds — fishermen, scientists, policymakers, resource managers — toward common ground on some of the toughest issues facing rural communities.

“She runs meetings with groups that could be very contentious,” says McMullen, who owned and operated a shrimper-dragger for over 20 years. “Fishermen are oftentimes vocal and opinionated, but Flaxen keeps it under control. Amazingly, there’s never anybody yelling or throwing chairs.”

A specialist for Oregon Sea Grant Extension, Conway works with distressed coastal communities, helping to ease the tensions that flare when scarce resources and government policies bump up against ordinary people. With several Northwest fisheries declining, many shore-based families are facing financial insecurity and emotional upheaval. The 2006 salmon fishing closures were just the most recent blow to their livelihoods. Over her 13 years with Sea Grant, Conway has seen families struggle with the collapse of the commercial groundfish industry in 2000 and weather the severe salmon shortages of the mid-1990s.

“We’re used to evaluating the biological dimensions of resource management, but we rarely evaluate the social dimensions,” says Conway. “Sea Grant Extension is making sure that those human dimensions don’t get shortchanged.”

Her focus is what she calls “cross-community communication” — getting groups with competing interests and conflicting perspectives to talk. As a “neutral convener,” Sea Grant Extension opens avenues for collaboration among stakeholders more accustomed to competitive or adversarial stances.

When the U.S. Secretary of Commerce declared a disaster in the West Coast groundfish fishery (mainly rockfish and ling cod) six years ago, Conway pulled together a coast-wide, community-driven coalition to connect people to resources and jobs. The Groundfish Disaster Outreach Project helped hundreds of families secure food, housing, mental health services, and new careers.

The old paradigm of extension education — the “expert” extending scientific information to the masses — has evolved into a new model in which expertise is recognized on both sides, Conway says. Knowledge sharing runs both directions. “I’m constantly learning along with the people I’m working with. It’s a process of co-discovery.”

Flaxen Conway Web page

Sea Grant Extension Web

Coastal communities project news release

Groundfish Disaster Outreach Program wins national award

As an OSU undergraduate, Nick Ehlers has been involved in research projects in Panama, the Bahamas, and Newport, Oregon.

Nick Ehlers highlights his research as one of his most memorable college experiences
Nick Ehlers highlights his research as one of his most memorable college experiences

Nick Ehlers had the opportunity to do research in a wide range of places as an Oregon State University undergraduate student majoring in biology.

With funding from OSU’s International Undergraduate Research Program, Nick traveled to Panama and the Bahamas to work as a research assistant alongside OSU faculty members Bruce Menge and Mark Hixon. “Both were such amazing experiences,” Nick says. “It was a classroom with no walls and everything and everybody was my professor.”

Then, as part of the marine biology option, Nick had the opportunity to live on-site at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. The 16-week marine biology course offers students field and laboratory experiences with a variety of instructors, including Sally Hacker, associate professor of zoology, pictured with him above. “This program was one of the reasons that I chose Oregon State,” Nick says.

For the coming year, Nick has accepted a job as a science instructor at the Ocean Institute at Dana Point, California. “This will combine my love of science, research, and education,” he says.

“The three highlights of my college career have been my research, my fraternity, and my involvement in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program,” Nick says.

OSU biology program

Hatfield Marine Science Center

Marine Biology at HMSC

Mark Hixon website

Dana Point Ocean Institute

Tom Weeks’ signs have been on the Oregon coast for years. Now they’ve gone international.

These tsuname warning signs were illustrated by Jim Good
These tsuname warning signs were illustrated by Jim Good

With the world’s largest and most technologically advanced tsunami wave basin, Oregon State University already is a global leader in tsunami research.

Now the warning signs developed by OSU Extension Service designer Tom Weeks also are going global.

Weeks’ signs have been displayed on the Oregon coast for years as part of the state’s tsunami warning system. Now the illustration is being used to warn coastal residents around the world.

The tsunami warning illustration is one of a series Weeks developed as part of OSU’s effort to help people move quickly to safety in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. The signs also have been adopted in Washington, California, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Jim Good, an OSU Extension Sea Grant scientist developed the tsunami sign concepts with state geologists and planners and worked with Weeks on the illustration designs.

After the Indian Ocean tsunami last winter, Good’s graduate student, Somrudee Meprasert, went to Thailand to serve on a tsunami assessment group, and she took copies of the signs to share with Thai officials. In May, the illustration was posted on new warning signs along Thai beaches as part of Thailand’s new National Disaster Warning Centre.

“Extension Sea Grant’s leadership and Tom’s clear, unambiguous design will now save lives around the world, not just in the United States,” Good said.

Warning signs introduced in Thailand

OSU Extension Service

Oregon Sea Grant Extension

OSU tsunami research basin

Robert Dziak uses a U.S. Navy hydrophone to listen to seafloor earthquakes off the Pacific Northwest coast.

Bob Dziak is working on listening to earthquakes
Bob Dziak is working on listening to earthquakes

Robert Dziak has seen–or rather heard–thousands of earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean off the Northwest coast during the past several years.

Dziak and other scientists are using U.S. Navy hydrophones to listen to the sounds of seafloor earthquakes and other phenomena from their laboratories. Many of the earthquakes aren’t even detectable by land-based devices.

Dziak, who has a dual appointment with OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is stationed at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, says the hydrophones are providing scientists with critical information.

“It is the only real-time hydrophone system in the world–at least for civilians,” says Dziak. “It allows us to listen to the earthquakes as they occur, and when something unusual happens we can send out a group of scientists to study events as they unfold.”

Discover Magazine, in its top 100 science articles, recognized Dziak and five other Northwest researchers for documenting for the first time tectonic plate movement sucking water into the porous mix of rock and sediment beneath the ocean. The discovery was reported in the July 15 issue of the journal Nature.

“Just when you think you’re beginning to understand how the process works, there’s a new twist,” Dziak says. “There was an episode of seafloor spreading on a portion of the Juan de Fuca Ridge that was covered with about a hundred meters of sediment, and what usually happens in that case is that lava erupts onto the ocean floor and hot fluid is expelled into the water.

“In this case, though, it actually drew water down into the subsurface, which is something scientists have never before observed.” Dziak’s research also was honored in 2000 when he was awarded a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award, one of only 60 granted that year in the nation.

News release on use of hydrophones

Hatfield Marine Science Center website

Future ocean research instruments may create their own fuel by “eating” plankton.

Reimers is working on plankton fuel cell technology
Reimers is working on plankton fuel cell technology

During the past couple of years scientists have been able to use decomposing organic matter on the ocean floor to create fuel cells that can provide low levels of electrical power for months.

Now OSU researchers have gone a step farther, creating the same power-producing decomposition activity from plankton taken at the surface.

While the fuel cells on the floor provide power for equipment that doesn’t move, such as listening devices for earthquakes, this new development holds greater promise.

“By harnessing plankton power, we potentially could fuel autonomous mobile instruments that would glide through the water scooping up plankton like a basking shark, and converting that to electricity,” says Clare E. Reimers, a professor in the College of Oceanographic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU and director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a collaborative effort between OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The power generated by the plankton isn’t large-scale, but if a free-gliding ocean instrument used the plankton in its path, it might extend its survey mission for months, or even years.

“The fuel is there–in the mud, or in the plankton,” says Reimers. “Our focus is on developing power for oceanographic equipment. Who knows what spin-offs will develop beyond that?”

Meanwhile the sea floor research goes on. In October Reimers, who works out of a lab in OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center at Newport, led a cruise off the Oregon coast where researchers deployed eight fuel cell prototypes along the ocean shelf. The instrumentation packages will stay imbedded in the sediment about 20 kilometers offshore for a year and then be recovered.

Plankton Power news article

Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies

Michael Morrissey samples an oyster shooter made through a process the OSU Seafood Laboratory helped develop. Photo: Lynn Ketchum, OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications

Morrisey takes a bite out of the fruits of his labor
Morrisey takes a bite out of the fruits of his labor

The Oregon State University Seafood Laboratory at Astoria has been working since 1940 to meet the needs of Oregon’s coastal communities and seafood industry through research and development, extension education to the fishing industry, and graduate research, training, and instruction.

In the past 12 years, the Seafood Lab, which is well known for its international surimi school, has received more than $8 million in research grants from federal and state agencies and private industry.

The latest venture is the Community Seafood Initiative, a partnership among industry, research, community development organizations, and business financing to strengthen coastal communities and the seafood industry by enhancing the value of products through product development; research, technology, and education; and business marketing and capital.

“This is a unique and appropriate model for a university partnership,” says Michael Morrissey, director of the Seafood Laboratory. “It’s been running about a year now, and it’s pretty exciting.”

Using a multidisciplinary team of experienced professionals in food science, economics, markets, outreach and extension, community development lending, rural development, consumer behavior, and resource management, the partnership is initially focusing on new technologies such as high-pressure processing and value-added products for oysters and albacore tuna.

Partnering with the Seafood Laboratory are the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station in Newport; the Duncan Law Seafood Consumer Center in Astoria; Oregon Sea Grant Extension; and ShoreBank Enterprise Pacific, a nonprofit community development finance institution in Ilwaco, Washington.

“Our goal is to help small and midsize businesses find ways of expanding, finding niche markets, and becoming entrepreneurial in developing new products,” says Morrissey, who was selected by Oregon Business magazine in 2003 as one of the Top-50 Great Leaders in Oregon.

“In the fishing and seafood business, you have to see opportunities and act quickly,” Morrissey says. That’s where the OSU Seafood Laboratory and the Community Seafood Initiative step in.

OSU Seafood Lab home page

Seafood Lab faculty

Community Seafood Initiative

The world’s largest tsunami wave tank may help reduce death and destruction caused by the big waves. Photo by Sol Neelman, The Oregonian

Visitors watch the wave lab in action
Visitors watch the wave lab in action

With more than half the U.S. population living within 50 miles of a coastline, the danger of a devastating tsunami is very real.

Tsunamis, usually caused by undersea earthquakes, move at the speed of a jetliner and can travel great distances. The waves can be more than 100 feet high as they come ashore and often rush miles inland over low-lying land.

Even distant earthquakes can result in serious tsunami damage. For example, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that rocked Alaska in 1964 generated a tsunami that killed four children at Beverly Beach on the Oregon coast and killed 11 more people in Crescent City, California. In addition, it caused damage at Seaside, Newport, and other Oregon coastal communities.

Enter OSU’s new Tsunami Wave Basin at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory on campus.

By combining the latest in information technology with earthquake engineering, the facility, funded by a $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will enable researchers anywhere in the world to participate remotely in real-time experiments in the basin.

Using the basin, researchers will study how tsunamis behave in different kinds of ocean terrain, depths, and distances, along with the impacts they have when they reach land. “What we’re really interested in is what happens when a tsunami hits a coastline where people are,” says Dan Cox, director of the Hinsdale facility.

Harry Yeh, an OSU civil engineering professor and renowned tsunami researcher, said tsunamis are too unpredictable to allow scientists to conduct research in the field. “With this system, we can model bays and rivers to see how we can mitigate the damaging effects of a tsunami,” he says.

The tsunami basin is one of three wave tanks at the Hinsdale research lab, which has been used for studying the effects of waves since 1972.

The public will have an opportunity to see the facility in action during an open house October 16-18.

OSU news release on basin opening

Oregonian article on basin dedication

Wave basin produces Time Picture of the Week

Wave research laboratory home page

Tsunami facility open house set October 16-18

Stephen Giovannoni looks for life in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth–and he usually finds it.

Giovannoni out at sea
Giovannoni out at sea

Stephen Giovannoni and his colleagues have discovered colonies of bacteria thriving beneath one of the coldest, driest deserts on Earth–the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica.

The find suggests that it’s possible life also exists in the inhospitable climate of Mars. The average temperature in the McMurdo Dry Valleys is about 68 degrees below zero. Within that frigid environment are warmer pockets where a combination of minerals, water, and solar radiation supports a surprisingly vigorous population of bacteria.

Giovannoni and OSU oceanographer Martin Fisk also have discovered evidence of rock-eating microbes living nearly a full mile beneath the ocean floor in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.

What these discoveries have in common are to primitive processes that were undertaken to create a simple, basic life form. These processes may have taken place hundreds of millions of years ago on Earth and may be taking place right now on Mars or Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, Giovannoni said.

“It’s been suggested that Mars is too dry and cold for life to exist,” he said. “But it’s also known that both Mars and Europa have frozen water on or near their surfaces. It would be a distinct possibility that similar life forms could exist there.”

Giovannoni’s research team also has shown recently that one of the smallest known bacteria, SAR11, is also one of the most abundant organisms on Earth.

Dr. Giovannoni’s Department of Microbiology page
Dr. Giovannoni’s Center for Gene Research and Bacteriology page
SAR11 news release
Rock-eating microbes news release
Life in Antarctic ice news release

But it’s also about education. About research. About public service. And about fun.

Young students discover what sea anenome's feel like
Young students discover what sea anenome's feel like

If you’ve been to the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s visitor center, you’ve seen a variety of sea and estuary life, and you’ve probably even touched an octopus or other sea denizen.

While you were learning a little about marine science and the coastal environment–and having fun, a lot was going on behind the scenes at the HMSC. The center is an integral part of Oregon State University’s programs.

It’s about education. Many university classes are held at the center, but the educational component goes far beyond that. Special courses and camps are offered throughout the year for children, school teachers, and the general public.

It’s about research. Top scientists work at the HMSC, either as visiting researchers or as full-time residents. The center serves as a laboratory for scientists and as a home base for far-ranging oceanographic studies, often involving OSU’s three ocean research vessels.

It’s about public service. The HMSC sponsors such programs as twice-a-year whale watch weeks, CoastWatch for kids, and estuary and dock exploratory walks. Opportunities are available for school groups from preschool through high school, and a number of seminars, lectures, and meetings are held there to keep members of the public up-to-date on coast- and ocean-related issues.

It’s about fun. And that starts at the Visitor Center. Stop by, look around, and take advantage of whatever programs might be offered during the time you’re there. You’ll learn something, and you’ll enjoy yourself.

And if you want to experience more than the typical visitor, stop by during HMSSeaFest, a single day each summer that the center is open to the public for tours and a behind-the-scenes look. HMSSeaFest2003 is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. Check the current events link for more information.

The HMSC is located on Yaquina Bay at Newport on the central Oregon coast. Admission is by suggested donation. Donations help offset operational costs and allow for expanded educational programs.

All about the HMSC
Visitor information, getting there
Current events at the visitor center
Educational programs
Research at the HMSC

OSU marine biologist Bruce Mate helps protect earth’s largest animals by studying their critical habitats and migration patterns.

Bruce Mate at sea
Bruce Mate at sea

Bruce Mate made national news in 2002 with his landmark study of massive blue whales. The director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Program at the Hatfield Marine Science Center also was featured in the BBC television production “Blue Planet,” airing on the Discovery Channel.

“We’ve focused on finding critical habitats, including where blue whales breed and calve,” Mate said. “We hope to reduce the impact of human activities on their recovery.”

Since 1993, Mate and colleagues have tagged 100 blue whales off California’s coast and tracked their movements by satellite. They found that the whales travel farther and faster than previously thought–seeking fertile upwelling zones for their krill diet–and that they feed throughout the year.

Even though the whales are the earth’s largest animals–up to 100 feet long and 100 tons–little was known about their migration and winter habits. Mate and his staff have developed state-of-the-art satellite-monitored radio tags and use other new technologies in their research. The ongoing studies have resulted in discoveries that dramatically increased the current level of knowledge about several species. Mate’s research is funded by the Marine Mammal Endowment at OSU and the Office of Naval Research.