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Stories from 60 Years of Ocean Science

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 9:16am

We used to think that the oceans are unchanging and inexhaustible. After all, they are vast, covering 70 percent of the Earth, and the forces that drive them dwarf human endeavor. But today, in the course of a single human lifetime, our view has fundamentally changed, thanks largely to scientists who have explored extreme realms.

Researchers at Oregon State University have documented life forms, invented new ways to the see below the surface of the sea and endeavored to protect ocean ecosystems and to serve human well-being. OSU scientists are using this knowledge to fashion a new relationship to the ocean, one that values its bounty and beauty.

On February 24, hear from some of those who led the way and others who are still on the front lines of this urgent work. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held from 10 am to 12 noon in room 100 of the Learning Innovation Center at Oregon State University.

Speakers include:

  • Bob Collier, professor emeritus and former project manager of the Ocean Observatories Endurance Array.
  • Burke Hales, professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry, director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center
  • Bob Jacobson, the first marine Extension agent in the country, working with fishermen and seafood processors
  • Laurie Juranek, assistant professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry
  • Alejandra Sanchez-Rios, graduate student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Bob Smith, OSU professor in physical oceanography, mentored by June Pattullo in the 1960s
  • John Byrne, former director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, dean of oceanography, NOAA administrator and president of Oregon State University

The event is part of the OSU150 Sea Grant Festival, OSU’s year-long celebration of 150 years as Oregon’s land grant university. See a full schedule of events February 12-24 and learn how our dedicated faculty are discovering new frontiers, educating current and future generations and working with communities to solve today’s most pressing issues.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Solar Storms

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 3:43pm
Adam Schultz

With a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and the College of Engineering aim to develop an early-warning system to protect the electrical grid from currents generated in the ground by extreme solar storms. They are collaborating with leading electric utilities, a big-data company and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Such storms are known as “Carrington Events” after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who documented the connection between these solar activities and impacts on Earth. In 1859, an extreme solar storm generated brilliant displays of northern and southern lights. Telegraph systems failed and in some cases gave shocks to operators.

If such an event were to occur in the United States today, the risk to the economy from the widespread and sustained failure of the electrical grid has been estimated at $1 trillion.

The methods being developed can also help protect the power grid against damage from electromagnetic pulses from the detonation of nuclear devices above the atmosphere, an area of growing concern.

Led by Adam Schultz, professor in CEOAS, the project aims to enable utilities to take protective actions and to minimize damage to critical infrastructure. The project builds on 3-D variations in the electrical conductivity of the Earth’s crust and mantle obtained from the OSU-managed, NSF-funded EarthScope Magnetotelluric Program. It also uses algorithms developed at OSU that assimilate real-time data from magnetic observatories and data from a system of high-speed power sensors installed at specific locations to monitor current, voltage and frequency. These sensors provide a near real-time picture of what is happening in the electrical system.

Schultz manages the National Geoelectromagnetic Facility at Oregon State with funding from the National Science Foundation. He also leads the Magnetotelluric Program for Earthscope, an NSF initiative to explore the structure of the North American continent.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Puget Sound Vital Signs

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 3:31pm
Kelly Biedenweg

Taking stock of an ecosystem can mean monitoring the environment: air, water, soil, plants and animals. To Kelly Biedenweg, it also means asking people about how nature affects their quality of life.

Over the last five years in Washington state, she has worked with the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency that leads restoration activities for the sound, to identify metrics of environmental quality that are associated with well-being. She has conducted surveys, asking questions such as: How many people in the watershed earn their living from natural resources? How do outdoor activities such as hiking and swimming contribute to a sense of well-being? How much trust do people have in the officials and scientists who help manage natural resources?

Now, with a $400,000 Early Career Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the assistant professor in Fisheries and Wildlife is taking the next step to determine if and how resource managers use information about ecological and human health when they develop strategic plans. She and her colleagues will consider how social and ecological data are being integrated into resource management planning processes.

Biedenweg directs the Human Dimensions Lab at OSU and is a lead social scientist with the Puget Sound Institute at the University of Washington, Tacoma. In previous work, she studied the social factors affecting community forest management in Bolivia and environmental leadership in Honduras.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Planning for Resilience

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 3:16pm
Meghan Babbar- Sebens

In a warmer, uncertain future, local officials may face tough decisions over water, energy and agriculture. To help program managers, agencies and local communities coordinate decision-making efforts, a research project led by Meghna Babbar-Sebens, associate professor in the College of Engineering, aims to establish clear pathways for adapting to natural resource limitations, such as shortages of water, reductions in energy and changes in land-use policies.

She and her OSU collaborators — Ganti Murthy, Jenna Tilt and Jeffrey Reimer — and Snehasis Mukhopadhyay and Arjan Durresi at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, have received support through a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture via an interagency partnership with the National Science Foundation.

“The grant is about building the next generation of decision-support systems for enabling adaptation in interconnected food-energy-water systems,” says Babbar-Sebens. The research team is working with communities in Hermiston and neighboring communities in Umatilla and Morrow counties. They will focus on developing long-term water management plans that are resilient to declining groundwater and changing socioeconomic conditions.

Babbar-Sebens specializes in hydroinformatics, the use of information technologies and artificial intelligence to improve watershed management in a changing climate.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

A Modern Champion for the Newport Hydrographic Line

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 9:55am

By Nancy Steinberg

At the helm of sampling along the Newport Line for more than two decades was its ultimate champion: Bill Peterson. Peterson’s enthusiasm and dedication to the line drove him to work until only a few weeks before his death last summer. Colleagues recall his unbridled fascination with the ocean, his creative, system-level thinking and his dogged determination to take “just one more sample.”

One of the most valuable aspects of the data collected for the past two decades on the Newport Line is that all of the zooplankton samples were examined by the same pair of eyes: Peterson’s. Even once he became ill, “He would meet the boat at the end of every cruise,” Jennifer Fisher marvels. “Even if we came in at 2 am, we’d call him from the jetty, and he’d get out of bed and come meet us every time, because he’d want to look at the samples and stay connected that way.”

Bill Peterson was fondly remembered as a bagpiper as well as a scientist. He is shown here with fellow piper Kym Jacobson. (Photo: Dave Jacobson)

Peterson’s memorial service was held in the fall of 2017 appropriately at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Hundreds of colleagues, lab members and students paid their respects, in addition to friends and family.

“Bill reminded me of my high school track coach, who taught us to ‘run through the tape,’” says OSU oceanographer Ted Strub, one of Peterson’s collaborators. “He meant that you do not run to the finish line. You look way beyond the finish line and run to some point beyond it. You’re still going full bore when you pass the finish line. I watched Bill run through the tape.”

Others noted his playfulness. “He was really just a big kid with a planet to explore and all of us got to come along for the fun,” says OSU oceanographer Jack Barth.

Peterson’s ashes were scattered on his beloved Newport Line, at sentinel station NH-5.

__________________________________________________________

Read “Towing the Line” to learn more about the history of sampling along the Newport Line.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Towing the Line

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 9:00am

By Nancy Steinberg, Science Communicator, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Jennifer Fisher of the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies deploys a net to collect samples of plankton along the Newport Line. (Photo: Nancy Steinberg)

LAST FALL, OREGON STATE’S SMALL RESEARCH VESSEL ELAKHA embarked on an overnight cruise, setting sail under clear fall skies, unseasonably warm in the late afternoon. The ocean’s swell, just enough to force a landlubber to hold onto the rails, hadn’t turned to chop. The boat and its small crew headed straight out into the ocean to collect samples on what is known as the Newport Hydrographic Line, a swath of water that scientists have been monitoring for nearly 60 years.

While still in the protected waters of Yaquina Bay, Jennifer Fisher prepared the sampling equipment, deftly shackling cables to the boat’s winch system, lining up specimen jars and unfurling zooplankton nets. Fisher is a scientist with the joint NOAA-OSU Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies (CIMRS) and the coordinator of regular sampling along the line. The boat had had engine trouble the day before, but for the moment everything was humming along. At the end of the jetty, the captain slowed to navigate carefully around a gray whale, which surfaced intermittently and spouted, as if wishing the crew a safe trip.

Elakha’s route followed a line drawn decades ago by Wayne Burt, the founder of Oregon State’s oceanography program. In its current incarnation, regular sampling here contrasts high-tech against low-tech: It is conducted by robots and human beings. The work is both routine and surprising; continuous but also intermittent. Dozens of people collect the data. Hundreds use it. Thousands, if not more, benefit from what is learned. Despite the changes that have taken place in the sampling regime over decades, the basic justification remains the same: Monitoring the coastal ocean frequently, in person, over long time periods, provides invaluable information. This enduring commitment will only become more critical in this time of enormous global change.

A Line Is Drawn

On a map of Oregon, find the coastal town of Newport. Draw a straight line directly west, perfectly perpendicular to the coast, out into the mighty Pacific 200 nautical miles from the blinking beacon of the Yaquina Head lighthouse. You’ve just sketched the Newport Hydrographic Line. Nearly everything we know about the function of Oregon’s coastal ocean ecosystem has been learned from samples collected at these stations between 1961 and … well, last week.

In 1958, Wayne Burt petitioned Oregon State College President August Strand to start a graduate program in oceanography. Burt became the department’s first chair the following year.

The origin of the line predates the establishment of OSU’s oceanography program by Burt, an Oregon native with a gift for persuasion. In 1954, he convinced Oregon State College, now OSU, to hire him as the institution’s first oceanographer — in the Department of General Science, on a salary paid by the U.S. Navy. Understanding the tremendous value in studying the coastal ocean, Burt cobbled together a one-man nearshore sampling program. But what he really wanted was a department of oceanography and a dedicated research vessel. With further Navy funding, he launched OSU’s oceanography department (now the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences) in 1959 and commissioned its first research vessel.

That ship, the 80-foot Acona, was specifically designed by Burt to ply Oregon’s nearshore waters. It was the first crucial element in establishing the Newport Line. The second was June Pattullo, one of Burt’s first hires and the only woman in the fledgling department. Pattullo, the first woman in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D. in physical oceanography, provided leadership for the new sampling program.

In 1960, June Pattullo became one of three new oceanography faculty members, joining John Byrne and Bill Pearcy. She was the first woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in physical oceanography.

Crews aboard Acona, succeeded by the 180-foot Yaquina in 1964, sampled bimonthly along the Newport Line, out to 165 nautical miles from shore. These early years focused on the most basic properties of the water: temperature, salinity, clarity, dissolved oxygen, nutrient concentrations. Currents were not measured directly but calculated using other data. Faced with the unexplored black box of Oregon’s coastal ocean, researchers began by asking the most elementary, descriptive question: What is the ocean like off Oregon?

One person asking this question was Bob Smith, a new graduate student in physical oceanography who eventually became a faculty member at Oregon State and is now a CEOAS professor emeritus. He was particularly interested in upwelling. “Some people didn’t think the coastal ocean was worth studying,” he recalls. “They thought the coastal zone is just a big mess of turbulence and that we wouldn’t ever be able to get anything predictive out of studying it.”

He studied it anyway, using what would now be considered primitive technologies that were standard for the 1960s. Nansen bottles, invented in the late 1800s, were purely mechanical devices — open cylinders lowered on a wire to a desired depth and then triggered to close with a weight sent down the wire, trapping a water sample inside. Water clarity was measured with a standard white disk 30 centimeters (1 foot) wide known as a Secchi disk. Scientists lowered it over the side on a line marked with depth intervals and recorded the depth at which the disk disappeared from view.

The 80-foot-long R/V Acona, launched in 1961, accommodated 15 scientists and crew.

Some things haven’t changed. On board Elakha last fall, Fisher and research assistant Sam Zeman took their first samples at a station designated NH-1, one nautical mile from shore, as the sun inched toward the horizon. Zeman pulled the Secchi disk out of a crate and dropped it over the side. The modern sampling plan also calls for more sophisticated equipment, such as a CTD, an electronic instrument package that measures conductivity (salinity), temperature and depth continuously as it drops through the gloom toward the seafloor.

That trip was scheduled, as always, to bracket sunset. The crew generally leaves the dock four hours before night falls and returns four hours afterward. Working in the dark enables scientists to easily capture zooplankton, which rise to the surface at night to feed. On each bimonthly trip, Fisher and her small crew aim to go out 25 miles from shore. Periodically, when they have access to larger vessel such as the NOAA ship Bell M. Shimada, they go out as far as 200 miles. The weather can be prohibitive, especially in the winter. They make a special effort to get at least as far as station NH-5, their “sentinel station” five nautical miles from shore. “Even if the weather is not good, we can usually get to NH-5,” Fisher says. “That way we have a consistent time series – that station always gets counted.”

The work can be at once grueling and mundane. The Pacific off Oregon is rarely completely peaceful, and the captain sometimes has to fight to keep the boat steady in the swift current and bucking-bronco waves. Working at night presents challenges; finicky equipment presents challenges; a small boat, rough weather and seasickness present challenges. And when the boat returns to shore, the work has really just begun. Then comes the task of examining zooplankton samples under a microscope, enumerating and identifying copepods, krill and other tiny creatures; organizing and storing data; crunching numbers; writing papers; fighting for funding.

Sampling Becomes Spotty

Sampling from the R/V Acona in the early 1960s are, from left, Bruce Watt, Lyle Hubbard and Henry Donaldson.

In 1972, when the Navy money ran out, regular sampling along the line ceased. This shift coincided with a broader transition in oceanography to “process studies”: hypothesis-driven research aimed at specific research questions, rather than what some called “mindless monitoring.”

Jane Huyer was a graduate student in the early years and is now a CEOAS professor emeritus. “During that time, proposals didn’t have a hope of getting funded if you didn’t have a hypothesis and a reasonable way of testing it,” she says. “If you just kept making the same measurements without a new understanding of the system, then how would you make any advances?”

Between 1972 and 1996, stations along the line continued to be sampled sporadically for specific projects. Biologists pulled nets to examine everything from phytoplankton to fish. “The mid-70s to mid-80s was a watershed time for sampling here,” says Waldo Wakefield, then an OSU master’s student who now works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Newport. “There was a lot of collaboration and integration of different kinds of research to develop an overall picture of the coastal ecosystem. The plankton sampling, the benthic sampling, looking at different life stages of fishes — it all worked together.”

This approach, in which faculty worked together on a common question, established the collaborative nature of Oregon State’s marine research programs that persists to this day.

The Newport Line Reboots

It took another federal oceanographic initiative and a persistent scientist to reawaken regular sampling along the line. That recipe came together in 1996 in the form of the Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) program and Bill Peterson, an energetic, visionary NOAA scientist.

Bill Peterson

As an OSU Ph.D. student in the 1970s, Peterson had conducted seminal studies of zooplankton ecology along the Newport Line. He was particularly interested in copepods, tiny crustaceans that link the lowest levels of the food web (phytoplankton) to the upper levels, including fish, whales and birds. Today, his research is known for critical insights into the biological engine that fuels the Pacific’s legendary fisheries.

But when he took a job with NOAA at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in 1995, his top priority was bringing back regular sampling along the Newport Line. Once GLOBEC funds ran out in 2003, he supported the work using NOAA base funding and other sources. That sampling continues to this day, stewarded by Jennifer Fisher. Peterson lost a valiant battle with cancer in August 2017. (See “A Modern Champion for the Newport Hydrographic Line“)

The Line Goes High Tech

Fully loaded with equipment for the Ocean Observatories Initiative, the R/V Sikuliaq leaves Newport. (Photo: Craig Risien)

The technology used along the Newport Line has evolved with the times. Since 2006, autonomous underwater gliders (the first two were named “Bob” and “Jane” after Bob Smith and Jane Huyer) have been patrolling it 24/7. At this very moment, two gliders resembling small yellow missiles are swimming their lonely way, diving and surfacing in an undulating path, collecting data on temperature, salinity, water clarity, ocean currents and more. These remarkable instruments transmit about 10 percent of their data as they “fly,” communicating via satellite when they surface. When a battery gets low, the glider surfaces and calls home. Scientists retrieve it from a boat, switch the battery out for a fully charged replacement, download the full data set and release it. The gliders can be monitored and even controlled via a smart phone app.

Underwater gliders like this are patrolling Oregon’s coastal waters. (Illustration courtesy of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences)

Gliders gather more data under more weather conditions than ever before. “There weren’t a lot of studies of local oceanography in winter, because those conditions are tough to go out in,” says Jack Barth, an OSU oceanographer and one of the founders of the glider program. “But we can do that with gliders. We can keep them out in 30-foot seas — they can go out in anything.”

Yet, traditional net sampling from a boat can’t be abandoned altogether. To collect zooplankton, for example, “there’s really no new technology to do that,” Barth admits. “That’s old-school nets.” In addition, the human eyes on the ocean serve as real-time sentinels.

“We’re out there observing the ocean all the time,” adds Fisher. “We see the water clarity, we see if there’s a phytoplankton bloom, we know if there’s hypoxia happening right away. We’ve got our fingers on the pulse.”

And so twice a month, year round, Fisher and her team head offshore to take the ocean’s pulse at as many stations as they can along the Newport Line. During the trip last fall, engine trouble prevented a “full line,” but Elakha did get to station NH-5, making the excursion official. Even in that short span of miles from shore, differences in water clarity and zooplankton were apparent. At NH-1, under the watchful eye of the Yaquina Head lighthouse, spiky crab larvae filled the zooplankton net. They were hard to rinse off into the waiting sample jars. By NH-5, they had pretty much disappeared, and the water was noticeably clearer. Past NH-5, the zone of coastal upwelling, Fisher says things would look different still. She would know for sure exactly how different when she takes her data sheets and samples back to the lab for further analysis.

A Deep-Ocean Conveyor Belt
The summer sun can warm your face, and the air can feel hot, but if you’ve ever been swimming along the Oregon coast, you know how cold the water can get. It gets especially chilly when north winds blow and push warmer surface water to the west. In its place, currents from deep in the ocean rise along our beaches and bays to replace it. This water — delivered by a process that scientists call upwelling — isn’t just colder; it also carries more nutrients that can fuel ocean life. On the downside, it has less oxygen and tends to be acidified. Like the proverbial slow boat to China, it can take decades for deep ocean currents to travel to the West Coast. When it last touched the atmosphere at the start of its journey, CO2 levels were lower than they are today. In the future, the water upwelling along our coast will carry the memory of the annual increases in CO2.

From Theory to Textbook

Gigabytes of data, binders upon binders of field notes and spreadsheets and sheds full of water and plankton samples have led to hundreds of scientific publications based on Newport Line data. The early sampling revealed how Oregon’s ocean works. Later efforts helped scientists to recognize when and why it wasn’t working as it usually does. Other work revealed the ecological consequences of shifts in ocean function from season to season and from one decade to the next.

Initially, studies along the Newport Line focused on physics — currents, temperatures and winds — in order to understand and characterize the most important oceanographic phenomenon in the region: wind-driven coastal upwelling. This process underlies nearly everything else that happens in Oregon’s ocean, from the flourishing fisheries to the presence of gray whales to the low-oxygen conditions and ocean acidification that have been in the news in recent years. In a nutshell, summer winds blowing from the north push surface water to the west and drive the conveyor belt of deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters into the coastal zone, fueling the Northwest’s food webs.

Certainly, oceanographers had hypothesized about and modeled this process before 1961. But they did not have data to back up their theories. Bob Smith was one of the first to characterize the phenomenon. “People knew upwelling existed. We knew the water was awfully cold at the beach. Everyone agreed that given the wind structure here it would happen, but it was conceptual. There was a lot of speculation — how wide is the upwelling zone? Where does the cold water come from and where does it go? People had an idea but not a quantitative idea.” With Newport Line data, the mechanics of upwelling were nailed down and entered the realm of “textbook science.”

Cheeseburgers and Celery

The biological sampling conducted by Bill Peterson and others revealed a beautiful seasonal dance of copepod species that provided insight into the building blocks of regional food webs and consequences of climate change. Peterson found that summertime sub-Arctic coastal currents deliver cold waters and northern copepod species to the coastal zone. These northern copepods — Peterson and his colleagues sometimes refer to them as “cheeseburgers” — are fatty bundles of nutrition that fuel the food web and result in fat salmon. In contrast, smaller, skinny copepods — the “celery” — arrive in the wintertime with warmer subtropical waters.

Whether the marine menu includes cheeseburgers or celery also depends on the status of natural climate cycles, operating on time scales from months to years. Cool phases are associated with good nutritional conditions for everyone and high salmon catches. Fish and the food web above them, from marine mammals to birds, frequently go hungry during the warm cycles (such as El Niño years) — and so do fishermen.

After many years of observing patterns of food webs and climate drivers, Peterson developed a forecasting tool, often referred to as a “stoplight chart,” to predict whether future years will be good for salmon returns. The charts track sea surface temperature, coastal upwelling, copepod diversity and measures of baby salmon abundance. They suggest, based on these factors, whether future years will provide good, intermediate or poor ocean conditions for salmon survival. These projections have proven to be highly reliable and figure prominently in salmon management.

Collaboration Down the Line

The Newport Line’s rich dataset and consistent sampling regime have always served as a magnet for researchers wishing to study Oregon’s ocean. “You can’t take too many steps down any hallway here without bumping into someone who’s worked along the Newport Line,” says Angel White, CEOAS oceanographer. “It’s part and parcel of CEOAS culture. It’s a resource, and it’s our access to the sea.”

OSU oceanographer Walt Waldorf, right, and a R/V Wecoma crewmember secure the NH-10 buoy on deck. (Photo: Murray Levine)

Scientists from around the Northwest have conducted research programs near the Newport Line to take advantage of the regular sampling. Waldo Wakefield has been working the line for decades with OSU professor Lorenzo Ciannelli to collect young flatfish (flounders and sole). NOAA fisheries biologist Ric Brodeur has used Newport Line data to determine that the first year of life in the ocean for young salmon has more impact than previously thought on catches of adult fish.

OSU benthic ecologist Sarah Henkel, who studies the potential consequences of wave energy systems on bottom-dwelling communities, has collected samples along the Newport Line for comparison to the seafloor ecosystem at the wave energy test site.

White discovered a link between toxic domoic acid in shellfish tissues and warm-water ocean conditions brought about by climate conditions such as El Niño. This finding may ultimately result in an ability to forecast so-called red tides, aiding fishermen and protecting seafood consumers.

The existence of the Newport Line was critical in bringing to the region the most sophisticated, extensive system of ocean monitoring ever developed. In 2014, the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a massive federally funded ocean monitoring program, followed the Newport Line to deploy a section of the Endurance Array, a network of moored buoys, cables and gliders that collects colossal amounts of data.

OOI monitoring data have documented the increasing occurrence and severity of bottom hypoxia (low oxygen) along the Oregon coast in the summertime. Other measurements are now contributing to our understanding of ocean acidification, a result of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Newport Line data helped scientists to identify the “warm blob” of ocean water that lingered off the Oregon coast from 2014 to 2016, wreaking havoc with oceanic food webs.

And last August, the moored OOI buoys examined whether zooplankton would respond to a solar eclipse. Sure enough, as the moon darkened the sun, these organisms began their night-time migration to the surface.

New Questions

Without Bill Peterson bulldogging for funding, the future of the hydrographic and biological sampling along the Newport Line is uncertain. Some level of support is likely to continue, says Fisher, but the program is already operating with a skeleton crew.

E. Nelson Sandgren taught drawing and painting at Oregon State University from 1947 until his retirement in 1985. He captured this scene of OSU oceanographers collecting water samples from the deck of the R/V Yaquina. Sandgren died in 2006. (Painting courtesy of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences)

As Angel White jokes, “What do they say about time series? Never start one and never end one.” Some climate phenomena cycle on the scale of decades, so even the Newport Line’s 56-year record might only capture a single cycle.

Regular monitoring is generally regarded as the job of government, not universities, so many local oceanographers feel that NOAA and other agencies should foot most of the bill. White and other scientists who rely on Newport Line data recently submitted a letter to potential funding agencies encouraging continued support. “The Newport Line has served as a foundation for studying the impacts of climate variability and ecosystem response … the length and consistency of the Newport time series provide a powerful context for studying ecosystem impacts from unpredictable changes of the ocean and climate variability,” they wrote.

Just a few weeks before he passed away, Bill Peterson told OSU oceanographer Ted Strub that he had 20 more papers he wanted to write using Newport Line data. Zooplankton and water samples collected over the past two decades line the shelves, floor to ceiling, of multiple sheds on the grounds of the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Even if sampling on the Newport Line ceases tomorrow, these data and samples would support hundreds of graduate theses and journal articles, but they won’t tell us about the future. Oregon’s ocean has many more secrets to tell, if only we keep asking it questions.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Bury It Deep

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 4:57pm

By Gregg Kleiner

Despite tree planting campaigns, solar energy installations and “no car” days, carbon dioxide continues an inexorable rise in the atmosphere. And as the signs of global warming mount — rising seas, extreme storms, melting ice sheets, longer fire seasons — world leaders struggle to find solutions.

Instead of looking up at the sky for a fix, an Oregon State University engineering professor is focused underground. She hopes to buy time for a transition to renewable energy sources and other approaches to the climate crisis.

Carbon capture technologies could buy time for solutions to climate change, says Dorthe Wildenschild.

Dorthe Wildenshild leads a study of efforts to capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the burning of fossil fuels and inject it a mile or so deep into the Earth, where it would remain locked away. Ironically, the process stems from methods used by the fossil-fuel industry to extract harder-to-obtain oil trapped in small pores of geological formations near existing wells. Companies pump CO2 into oil fields where it mixes with and releases the black liquid from the pores in the formation, so the oil flows more freely toward the production wells. The process is known as CO2 Enhanced Oil Recovery.

Researchers worldwide are exploring ways to use this same process to sequester CO2 deep in the Earth, so the greenhouse gas can’t contribute to global warming. CO2 sequestration is sometimes called carbon dioxide capture and storage, or CCS.

“Many of the scientists working on this CCS technology are the same people who developed the technology for the extraction of fossil fuels,” says Wildenschild, a professor of environmental engineering at Oregon State. “Many of us used to work on getting oil out of the ground more effectively, both for oil recovery and to clean up groundwater reservoirs, but now we work on putting CO2 back where it came from.”

Because carbon dioxide is a gas, however, pumping it back into the Earth’s crust presents several challenges. CO2 can migrate to the surface through geologic fault lines or well boreholes and escape into the atmosphere. It can also react with other subsurface deposits and contaminate groundwater.

Trapping CO2

Wildenschild is an international expert in this subterranean world, where the vagaries of geology affect the movement of the water and oil that underlie, literally, much of the modern economy. Named a Henry Darcy Distinguished Lecturer in Groundwater Science in 2014 (she gave 48 talks around the world that year), Wildenschild specializes in what scientists call “capillary trapping.”

This 3D visualization captures CO2 blobs inside the pore geometry of rock. Color variations indicate the pressure state of the fluids. These kinds of images are used to quantify the amount of CO2 trapped for different injection scenarios (trapping efficiency) as well as the pressure conditions underground after the gas is trapped. (Image courtesy of Dorthe Wildenschild)

“It’s like holding water in a straw by placing your finger over one end of the straw,” she says. “The capillary trapping technique we’re working on increases the safety of sequestration dramatically, because it holds the CO2 in place by capillary forces so it can’t migrate to the surface.”

When injected underground, CO2 displaces fluids occupying pore spaces that fill the rock like holes in a sponge. When injection stops, capillary action holds the CO2 in place.

Before researchers inject CO2 into the subsurface, they concentrate and pressurize the gas to transform it into what scientists call a supercritical state. In this form, CO2 has the properties of both a liquid and a gas. The transformed CO2 can then flow through rock like a gas and mix with other subsurface fluids like a liquid. And because of the temperature and pressure at the depth where it is injected, it will match the state of CO2 that is already present underground.

Several other methods can be used to sequester CO2 underground. By injecting it below layers of impermeable rock, the gas can be physically trapped. It can also be dissolved in a brine and sequestered by another process called mineral trapping, which gradually transforms the CO2 into rock. However, both these methods are slow and carry risks that make them less desirable than capillary trapping.

Seeing Inside Rocks

In the Advanced Imaging Facility in Johnson Hall, the recently opened home of Oregon State’s School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering, Wildenschild is using high-tech tools to find ways to increase the amount of CO2 that can be trapped by capillary action.

Taking center stage in her lab is a new, custom-made, $800,000 imaging system capable of “seeing inside” and “flying through” opaque materials. Wildenschild and her students can study form, character and function at the scale of one thousandth of a millimeter, aka a micron. How small is that? It is about the width of a strand of spider web silk. A droplet of fog, mist or cloud water is about 10 microns across.

The imaging system is made possible by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. When installation is complete and the equipment is fully functional, it will be the most advanced system in the Pacific Northwest, Wildenschild says. The data generated, she adds, will be among the most accurate from any such facility in the nation.

Tomographic imaging reveals how underground pore spaces change as supercritical fluids are injected under pressure. (Image courtesy of Dorthe Wildenschild)

“Using the latest imaging techniques allows us to not only measure how good we are at trapping the CO2 but also to better determine what variables we can adjust to attain even higher efficiency,” she explains. Some of the factors that affect trapping capacity include injection techniques that break up the CO2 and variance in the injection rates.

“We’ve found that if we turn the injection process on and off, what’s called cyclic injection, we get much higher levels of trapping,” she says.

A Bridge to Renewables

Wildenschild admits that CO2 sequestration will not solve climate change, but it could slow it down and provide an important bridge as the world transitions from fossil fuels to renewables for energy generation. What’s needed most, she says, is national leadership and funding to speed the research.

“If there were political interest and acknowledgement from Washington, D.C., that climate change is a critical issue, you could totally do this, because the techniques and research are there, and the basic process has been used for years,” says Wildenschild, who is originally from Denmark and has been at OSU since 2006.

Although the U.S. has some test sites, major CO2 sequestration operations are underway in Canada, Algeria and Norway.

“There is a huge program in Norway, because the Norwegians realized the dangers of climate change very early on and instituted a carbon tax, which has forced the oil industry to deal with CO2 emissions,” Wildenschild says. “The cost for flaring off the CO2 was so high, due to this tax, that it drove them to figure out how to deal with the CO2.”

Wildenschild is providing high-resolution imaging data to a Norwegian collaborator, Johan Olav Helland, a senior scientist with the International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS). He is working to assess the potential for simultaneous CO2 storage and oil recovery in mature oil fields.

“Dorthe Wildenschild and her research group at OSU are making a very important contribution to the project,” says Helland. “For the first time ever, we will be directly comparing 3D images of three-phase fluid distributions from experiments and simulations at the pore scale in porous media.”

First in Her Family 

Wildenschild grew up on a farm in Denmark, the first person in her family to attend college. “There was no history of academics in my family,” she says. “I didn’t even know what a Ph.D. was until I was working on my master’s degree in Copenhagen. But my parents were very supportive of me going to school.”

In 2014, the year she was named a Darcy Lecturer by the National Groundwater Association, Wildenschild became the first woman to be promoted to full professor in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering.

Wildenschild’s work on multiphase flow in porous media has applications beyond carbon sequestration — from agriculture and groundwater remediation to fuel cells. In agriculture, where water is quickly becoming a limited resource, increasingly complex computer models of subsurface water movement, combined with soil sensors, are helping farmers avoid over irrigation.

Wildenschild’s research contributes to understanding how water and oil interact below the surface during oil spills and how that affects groundwater. Similar principles are at work in fuel cells, which involve the interaction of multiple fluids in a porous medium.

“But funding is critical,” says Wildenschild, who adds that research support from both the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation for this type of work has declined during the past few years. “The best thing that could happen would be to better fund this type of research, because when it comes to slowing climate change, we are running out of time.”

Gregg Kleiner is a freelance writer in Corvallis. 

______________________________________________

Watch X-Rays and Tricycles, a video at the Advanced Photon Source by former OSU graduate student Anna Herring, now at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Reclaiming Native Space

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 3:47pm

By Theresa Hogue, OSU News and Research Communications

When Natchee Barnd was a senior in high school, he would sit in the back of his history class with a friend from the Black Student Union and quietly critique the Euro-centric curriculum. During lunch, he’d head to the school library and pore over books that featured people of color in primary roles, creating his own brand of independent study to supplement the narrow viewpoint he was receiving in
his classes.

“We had this parallel, shadow curriculum,” Barnd recalls. “It gave us this sense of empowerment.”

Colin Cole, left, a Ph.D. student in education, talked with assistant professor Natchee Barnd during the spring 2017 Social Justice Tour of Corvallis. (Photo: Theresa Hogue)

Barnd was looked down on by many of his peers as a dumb jock, a quiet football player from the other side of town who was bussed into the mainly white high school in Northern California. His own neighborhood was a rich mix of Southeast Asian, African, Latino and Native American, but he saw little of that reflected in his textbooks or in his classmates. So he began creating his own space, where the stories of black poets and Native American artists intermingled to give him a much richer world view.

Now an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Oregon State University, Barnd is fascinated with how colonized spaces can be reclaimed by indigenous people through art and storytelling. Much in the way that he rejected the narrow, ethnocentric viewpoints he was taught in school and filled it in with a broader perspective, indigenous artists and groups are defying the boundaries imposed upon their lands and culture by outsiders. Instead, they are using their stories, their history, to establish and reclaim their own spaces.

Native Geography

Native Space is published by OSU Press.

In his new book, Native Space: Indigenous Strategies to Unsettle Settler Colonialism (OSU Press, 2017), Barnd explores how North American Native people have sustained and created indigenous geographies in settler colonial nations. He does so by examining approaches to this reclamation of geography, from place names and signage to paintings and public sculpture.

One example he cites is Cherokee, North Carolina, the tribal headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Street names use a combination of English, Cherokee and Cherokee syllabary (the written symbols that represent syllables in spoken language). “By virtue of their public function and purpose,” Barnd writes, “bilingual sign systems inherently and publicly help tribal communities negotiate the relationships among culture, language and geography.”

Barnd is not enrolled with a tribe but has indigenous family connections and roots. He first stumbled across the idea of cultural geography when completing his dissertation (Inhabiting Indianness: US Colonialism and Indigenous Geographies) at UC San Diego. An emerging field, cultural geography looks at how cultures and societies shape landscapes and vice versa. Language, religious beliefs, practices and structures, Barnd says, can inform how space is perceived and used.

“‘Inhabiting Indianness’ refers to the ways that everyday citizens deploy notions of ‘Indianness’ in the creation of white residential spaces and in reasserting national and therefore colonial geographies,” he writes. Among other things, Barndt documents and analyzes the use of Indian-themed street names throughout the United States and compares them to street names referencing other racialized groups, including African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos.

“I was trying to deal with how art spoke to the notion of space or geography, or how art gives meaning to that relationship between people and the physical world outside,” Barnd says. “Everything that we see, essentially we’ve created. That’s true of place names too. What’s the relationship between naming spaces and crafting particular kinds of spaces you want to have people experience, and how does it create or reflect our identities?”

In his book, Barnd uses personal narratives to examine the stories of indigenous communities. He compares narratives of a famous Kiowa warrior,

Set’tainte (or Satanta), one from a white and another from a Kiowa perspective. He focuses on Native artists who use their work to address issues of indigenous geography and the making and unmaking of Native space.

In the spring 2017 Social Justice Tour of Corvallis, students offered stories about the city’s multicultural heritage. Speakers included Isamar Chavez, a student in Ethnic Studies presenting on the life of Ruth Nomura, a Japanese-American woman who graduated from OSU in 1930. (Photo: Theresa Hogue)

Differences can arise in how ethnic or cultural groups view space. Borders imposed by a dominant power often cross or divide broader areas, which indigenous groups may regard within their own cultural context. Even the place names given by one group can impart a different meaning. A war hero who lends his name to an academic building might also have a history of causing harm to Native people. A common street name may use a term that is offensive to a group of color or supplant a Native name used for centuries before the arrival of white settlers. Names can simply proclaim what is worthy of remembrance and what is not.

The ways in which indigenous space has been colonized are numerous, but that’s not Barnd’s primary focus. To spend time and energy critiquing and criticizing the actions of colonists simply places the focus and interest on those white settlers, he says. He is more interested in indigenous movements to reclaim spaces and exert power over their own stories.

With Justice for All

This link between space and stories is also evident in a project he’s been leading for several years at Oregon State, the Social Justice Tour of Corvallis. Created as a project for his Ethnohistory Methodology Class, the tour is led by students and combines a physical tour of Corvallis overlaid with stories of underrepresented peoples and tales generally lost to history. The students do the research and weave the narrative from historical documents, poetry and in some cases, fiction writing based on real experiences.

“Part of my work involves figuring out how to mix poetry and geography and art in a way that makes sense to understanding space,” Barnd says. The tour does so in a way that helps participants look at familiar landscapes in a new way.

“When we stop at the ‘great white founder’s’ house, I want to dig and find the story of the Siletz woman servant or maybe the wife or the daughter that did something different,” he adds.

Speakers at the 2017 Social Justice Tour of Corvallis included Alex Riccio, a master’s student in interdisciplinary studies, discussing an anti-apartheid campaign at OSU. (Photo: Theresa Hogue)

The response from tour participants has confirmed Barnd’s hopes. “They’ve told me that knowing this makes them look at this place differently, that this story tells them there are things here they can latch onto — that this space can be and has been different than what they had previously understood or experienced.”

Social Justice Tour in Portland

Barnd’s next project is a book titled A People’s Guide to Portland and Beyond, which highlights lesser known sites of social justice and oppression across Oregon’s largest city. He has contracted with UC Press for the work. Much like his Corvallis tours, the book will highlight stories of underrepresented groups and give readers a new way of perceiving the familiar streets of Portland.

Barnd has also been part of the group investigating the potential renaming of several buildings on the Oregon State campus whose namesakes’ legacies are being questioned in light of modern values. He said that it’s important to provide the space for people to challenge place names and to be willing to change them, if appropriate.

“You want to create a particular relationship with that space and that history. It makes sense to be thoughtful about what our process is for naming and how frequently we might want to revisit that process,” he says. “Because things change, our understanding changes, people’s histories change. Of course we should be flexible. Otherwise we’re in danger of thinking about space or an name as fixed, and it’s not fixed.”

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Energy Matters

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 11:00am

By Nick Houtman

It’s not hard to find controversy in the energy business. As the United States has again become one of the world’s leading oil and gas producers, proposals for new facilities generate hearings, protests and lawsuits. Advocates and opponents square off over facilities such as pipelines and oil, gas and coal terminals. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has ramped up the production of oil and natural gas along with worries about groundwater, earthquakes and air pollution.

Hilary Boudet leads research on the use of energy data for conservation purposes.

Even proposals to tap renewable sources such as wind and geothermal hot spots bring worries about wildlife, quakes and noise.

Hilary Boudet is used to tense discussions about energy and technology. “I grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the ‘secret cities’ of the Manhattan Project. We always took visitors to see one of the world’s first nuclear reactors, which played a key role in U.S. efforts to create an atomic bomb,” says the assistant professor of sociology at Oregon State University.

“But there was this difference between the pride that people had who grew up there and the perception of contamination. People outside the city would joke with us about glowing in the dark.”

Fossil fuel production is expected to reach record levels in the United States this year. In 2016, the U.S. met about 86 percent of its energy consumption with production from domestic sources.

As a college student, Boudet majored in environmental engineering and political science at Rice University in Houston. In her first job — a stint with the environmental and regulatory arm of ExxonMobil — she got an insider’s view of how energy projects are described and debated by industry and the public. “I learned a lot about how companies in the oil and gas industry think about these issues, what makes them do more or do less in this area,” she says.

But as informative as it was to work for big oil, she wanted to dig deeper into the decision-making process. So in a Ph.D. program at Stanford, she delved into the politics around 20 proposals to build large energy facilities in the U.S.

Decision Time

Boudet is affiliated with Oregon State’s School of Public Policy and continues to explore the ways in which people engage with energy development. She and her students interview and survey people struggling with contentious issues, such as a proliferation of natural-gas wells or proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. They document the views of those who participate in campaigns — both for and against these developments — or of those who happen to live in close proximity to the facilities. They have zeroed in on an important question: Why do some communities readily accept these facilities, while others vehemently oppose such efforts?

Energy politics, she and her colleagues have found, revolve around factors such as access to the levers of power, the nature of a perceived threat and the potential for economic benefit. For example, Boudet has shown that if local politicians have the final say on traditional energy proposals, opponents tend to be more influential than if the political process gives final authority to distant regulators. Yet, the opposite appears to be true for wind energy proposals.  And, while the risks posed by a particular project factor into opposition efforts, they are largely in the eye of the beholder. Different communities and individuals within them assess risks and benefits differently, depending on their demographic characteristics, worldviews, political leanings, lived experiences and the surrounding context.

“I have two theoretical homes for my research,” says Boudet. “One is the literature on social movements and on why and how people mobilize. This tradition comes out of sociological studies of civil rights and other movements of the 1960s. The other one is the literature on locally unwanted land uses — LULUs— which comes out of urban planning. I draw on these two fields of study to understand how and why people become active.”

Girl Scouts for Conservation

With deep knowledge of how the public navigates these issues, Boudet has turned to another aspect of our relationship to energy. Along with engineers at Stanford and the University of California, Santa Barbara, she is leading a project: Smart & Connected Kids for Sustainable Energy Communities. Boudet and her colleagues are partnering with an organization not generally known for its energy expertise — the Girl Scouts. The researchers are taking advantage of technology such as “smart meters” (see sidebar) that track household electricity use and a cell phone app that helps homeowners track which devices are powered on. The project will combine these tools with educational programs that teach girls about the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and energy conservation.

Lauren, left, and Jenna participated in the Girls Learning Environment and Energy program of the Girl Scouts. Through a project led by Hilary Boudet at Oregon State, Girl Scout troops are learning to use smart meter technology to save energy. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Boudet)

Using actual household energy data, Boudet and her colleagues will work with Girl Scout troops and high school students in Fremont, California, to identify ways to reduce energy consumption. Other partners include Ohlone Community College, the City of Fremont and Chai Energy, a company that markets an app for home energy management. The project has received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation

“Children are a critical constituency for energy-saving programs,” Boudet says. “When they adopt energy-saving behaviors at an early age, they are more likely to continue those behaviors as they grow up and move into adulthood.”

Smart Energy
The days of meter readers are gone. No longer do utility companies send people to record data from the power meter on the side of a customer’s house. So-called “smart meters” record the flow of electricity hour by hour or minute by minute and transmit data back to the utility. The devices have been widely adopted in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. While utilities see the potential for reduced labor costs and more efficient operation, concerns have been raised about privacy and the potential for data to be misused.

Such measures reflect a promising frontier in the drive for energy efficiency. While the number of homes in the United States has risen by almost 50 percent since 1980, residential energy use has climbed only modestly, less than 10 percent over that time, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The hope is that smart meters and appliances will help households save money and reduce their energy footprint.

In 2016, Boudet published a paper in the journal Nature Energy showing that girls who participated in an educational program known as GLEE — Girls Learning Environment and Energy — mastered energy conservation practices and successfully shared them with their families. “By adopting energy-saving behaviors now and engaging family and community members in such efforts, children can play an important role in bringing about a more sustainable future,” she adds.

The new project expands on that effort and builds on the organization’s traditional values, says Jean Fahy, a Girl Scout program director in Alameda, California. “Girl Scouts have always been concerned about the outdoors and the environment. I feel that the work that Hilary has done has already influenced many Girl Scouts throughout the country. We’re honored to be working with her. It’s very powerful for the girls to be learning from her to be responsible citizens.”

Boudet and her team will engage more than 1,500 active Girl Scouts in the Fremont area, but ultimately, it’s about empowering families, adds Fahy. “With the smart meter, families can download the app, and the girls will be coming back from their meetings and sharing with their families. It’s not just the girls who are learning from this. As a family, they’ll be sharing those results.”

Boudet hopes that, as in her hometown of Oak Ridge, children will feel proud of using science and technology to achieve a better life. The project “has the potential to attract the hearts and minds of households and community members,” she has written. And if people from outside the community want to know if participants glow in the dark, it may be from the feeling generated by a lifelong passion for science, technology, math and engineering.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Game Changer

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 10:09am

By Nick Houtman

If you sit down to play Wayfarer with Jeremy Banka, it would pay to read up on the rules in advance. You can choose your character: Knight, Cryomancer (a character with icy powers), Mage (magician) or a Mechanized Armored Pilot. You can assemble playing cards to provide your character with offensive and defensive powers such as the ability to cast spells or use weapons to attack your opponent. Once play begins, you’ll need to know how to make counter moves and wield your assets to drive the enemy from the arena.

Jeremy Banka

Banka, a senior in graphic design and the University Honors College, developed every detail of Wayfarer: the table-top playing surface, an instruction manual and more than 200 playing cards. His creative typography, character drawings and color palette steep players in the spirit of fictional combat and provide everything needed to make decisions as the game proceeds. More than each character’s identity and skill level, the cards give the game an emotional charge — whether it comes from brute strength, skill, agility or magic power.

The graduate of Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie traces his inspiration to Magic the Gathering, a game designed to be an ice breaker between science fiction fans, gamers and artists at gatherings such as Comic-Con. Banka also drew on Dungeons and Dragons and multiplayer online video games.

“These games have characters with a strong sense of identity and role,” says Banka. “I think they are an amazing social conduit. The players bring their own materials, and because each player is building his or her own deck, each has enough to supply half the game.”

One of the common gaming problems he set out to solve is the length of time it takes to become familiar with the rules. “Wayfarer uses visual design to communicate clearly. The cards are fast to read,” says Banka. “Information is laid out in consistent ways, so people can take up the game quickly.”

Over a typical 15-minute session, Wayfarer can be competitive or cooperative. Players can go head-to-head with allies to control space and drive their opponents out of the arena, or they can go jointly on a quest to solve a problem. Ultimately, the game is about telling a story, says Banka, whether it delves into the struggle between two characters or journeys through an unknown landscape in search of treasure.

Banka’s interest in graphic design stems from a subject many people find less than thrilling: grammar. For him, the structure of language opened a window on communication, syntax and linguistic differences. In high school, he even invented his own language, which he called Srailese, with an alphabet and about 1,000 words.

“What I found most captivating about ‘con-langing’ (constructed language), was the development of the letter forms. I think of myself more as a typographic designer than a graphic designer,” he adds. “Instead of thinking downward from the page, I think outward from words.”

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

The Oregon Ocean Acid Test

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 9:38am

By Jim Yuskavitch

On a cold, windy afternoon last November, Dick Vander Schaaf stood on the beach at Cascade Head near Lincoln City anxiously scanning the outgoing tide. He leaned on a shovel he hoped he wouldn’t have to use.

Dick Vander Schaaf of The Nature Conservancy checks an ocean acidification sensor at Cascade Head. Vander Schaaf participates in a citizen science network developed by Francis Chan, marine ecologist at Oregon State University. (Photo: Jim Yuskavitch)

He was looking for a black and white PVC tube that had been bolted to a rock in the wave-tossed intertidal zone. Inside the tube was a sensor for measuring water temperature and pH, the chemical yardstick of acidity.

The tube had reportedly been buried in up to a yard of sand by wave action, and Vander Schaaf, the associate coast and marine conservation director for The Nature Conservancy, Oregon office, wasn’t keen on having to dig for it.

Then his face brightened. “There it is!” he called. Wading in knee-deep water, he brought the tube and its contents safely back to dry land. He would send the sensor and its stored data to Francis Chan, an associate professor and senior researcher in Oregon State University’s Department of Integrative Biology. Oregon’s coastal waters, says Chan, are a world hotspot of ocean acidification.

Chan has been monitoring pH levels off the Oregon coast for the past two years. Working with a network of volunteers like Vander Schaaf, he has seven monitors strategically placed in the intertidal zones at the state’s five marine reserves — Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Otter Rock, Cape Perpetua and Redfish Rocks. Ocean acidification is a growing influence on Oregon coastal waters, Chan has found, along with indications there may also be some “safe zones” for marine organisms susceptible to its effects.

Sometimes called “climate change’s evil twin,” a phrase coined by Oregon State’s Jane Lubchenco, ocean acidification is an insidious and unseen effect of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere. The oceans have always absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere, but as levels of the greenhouse gas have climbed, primarily the result of fossil fuel burning, the oceans have taken in ever-higher amounts, leading to shifts in ocean chemistry.

Organisms from oysters to corals are considered sensitive. Over the past 200 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average ocean-wide pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1. That may not sound like much, but on the pH scale, it amounts to a nearly 30 percent increase in acidity. Other researchers have found that highly acidified water can cause calcium shells made or used by many marine creatures to be harder to build or to dissolve. The net effects may be felt up and down the food chain. Animals in the intertidal and near-shore zones, including economically important species such as oysters and crabs, may be at risk.

A Path to Lower pH

Francis Chan (Photo: Jim Yuskavitch)

Chan arrived at OSU in 2001 to conduct post-doctoral research on ocean hypoxia — water with low oxygen levels — and has since become an expert on the subject, including its intensity, duration, where it occurs and how it impacts marine organisms. His interest in biogeochemistry (the study of the physical, biological, geological and chemical processes in the environment) led him to start the Oregon coast ocean acidification monitoring study in 2016. Chan is also affiliated with PISCO (the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans), a research collaborative including OSU, Stanford University and the University of California at Santa Cruz and at Santa Barbara. PISCO scientists study the near-shore ocean environment from Baja California to British Columbia.

“The ocean may look the same, but the water is changing, especially on the Oregon coast,” says Chan. Here’s why the Oregon coast is particularly vulnerable to acidification and thus an important place to study ocean chemistry.

A Deep-Ocean Conveyor Belt
The summer sun can warm your face, and the air can feel hot, but if you’ve ever been swimming along the Oregon coast, you know how cold the water can get. It gets especially chilly when north winds blow and push warmer surface water to the west. In its place, currents from deep in the ocean rise along our beaches and bays to replace it. This water — delivered by a process that scientists call upwelling — isn’t just colder; it also carries more nutrients that can fuel ocean life. On the downside, it has less oxygen and tends to be acidified. Like the proverbial slow boat to China, it can take decades for deep ocean currents to travel to the West Coast. When it last touched the atmosphere at the start of its journey, CO2 levels were lower than they are today. In the future, the water upwelling along our coast will carry the memory of the annual increases in CO2.

Much of Oregon’s coastal water originates in the North Pacific off Japan in two cold, deep-water currents. One takes about 10 years to reach Oregon, while the second takes a more circuitous path and nearly 50 years to deliver its water here. Because cold water can hold higher concentrations of CO2 than warmer water, these currents start off with increased CO2 levels. As they slowly flow toward the U.S. West Coast, biological activity by organisms living in that water layer — zooplankton, phytoplankton and other microorganisms — continually generates CO2 until, by the time the water rises to the surface off the Oregon coast, its CO2 level has increased dramatically. Once that water is finally exposed to the atmosphere after decades in the deep, it begins absorbing even more of the greenhouse gas. “Together, those two are putting us through some chemical

Science in Action

In addition to collecting data, Chan also involves coastal community residents in the research. One of his goals is expanded public awareness about ocean acidification and local adoption of solutions. Beginning with volunteers from the Redfish Rocks Community Team — a group of Port Orford residents who act as stewards for the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve — he has expanded his volunteer network of citizen scientists to include other marine reserve community teams, The Nature Conservancy and the Surfrider Foundation.

“Francis gets credit for identifying the need to reach out to community groups and identify people who would be able to help,” says Tom Calvanese, manager of OSU’s Port Orford Field Station, who helps coordinate the Redfish Rocks Community Team volunteers.

Charlie Plybon of the Surfrider Foundation installs a sensor in the intertidal zone at Otter Rock. (Photo: Surfrider Foundation)

Using their local knowledge, these citizen scientists help Chan pick the best locations in the intertidal zones to place the monitors. During the spring-to-fall field season, they remove the sensors every four weeks and send them to Chan, who downloads the data. Chan installs a new sensor in its place and sends it back to the volunteer. Because everything is self-contained, the citizen scientists don’t have to worry about making mistakes that might compromise the data.

“The monitoring is helping us find out things about ocean acidification on the coast that we didn’t know before,” adds Calvanese. “It’s an example of the benefits of a partnership between the university and the community.”

One of the lessons they have learned is that ocean acidification is not uniformly spread in Oregon’s coastal waters. The headlands and bays, continental shelf and other features both above and below the water’s surface affect currents and chemistry, feeding more acidic water to some parts of the coast and not to others. Chan’s sensors have detected some of the lowest coastal pH levels off the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve. In contrast, the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve appears to be less affected by ocean acidification.

Looking for Refuge

That’s important because, in addition to monitoring ocean acidification levels over time, Chan wants to know if protected marine areas might help mitigate some of the future impacts. “We want to know if there are some marine reserves that might act as refuges for fish and other organisms,” says Chan. This kind of information is also being provided to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to help it better manage the nearshore environment.

Another component of Chan’s research, and equally important, is public outreach. Chan wants to share the results of his research so more people understand ocean acidification and other changes that are happening to our oceans. He wants science to empower citizen action. “There is so much skepticism about science these days,” says Charlie Plybon, Oregon program manager for the Surfrider Foundation, one of Chan’s partner organizations. “The more we can energize people with science, the more scientific information we can bring to the public, the better.”

Francis Chan installs sensors in the intertidal zone at Otter Rock. (Photo: Surfrider Foundation)

The Surfrider Foundation has developed a website about ocean acidification on the Oregon coast and Chan’s research. The Redfish Rocks Community Team is developing a K-12 curriculum about ocean acidification, producing a film on the subject and conducting teacher training. OSU is also at work on teaching curriculums and helping scientists better communicate their research to the public.

Back on the beach at Cascade Head, a marine reserve that Chan has found to be less affected by ocean acidification, Vander Schaaf, sensor in hand, watched the now incoming tide splash against the rocks. “The conservation importance of refugia with lower ocean acidification effects can’t be overstated,” he says. “The ocean acidification monitoring may give us the opportunity to put measures in place in these areas to help conserve the organisms and habitats there.”

Human activities continue to affect the very chemistry of the ocean, but Chan and his network of volunteers are on the forefront of citizen science. Using the knowledge they create, they are looking for strategies to help protect the ocean and its creatures from this profound and growing environmental challenge.

Jim Yuskavitch is a freelance writer and photographer. He lives in Sisters.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Power in the Plumbing

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 5:18pm

Talk about hydropower usually turns to megastructures such as dams, reservoirs and spillways. With help from Oregon State engineering researchers, an Oregon startup company is developing a system to generate carbon-free electricity from a previously untapped water source: the pipes under our streets.

InPipe Energy’s prototype turbine (lower right) undergoes testing at OSU’s Hinsdale Wave Lab. (Photo: Carolyn Stanley)

InPipe Energy is taking advantage of the difference in pressure between the major arteries of water distribution networks and the smaller branches that feed homes and businesses. Water suppliers routinely use valves to reduce pressure from high to low, but the energy produced in that step dissipates like heat from a campfire.

In a community the size of Corvallis, enough energy might be available in the water system to power the equivalent of 200 homes, says Gregg Semler, company president and CEO.

After installation costs, “this is free energy,” adds John Parmigiani, Oregon State professor of mechanical engineering who led a project to test InPipe Energy’s technology. “The idea is to use some of that water to spin a turbine and produce electricity. Water is returned to the system at the right pressure for consumers. They would see no difference in their water pressure. It’s drop-dead simple.”

With financial support from Oregon BEST, which supports clean technology research, Parmigiani and Nick Aerne, engineering graduate student, worked with InPipe Energy to design and construct a prototype system at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Laboratory on the OSU campus. They installed hydropower turbines in a loop parallel to a normal distribution line. At water pressures similar to those found in municipal water systems, they measured power output at startup, under continuous operation and at shutdown. The turbines achieved efficiencies between 60 and 80 percent.

Gregg Semler, InPipe Energy CEO

“This test proves that InPipe Energy’s hydropower system is safe, reliable, efficient and can be a valuable tool to help water agencies reduce their operating costs and carbon footprint,” Semler says. “We’re using existing infrastructure to produce renewable energy. It’s predictable and low cost and has no environmental impact. Oregon BEST’s investment provided us the capital we needed to build and test our prototype and helped us achieve this critical commercialization milestone.”

Operations in the nation’s water infrastructure, including pumping and purification, consume about 6 percent of the total energy used in the United States. In California, where big agriculture distributes vast amounts of water for irrigation and food processing, the energy used approaches 20 percent.

Parmigiani and his students are continuing to look at improvements in the technology. Meanwhile, InPipe Energy is in discussions with water agencies and industrial companies on the next phase of commercialization.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

The Giving Trees

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 5:02pm

By Steve Lundeberg

Anthony S. Davis has witnessed, in real time, the wide and ruinous reach of deforestation.

“In Haiti, for example, it’s terrifying to watch the floodwaters churn down the streets, full of trash,” says Davis, professor of forest engineering, resources and management in the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “There’s no time for people to clear the streets of the wares they’re selling, their baskets of T-shirts or soaps – it’s all just floating down, mixing with the water from the sewer, on into the ocean, and there’s no stopping it.

“For me,” Davis adds, “the way to decrease the devastating impact of these floods starts with planting trees in the mountains.”

In Notsé, Togo, students gather tips from Oregon State professor Anthony Davis on working with native tree seeds for seedling production. (Photo courtesy of Anthony S. Davis)

The associate dean for research and international programs came to OSU in 2016 and is one of the drivers of the College of Forestry’s leadership role in reforestation efforts around the globe – from the Caribbean to Africa, from the Middle East to South America. The work is critical because each year, though about 30 percent of the Earth is still forested, about 25,000 square miles, one-fourth the area of Oregon, lose their forest cover through agriculture, logging and even international conflict.

“When countries are at war, tanks move across borders, and that often results in fires,” Davis says. “When the Lebanese army did drills on the Syrian border, 5- and 6-year-old trees that were growing extremely well were burned from sparks created by tanks. And of course in a conflict setting, getting rid of trees on your opponent’s side means fewer places for them to hide.”

Deforestation carries a broad range of negative environmental consequences, including habitat loss for the 80 percent of the Earth’s animals and plants that live in forests. It disrupts the water cycle and results in large temperature swings in areas where highs and lows had been moderated by forest canopy. It
accelerates climate change, since fewer trees mean more carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

Davis and colleagues are on a mission to get trees back where they belong, to thwart ecological damage and, in turn, to improve human lives. Their partners in this ambitious effort include the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other universities. Together, they conduct research to understand and teach best practices in planting, vegetation control, forest management and agroforestry.

Seeds of Knowledge

Davis’ interest and expertise lie in seedlings. Growing up in Canada’s Maritimes, he studied at the University of New Brunswick, worked at a nursery after graduation and found himself consumed with basic questions: Why do we grow tree seedlings, and how do they grow?

At the Sabha nursery in Mafraq, Jordan, nurserywomen grow seedlings for planting in the Badia, a semiarid region of eastern Jordan. (Photo: Anthony S. Davis)

After graduate school at Purdue, he joined the faculty at the University of Idaho, where he was the director of the Center for Forest Nursery and Seedling Research. In 2011, thanks to connections abroad, he began working with people in disparate locales like Haiti and Lebanon. “Haiti is extremely hilly, and about half the country gets by on subsistence farming,” Davis says. “But only a quarter of the land is even suitable for farming, so they’re farming on twice as much land as can possibly grow crops successfully. And when it rains, the soil just washes downhill from all the tilling, digging and planting.”

A century ago, more than 60 percent of Haiti’s 11,000 square miles were forested; now that figure is less than 2 percent, in a nation where the majority of domestic energy production comes from wood charcoal.

The main tree species in Haiti is Pinus occidentalis, commonly known as Hispaniolan pine for the Caribbean island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. The tree is native only to Hispaniola. “Our program in Haiti is very much working in small communities with motivated partners, trying to provide science-based support to others to grow trees and scale up projects,” Davis explains. “We’re getting more and more support, and next year we’ll have funding for science-into-practice programs.”

A major milestone came in 2015 with the establishment of a small native-plant nursery in Kenscoff, a town of about 50,000 in southeastern Haiti.

A Question of Survival

At about the same time Davis was starting his work in Haiti, he received a group of visitors from Lebanon on a tour sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service. They asked him to come to their country and help transform reforestation practices. Like Haiti, Lebanon has a long track record of cutting down trees.

“The Bible, in many ways, is a historical record of deforestation in the Middle East,” Davis says. In Lebanon, he participates in a $17 million USAID effort to support the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative through 10 different nurseries run by nonprofits and private parties. The focus is around 18 different tree species, including the native, highly symbolic Cedrus libani, the cedar of Lebanon.

“We’re changing when and how and where seeds are collected, how long they’re grown for, when they’re grown, when they’re transported, and the way they’re transported and tended afterward,” Davis says. “It’s been a complete sea change in terms of seedling survival. We use science, the biology of the tree, to guide what we plant and when, where and how it’s planted.”

In Lebanon, the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative’s Majd Kashan, left, works with Anthony Davis to identify key factors in improving Cedar of Lebanon seedling survival. (Photo courtesy of Anthony S. Davis)

Similar projects are underway in other parts of the Middle East and Africa. In arid, overgrazed Jordan, the focus is on getting native shrub species to grow in a way that’s cost-effective and biologically successful. In Armenia, a small-scale nursery project uses the methods developed in Lebanon. In reforestation initiatives in Morocco and in Togo on the continent’s Gulf of Guinea coast, OSU students have opportunities for leadership and collaboration with scientists and environmental leaders.

Last fall, Davis hosted a six-person contingent from Morocco to visit forests, nurseries and research facilities across Oregon. Morocco has a sizable forest resource and is aiming to expand its reforestation efforts around cork oak, argan (aka Morocco ironwood) and Atlas cedar.

“They’re looking to increase the number of seedlings they produce from 40 million to 60 million over the next six years, and we’re helping them figure out how to get there,” Davis says. “What’s the right mix of species, how do they deal with changing climatic conditions, and how do we make sure what they’re growing is actually going to be sustainable?”

Helping Davis with the Moroccan effort is OSU colleague Carlos Gonzalez-Benecke. The two met in late 2015, when the latter had just moved to OSU from the University of Florida and Davis was still in Idaho. Gonzalez-Benecke had spent the early part of his career studying reforestation. He moved on to the whole forest cycle, focusing on the biological principles behind responses to management.

Managing vegetation – weed control – is crucial for getting a new tree plantation up and running properly, says Gonzalez-Benecke, the director of OSU’s Vegetation Management Research Cooperative. “If you do not do vegetation management, you have mortality and reduction in growth, and the rotations are delayed.”

Morocco has a large reforestation program, Gonzalez-Benecke notes, “but in many cases it ends in failure. They’ll have to replant, say, three times. Reforestation is a whole chain of activities, planting technique, the season when you’re planting. We have to be polite. Our objective is to help people, not to impose our ideas.”

A Chilean, Gonzalez-Benecke helps the college maintain a strong connection to his native country as well. “We’ve hosted students and faculty, and now we’re going there,” he says. “We plan to repeat that every year.”

Partners in Africa

Badge Bishaw

The college has ongoing collaborations with universities in eight different African nations including Ethiopia, home to Corvallis’ sister city, Gondar. In the northern part of the country, the city straddles the Lesser Angereb River, which suffers from deforestation across the watershed.

OSU senior instructor Badege Bishaw collaborates with the Corvallis-Gondar Sister Cities Association and South African and Ethiopian universities in an integrated watershed management and agroforestry program. The goal is to address food security and land degradation in the Angereb watershed. To date, 2 million seedlings have been planted.

“In most developing countries, forests are very important, particularly as a source of energy for heating and lighting,” says Bishaw, who received his undergraduate degree in plant sciences from Addis Ababa University and has been at Oregon State since earning his Ph.D. from the College of Forestry in 1993.

OSU professor Badege Bishaw provides expertise for reforestation efforts in his native Ethiopia. (Photo: Badege Bishaw)

“Deforestation to address immediate needs has led to environmental degradation, soil erosion, loss of wildlife. It’s a chain reaction, and we need to get back to these countries and do this reforestation work through partnerships with universities, other research institutions and extension programs,” Bishaw adds. “With agroforestry, people can grow trees and at the same time produce food crops.”

What the Oregon State efforts often boil down to, Davis says, is simply “using science to figure out low-tech ways to help communities around the world solve problems.

“It’s wonderful to see deforested nations turn things around and start to conserve their own natural and genetic resources,” says Davis. “In a place like Haiti, there’s that linear connection between deforestation, dictatorships, lack of shade, lack of habitat for native birds, lack of fuel.

“What if it got to the point where that country could grow more biomass for producing charcoal, for fuel wood, to  have that shift where people are grabbing their resources back? That’s the kind of goal that motivates me.”

Steve Lundeberg is a news writer in the OSU Department of News and Research Communications.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Charged for the Long Haul

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 4:35pm

By Nick Houtman

The promise of renewable energy stems from a simple fact: When the wind blows, a river flows and the sun shines, electrons move. But between the devices that harness nature’s power and electricity’s final destination stands the battery, a critical but troubled technology. We need batteries to store energy until it’s needed, but like people, they decline with age.

At eChemion’s lab in the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute, Kevin Lewis, left, director of operations, and Jacob Tenhoff, senior lab engineer, are developing longer lasting redox batteries. (Photo: Karl Maasdam)

Now eChemion, a Corvallis startup company, has leveraged research in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University to extend battery life and to reduce cost. The anticipated worldwide expansion of renewable energy systems is expected to generate annual sales in this market of $2.7 billion by 2020.

These are not the batteries that power a cell phone or flashlight. eChemion specializes in energy storage systems known as redox batteries. They consist of stacks of electrodes (the charged surfaces that enable batteries to transfer electrons) in a tank filled with a liquid. “These systems are used in a variety of energy applications, from utility networks to the side of a house,” says Bill Kesselring, the company’s CEO. “They store energy from solar and wind or other sources. They can be as big as several shipping containers or as small as a refrigerator.”

The company emerged from work by Alex Bistrika, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering who was advised by Alex Yokochi, former OSU engineering professor now at Baylor University. Bistrika’s success in exploring the chemical and electrical properties of graphite, a form of pure carbon, paved the way for the company’s technology, says Kesselring.

“The initial research created an understanding of what’s needed in redox flow batteries and the energy storage and power generation business. What we’re experts at is taking cheap graphitic material, designing an application-specific treatment and making it perform equal to or better than the state-of-the-art, highly designed graphitic material that’s out there. And we do it for less than half the cost.”

As a client of the Advantage Accelerator, eChemion focused on what it was particularly good at doing and how it could meet the needs of utilities and other potential customers. The company is manufacturing products in OSU’s ATAMI (Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute) building at the HP campus and looking for opportunities to grow.

“If it weren’t for ATAMI and the Advantage program, we wouldn’t be here,” says Kesselring. “We’re like a family. We participate in roundtable discussions with other startups. We help each other. We all want to see each other succeed.”

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Speaking of Technology

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 3:55pm

By Raymond Malewitz, Associate Professor, School of Writing, Literature and Film

Ray Malewitz

My research on the relationship between digital technologies and politics often takes me to future dystopian worlds. Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, for example, is a novel in which citizens of a social-media-saturated world are incapable of managing complex social and political problems. While I have grown accustomed to such fictional narratives, I am nonetheless taken aback by the cautionary tales they offer for our world.

Last October, representatives of Google, Facebook and Twitter testified before Congress that Russian agents had targeted millions of Americans in a coordinated digital propaganda campaign. In spite of such revelations, the companies insisted that they were not responsible for the distribution of fake news. Echoing Mark Zuckerberg’s defense of Facebook as a “tech company, not a media company” a year earlier, a Google representative insisted, “We are not a newspaper. We are a platform that shares information.”

Both comments indirectly refer to a 1996 statute that legally separated “interactive computer service[s]” from the third-party content they display. The larger history of this legislation presents us with an occasion for rethinking our own evolving relationships to media technologies and the information we believe we control.

In 1996, the internet was a very different cyberspace: its dial-up users devoted less than an hour a month to web browsing, Amazon was still a digital bookstore and the top two most visited sites on the internet were AOL and Webcrawler, a search engine that encouraged users to “Search before you surf!” through its novel full-text search options. In February of that year, Congress established a set of laws that would govern this strange new medium. Packaged in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the statute invoked by Facebook and Google in recent months: U.S. Code 230. The code made sense at the time. If, Congress insisted, the internet “offer[s] a forum for a true diversity of political discourse,” then such websites were instrumental to preserving this diversity. Indeed, they reasoned, “these services offer users a great degree of control over the information that they receive” and promised “even greater control in the future as technology develops.”

Has this prediction — as bold as any in science fiction — come true? Websites can now confidently predict what stories we will like, what products we will buy and what answers we want to receive from our questions. We therefore have, in a sense, a great deal of control over the information we receive. However, this increased agency is clearly not ours alone: We now share it with technologies that not only present but also increasingly curate the content we consume. Moreover, because this curation depends upon our previous web behaviors, social media tend to reinforce rather than test our existing opinions and prejudices. This tendency can arrest our development and, as the exaggerated title of Shteyngart’s novel suggests, limit our ability to critically evaluate our world and its many challenges. To avoid its super sad conclusion, we should take steps now to change how we encounter and engage with the information technologies that surround — and increasingly create — us.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

Back to Basics

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 3:45pm

By Cynthia Sagers, Vice President for Research

There is a sweet spot for science, those examples of discoveries inspired by the need to solve practical problems. In human health, agriculture, technology and other fields, researchers have gone back to basics to relieve suffering and advance human well-being. Donald Stokes described these endeavors in his book, Pasteur’s Quadrant.

Examples of such work abound at Oregon State. Crops from wheat and potatoes to hazelnuts, blueberries and grass seed power the state’s exports and provide a lifeline for rural communities. Cross-laminated timber panels — first made in the United States for building purposes at the D.R. Johnson Lumber Company in Riddle — stem from a partnership between the firm and OSU.

Kaichang Li

Last fall, professor Kaichang Li received a national award at the Library of Congress for creating a widely used soy-based adhesive for the plywood industry. The Golden Goose Award originated with a congressman from Tennessee and counts Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici among its supporters.

Also last fall, Fortune magazine named 1984 OSU graduate Jen-Hsun Huang its 2017 Businessperson of the Year. The CEO of Nvidia led the development of the company’s powerful computer chips for video processing purposes. Nvidia has turned its attention to the artificial intelligence industry, supporting the growth of robotics, self-driving vehicles and other autonomous systems. The company has an estimated market value of $125 billion.

More than 150 years ago, the politicians who created the land grant university system understood the power of research that connects curiosity and invention to social problems. Higher education at that time was generally reserved for the elite. Land grant schools were created to empower people from modest backgrounds with broad-based training in the agricultural, mechanical and liberal arts as well as the military sciences. The idea has paid off in spades.

Co-founder Rich Carter, left, and Rajinikanth Lingampally, senior scientist with Valliscor, LLC

For proof, look no further than the track record of the Oregon State University Advantage program: 70 companies launched, 107 jobs created, $4.6 million in revenues and another $2.3 million in equity investment. Among the companies formed are Beet (solar cells), Inpria (semiconductors), Valliscor (chemical manufacturing) and eChemion (batteries). They may not be household names, but they employ our neighbors and connect Oregon with what economists call the “traded sector,” businesses that generate products for an international marketplace.

If you look under the hood of this economic engine, you’ll discover what makes it run: curiosity, creative inquiry, the courage to follow clues wherever they lead and the ability to translate discoveries into solutions for real problems. Human ingenuity is a powerful force, but it needs careful tending and support.

Louis Pasteur’s discoveries in microbiology saved millions of lives. He leveraged fundamental knowledge to find cures for rabies and other diseases. Likewise, by delving into the chemical structure of soy proteins, Kaichang Li created a nontoxic adhesive as tough as the threads that anchor mussels to wet rocks in a pounding surf.

“To know how to wonder and question is the first step of the mind toward discovery,” said Pasteur. Solving daunting problems — climate change, species extinction, infectious disease, food security — requires no less than a commitment to impact in the light of basic science.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs