Spring 2008

Difficult Terrain

Spring 2008
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Researchers and the people who document their work often travel on the edge. Portland photographer Gary Braasch trains his lens on scientists who work in what he calls “difficult terrain”: alpine mountaintops, Antarctic ice sheets and glacial valleys. In a recent presentation for OSU’s Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word, Braasch showed images from his new book Earth Under Fire, including this one taken from an ice cave on the Antarctic Peninsula.

OSU entomologist Chris Marshall knows about difficult terrain. To get to his latest collecting spot, he flew into a remote rainforest and traveled by canoe for two days with native guides. Jaguars stalked the underbrush where he searched for bugs. Electric eels lurked in the streams he crossed. For Marshall, facing these risks was worth the opportunity to find species unknown to science.

Landscapes formerly inhabited by North American Indians have become difficult for other reasons: Toxins contaminate the plants, soils and waters that sustained their ancestors. Scientists with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are working with OSU’s Department of Public Health to detail the risks faced by people who want to return to ancient ways.

And in the Oregon Cascades, researchers are investigating another kind of difficult terrain, the environmental consequences of modern forest harvesting practices. Industrial forestry sustains communities and Oregon’s forest products economy. Scientists and landowners have teamed up through OSU’s Watersheds Research Cooperative to understand how modern forest management affects stream ecosystems.

Research on the edge can be global but also nano – the scale where biology and medicine intersect with quantum physics. It can be social, examining the implications of past housing discrimination. And it can be fragile, revealing the fate of tropical coral reefs in the face of warming waters, acidification and fishing pressures.

I invite you to join these journeys in this issue of Terra.

— Nick Houtman, Editor