Water World

At Oregon State University, researchers in fields as diverse as oceanography and agriculture study water in all its forms, liquid and frozen, fresh and saline, riverine and subterranean, perennial and ephemeral. And they have been doing it for almost 150 years.


July 12, 2016

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Click the photo to download a PDF of Watershed Moments, Milestones and noteworthy discoveries in the annals of Oregon State’s ocean-related research

By Lee Sherman Gellatly

FROM THERMAL VENTS SEEPING ON THE SEAFLOOR to thunderheads massing in the mountains, Earth’s water is in constant flux. Nearly all of it is salty, held in oceans that cover most of the planet. Much of what’s left is frozen, locked up in glaciers, icecaps, snowpack, sea ice and permafrost.

Of Earth’s freshwater, only a fraction runs across the surface as rivers and streams or collects in
low-lying marshes and swamps. At any given moment, millions of gallons are traveling through the ground beneath our feet, invisibly percolating  through cracks and tiny spaces in rocks and soils.

While water takes wildly different forms on Earth, it morphs from one to another in a great, ever-moving cycle. At Oregon State University, researchers in fields as diverse as oceanography and agriculture study water in all its forms, liquid and frozen, fresh and saline, riverine and subterranean, perennial and ephemeral. And they have been doing it for almost 150 years.

WATERSHED MOMENTS

Milestones and noteworthy discoveries in the annals of Oregon State’s ocean-related research

1939

• Yaquina Bay Fisheries Lab established to study estuarine biology

1948

• 16,000-acre H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest established

1950

• Research at H.J. Andrews connects Cascades habitats with sea-run fish

1955

• OSU offers oceanography classes

1964

• OSU Institute for Water and Watersheds created to study water resources across Oregon

1965

• Movements of Juan de Fuca plate first described, leading to understanding of Cascadia subduction zone
• Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) opens in Newport

1967

• OSU research on public access to beaches informs Oregon Beach Bill

1971

• OSU becomes one of first four Sea Grant colleges
• Oceanographers contribute to first climate map at last glacial maximum, basis for predicting global warming

1972

•Hinsdale Wave Laboratory in Corvallis opens with large wave flume to study coastal structure stability

1973

• The Marine Mammal Program founded, begins studies of whale migration, feeding and breeding

1974

• Marine Resource Management program launched with policy and coastal community focus
• Researchers begin studies of El Niño

1977

• First sighting of hydrothermal vents and ecosystems
• “Whale Watching Spoken Here” created to train volunteers in partnership of Marine Mammal Program and Oregon Sea Grant

1980

• Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network opens with volunteers,
businesses and state and university experts

1981

• John Byrne, former OSU dean of oceanography, appointed NOAA Administrator

1989

• Pacific whiting research begins at HMSC, leading to Surimi School at Astoria’s Seafood Lab

• Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES) opens in Newport

1990

• Discovery of SAR11, the most abundant microorganism in the oceans

1992

• Marbled murrelet listed as threatened species in Oregon, Washington and California coastal old-growth forests

1993

• Microbes discovered beneath the seafloor, an area formerly considered lifeless

1996

• Oyster breeding initiative created at HMSC, leading to higher yields for Northwest growers

1998

• Underwater volcanic eruptions first observed and recorded at Axial Seamount off Oregon coast; new eruptions in 2011 and 2015

2001

• Hinsdale Wave Lab at OSU designated as a national site for tsunami research by the National Science Foundation

2002

• “Dead zone” caused by extreme hypoxia first observed off West Coast

2004

• Seafloor “plankton-power” fuel cells invented

2005

• Invasive parasite carried in ship ballast water threatens mud shrimp role in food web
• Oregon Hatchery Research Center launched with state Department of Fish and Wildlife

2006

• Sustained ocean observations with underwater gliders begin

2007

• Acidification-driven corrosivity discovered in Pacific upwelling on West Coast

2008

• Co-leadership of NSF $386 million Ocean Observatories Initiative awarded
• Distinguished Professor Jane Lubchenco appointed NOAA administrator
• Discovery of anti-cancer cyanobacterial compound Coibamide A from Panama
• The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center established at OSU
• Researchers and fishermen collaborate to reduce albatross mortality in long-line fisheries
• First discovery of blue whale calving area off Costa Rica by Marine Mammal Institute researchers

2009

• Oregon Climate Change Research Institute launched

2010

• Sperm whale studies after BP oil well blowout show avoidance of oiled sediments, altered distribution of prey
• Scientists uncover illegal trade in whale meat through genetic analysis, featured in Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove

2011

• Scientists describe new species of crab that “farms” methane vents
• Tohoku tsunami and nuclear disaster leads to debris washing up on West Coast
• Hydrophones in North Atlantic document threats to endangered right whales

2012

• Varvara, a gray whale from the Russian Far East, tracked in a trans-Pacific voyage to the U.S. West Coast
• Analysis of seafloor debris flows pinpoints history of Cascadia subduction zone quakes
• Link established between ocean acidification and collapse of oyster seed production at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery
• Michael Nelson hired as lead principal investigator for H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, the first
philosopher to lead a LTER program

2013

• Tsunami evacuation routes completed for Oregon coast
• Leadership of next near-coastal research vessel design awarded to OSU by NSF
• Five OSU scientists appointed to West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel
• New species of beaked whale discovered with DNA in bones from remote Kiribati islands
• More precipitation projected to fall as rain, less as snow, in high Cascades by midcentury
• NASA-funded space-based lasers help calculate global phytoplankton biomass

2014

• 15-year analysis of blue whale range off California finds conflict with shipping lanes
• Sea star disease epidemic surges in Oregon, raising expectations of local extinctions
• Radiocesium from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant marks migration history of U.S. West Coast Pacific albacore tuna
• Rick Spinrad, OSU Vice President for Research, appointed NOAA chief scientist
• Study confirms link between salmon migration and magnetic field
• Trans-Pacific air currents found to carry pollutants from Asia to North America

2015

• First sounds recorded in the Mariana Trench, the ocean’s deepest location
• Discovery that seaweed (dulse) grown at HMSC tastes like bacon when fried; products developed at the Food Innovation Center in Portland
• Willamette Water 2100 predicts reservoir and groundwater storage ensure adequate supplies for the valley
• Study finds Pacific lamprey decline continues with loss of habitat in Oregon
• Study finds greenhouse gases caused glacial retreat during last ice age
• Discovery that glacial erosion can grind mountains down faster than they can rebuild

2016

• Scientists on West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel sound alarm for changing
ocean chemistry
• Scientists call for rapid carbon emission reductions to avoid long-term harm

Special thanks to Kristen Milligan, assistant professor/senior research, OSU Department of Integrative Biology, and PISCO program coordinator

CATEGORIES: Marine Studies Initiative