Marine Studies Initiative

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.

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.



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


• Yaquina Bay Fisheries Lab established to study estuarine biology


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


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


• OSU offers oceanography classes


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


• 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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


• Seafloor “plankton-power” fuel cells invented


• 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


• Sustained ocean observations with underwater gliders begin


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


• 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


• Oregon Climate Change Research Institute launched


• 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


• 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


• 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


• 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


• 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


• 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


• 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