Oregon State University is a global leader in marine studies with a deep history of nationally ranked programs, world-class research and premier facilities. From the mountains, through rivers, forests, valleys, coastlines and to the sea, our faculty and students are working to address the challenges facing the world’s oceans and all who depend on them.
Eliot Glacier — on the northeast slope of Mount Hood at an elevation of 7,733 feet — is a natural laboratory for Oregon State faculty and students. Because it’s been photographed and monitored for more than 100 years, the shrinking glacier shows the effects of climate change over time.
“The thing that’s most striking to even the non-scientist visitor should be the decay that’s obviously going on with the glacier,” says Peter Clark, who studies the history of glaciers and ice sheets and their connection to the ocean.
“It’s a good example and demonstration of the fact that glaciers worldwide are retreating due to the warming of the planet. And that retreat of the glaciers is contributing a large amount of the sea level rise that’s been occurring in the last century.”
“Despite the efforts over the past 20 years, there is a lot of work left to be done to prevent damaging climate change,” Clark says.
At Camp Sherman on the Metolius River in Central Oregon, Chad Hanson and his team study how the forest’s ecosystems function and respond to climate change, wildfires and drought.
On the ground, they measure the leaf-gas exchange of trees to understand how they respond to drought and stress. In the air, they fly unmanned aerial vehicles, which carry gas sensor payloads to measure and map the exchange of carbon dioxide and water vapor between the forest and the atmosphere.
“The water is very important to our research, particularly in this area,” Hanson says. “One of the predictions of many global climate models is that higher altitude areas are going to experience more and prolonged drought, and that’s exactly what’s been happening here in the Cascades.”
Miguel Goni has conducted research in watersheds, rivers and bays from the arctic to the tropics studying how carbon moves through ecosystems. His work in the Water Resources Graduate Program is, by nature, interdisciplinary, covering natural and human impact as well as a variety of ecosystems, and that’s why he’s excited about the Marine Studies Initiative.
“In oceanography I wouldn’t necessarily be able to study what happens in a river, because it’s outside the box,” he says. “The Marine Studies Initiative will help us collaborate more efficiently and effectively.”
Verity Sayles came to Oregon State from the East Coast, where she grew up visiting Massachusetts’ rocky shore each summer. A student in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, Sayles is exploring the differences between the East and West coasts, as well as the healing power of ocean salt water in her latest essay.
For the essay, Sayles researched the popular hydro-clinics of the 1800s, which were frequented by people like Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale.
“They would go to these clinics and ‘take the waters’ — which basically meant they sat around all day in cold salt water, and it was supposed to cure any aliment from arthritis to depression,” she explains.
Sayles believes there’s some truth in the old ritual.
“I think plunging into the cold water is good for you,” Sayles says. “If I’m ever having a bad day, I come out to Newport. I just feel better here by the ocean.”
Oregon State University’s fleet of research vessels ranges from small boats to ships that carry faculty and student researchers from a variety of disciplines on trips that can last for months.
Sarah Henkel is the environmental research director for the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center in Newport. As part of the center’s mission to facilitate responsible development of marine renewable energy technologies, Henkel studies their effects on sea life and habitats.
With the Pacific Storm taking them close to a test installation of marine energy devices, Henkel, Tom Calvanese and Lenaig Hemery gather data on fish migration through the use of coded acoustic telemetry that captures the movements of sturgeon, rockfish and even the occasional shark.
The data will explain whether the fish are aggregating and feeding in the area or simply migrating through it. This will help researchers assess the impacts of future wave energy installations on fish populations.
Otter Rock is one of five marine reserves along the Oregon Coast. No fish, invertebrates, seaweed or wildlife can be taken from these protected ocean areas, and scientific studies have shown such reserves increase abundance and biodiversity. Marine reserves complement other management efforts to revitalize and sustain ocean ecosystems — along with the economic, social and environmental benefits they provide.
Oregon State University faculty and student researchers regularly visit the reserves to assess and monitor conditions. Remote underwater vehicles can’t be used in these rocky, nearshore environments thick with kelp, so scuba divers do the surveys.
Kevin Buch leads the Scientific Diving Program in the Oregon State University Research Office. He and a team of experienced divers train faculty, staff and students to work safely and complete complex tasks in often-difficult underwater conditions. Oregon State divers from a variety of academic disciplines conduct research worldwide, from the Oregon coast to the tropics to Antarctica.
Celeste Barthel describes free-choice learning as “the learning that comes from inside of you. It’s what you choose to do and what you choose to learn, because most of our lifetime learning happens outside of the formal education system.”
Barthel works with Oregon Sea Grant at its Free-Choice Learning Lab, located in the Visitor Center at the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center. Researchers study how the public interacts with exhibits like those in the Visitor Center and the nearby Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Barthel and her colleagues are working to improve informal science education by developing engaging content that distills complex subjects and helps people make sense of them.
“My favorite part of the research is that it’s never ending,” she says.
Oregon State University has launched a Marine Studies Initiative, a new model to address emerging issues and challenges facing Oregon and the globe.
The world's oceans belong to everyone and their health is key to our future. Marine habitats are facing new and daunting pressures that threaten their sustainability — from climate change to pollution to dwindling fish stocks.
Global challenges need global champions, and Oregon State University is responding to the challenge with our Marine Studies Initiative. Building on a deep history of nationally ranked programs, world-leading research and premier facilities, we are pioneering a new research and teaching model to help sustain healthy oceans and ensure wellness, environmental health and economic prosperity for future generations. The Marine Studies Initiative is a university-wide commitment that will have local to global impacts on the economy and environment.