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U.S. Science Agency Funds Study Center

by Sarah Skidmore, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 30, 2006

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The National Science Foundation is giving $19 million to Oregon Health & Sciences University to create a national center for river-coastal research.

The Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction will be led by OHSU, in conjunction with partners at Oregon State University, University of Washington and some outside organizations. OHSU and its academic partners are contributing an additional total of $5.6 million to support the project.

It's the first National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center to be hosted in Oregon; there are 17 such science and technology centers nationwide.

But this is the first ever to focus on coastal margins, the area where the river meets the ocean.

The center will study the physical, chemical and biological processes that regulate river-to-ocean ecosystems along the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. It will primarily focus on the microbial life, the most basic of building blocks for the water, to measure how the waters are impacted by internal or external activities.

"We understand many ocean processes fairly well already ... tides, waves, tsunamis," said Antonio Baptista, director of the center and professor at OHSU's OGI School of Science and Engineering. "We have now the opportunity to open windows into underwater worlds and processes that we have barely had a peek at."

Using technology that, visually, seems more suited for a lunar landing than underwater exploration - researchers will get readings on the complex area. Underwater sensors, unmanned underwater vehicles and air gliders are some of the tools to be used.

Coastal margins are among the most densely populated areas of the United States but are also subject to complex and intense stress from natural events and human activities, OHSU and the National Science Foundation said.

A better understanding of these areas can help science and environmental studies. By making the information readily available to the public and understandable, it can also assist in everyday decisions such as when to surf or go fishing, the National Science Foundation said.

"It's really compelling," said Alexandra Isern, program director for the Ocean Technology and Interdisciplinary Coordination at the National Science Foundation. "They are not just studying the coast, but also the river-to-coast transition. That hasn't really been done."

Isern said there is a realization among the scientific community that coastal areas of the country are going through massive changes, as indicated by problems seen in Oregon such as the altered salmon runs in the Columbia or the worsened dead zone in the Pacific. But there have been few mechanisms to effectively measure the changes.

She said this center aims to change that.

There will be as many as 200 people working on the project, ranging from full-time academic staff to assistance from business or educational partners.

The five-year program could be extended to a $39 million, 10-year program. The center will be headquartered at OHSU's Beaverton campus of the OGI Schools of Science & Engineering for the next five to seven years, until the school moves to the new Schnitzer Campus on the waterfront.

Sarah Skidmore, Associated Press
U.S. Science Agency Funds Study Center
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 30, 2006

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