Washington Sea Grant Research Briefing: February 3

This coming Tuesday, February 3, you are invited to attend an informal briefing on Washington Sea Grant’s (WSG) new 2015 Request for Proposals.

From 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Fishery Sciences Building, Room 203, Director Penny Dalton will host an overview and discussion of competitive grant opportunities for the 2016 to 2018 funding cycle. Eligible investigators can apply for projects in two categories:

1. Research projects that contribute to high priority information needs and advance knowledge to support the WSG program and goals.
2. Maritime workforce projects that address identified maritime workforce capacity concerns.

Preliminary proposals for both research and maritime workforce projects are due by 5 p.m. on February 26, 2015. Projects must align with the Washington Sea Grant 2014-2018 Strategic Plan, which is available online with the 2015 RFP.

For more information about the briefing, call WSG at 206.616.5718.

WSG Research Briefing

Pack Forest Spring Planting: March 23-27!

Each spring for more than 75 years, SEFS students have been spending a week down at Pack Forest as part of the annual spring planting tradition. This Spring Break, March 23-27, you can leave your own mark on the forest and help shape it for future generations!

Pack Forest Spring PlantingWhile staying at Pack Forest, you’ll roll up your sleeves and work on forest establishment, including planting, regeneration surveys and reports. Your housing (and some food) will be covered, there’s a kitchen at your disposal, you’ll earn a $200 stipend, and one course credit is also available. It’s a tremendous opportunity to contribute to a sustainable working forest, all while living in a beautiful setting only a short distance from Mount Rainier National Park.

Need more inspiration? Check out the great video below from last year’s crew!

Contact Professor Greg Ettl to learn more and apply. Preference is given to those who apply early, so act fast!

Guest Seminar: Tim Kruger

This Thursday, January 29, Tim Kruger from the University of Oxford will be giving a special seminar in the Atmospheric Sciences-Geophysics Building, Room 310, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m: “Would the development of a safe, robust and scalable technique to sequester carbon dioxide from the air create an obligation to ‘clean up the mess’?”

Kruger is the James Martin Fellow in the Oxford Geoengineering Programme, and he leads a group across the university exploring proposed geoengineering techniques and the governance mechanisms required to ensure that any research in this field is undertaken in a responsible way. He has investigated in detail one potential geoengineering technique, that of adding alkalinity to the ocean as a way of enhancing its capacity to act as a carbon sink and to counteract the effects of ocean acidification. He is also a co-author of the Oxford Principles, a set of draft principles for the conduct of geoengineering research, which have been adopted as policy by the UK government.

Most analysis of the ethics of proposed methods of Carbon Dioxide Removal concentrate on the potential impacts of these methods and considers whether, and if so how, such side-effects can be managed. This analysis takes a different approach: it assumes that there exists a safe (no countervailing side-effects), robust (carbon capture and storage is secure and long-term in nature) and scalable (can be scaled to the level of current and project future emissions) and then considers the impact that such a technological imaginary would have. It analyses how the ethical considerations change as a function of cost, by considering that such a technique could be performed at three different costs – firstly at $1000 per tonne of CO2 sequestered (which is commonly considered to be higher than the externalities imposed by emissions), secondly at $10 per tonne of CO2 sequestered (which is commonly considered to be lower than the externalities imposed by the emissions) – and finally at $100 per tonne of CO2 sequestered (which is commonly considered to be of a similar order to the externalities). It argues that the creation of such a safe. robust and scalable technology could create an obligation to deploy and could create a rational, moral and global price for carbon dioxide emissions: the cost of “cleaning up the mess.”

CINTRAFOR Grad Students Take Top Honors for Conference Posters

This past fall, SEFS graduate students Clarence Smith and Cody Sifford presented posters at the 2014 American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) national conference, held November 12-15 in Orlando, Fla. Both students work within the Center for International Trade in Forest Products (CINTRAFOR), and their research posters swept the top honors in the graduate student poster competition!

Clarence Smith and Cody Sifford

Clarence Smith, left, and Cody Sifford with their poster competition certificates.

Smith, of the Blackfoot Nation, placed first with his poster, “Measuring Economic Value of American Cultural Designs within the Wooden Gift Market.” Sifford, of the Navajo Nation, placed second with is poster, “Developing an Impact Assessment of Local Air Quality as a Result of Biomass Burns.”

AISES works to increase the representation of American Indians and Alaskan Natives in science, technology, engineering and math studies and careers. Held annually since 1978, its national conference is a major event that draws more than 1,600 students and professionals from across the country. That’s quite a stage to earn the top two awards in the graduate student poster competition!

Great work, Clarence and Cody, and way to represent CINTRAFOR and SEFS!

Photo © SEFS.

Water Seminar: Winter 2015 Schedule

This quarter, the Environmental Science and Resource Management Seminar will focus on “Water, Soils and Watersheds.” Professor Darlene Zabowski, who his hosting the seminar, gave the first talk this past Tuesday—our apologies for the late notice—and the subjects cover everything from the Elwha Dam removal project to Martian soils.

The seminars are open to the public, and you can catch the action Tuesday mornings from 8:30 to 9:20 a.m. in Anderson Hall 223. Lots of SEFS representation on the slate, so check out the rest of the schedule below and bring your coffee for some terrific presentations!

Water Seminar_Winter 2015Week 1: January 6
“Introduction: Water, Soils and Watersheds”
Professor Darlene Zabowski, SEFS

Week 2: January 13
“Soil Organic Matter: from global cycle to local resource”
Jason James, SEFS

Week 3: January 20
“Soil, Water and Nutrient Management at the UW Student Farm”
Sarah Geurkink, SEFS

Week 4: January 27
“Water, Soils and Forests of the Pacific Northwest”
Kim Littke, SEFS

Week 5: February 3
“The Role of Trees in Modifying Water Chemistry”
Professor Emeritus Bob Edmonds, SEFS

Week 6: February 10
“The Elwha River Dam Removal and Restoration Project”
Joshua Chenoweth, National Park Service/Olympic National Park

Week 7: February 17
“Soil Map of Vancouver, BC: What are Soils Telling Us”
Maja Krzic, University of British Columbia, Land and Food Systems

Week 8: February 24
“Life in extreme environments: Martian Soils”
Ron Sletten, Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington

Week 9: March 3
“Climate Change and Soils of the Pacific Northwest”
Karen Bennett, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region

Week 10: March 10
“Watersheds as a tool to study terrestrial ecosystem processes”
Helga Van Miegroet, Utah State University, Ecology Center

Tetiaroa: Tiny Atoll, Huge Research Potential

This past summer, Professor Aaron Wirsing of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) helped initiate a pilot research program to study the biology of reef sharks on a tiny atoll in the South Pacific. Tetiaroa, located about 33 miles north of Tahiti in French Polynesia, is comprised of a ring of 12 coral islets—also known as motus—surrounding a shallow lagoon. Largely untouched by human development, the lagoon is home to several shark nurseries, or areas where shark pups spend the first part of their lives, making the atoll ecosystem an especially promising site to study shark behavior and development under natural and nearly pristine conditions.

“In most parts of the world, shark populations have been heavily impacted by people,” says Professor Wirsing, who got to spend 10 days on the atoll in August. “So what tantalized us about Tetiaroa is that it’s close to Tahiti and fairly easy to reach, yet at the same time it’s remote enough to have very little human contact.”


Located about 33 miles north of Tahiti, the atoll of Tetiaroa consists of a string of coral islets surrounding a shallow lagoon.

French Polynesia, after all, is a collective of more than 100 islands spread out across a vast water area about the size of Western Europe, though with a total land area only about as big as Rhode Island. Within this sprawling network of archipelagos, moreover, sharks play an important role in traditional and modern Polynesian culture, and the government has established a moratorium on shark fishing. The result is effectively the world’s largest shark sanctuary, about half the size of the United States, making Tetiaroa a paradise for the sharks that live there—not to mention for the researchers who get to study them in this stunning natural laboratory.

Quite a Site
The unique conditions of an atoll ecosystem require an enormous amount of time and very particular geologic circumstances to form. On Tetiaroa, that work started millions of years ago when volcanic upwelling created a land mass above sea level. Coral slowly formed around the edges of the island, and while the volcano eventually became inactive, the coral continued to grow, maintaining its structural shape even as the volcano gradually disappeared under the ocean. In time, all that survived of the original upwelling was a barrier reef surrounding a turquoise lagoon, which floats like a tropical wading pool in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

How Tetiaroa evolved as a base for research operations—and how Wirsing got hooked into this project—began far more recently with the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty in 1961, when actor Marlon Brando first visited and quickly fell in love with the atoll. He ended up buying it in 1967, in fact, and aimed to preserve the natural wonders and biodiversity of the ecosystem.

Brando envisioned Tetiaroa as an ideal location for a luxury eco-resort and a small scientific community to support research and conservation efforts on the island. Though Brando never got to see his dream come to life, his estate—The Marlon Brando Living Trust, which owns Tetiaroa—has recently implemented much of that vision working with two partners: Pacific Beachcomber, which just opened The Brando, a highly exclusive eco-resort (where accommodations start around $3,600 a night), and Tetiaroa Society, a nonprofit scientific and cultural organization that now operates a research facility on the atoll.

Blacktip reef shark

Most juvenile reef sharks in the lagoon, like this blacktip, are about 1.5 feet long, though adults can grow larger than 5 feet.

Last year, in anticipation of The Brando’s opening, David Seeley of Tetiaroa Society reached out to the College of the Environment and expressed interest in bringing more researchers out to Tetiaroa. A number of projects are already under way on the atoll, including the work of Oceanography professors Julian Sachs and Alex Gagnon, as well as recent Oceanography alumna Lauren Brandkamp, measuring the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs. Another big project Seeley targeted—to be funded through a donation from his parents, Jim and Marsha Seeley, of Medina, Wash.—involved studying the atoll’s large population of sharks, including lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) and blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus).

Sharks tend to reproduce in remote areas that are hard to research, and many coastal areas that might have once served as nurseries have been degraded or destroyed. But Tetiaroa’s shallow lagoon—protected from the open ocean and only a couple feet deep in most places—provides a relatively safe habitat for juvenile reef sharks to learn and mature for roughly the first year of their lives before venturing out as adults. That sheltered basin, in short, can open a special window into the shark world. So when the College approached Wirsing about the possibility of setting up a shark research program on Tetiaroa, he jumped at the chance.

“Our work on Tetiaroa can help establish a vital baseline for how healthy reef shark nurseries function,” he says.

Diving Deeper
Wirsing’s first job was to assemble a team of international shark experts. Though much of his current focus is on terrestrial ecosystems, his doctoral research involved the effects of tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) predation on dugongs (Dugong dugon) in Australia’s Shark Bay, so right away he brought in a long-time collaborator on that project, Professor Mike Heithaus from Florida International University (FIU). Heithaus, who hosted the National Geographic Crittercam television series from 2002 to 2003, runs the Marine Community & Behavioral Ecology Lab at FIU, and one of his postdocs, Jeremy Kiszka, has also joined the Tetiaroa crew. The other principal researcher is Dr. Johann Mourier from the Insular Research Center and Environment Observatory (CRIOBE), based in Moorea, French Polynesia.


Professor Wirsing in the lagoon, which is about 7 kilometers across and only a couple feet deep in most places.

Their next task was to establish whether Tetiaroa would in fact be a good base to set up a shark study, so Wirsing, Kiszka and Mourier spent 10 days on the atoll this past August. While they weren’t lucky enough to get a room at The Brando, the Tetiaroa Society Ecostation itself is an impressive installation, offering cozy lodging and lab space for scientists and students from around the world. (It also features a number of green innovations, including a Sea Water Air Conditioning system that pulls cold water from the deep ocean to provide low-energy cooling for all the buildings on the island, as well as a biofuel power station that runs on locally produced coconut oil.)

They initially set out to answer some very basic questions about the lagoon ecosystem, such as what kinds of sharks live there, how many there are, and why they’re using the lagoon. Since the lagoon is only seven kilometers across, the ecosystem is small and contained enough to map and study in its entirety—potentially to the point of counting every shark in there. Yet given the limited time of the pilot season, the team decided to focus on surveying and mapping two of the largest nurseries to get a sense of their physical structure.

Using a combination of aerial drone photography and underwater videography with stationary cameras, they were able to generate a wealth of spatial and population data. The drones allowed the researchers to run multiple transects over the water, providing a broad sweep and bird’s-eye view of the lagoon and its fish communities. The underwater cameras, meanwhile, captured a more localized and detailed look at the nursery environment (including the footage below of a curious blacktip reef shark jostling the camera!).


Jeremy Kiszka and Johann Mourier, at right, set up a drone to run transects across the lagoon.

This first field season was fairly limited, and the researchers are still working through the data they collected. Yet thanks to another donation from the Seeley family, they’ll be returning to Tetiaroa this summer for a second trip. Professor Heithaus, who couldn’t make the first visit, will be joining the team and helping expand the operation. “This time we hope to actually catch, measure and sample the tissue of sharks to get a sense of what they eat,” says Wirsing, and down the road they might also be able to equip juvenile sharks with tracking technology so they can study their behavior and movements after they leave the nurseries.

“These nurseries are critical to reproduction,” he says. “One of our ultimate goals is to use this ecosystem as a reference point to guide restoration of areas that might someday serve as shark nurseries again, so the conservation implications are huge.”

Photos: aerial shot of Tetiaroa © Tetiaroa Society; blacktip reef shark © Johann Mourier; Professor Aaron Wirsing © Johann Mourier; Jeremy Kiszka and Johann Mourier with a drone © Aaron Wirsing; entrance to lagoon © Mourier. 

Director’s Message: Winter 2015

Last weekend, I woke up early and pored over newspapers and websites looking for a place to ski with my sons. I was extremely disappointed to see rain again forecasted for Snoqualmie Pass, with more rain predicted in the next two days, all the way up to 6,000 feet. A few ski areas were open, but those that were had limited runs available, or the conditions were icy and ragged and threatened to tear up your skis. Another time of year, such a soggy forecast would be welcome news. But it was a grim outlook for the first weekend in January.

As an avid alpine and Nordic skier, I am acutely aware of the poor early-season snow conditions that have plagued the Pacific Northwest since my family moved here in 2012. As a natural scientist, I am also keenly aware of the complexities of regional weather patterns, and I have to resist the temptation to ascribe all poor ski conditions to a warming climate. At the same time, climate change is predicted to bring warmer, wetter winters to the region, and the existing conditions at Snoqualmie Pass are bearing that out. I know some might chide me and argue that a shortened ski season is hardly cause for global panic. Yet the effects of our warmer winters will eventually ripple throughout the natural resources sector, threatening forest productivity, widespread insect outbreaks, stand-replacing fires, mudslides and all sorts of critical wildlife habitat, including salmon-spawning streams.

UW Climate Change Video Contest

In our first-ever Climate Change Video Contest, we are asking high school and undergraduate students in the state of Washington: What does climate change mean to you?

I couldn’t sleep later that night, and I found myself thinking about personal responsibility and how we can inspire collective action. Scientists have long understood and attempted to communicate the risks of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning, and the links between our behavior and climate change are very real and well-documented. Yet after decades of trying to build awareness, we have largely failed to move the voting public or our elected leaders to take determined action. During the holidays, I even read several reports that the recent downturn in gasoline prices has spurred higher sales of larger, fuel-consumptive vehicles. This type of short-term thinking reflects the gulf between what we’re constantly warned about climate change, and how we actually react as citizens.

The most frustrating part for me is wondering why these warnings won’t stick, so maybe we need to rethink our approach. Maybe we need to change the message. Or maybe we just need to change who is delivering the message and give prominent voice to younger generations—the future leaders who will inherit and confront the greatest impacts of climate change.

With that goal in mind, this year we are trying a new approach to addressing the climate issue. Rather than asking our scientists to tell a story of modeled predictions of a warming climate, we are hosting a video contest that challenges high school and college students in the state of Washington with a simple prompt: What does climate change mean to you? In the space of three minutes or less, they can approach the issue through virtually any artistic style. How to make this climate message resonate on a personal and actionable level, after all, is all that matters at this point.

So I’m really looking forward to seeing how students frame this issue. I’m excited to see what inspiration and ideas we can draw from them in communicating—and solving—the enormous environmental challenges ahead of us.

I’ll keep eyeing the forecast and hoping for more snow, of course, but always in the much broader context of achieving a sustainable balance with a changing climate and world.

Happy trails,

Tom DeLuca
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

SEFS Seminar Series: Winter 2015 Schedule

After several weeks of ghostly quiet in Anderson 223, it’s high time for the return of the SEFS Seminar Series (SEFS 529b) this Wednesday, January 7, starting with Professor Susan Bolton and her talk, “Greening deserts for health and well-being: An interdisciplinary design program.”

SEFS Seminar Poster_Winter 2015We’ll continue from there with a wonderfully varied line-up of speakers, ranging from other SEFS and visiting faculty, to potential future faculty members, to professors in other departments on campus. We’ll be exploring everything from mountain pine beetles to environmental restoration, biofuels and green building, and it’s a terrific opportunity to support your colleagues and learn about incredible research going on in our school.

Like last quarter, the seminars will be held on Wednesdays from 3:30-4:20 p.m. in Anderson 223. We’ll also have a casual reception in the Forest Club Room after three of the talks—January 7, February 4 and March 11—so mark your calendars for the talks below and come out as often as you can!

Week 1: January 7
“Greening deserts for health and well-being: An interdisciplinary design program.”
Professor Susan Bolton

Week 2: January 14
“Restoration resources in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences”
Professor Kern Ewing

Week 3: January 21
“Synergies, feedbacks and tipping points: Mountain pine beetle’s rapid range expansion threatens invasion of North American boreal pine forests”
Professor Allan Carroll
Director, Forest Sciences Program
Department of Forest & Conservation Sciences
University of British Columbia

Week 4: January 28
“Novel feedstocks for fuels and chemicals production: Technology, economics and environmental sustainability”
Professor Renata Bura

Week 5: February 4
“Interaction Pattern Design for urban sustainability”
Professor Peter Kahn

Week 6: February 11
“Understanding species interactions to improve wildlife conservation and management”
Laura Prugh

Week 7: February 18
“Moving beyond just population size: advances in abundance and occurrence modeling of wildlife populations”
Beth Gardner

Week 8: February 25
“Adaptive restoration of Western Washington prairies”
Professor Jon Bakker

Week 9: March 4
Talk TBD
Rahel Sollmann
North Carolina State University

Week 10: March 11
Talk TBD
Chris Sutherland
Cornell University

Wildlife Science Seminar: Winter 2015 Schedule

The schedule is set for the long-running Wildlife Science Seminar (ESRM 455 & SEFS 554), and the Winter 2015 edition kicks off this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Smith 120 with Professor Jonathan Pauli from the University of Wisconsin!

Wildlife Science SeminarProfessor Aaron Wirsing is hosting the seminar this quarter, and he’s lined up a wide array of subjects and speakers, including faculty from SEFS and other departments and universities, as well as local researchers and a doctoral student. There’s a lot to get excited about, from biological invasions to sloths, crocodiles, tree kangaroos and swift foxes, so check out the full schedule below and come out for as many talks as you can!

The seminars are held on Mondays from 3:30 to 4:50 p.m. in Smith 120, and the public is heartily invited.

Week 1: January 5
“’Slowly, slowly, slowly,” said the moth: a syndrome of mutualism drives the lifestyle of a sloth”
Professor Jonathan Pauli
Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Week 2: January 12
“Insect intruders: Biological invasions and the threat to ecosystems and biodiversity”
Professor Patrick Tobin
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

Week 3: January 19
Holiday (no seminar)

Week 4: January 26
“Size-selective mortality and critical growth periods: diagnosing marine mortality for juvenile salmon in Puget Sound”
Professor David Beauchamp
School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Week 5: February 2
“Behavior and conservation: the decline of the Mariana crow”
Dr. Renee Robinette Ha, Lecturer and Research Scientist
UW Department of Psychology

Week 6: February 9
“Conserving endangered wildlife in Papua New Guinea: Creating a sustainable community-based conservation program”
Dr. Lisa Dabek, Senior Conservation Scientist/Director of the Papua New Guinea Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program
Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Wash.

Week 7: February 16
Holiday (no seminar)

Week 8: February 23
“Ecology of swift foxes in southeastern Colorado: integrating ecology, behavior and genetics”
Professor Eric Gese
Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University

Week 9: March 2
“A framework for successful citizen science: good data and good relationships”
Wendy Conally, Citizen Science Coordinator
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Wildlife Diversity Conservation Assessment

Week 10: March 9
“Distribution and status of Crocodylus suchus in Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda”
Carol Bogezi, PhD student
Wildlife Science Group, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences