Pamplin Media Group, Mar 11, 2008

(news photo)


Zebra mussels are only about the size of a dime, but they can cause millions of dollars in damage. Their appearance in California has Oregon officials concerned.

Invasive mussel species threatens Oregon

Pacific Northwest invasive species coordinators met in Portland on Feb. 26 to discuss the threat posed by a tiny shellfish that can cause big headaches.

The zebra mussel has caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to water works and hydroelectric facilities in the eastern United States. The mussels turned up in California in January, and Oregon officials are worried that it’s only a matter of time before the pests show up here.

“They’re six and a half hours away right now. What we need to do is prevent them from getting into the state,” says Jim Gores, the invasive species and wildlife integrity coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The mussels can attach themselves to hard surfaces such as the hulls of boats and can survive out of water for up to 27 days in cool, moist conditions.

Officials fear that traveling boaters will pick up the creatures in affected waters elsewhere and infest Oregon lakes and streams when they put in here.

In addition to their impact on dams and reservoirs, Gores says the mussels can damage undeveloped waterways as well.

“They strip the plankton layer, disrupt the food chain, and slowly starve the whole ecosystem,” he says. “An anorexic salmon isn’t going to live too long.”

Scientists say ‘dead zone’ unprecedented

For each of the past six summers, an oxygen-starved “dead zone” has appeared in the ocean off Oregon’s coast. Now researchers have confirmed that this development is as unusual as it sounds.

In findings reported in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, researchers led by Oregon State University’s Francis Chan confirmed that the low-oxygen events are unprecedented during the past five decades in which records have been kept.

“People keep asking us, ‘Is this situation really all that different or not?’ ” Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at OSU, said in a statement.

“Now we have the answer to that question, and it’s an unequivocal ‘yes.’ The low oxygen levels we’ve measured in the last six years are abnormally low for our system. We haven’t seen conditions like this in many, many decades, and now with varying intensity we’ve seen them in each of the last six summers.”

The low-oxygen zones develop when wind patterns cause an upwelling of nutrient-rich but oxygen-poor water to the surface. Plankton populations boom temporarily, then die. Their decomposition robs the water of what little oxygen it had left.

Scientists say the wind patterns that cause the phenomenon are consistent with theories about global warming.

Tax code changes would favor renewable energy

On Feb. 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008. The act contains a wide range of incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal power.

It also reduces existing credits for fossil fuels, including the controversial repeal of $18 billion in tax subsidies for oil companies.

Also included are four provisions introduced by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. One of these provisions eliminates the so-called “Hummer tax loophole,” which offers a tax break for the purchasers of the largest SUVs on the market.

Another creates an incentive for small wind turbines that can power individual homes, farms or businesses. Blumenauer also sponsored a commuter benefit for people who ride bicycles to work.

The bill now moves on to the Senate.

OSU researcher offers sobering climate model

An oceanographer at Oregon State University has produced one of the most sophisticated computer models yet devised for studying Earth’s climate, and the results suggest that global warming may be an even tougher challenge than many thought.

According to the simulation, even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced now, the planet’s temperature might keep rising for another 100 to 200 years.

This assessment is the work of OSU researcher Andreas Schmittner, and was published in February in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

“The results of the model are somewhat alarming because it shows that we cannot wait until we are in danger before beginning to address global warming,” said Schmittner in a statement released by the university. “We need to be ahead of the curve.”

Schmittner’s model differs from most previous simulations in that it takes biological factors into account when making its predictions.

Other climatological models have tended to ignore the interaction between climate and phenomena like increased plankton blooms, which could exacerbate warming.

One of Schmittner’s scenarios showed that even if greenhouse emissions are reduced to zero by the year 2100, global temperatures still would rise by an additional 4 degrees Celsius over the subsequent 200 years.

Portland tops list of green cities

Portland edged out San Francisco for the title of America’s greenest city, according to a list published Feb. 8 by Popular Science magazine.

The magazine used census figures and other data to rate American cities with populations over 100,000 by 30 criteria, which were then divided into four broad categories: electricity, transportation, recycling and “green living.”

“America’s top green city has it all,” the article notes approvingly. “Half its power comes from renewable sources, a quarter of the work force commutes by bike, carpool or public transportation, and it has 35 buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.”

The Rose City scored an impressive 4.8 out of 5 in two categories: green living, which counted sustainable buildings and green spaces, and “recycling and perspective,” which rated citizen attitudes toward environmental issues as well as recycling efficiency.

In spite of our buses and bike lanes, Portland’s worst score was in transportation.

– Marty Smith and Anne Marie DiStefano