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EPA awards OSU over $600,000 to study flood sedimentation events on Pacific Northwest Estuaries


Oregon State University (OSU) received a grant for more than $600,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine how climate change in tidal areas of the Northwest might affect certain animal species. The researchers will develop a model for predicting the effects of flooding on macrobenthic tidal communities in Pacific Northwest estuaries. Because rainfall intensity is increasing, sediment input to estuaries during floods has increased in magnitude and intensity.

Benthic macro-invertebrates are animals without backbones that live on the bottoms of streams during all or part of their lives and, therefore, can be strongly affected by changes in sedimentation. Estuaries in the Pacific Northwest are productive systems that play an important role in the biodiversity and function of coastal ecosystems. They also provide economically important resources, such as shellfish and other foods, and diverse benefits that include recreation.

According to Elin Miller, EPA Regional Administrator, innovative approaches in research help tomorrow’s scientists develop new solutions to tough environmental challenges like climate change. That is why over the past few years EPA has contributed over $8.1 million in Global Change Research Program grants for environmental projects in the Pacific Northwest.

“This OSU-led research will help us better understand the effects of global climate change on our estuaries in the Pacific Northwest,” said Miller. “Oregon State’s field study will allow researchers to focus more sharply on the effects of rainfall on estuary areas most vulnerable to climate change.”

Researchers at OSU will conduct a field study simulating different types of flood sedimentation events and track the initial death and recovery of the benthic community from these events. This study will be used to determine the resilience of these intertidal communities to sediments deposited by the floods. It will also identify important changes in the benthic ecosystem in response to these events. The data will significantly improve our ability to perform ecorisk assessments in Pacific Northwest estuaries.

“Muddy, rain-swollen rivers are a signature characteristic of the Pacific Northwest, yet the impact of flood sedimentation events on estuarine benthic communities is poorly understood,” said Anthony D’Andrea, Assistant Professor, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS). “This study will provide essential baseline information on how estuaries may be affected and the risk to their ecosystems posed by the increased frequency of floods.”


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