Recent Oregon Coast Science Findings: Ice Age Landscape, Whales
(Oregon Coast) – Oregon State University in Corvallis and its satellite facility in Newport have made some fascinating finds regarding whales and how the west coast looked during the Ice Age. Researchers from both parts of Oregon are literally making a splash in the science world right now. (Above: remains of shell middens from ancient natives near Yachats).
Scientists from OSU in Corvallis, along with those from Harvard and the U.S. Geological Survey, have made some remarkable discoveries about the look of the western U.S. during the Ice Age, when Asian peoples first moved across a now-submerged land bridge.
A new study looks at the landscape some 15,000 years ago and has painted a different picture of the region than previously seen. The models are important because many newer theories are pointing to the likelihood ancient humans wandered across the Bering Sea land bridge earlier than other theories have portrayed, and it may give more clues where to look along the coastlines of California, Washington and Oregon for signs of those early people.
Lead author on the paper, Jorie Clark, a courtesy professor at OSU, said the seas may not have risen and fallen in such a uniform manner as previously thought. So far, scientists believed ocean levels dropped most everywhere on the Earth in a similar manner and degree. But Clark's group said some places experienced lower levels while others did not.
The central Oregon shelf, for example, was thought to be characterized by a series of small islands some 14,000 years ago. However, the models run by Clark and her colleagues suggest that much of the continental shelf was exposed as a solid land mass, creating an extensive coastline. In some areas, the change in estimated sea level may have been as much as 100 feet.
This gives archeologists some new leads on finding ancient villages along what used to be the Oregon coast.
Scientists from the Hatfield Marine Science Center on the central Oregon coast are currently tagging whales off the southern California coast, and their initial finds have already made a difference in the protection of regional whale populations.
Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, recently published findings from a study that had previously tracked whales in a 15-year time period. Since then, six major shipping companies voluntarily agreed to slow their ships near Santa Barbara to lessen the chance of striking endangered blue whales, and to reduce pollution.
Mate's group had already studied blue whales from 1993 to 2008 in a project funded by the U.S. Navy which identified behaviors and habitats in the region. The current tagging research is expected to last two years and should further the evidence.
“No one wants to see whales hit by ships, and it is clear from the analysis that there has been some historic overlap of blue whale feeding areas and shipping lanes,” Mate said. “The goal of the new Navy-funded project is to better understand the seasonal occurrence of blue and fin whales in southern California and determine if that overlap is still taking place for these protected species.”
Whale photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium
Newport from space - courtesy NOAA
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