OSU Marine Studies Initiative Moves Along

DiversWhile still in the planning phases, OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative (MSI) is starting to take solid form. The university has been pretty successful at raising funds and getting the message out to the public.

According to the university’s website, the MSI is a “university-wide commitment that will have local to global impacts on the economy and environment.”

The MSI aims to intertwine research and teaching by taking a closer look at ocean health and branching out past traditional marine studies programs. The estimated overall cost of the MSI sits at around $65 million, according to university officials.

Dr. Bob Cowen, the director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport, said the initiative is not just about geology or oceanography, but instead includes everything from economics and psychology to community planning and engineering.

“We’re just finishing a year-long strategic planning for the Marine Studies Initiative,” Cowen said. “We’re bringing all of these aspects together. As we’ve met with literally a couple hundred members of the university community and a wider number from the Oregon community, we’re finding a shared appreciation of blending real-world examples into the educational process and bringing multiple disciplines together.”

With the initiative, OSU hopes to bring a new building, which will be used for teaching and research, to the HMSC campus. The building is estimated to cost $50 million. The Oregon Legislature recently approved $24.8 million in state bonding to help fund the building construction. According to the OSU website, the OSU Foundation is also working to raise $40 million in private funding for the new initiative. That figure includes $25 million to match state funds for the new building and $15 million to support related programs.

By 2025, the university plans to bring as many as 500 students and additional faculty and staff to the Newport campus.

“We’re looking to have, after 10 years, up to around 500 students here, that’s over the entire year. At any one time, there will probably be around 400,” Cowen said.

OSU has received some backlash for wanting to place the new building in a tsunami inundation zone. One major attention-getter came in the form of a letter from state geologist Vicki McConnell to OSU President Ed Ray. In the letter, McConnell advised Ray not to place the building in the tsunami inundation zone, according to a December 2014 article that appeared in The Oregonian.

Cowen emphasized that human safety is a top priority and the location of the building serves several important purposes.

“We recognize we have a real need to place the building here where we have seawater,” he said. “There’s not another source nearby that’s accessible. We have, already, a very established community here with federal and state agencies that are partners with OSU.”

He added, “We’re planning to go through a building process which is thoroughly planned and vetted to insure we have a safe building, and a building that can survive a seismic event.”

“The Really Big One,” a recent article in The New Yorker, caused plenty of ruffled feathers, almost-anxiety attacks, and a strong buzz of opinions flying across social media channels these past few weeks.

The article shed light on what will happen if a devastating earthquake—somewhere around a magnitude 9.0—strikes the Pacific Northwest. We’ll probably get sacked with a wicked tsunami not long after “the big one” shakes us up. The New Yorker reported that “the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound 30 to a hundred feet to the west.” So, let’s hope the Cascadia Subduction Zone doesn’t give way too soon, and let’s get cracking on more seismic- and tsunami-preparedness plans and better building standards.

Cowen said that by constructing the new marine studies building in the planned location, the university believes it can show the community the best approach.

“We can show what is necessary, the process to go to,” Cowen said. “We’re going to be very transparent about this and bring in experts.”

Those experts will include geologists, engineers, architects, and tsunami experts who have experience building under these types of conditions, according to the HMSC director.

“We don’t believe the coast is ‘closed.’ We want to help people see when to build and how to prepare for all these events, what they can do to their own environments and their own homes or buildings to be as prepared as possible,” he said. “ We’re not just trying to scare them, we’re trying to educate everyone.”

 Cowen added he’s very happy with the broad level of support the university is experiencing as planning for the initiative is being pulled together.

By Abbie Tumbleson