Corvallis Science & Nature: AI Goes Whale Watching

Even with a light dusting of snow this past week, spring continues its slow approach here in the heart of the valley. We have a stretch of clear blue skies this week, which should be more than enough to get gardeners and hikers alike out into the world. This coming week will see the beginning of Daylight Savings, and with it, the ability to actually experience some sunshine after work hours. Enjoy it. 

Studying Whales with AI 

These days, you can’t open a news page without seeing those two letters everywhere: AI. Some see an apocalyptic threat, others an unprecedented opportunity, but whatever your take on the technology, it’s here to stay. OSU scientists of all stripes are considering more and more how to harness the positive aspects of AI for their work. The university’s world-class whale research labs are no different, and a new blog post this week by PhD student Natalie Chazal explains how machine learning, neural networks and other AI methods are helping monitor and study our Pacific Ocean whale species. Chazal explains how these technologies can assist in their own work, which involves studying echosounder data to see changes in the patterns of plankton that whales eat: 

“Instead of reviewing over 500 hours of echosounder data to manually identify mysid swarms (which may produce biased or inaccurate results from human error), I can apply AI methods to process the echogram data with speed and consistent rules.”  

Read more about artificial intelligence and how scientists are applying it to OSU whale research here.  

Winter Wildlife Field Days, Week 2 

While it’s still technically winter, the season’s biggest local series of wildlife events continues. Winter Wildlife Field Days, presented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department and other local organizations, includes events nearly every day this month all around the area. Here’s what’s going on this week:  

Thursday: Sustainability Fair and Town Hall 

Each year, the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition invites the whole community to an event celebrating solutions and progress in sustainability across the valley. This year’s Sustainability Fair and Town Hall takes place this Thursday. The fair will include over 60 hands-on exhibits, along with food from New Morning Bakery and live music, all set up to be waste-free. The town hall this year is built around the theme of “The Arts: A Portal to Sustainability”, and will feature local arts leaders from The Arts Center, Spring Creek Project and Tarweed Folk School, talking about art’s place in sustainability and vice versa.   

The fair starts at 5 PM on Thursday, March 7, at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center on SW 26th Street, with the town hall following at 7 PM. Both events are free and open to the public, but seating is limited for the town hall, so click here for more information and to reserve your seat.  

Friday: Indigenous Climate Talk 

When we think of climate change observations, we often think of the newest satellite or research vessel, but Indigenous people around the world, with thousands of years of accumulated knowledge about their local ecosystems, are some of the most important sources of information for understanding these changes. This Friday, Dr. Drew Gerkey from OSU’s Anthropology Department will be giving a talk entitled “Indigenous Observations of Climate Change in Siberia”, summarizing recent collaborative work between OSU anthropologists and Indigenous people on the front lines of the climate crisis.  

The talk starts at Noon on Friday, March 8, at 161 Strand Hall on OSU’s campus. Click here for more details.  

Wednesday: Wildland Fire Book Talk 

As winter gives way to spring and then summer here in the valley, fire season won’t be far behind. As the recent record-breaking fires in Texas remind us, there may not even be a set season for wildfire anymore. Next Wednesday, one of our region’s foremost experts on wildland fire and forestry, Dr. John Bailey, will be giving a talk on his recent book, “A Walk with Wildland Fire”. Dr. Bailey will read from the book and discuss the role of sustainable forestry for living with fire in a changing climate.  

This talk runs from 5-6:30 PM on Wednesday, March 13 at the Peavy Forest Science Center on SW Jefferson Way. A reception with refreshments will follow. Click here for more details.  

Three Master Gardener Webinars 

This week’s sunshine will have a lot of gardeners wondering if it’s time to get out and start planting. We’ve all been fooled by “false springs” before, but even if winter does rear its head one more time, it’s never too early to get prepared for a year of growing food, flowers and more in pots and gardens. This week, there are three Master Gardener webinars to get you ready for the growing year: 

All three webinars run from noon to 1 PM. All are free, but registration gives you access to video replays a few days later, so it’s worth registering at each link, even if you can’t watch the webinars live. 

By Ian Rose 

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