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Little Critters with a Big Impact

Tawnya Peterson

Tawnya Peterson

Have you ever driven over the Astoria-Megler bridge between August and October and seen spectacular swaths of red water in the Columbia River estuary and wondered what was responsible?

Tawnya Peterson, Ph.D., an assistant professor at OHSU Institute of Environmental Health and scientist with the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction, will discuss this unusual bloom-forming organism and how in-situ sensor technologies are being used to track the blooms in near real time. at the upcoming Oregon Association of Environmental Professionals Forum on September 19, 2013 at 6:30pm.

Nearly every year these so called ‘red water’ blooms occur in the late summer, persisting for a month or more. The red waters appear when densities of a microscopic single-celled organism become extraordinarily high. The organism is a ciliate (like Paramecium) that obtains its chloroplasts by stealing them from its photosynthetic  prey. Aside from providing stunning visual imagery, the bloom patches play an important role in the estuary ecosystem by regulating dissolved oxygen concentrations, and are widely considered to be important for better understanding evolutionary relationships in the tree of life. Scientists at the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction at Oregon Health & Science University are investigating the role that this unusual organism plays in biogeochemical cycling and food web dynamics in the lower Columbia River.

Peterson received a B.Sc. in Biology at Mount Allison University (Sackville, Canada), a Ph.D. in Oceanography at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), and did postdoctoral studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on identifying factors that shape planktonic communities in marine, estuarine, and fresh waters and determining how planktonic communities in turn influence aquatic biogeochemical cycles. She uses a combination of field and laboratory studies to carry our her work and incorporates high-resolution observations collected in near-real time from in situ biogeochemical sensors.

The Paramount Hotel;
Mezzanine Level
808 SW Taylor St., Portland OR 97205
One block from MAX, Street Car & Smart Park 

5:45 to 6:30 p.m. Networking/Hors d'oeuvres
6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Speaker Forum