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Between Land and Sea
Between Land and Sea

Our coastal waters are brimming with billions of plants and animals. Powered by the sun's light, the shallows are nutrient and oxygen rich enough to form the basis of vast and complex ecosystems capable of supporting millions of species from the humblest of microorganisms to pods of humpback whales. From the largest bays to the smallest inlets, from tidal floodplains to towering sea cliffs, life is everywhere.

For better or worse, that life also includes us.

The effects we have on our coastal waters have been measured in many ways: ocean acidification, rising sea levels, pollutants, over fishing, oil spills, coastal erosion and the list goes on. In 2012 Oregon adopted a system of marine reserves to protect Oregon's natural marine heritage. Dr. Elise Granek's research focuses on the interaction of sea and land and the balance of life in these delicate ecosystems. And to be sure, sea and land can interact in the most surprising ways.

In a recent research study, Dr. Granek, along with master's student Zoe Rodriguez del Rey, examined the direct, and yet counterintuitive, link connecting the Pacific Northwest's love affair with caffeine to the ocean's chemistry in a paper: "Occurrences and concentration of caffeine in Oregon coastal waters." The study garnered national media attention from outlets like CNN, Atlantic Wire, NPR's Living on Earth, the Huffington Post, National Geographic, and others. 

Visit "PSU study finds 'caffeinated' coast waters" to learn more about the study.

According to Dr. Granek, her research focuses on "the transition zone between land and sea examining how coastal and sub-tidal habitats interact in terms of biotic and abiotic processes. These studies specifically focused on organism movement and nutrient/energy flow between terrestrial-coastal-sub-tidal systems. In light of this interest, much of my research examines the effects of human disturbance to one system (e.g. mangroves forests, terrestrial watersheds) on functioning and community composition of nearby downstream ecosystems (e.g. coral reefs, sub-tidal rocky habitat). As we design reserves to protect specific habitat types, to what extent do we need to incorporate adjacent systems and habitat features?"

Some of Dr. Granek's funded research projects include an OSU/NOAA Oregon Sea Grant to examine how environmental protection projects at the watershed level might help protect the rocky intertidal from damage—work which might inform the process of selecting and designating marine reserve sites. In another project, one with $3,000,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Granek is the Co-Director of the Ecosystem Services for Urbanizing Regions IGERT program here at Portland State University where Ph.D. natural and social scientists and engineers are receiving training beyond their normal disciplinary boundaries to help solve some of the world's most complex problems.

Authored by Shaun McGillis
Posted September 24, 2013