OCEAN • ESTUARY • RIVER A Science & Memory Data Story

Science & Memory

is a project of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication with a mission to tell complex stories of climate and environment throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Faculty and students explore topics such as salmon and other species, human experience in a changing world, and environmental issues related to climate. The Oregon Coast presented a compelling world to explore during Summer 2017.


Water is segmented. It thrashes against the beach at capes and bays. It sweeps through estuaries. It washes out of rivers. It trickles down from mountains and into streams.

But these segments make up a single system. Streams touch ocean currents via wetlands, snowmelt catches rivers in deltas and mountain creeks. And this water stretches out into the Pacific, evaporating into the atmosphere, deposited as rain in foreign forests and along unfamiliar lands.

The water of our backyard is the water of our world. Due to salinity and flow, we can regard all these places as separate, but in truth, they are really one massive and powerful system of connections, a natural palindromic flow.

The water we met, although at perceived segments, all touched the 43rd latitude. Cape Arago, The South Slough, and the Winchester Dam each meet along a specific line of Earth’s narrative.

The system is more connected than we had imagined, geographically making a line of consistency, further solidifying the interconnectedness of the systems we were meeting.

Our story begins with the Pacific Ocean, more specifically the Pacific Northwest, Oregon coastal tidal pools.

Cape Arago is a 145.6-acre state park with an annual day-use attendance: 339,056

43° 17’58.6536”N 124°23’39.4368”W

South Cove of Cape Arago State Park, Coos Bay, Oregon

In less than two centuries, ocean acidity has increased by 30% due to increased carbon emissions.

Approximately 25 - 30% of the CO2 released from fossil fuel combustion ends up in the ocean, roughly 22 million tons a day.

As a result, ocean acidity is expected to double over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.

If the ocean wasn’t doing this job of absorbing the heat, the average surface temp of the planet would be 122 degrees fahrenheit. - Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, CHASING CORAL DOCUMENTARY 2017

50% of the Earth's oxygen is generated by our oceans

2.6 billion people rely on the ocean for their primary protein source

Tide pools support a unique and diverse assortment of plants and animals, largely influenced by semi-diurnal tides (two high tides & two low tides for a 24-hour period)

Middle Cove, Cape Arago

Three trends that will affect the Oregon Coast:

  1. higher intensities Maximum significant wave heights (measured by NOAA buoys) increased from 9 meters (1970s) to about 12 meters (2005)
  2. more frequency storm intensities (measured by atmospheric pressure & wind velocity) have increased since the 1940s.
  3. changed direction In oregon, waves have become more southwesterly then normal, increasing erosion and further altering the redistribution of sand.

The average rate of sea level rise along the PNW is higher regionally then the global average

PNW approx. 2.3 mm/year


global 20th century average of 1.7 mm/year

"[W]hen you talk about the ocean… it’s like your body temperature changing. And imagine your body temperature changes one degree centigrade, or two degrees centigrade. Over a period of time that would be fatal." - Richard Vevers, CHASING CORAL DOCUMENTARY 2017

Our journey moves east, transitioning to the South Slough estuary. Where salt water meets fresh water, a perfect balance occurs.

43°17’58.8948”N 124°19’25.302”W

South Slough Reserve, Coos Estuary, Coos Bay, Oregon

The estuary project area comprises a total of 47,146 acres.

The South Slough Reserve encompasses a mixture of open water channels, tidal and freshwater wetlands, riparian areas, and forested uplands.

That includes:

  • 5,900-acre natural area
  • 550 of which are intertidal habitat
  • 25 acres are actively mined
  • 344 miles of paved/unpaved roads

In 1974, the slough was the first designated location of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. (NERRS)

Approximately 60 million tons of water goes in/out of the entire estuary system each day.

More than 75% of all commercial fish and 80 - 90% all recreational fish/shellfish in continental US are dependent on coastal wetlands for at least part of their life cycle.

45 streams flow from the South Slough and coastal frontal watersheds. (in 2010/11)

The Reserve supports and coordinates research, education, and stewardship programs that contribute to improved estuarine management, serve to enhance a scientific and public understanding of estuaries and the important role they play.

Once the water is no longer salty, the water flows to fill rivers and streams.

43°17’3.1524”N 123°21’14.22” W

Winchester Dam, North Umpqua River, Winchester, Oregon

Winchester Dam is located approximately 118 river miles from the Pacific Ocean

Winchester Dam was the second dam built in Oregon in November of 1890.

Built using a log-crib construction method. Made from concrete, steel, & wood.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

The dam is 450 feet long and 16 feet tall.

The dam was originally built 4 feet tall until it was raised to it's current height in 1907.

The fish ladder was added in 1945.

The Dam receives between 65,000 to 80,000 visitors annually

The Winchester Dam is an important site for fish conservation

The primary species of anadromous fish counted at Winchester Dam are summer and winter steelhead, spring chinook salmon, and coho salmon.

  • 10 year average of summer steelhead passing through the dam is 5,330. This years count was 2,738.
  • 10 year average of spring chinook salmon is 12,400. This years count was 6,296.
  • 10 year average of coho salmon is 6,237. Last years count was 1,682.
A Chinook Salmon seen climbing the fish ladder from the viewing room.

At the station, fish technicians count fish to monitor population, design management methods, and prescribe angling regulations.

The Winchester Dam has recorded peak temperatures that are increasingly lethal to salmon populations. Although the salmon seek cooler areas like holes and sediment, these warming water can stress populations to their brink.

This temperature change is one of the many changes in water along the 43rd latitude. Sea levels continue to rise faster than in decades previous. Salt water pushes further inward.

The Pacific Ocean has experienced shifts in its chemistry, acidifying and losing oxygen. All of these shifts in the water we met might seem respective and separate, but instead are flowing in and out of each other. These systems make one large, unfragmented set of waters.


Words by Morgan Krakow

Designed by Anna Rath

All photos from the Science & Memory students

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