Latest news from the UO

  • New data from UO-led study may change glacial melt predictions

    First published in Around the O on July 24th. Working in ice-clogged seawater in small chartered boats, a University of Oregon-led research team successfully used sonar to scan Alaska’s LeConte Glacier in the first field tests of a long-used theory on melting that occurs under glaciers. The theory, used in modeling to project climate-driven sea level rise, was shot down in its first real-world test and may need to be revised. “What we found at this one location matters because many simulations of sea level rise and of iceberg melt all rely on this theory," said the study's lead Dave Sutherland, an oceanographer in the UO’s Department of Earth Sciences. "So our findings throw this theory into question.” Reporting in the July 26 issue of the journal Science, the team concluded that tidewater glaciers — those that empty from land valleys into ocean water — are potentially melting at two orders of magnitude, or some 100 times, faster than predicted. In the National Science Foundation-funded research, Sutherland's team worked from two chartered vessels and used autonomous kayaks and drones while deploying a direct approach to measure and analyze the glacial melt rates relative to ocean conditions. Most previous research on underwater glacial melting relied on theoretical modeling of conditions near glaciers and then applying theory to predict melt rates. “This theory is used widely in our field,” said study co-author Rebecca H. Jackson, an oceanographer at Rutgers University who was a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University during the project. “It’s used in glacier models to study questions like how will the glacier respond if the ocean warms by 1 or 2 degrees?” There are two main categories of glacial melt: discharge-driven and ambient melt on large floating ice shelves, such as in most of Antarctica, and those that end with near-vertical upright ice faces, which are common around Greenland and Alaska. Subglacial discharge occurs when large volumes, or plumes, of buoyant meltwater are released below the glacier. The plume combines with surrounding water, picking up speed and volume as it rises swiftly against the glacial face steadily eroding the glacier face and undercutting the glacier before diffusing into the surrounding water. Time-lapse photography done over eight hours from a camp located on a ridge above the LeConte Glacier in Alaska captures the underwater discharge plume flowing away from the glacier. Also visible are icebergs calving into the water, the marine vessel Steller and an autonomous kayak, from which measurements were taken of of the discharge plume. (Video by study co-author Jason Amundson of the University of Alaska Southeast) Direct measurements at ocean-ice interfaces have been made on Antarctic glacial shelves by boring through the ice down to the water underneath. However, with vertical-face underwater glaciers, those techniques are logistically not possible. “We don’t have that platform to be able to access the ice in this case,” said Sutherland, who heads the UO’s Oceans and Ice Lab. “These icebergs are always calving and moving very rapidly, you don’t want to take a boat up there.” Previous studies of ice-ocean interactions have mostly focused on the discharge plumes, which typically affect only a narrow area of the glacier face, while ambient melt instead covers the rest of the glacier face, he said. Predictions have estimated ambient melt to be 10 to 100 times less than the discharge melt, and, as such, it is often disregarded as insignificant, he said. To test the theoretical models in the field, the research team used a multibeam sonar to scan the glacier’s ocean-ice interface six times in August 2016 and five times in May 2017. Sonar allowed the team to image and profile large swaths of the underwater ice. Also gathered were data on temperature, salinity and velocity of water downstream from the glacier, which allowed the researchers to estimate the meltwater flow. Underwater melt rates were found to be high across the glacier’s face over both of the seasons surveyed, and the melt rate increases from spring to summer. “We measured both the ocean properties in front of the glacier and the melt rates, and we found that they are not related in the way we expected,” Jackson said. “These two sets of measurements show that melt rates are significantly, sometimes up to a factor of 100, higher than existing theory would predict.” Video produced by the UO’s Dave Sutherland, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, shows imagery captured by drones and photos during National Science Foundation-funded research done in May 2017 at the LeConte Glacier, located in a 12-mile-long fjord at the head of LeConte Bay southeast of Juneau. While the study focused on one marine-terminating glacier, Jackson said, the new approach should be useful to any researchers who are studying melt rates at other glaciers. That would help to improve projections of global sea level rise, she added. “Future sea level rise is primarily determined by how much ice is stored in these ice sheets,” Sutherland said. “We are focusing on the ocean-ice interfaces, because that’s where the extra melt and ice is coming from that controls how fast ice is lost. To improve the modeling, we have to know more about where melting occurs and the feedbacks involved.” The research team also included members from the University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau and Fairbanks; University of Texas at Austin; University of North Carolina; and Oregon State University. —By Carolyn Levinn and Jim Barlow, University Communications   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/new-data-uo-led-study-may-change-glacial-melt-predictions?utm_source=homepage&utm_medium=CTAbutton&utm_campaign=spotlight

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  • 50 years later, Apollo 11 remains an inspiration for UO researchers

    First published in Around the O on July 19th.  Shortly after noon on July 20, 1969, the world watched as Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. The impact of that moment continues to ripple though society and capture the imagination of many. For these University of Oregon faculty members — an astronomer, a product designer and a linguist — the moon landing was a source of inspiration and the basis of research, and it still resonates in their fields to this day. Scott Fisher, astronomy lecturer, outreach coordinator and director of the Pine Mountain Observatory: Q: How did the moon landing affect your field? A: Astronomers now are still reaping the benefits of Apollo. The generation of my thesis advisors were the kids that were inspired by Apollo. These were the engineers, the technical scientists and the people who wanted to build incredible machines; those are the folks who watched Apollo live. They were in their teens when the program happened. I know for a fact that Apollo and 1960s-era NASA was a major inspiration for many of the instrument builders and technical staff that I worked with at large telescope facilities before my time at the UO. While Apollo was not directly related to astronomy —other than perhaps some stellar navigation during the crisis of Apollo 13 — it was this oblique support that we’re reaping the benefits of now. Q: What does it mean to you now? A: I think I caught the tail-end of the Apollo excitement, but I know now that I would have been, dare I even say, over the moon if I were 10 years older and were in that slightly older generation. I would have been hooked. I can tell because I still am hooked. As an astronomer, I’m a little bit unusual in that I have a strong engineering slant. I freely admit that I love the machines of science. To me, I enjoy learning about the telescopes, and particularly the technology of the cameras and instruments that are used on them to obtain data, because in my mind I can draw a direct path from the camera that I helped build in grad school to someone who was inspired by Apollo. Q: Is that the coolest part for you? A: As an astronomer, it’s pretty cool to still look up the moon and think people walked on that. For me, personally, it’s the technology. I’m just immensely fascinated by the technology, the incredible strides in engineering and technology those folks made with what we would call extremely basic computers. I still find it almost unbelievable that many of the most critical calculations made for Apollo were made by a human.   And think that your phone has more memory in it than every Apollo spaceship that ever flew. I think we should all take a moment and respect what they did with what we would consider such limited technology. But you know what? It worked. That is a fascinating thing. We all look up, we all appreciate the moon. I see the same moon as somebody in Australia sees — it’s upside down there — and space is the shared experience. I think we can use that in a positive way. Let’s parlay that fascination into something we can all get behind. I think Apollo was a worldwide catalyst that let us, humanity, do just that. Susan Sokolowski, director of the Sports Product Design Program who earlier wrote about the all-female spacewalk that was canceled because of a lack of properly sized spacesuits: Q: With no female astronauts in 1969, how far has product design come for the U.S. space program since then in terms of incorporating females? A: There were actually 19 women in the U.S. that trained to be astronauts in the 1960s. They were part of the Women in Space Program. The women completed the same required physiological tests as their male astronaut counterparts. Thirteen of the women passed the requirements, and some even outperformed the men. The program, however, was shut down around 1962. The space agency did not select any (new) female astronaut candidates until 1978. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, in 1983. In-flight, she wore identically designed products to her fellow male astronauts. During Apollo days, suits were customized to each astronaut. Today, they are modular, and the parts are put together for each astronaut to create a “portable environment.” In the 1990s, due to budget cuts, some of the smaller-sized parts were discontinued, which makes it more difficult to outfit women properly.  Q: What does it say when the all-female spacewalk canceled because of the lack of sufficient female-specific spacesuits? A: It says financially and strategically, that NASA is not keen about outfitting a wide variety of body shapes and sizes in space, and that they would rather outfit the “average man.” It also says that there is not an ecosystem in place for R&D teams to have a voice, to relook at the sizing systems for spacesuits. Although women were highlighted in the recent incident, the lack of sizes could also affect men, as the astronauts are more and more ethnically diverse. Q: What do you think is the coolest thing about landing someone on the moon? A: There are so many dangers and hazards that astronauts can face. I find it incredibly inspiring that a team of people can rally around an effort that seems impossible and make it successfully happen. Melissa Baese-Berk, a linguist who has used advanced research techniques to better determine exactly what Neil Armstrong said when he became the first human to set foot on the moon: Q: What’s the reaction to your research around Neil Armstrong’s famous quote? A: It’s been fun to work on because it captures people’s imagination in a way that typical research doesn’t always do. I think one reason why is we’re really, really good at understanding and producing speech, so most of the time, we don’t have misunderstandings, especially in cases where something is highly scripted or highly public. This quote being so famous and also being a quote that is possibly misunderstood, I think really captures people’s imagination. The fact that there might be an explanation for why he was misunderstood or why he misspoke, depending on your perspective on this, I think both of those things are interesting to people because, from a layman’s perspective, that’s not something you think about happening all that often, misunderstanding or misspeaking. Q: What prompted you to research the quote? A: People have tried to look at this quote in a lot of detail, but it was recorded under really not ideal circumstances — 50 years ago from the moon — so it’s not like it’s the best recording quality we’ve ever seen. The challenge there is you can fight all day back and forth about whether or not he said this. I don’t think we’re going to get a definitive answer from that. What I like about our study is instead of saying is the “a” there, we took two tacks: which is to say, is it plausible that his utterance could be compatible with both “for” and “for a,” or is it only consistent with one or the other? The other question is: do people misunderstand instances like this, with acoustics that are similar to this? If the answer to both questions is yes, then we come down on a slightly more conclusive answer. —By Jim Murez, University Communications

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  • What were Neil Armstrong's famous first words on the moon?

    First published on July 16th in Around the O. On July 20, 1969, an estimated 650 million people watched in suspense as Neil Armstrong descended a ladder towards the surface of the Moon. As he took his first steps, he uttered words that would be written into history books for generations to come: “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” Or at least that’s how the media reported his words. But Armstrong insisted that he actually said, “That’s one small step for a man.” In fact, in the official transcript of the Moon landing mission, NASA transcribes the quote as “that’s one small step for (a) man.” As a linguist, I’m fascinated by mistakes between what people say and what people hear. In fact, I recently conducted a study on ambiguous speech, using Armstrong’s famous quote to try to figure out why and how we successfully understand speech most of the time, but also make the occasional mistake. Our extraordinary speech-processing abilities Despite confusion over Armstrong’s words, speakers and listeners have a remarkable ability to agree on what is said and what is heard. When we talk, we formulate a thought, retrieve words from memory and move our mouths to produce sound. We do this quickly, producing, in English, around five syllables every second. The process for listeners is equally complex and speedy. We hear sounds, which we separate into speech and non-speech information, combine the speech sounds into words, and determine the meanings of these words. Again, this happens nearly instantaneously, and errors rarely occur. These processes are even more extraordinary when you think more closely about the properties of speech. Unlike writing, speech doesn’t have spaces between words. When people speak, there are typically very few pauses within a sentence. Yet listeners have little trouble determining word boundaries in real time. This is because there are little cues – like pitch and rhythm – that indicate when one word stops and the next begins. But problems in speech perception can arise when those kinds of cues are missing, especially when pitch and rhythm are used for non-linguistic purposes, like in music. This is one reason why misheard song lyrics – called “mondegreens” – are common. When singing or rapping, a lot of the speech cues we usually use are shifted to accommodate the song’s beat, which can end up jamming our default perception process. But it’s not just lyrics that are misheard. This can happen in everyday speech, and some have wondered if this is what happened in the case of Neil Armstrong. Studying Armstrong’s mixed signals Over the years, researchers have tried to comb the audio files of Armstrong’s famous words, with mixed results. Some have suggested that Armstrong definitely produced the infamous “a,” while others maintain that it’s unlikely or too difficult to tell. But the original sound file was recorded 50 years ago, and the quality is pretty poor. So can we ever really know whether Neil Armstrong uttered that little “a”? Perhaps not. But in a recent study, my colleagues and I tried to get to the bottom of this. First, we explored how similar the speech signals are when a speaker intends to say “for” or “for a.” That is, could a production of “for” be consistent with the sound waves, or acoustics, of “for a,” and vice-versa? So we examined nearly 200 productions of “for” and 200 productions of “for a.” We found that the acoustics of the productions of each of these tokens were nearly identical. In other words, the sound waves produced by “He bought it for a school” and “He bought one for school” are strikingly similar. But this doesn’t tell us what Armstrong actually said on that July day in 1969. So we wanted to see if listeners sometimes miss little words like “a” in contexts like Armstrong’s phrase. We wondered whether “a” was always perceived by listeners, even when it was clearly produced. And we found that, in several studies, listeners often misheard short words, like “a.” This is especially true when the speaking rate was as slow as Armstrong’s. In addition, we were able to manipulate whether or not people heard these short words just by altering the rate of speech. So perhaps this was a perfect storm of conditions for listeners to misperceive the intended meaning of this famous quote. The case of the missing “a” is one example of the challenges in producing and understanding speech. Nonetheless, we typically perceive and produce speech quickly, easily and without conscious effort. A better understanding of this process can be especially useful when trying to help people with speech or hearing impairments. And it allows researchers to better understand how these skills are learned by adults trying to acquire a new language, which can, in turn, help language learners develop more efficient strategies. Fifty years ago, humanity was changed when Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the Moon. But he probably didn’t realize that his famous first words could also help us better understand how humans communicate. —By Melissa Michaud Baese-Berk, associate professor, Department of Linguistics

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  • Universities leave Salem with some wins, some plans to try again

    First published in Around the O. The state’s recently concluded legislative session may be remembered most for the partisan politics that dominated its final days, but the UO and students in higher education will see some positive outcomes. The Public University Support Fund, which funds Oregon’s seven public universities, was increased by $100 million, or 13.6 percent, to a total of $836.9 million. That is the second-largest increase in a single session since 1999. The funding will help universities partially cover rising costs and keep tuition increases for Oregonians lower than they would have been otherwise. The increase brought the UO’s resident tuition increase down to 6.91 percent from 9.6 percent, or a $675 total annual increase for students taking 45 credits a year. And the Oregon Opportunity Grant, the state’s primary need-based financial aid program for resident college and university students, increased by $12.5 million, or 8.6 percent, which will allow the grant to serve approximately 2,500 more students across the state. Another success was a new $10 million University Research Innovation Fund administered through the Oregon Business Development Department. The fund will match competitive federal research awards, leveraging federal grants that require matching funds and supporting innovation and research capacity. Grants will be targeted in priority industries, such as advanced manufacturing, high technology, outdoor gear and apparel, health care innovation, food and beverage, and forestry and wood products. Research and innovation faculty members and staff played a key role in lobbying for the fund, as did staff at the business development office. “The University Research Innovation Fund is a good example of how sometimes it takes more than one session to get an idea cross the finish line, especially if it has a price tag attached,” said Libby Batlan, associate vice president for state and community affairs. “We introduced this concept in 2017, and while it was well received, it was not funded. We worked throughout the interim and came home with a win this time around.” Lawmakers also funded deferred maintenance projects at $65 million, which will help make sure buildings and classrooms on campus are safe and up to date. Capital projects, including the UO’s renovation of Huestis Hall, will be on the agenda for funding in the 2020 session. The Legislature has approximately $315 million of bonding capacity to distribute in February. State programs experienced a small increase in funds, including clinical legal education and the Dispute Resolution Program, Labor Education Research Center and TallWood Design Institute. A law, House Bill 2030, was passed making the UO eligible to apply for seismic rehabilitation grants. The campus veteran’s grant program, which provides funding for UO’s veteran’s service officer within the Division of Student Life, was renewed. The $54,000 grant the university currently receives from this program funds a half-time program coordinator, additional computers and technology, expanded student veteran engagement events and increased veteran welcome sessions. Despite efforts by UO faculty members, students and staff who testified before various legislative committees, a number of bills did not pass that would have funded programs and initiatives to help Oregonians statewide. All the measures were unanimously approved by the House and Senate education committees but did not make it out of the ways and means process. Those measures include funding for a new ocean-going research vessel for UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; a matching fund that could enable communities in rural areas to participate in the Sustainable City Year Program; funding for the UO’s prison education program through the Clark Honors College; and $12 million for the build-out of Oregon’s portion of the multihazard sensor network for the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning and wildfire prevention system. “These are incredible projects and programs from UO faculty members and students, and we believe that they are of value to the state,” said Hans Bernard, assistant vice president for state affairs. “While it’s disappointing they weren’t funded this session, we won’t give up on making sure lawmakers understand their value and will be back in future sessions.” The Legislature will convene again in February 2020. For more detailed information about all the measures that passed that will have an impact on the UO, read the end of session report on the Government and Community Relations Web site

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  • 2019 Legislative Session Overview

    2019 Legislative Session Overview In the November 2018 General Election, Democratic candidates in Oregon won supermajorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. The electoral victories paved the way for an ambitious progressive agenda for the 2019 legislative session. Despite all of this, legislation to make Oregon just the second state in the nation to cap greenhouse gas emissions failed in the final week of session. This was seen as a major defeat for Democratic majorities and Governor Kate Brown and will likely be top of the agenda when lawmakers return to Salem in 2020. Outcomes for Higher Education: $100 million increase in the Public University Support Fund: This is the second largest increase since in the PUSF since 1999. The increase helped universities partially cover rising costs and kept tuition increases for Oregonians lower than they would have been otherwise. An increase to the Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG) to serve 2,500 more students: The OOG is the state’s only need-based financial aid program for university students. $10 million for a new University Research Innovation Fund: This two-year effort to secure matching funds for federal grants will help our faculty members more aggressively compete for federal grants and advance research at the UO. $65 million in deferred maintenance capital funding: This funding will help make sure our buildings and classrooms on campus are safe and modern. The funds are distributed to all public universities based on a formula, largely driven by square footage of buildings. Small increases in funding for all State Programs, which include the Clinical Legal Education, the Dispute Resolution program, the Labor Education Research Center, and the TallWood Design Institute. Passage of a law that makes the UO eligible to apply for seismic rehabilitation grants. Expansion of the campus veteran’s grant program, which provides funding for UO’s veteran’s service officer within the Division of Student Life. What Else Happened? Heading into session, lawmakers’ attention was split between the normal legislative processes and grappling with how to respond to issues related to the culture of harassment and discrimination in the Capitol, especially as it relates to gender. The Senate President and Speaker of the House appointed a joint Capitol Culture Committee to examine how to address problems and make the capitol a safer place to work for legislators, staff, and lobbyists. Ultimately, several bills passed that establish new protections for those in the Capitol and regulations for employers that include a requirement they adopt comprehensive policies on workplace harassment and sexual assault (SB 726, SB 478, and SB 479). Early in session, the Legislature passed a statewide rent control measure (SB 608)—the first of its kind in the nation. The bill puts a cap on rent increases on most properties at seven percent a year and requires landlords to give three months' notice and pay a tenant a month's rent to evict them without cause. This was a major win for affordable housing advocates who had introduced the concept for several sessions while realtors were able to hold it back. Revenue reform was front and center all session long, as the Joint Committee on Student Success brought its work and recommendations from the last twelve months to bear. In April, the measure—dubbed the Student Success Act (HB 3427)—passed the House. As it made its way to the Senate for a vote, Oregon’s Senate Republicans walked out for the first time during the session. The strategy of denying a quorum effectively means the Senate cannot legally come into session and vote on bills. As a result, they slowed down the process enough to make a deal that killed two legislative priorities for Democrats: A bill that would require safe storage of firearms among other new regulations on guns (SB 978), and one that would abolish the non-medical exemption for child vaccinations (HB 3063). Both measures garnered huge engagement from members of the public both in support of and opposed to legislation. The Senate passed the Student Success Act and sent it to the Governor for her final signature. The measure established a new corporate activities tax, which will raise $2 billion each biennium that is dedicated to early childhood and K12 schools. It should be noted that students at community colleges and public universities were wholly excluded from receiving any of the funds. In the final days of the session the Legislature approved SB 116, which stipulates that any referral of the Student Success Act will be before voters in January 2020, not the November 2020 General Election. In May, the Legislature took up juvenile justice reform (SB 1008). The bill made changes to Measure 11, which caused people as young as 15 to be charged and sentenced as adults. A broad coalition worked to shift the youth justice system to focus on prevention and rehabilitation for youth, including eliminating life sentences without parole for youth. The bill also establishes a process where all youth who are convicted in adult court access to a “second look” hearing, and more. The last month of session was consumed with negotiations and debate on several other key issues. A Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (HB 2005) passed after negotiations and input from the business community, which creates a new statewide insurance program for all employees. The program will be funded through an employer and employee payroll tax. Lawmakers also referred a tax increase on tobacco products and created a new tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products (HB 2270). It will be referred to voters for their approval in the November 2020 election and is expected to raise $340 million for the 2021-23 biennium. This funding will be dedicated to the Oregon Health Plan (90%) and tobacco cessation efforts (10%). The last week and a half of session created national headlines. The eleven Senate Republicans once again denied the Senate a quorum by not appearing on the floor and leaving the state to avoid voting on the cap-and-trade bill, known as ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ (HB 2020) because of its impact on rural industry and citizens. After several protests and a walk out that lasted nine days, the Senate President announced that the bill did not have the votes to pass. Ultimately, the Republicans returned to the Capitol two days before the legislature had to adjourn and passed a series of state agency budgets and policy bills. The 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly adjourned sine die on June 30, 2019.

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  • UO architecture professor testifies to Congress

    On Tuesday, June 11, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, testified at a hearing before the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. The subject of the hearing was energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings. The hearing was conducted, in part, to evaluate the progress being made in federal building efficiency and resiliency by the General Services Administration (GSA), which implements executive regulations governing the acquisition, use, and disposal of real property owned by the federal government. Subcommittee Chairwoman Dina Titus (D-NV) led the hearing by emphasizing the importance of developing “smart and secure” buildings. “This is a chance to look at the past accomplishments, the present situation, and our future goals,” said Titus. Along with the testimony by the GSA regarding the present state of energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings, Van Den Wymelenberg was joined by other two panelists who testified on current innovations being made to improve building health and efficiency. Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment, described the Institute's development of an academic-industry partnership known as Build Health. Build Health considers the intersection of energy efficiency and other factors in buildings and human health. Van Den Wymelenberg emphasized how indoor environments can negatively impact human health outcomes, and suggested that the subcommittee adopt a vision of “passive thrive-ability”. “Passive thrive-ability”, Van Den Wymelenberg said, encompasses “environments that improve human productivity and health outcomes while using less energy and approaching net-zero energy performance.” In closing, Van Den Wymelenberg suggested that the subcommittee consider setting goals that are currently implemented at the University of Oregon through a program called BTUs 4 BTU’s, or Building Tune-Ups for BTUs (energy). He explained the approach as a way to capitalize on the investments in energy efficiency, document the energy savings from strategies implemented, establish reinvestment mechanisms to implement deeper energy efficiency and human health strategies, and research the non-energy benefits of health and comfort. Van Den Wymelenberg finished his time with a comment that elicited laughs from the committee when he said that his consortium of industry collaborators, Build Health, is “founded on the principle that academics don’t know everything.” Full Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) joined the hearing and emphasized the bipartisan interest in promoting efficient resilient federal buildings. A copy of Van Den Wymelenberg’s written testimony can be found here.

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  • Oregon Legislature approves bill making changes to PERS

    First published in Around the O on June 3rd. The UO’s Office of Human Resources is providing information about legislation recently approved by state lawmakers that makes changes to the Public Employees Retirement System. The Oregon Legislature recently approved Senate Bill 1049, and the bill has been sent to Gov. Kate Brown to sign. The new legislation contains several provisions, with varying effective dates, related to benefit modifications and system financing. The HR website provides more information about the development, including a summary of SB 1049. The bill includes a number of changes for PERS employers and members that will occur in the future. If the bill is approved by the governor, PERS will continue to analyze the bill and prepare to fulfill its requirements. PERS provides updates on its website and will provide more information about the implementation of SB 1049 as it becomes available. PERS members can sign up on the PERS website to receive email or text alerts about the legislation. “Changes to PERS generates a lot of discussion and elevates concerns,” said Cindi Peterson, associate director of benefits. “It is important for PERS members to verify information they receive and seek clarification from trusted resources before making any decisions about retirement. The benefits office and PERS representatives are available to answer questions and discuss individual concerns.” While the benefits office cannot specifically advise individuals on how proposed or approved changes may affect their retirement benefits, they strongly encourage PERS members to stay informed, get a PERS estimate and meet with a financial advisor. Visit the HR website for more information. The benefits office will continue to monitor PERS-related issues and changes closely and provide information and resources as they become available. For questions or additional assistance, contact the benefits office at 541-346-3085.   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/oregon-legislature-approves-bill-making-changes-pers/?utm_source=UOnews  

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  • UO-led study finds early indicator of an earthquake’s magnitude

    First published in Around the O on May 30th. University of Oregon researcher Diego Melgar and a U.S. Geological Survey colleague were searching databases for information to feed a simulation of what a Cascadia earthquake would look like. Instead, they found a clue that points to the magnitude of an emerging megaquake. Reporting in Science Advances, Melgar and Gavin P. Hayes of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado detailed a pattern in GPS data that emerges between 10 and 15 seconds into a quake. It’s the start of a slip pulse, a transition involving the acceleration of the separation, or displacement, of two plates. The peak rate of the displacement foretells whether an event will fizzle into a small quake or explode into a magnitude 7 or larger event. They correctly identified, from doing physics-heavy analyses of two USGS databases dating to the early 1990s, all 12 magnitude 7-plus earthquakes, including three that exceeded magnitude 8 between 2003 and 2016. They found the same pattern in European and Chinese databases. “It was super exciting,” said Melgar, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences. “As Gavin and I poured through the data for what were really unrelated reasons, we began to see these trends. We had a bit of a eureka moment where we, well, if what we’re seeing is true, it means something about how earthquakes start.” The databases the researchers studied contain information from more than 3,000 earthquakes, with the same window of time indicating the severity of each event. “The challenge is that we’ve found average patterns,” Melgar said. “Individual earthquakes have their own personality. There can dia subduction zone off the Pacific Northwest coast, based on the fault’s history, is at risk for a full rupture that would generate a magnitude 9 earthquake. The last one occurred in January 1700. Melgar was seeking to model what the big one will look like. GPS picks up initial movement along a fault similar to a seismometer detecting the smallest first moments of an earthquake. However, while GPS can detect displacement within centimeters along a fault line, the technology is not widely used in real-time hazard monitoring. ShakeAlert, the West Coast earthquake early warning system that is being expanded to enhance advance notification in Oregon and Washington, does include land-based GPS stations in numerous locations, but the fault line itself is offshore where GPS stations cannot be used. The Cascadia subduction zone is located where the Juan de Fuca ocean plate dips under the North American continental plate. The fault stretches just offshore from northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino in Northern California. “We can do a lot with GPS stations on land along the coasts of Oregon and Washington, but it comes with a delay,” Melgar said. “As an earthquake starts, it would take some time for information about the motion of the fault to reach coastal stations. That delay would impact when a warning could be issued. People on the coast would get no warning because they are in a blind zone.” This delay could be reduced by placing sensors on the seafloor to record early acceleration behavior, he said. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/uo-led-study-finds-early-indicator-earthquakes-magnitude

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  • Bill introduced by Wyden would allow graduates with student debt to save for retirement

    May 23, 2019 04:05 pm U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and five Senate colleagues introduced legislation on May 13th that could help many college graduates save for retirement while paying off their student loans. The Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act would permit employers to make a matching contribution to an employee’s retirement plan while that employee is paying off student loans. Current law only allows for an employer to match contributions made directly by an employee to a 401(k) retirement plan. Under the proposal, recent graduates who cannot afford to save money for retirement above their student loan repayments would no longer have to forego the employer match.           For example, if an employee’s student loan payment is $500 and his or her employer matches 50 percent of retirement plan contributions, the employer would contribute $250 to the employee’s retirement account. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 45% of family heads under the age of 35 have student debt, with the median amount of debt owed rising from $5,363 in 1992 to $19,000 in 2016. “Millions of college grads are buried under tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that prevents them from building their future—buying a home, saving for retirement and starting a family,” said Sen. Wyden. “The sooner workers start to save for retirement the better, and paying down student loans shouldn’t stop them from building their nest egg.”      The Act would be a voluntary benefit that employers may elect not to offer employees and can be provided only to workers who are eligible to participate in the employer’s retirement plan. For more information on the Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act, click here.

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