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Geology

Flowers among ruined trees on Mount St. Helens
Summer 2020

Mount St. Helens: The aftermath and lessons learned

The sky was falling. And Richard “Dick” Mack gathered a group of graduate students to help collect it. In the first few days after Mount St. Helens erupted—sending some 540 million tons of ash over an area of 22,000 square miles—the WSU ecology professor was already thinking of its potential research value.

Mack‚ now a professor emeritus in WSU’s School of Biological Sciences, spent the summer of 1980 doing field work between Pullman and Vantage, studying the effects of the ash on vegetation—particularly native plants, such as certain willows and grasses. For about five years or so after that, he and … » More …

Fall 2017

Exodus: Climate and the movement of the people

Vast swaths of forests in western North America are dead or dying, killed by pine bark beetle. The beetles have been there all along, but prolonged droughts reduced the trees’ ability to defend themselves from the inner bark-munching bugs.

The western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range in California have been especially hard hit by the depredation, just as people who made money in Silicon Valley sought to move their families out of the choked cities and up into the beautiful mountain forests. Now, to mitigate risk of catastrophic fire and the further spread of pests such as bark beetle, landowners must cut down … » More …

Asteroids thumb image
Summer 2016

Close Encounters from Outer Space

The errant asteroid hurtled through space at 40,000 miles per hour. Tumbling in a wild orbit, it glinted with sunlight as it neared the Earth. At 65-feet wide, the potato-shaped object should have been easily detected but no one saw it coming.

On the morning of February 15, 2013 the asteroid exploded with the force of 500 kilotons of TNT about 15 miles above the city of Chelyabinsk in the Russian Ural Mountains. The fireball was reportedly 30 times brighter than the sun. The shockwave blew out windows in hundreds of buildings and injured more than 1,500 people.

It was Earth’s most powerful meteor strike … » More …

Spring 2014

A true story fraught with peril

As disaster-obsessed scientists go, geologists must be near the top of the list. They deal with time scales spanning billions of years, so a set of catastrophes occurring 10 million years ago is like yesterday. Something in the last century comes close to being, well, now. 

And they see catastrophe all over the place.

Take the roadcut near the Old Moscow Road. It’s a modest pile of crumbling rock, but John Wolff and Rick Conrey can see in its surrounding rock a thick blanket of hot lava inundating southeast Washington.

“It covers an area that goes from here to Spokane to The Dalles, buried at … » More …