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Earth Sciences

Winter 2002

The sink's nearly full

Some climate change researchers have placed high hopes in forest and grassland soils and their ability to act as carbon “sinks.” These sinks store excess atmospheric carbon and thus partially offset the effect of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, a recent study by Washington State University environmental scientist Richard Gill and his colleagues indicate the sink may be reaching capacity.

Although carbon dioxide has been increasing in the atmosphere for the last 10,000 years, the increase has been especially rapid in the last 150 years because of the industrial revolution and the conversion of land to agricultural uses. The rate of … » More …

Winter 2004

Unwelcome Hitchhikers

More than 30 feet above the ground, Brent Olson steers a mechanical lift across the outstretched limbs of a bigleaf maple tree. He aims his binoculars toward the trunks of two towering cottonwoods beyond, scanning for the enemy.

“They could be anywhere in there,” Olson says.

Across the street in this Tukwila neighborhood just south of Seattle, a resident swishes jump shots into a driveway hoop, while another loads children into a minivan, perhaps for a quick trip to the Wendy’s restaurant a few blocks away.

The suburban scene hardly resembles a battlefield, but Olson (’03 Entomology, ’04 M.S. Environmental  Science) is on the front … » More …

Summer 2004

Gardening on the Palouse

The area known to practically every Washingtonian as “the Palouse” is one of six large grassland communities in North America. The Palouse stretches from just south of Spokane to the Snake River valley, near Moscow and Pullman. Today, it is a fertile farmland, covered in wheat and other grain crops. But prior to the 1870s and the arrival of “new-world” settlers, these rolling hills were blanketed in perennial bunchgrasses and forbs, which had dominated the landscape for five million years. Those native plants are now found only in tiny pockets around old cemeteries, along creeks, and in other unplowable places.

Some gardeners in the area … » More …

Summer 2004

An environmental mystery is solved, but answer points to larger concerns

Vultures in India and Pakistan play a vital environmental role by quickly removing dead livestock, inactivating pathogens, and probably controlling the spread of livestock disease. Vultures are also essential to the “sky burials” practiced by Zoroastrian sects. So the sudden and precipitous decline in vulture population caused great consternation throughout the subcontinent.

Over the past decade, the population of the Oriental white-backed vulture has declined by more than 95 percent. Other vulture species have experienced similar catastrophic declines. When Washington State University veterinary diagnostician Lindsay Oaks arrived in Pakistan in 2000 to investigate the mysterious deaths, he selected for study three colonies of perhaps 1,000 … » More …