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Earth Sciences

Summer 2009

Plowed Under: Agriculture and Environment in the Palouse

Andrew P. Duffin PhD ’02
University of Washington Press, 2007

This is an important and disturbing book, both for the environmental degradation it documents and the message of what little progress our agricultural practices on the Palouse have made.

In a sense, the precursor of Plowed Under was a series of lectures by William Spillman in 1924. Spillman, a versatile and prescient scientist, was one of Washington State Agricultural College’s first faculty members, hired by … » More …

Winter 2008

Gateway to Rodinia

A cantaloupe-sized chunk of granite from the other side of the world has revealed that nearly a billion years ago, the Palouse was “ground zero” when a supercontinent called Rodinia broke up.

“This was the edge of the continent,” says Washington State University geologist Jeff Vervoort, looking out over the rolling hills from his office on the 10th floor of Webster Hall.

Vervoort coaxed the story from the small boulder, which was found by his colleague John Goodge of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Vervoort and Goodge had studied many other ancient rocks, and to them the chunk looked like a “one-point-four,” part of a distinctive … » More …

Summer 2006

Uncommon access: Gaylord Mink shifts his focus from viruses to wild horses

Gaylord Mink, hunched over and quiet as a mule deer, picks his way through rugged rangeland near the center of the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Mink stops, straightens, and scans toward Dry Creek Elbow in the distance. Much closer, five wild horses lift their own heads to meet his gaze. They are all well within range.

The small band’s stallion snorts a warning as the nervous mares and a colt seem anxious to bolt. Mink snorts back, and the stallion circles even closer to take up the challenge, dragging his wary entourage in his wake.

Mink is a hunter who doesn’t pack a gun. He shoots … » More …

Summer 2002

The Restless Northwest

In The Restless Northwest, former Seattle Times science writer Hill Williams provides a fascinating overview of the geological processes that shaped the Northwest.

An attraction of the region is its varied terrain, from the volcanic Cascade mountain range to the flood-scoured scablands of eastern Washington and the eroded peaks of the northern Rockies. The vast differences, Williams notes, are the results of the collision of the old and the new. The western edge of Idaho was once the edge of ancient North America. As eons passed, a jumble of islands, minicontinents, and sediment piled up against the old continental edge, gradually extending it west to … » More …

Fall 2008

What lies beneath – Pullman and its water

Financial hardship, fires, and spring floods: In 1890 the community of Pullman was in desperate need of some good news. A hungry blaze had leveled the city’s newly rebuilt commercial district only three years after it first burned to the ground in 1887.

Then on May 24, 1890 word got out that a “gusher” had been struck. Fifty gallons of water per minute rushed up to the surface where contractors had been drilling a well for the Palace Hotel. They had accidentally discovered an artesian source, a well under pressure that once tapped was forcing water up. It was the turning point for an early … » More …

Fall 2008

Let the invasions begin

As Beijing prepared to welcome athletes and spectators to the Olympic Games, a quieter and much less welcome influx was already under way.

According to a new study by Washington State University ecologist Richard Mack and four Chinese colleagues, China’s explosive economic growth and ambitious public-works projects have allowed non-native species of plants, insects, and other organisms to spread throughout the country and inflict more than $14 billion of damage on the nation’s economy—and the Olympic Games could provide an opportunity for even more biological invaders.

Mack and his co-authors combed through trade and economic data to discover that China’s economic boom has been accompanied … » More …

Fall 2003

Flames in Our Forest: Disaster or Renewal?

Forest fires have been much in the news. Beginning with the Yellowstone fires in 1988, the West has lived through a series of intense fire years. In 2000, the federal government spent nearly $1.6 billion fighting fires. But over the same period there has been a discordant message: fires, we are told, shaped the forests and the wildlife that inhabit them; fires are, in fact, necessary to the continued existence of many species of plants and animals. Smokey the Bear’s message of fire’s destructive nature, his plea on behalf of other woodland creatures that “fires destroy more than trees,” has lost its venerable certainty.

Are … » More …

Winter 2006

Mimicking Nature's Fire: Restoring Fire-Prone Forests in the West

Forest health has been much in the news. It is a powerful metaphor—but one of uncertain and ambiguous content. Congress has used it to avoid environmental assessments of logging; opponents of logging have often portrayed it as a smokescreen. Mimicking Nature’s Fire is in part a guide to this debate. Stephen Arno (’65 For.), a forest ecologist, and Carl E. Fiedler, a silviculturist, have combined their talents to argue for “restoration forestry,” an approach that seeks to reestablish “an approximation of historical structure and ecological processes to tree communities that were in the past shaped by distinctive patterns of fire.” The book is divided into … » More …