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Environmental Studies

Monarch butterfly
Summer 2017

Very well off the beaten path

“There he is!” I look up as tattered orange wings flutter above the sunflowers. A lone male monarch butterfly hovers near the milkweed patch, gallantly hoping, says wildlife ecologist Rod Sayler, for the arrival of a female.

The scene took place early last August at the Washington State University Arboretum and Wildlife Center, where for the first time in 25 years, Sayler documented the iconic butterflies living and breeding on campus. Weeks earlier, to his astonishment, he’d found a handful of monarch caterpillars devouring the leaves of recently restored showy milkweed plants.

“The monarchs were a big surprise for me,” he says. “It’s the first … » More …

Zeroing in on critical zones
Spring 2017

Zeroing in on critical zones

For almost half a century, scientists have been measuring carbon dioxide in the air two miles above sea level in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At first, Charles David Keeling counted 310 parts of carbon dioxide for every million parts of air. When he died in 2005, the number was 380. On May 9, 2013, the number topped 400, “a milepost,” wrote National Geographic’s Robert Kunzig, “on a far more rapid uphill climb toward an uncertain climate future.”

We might get wistful over the elegance of what is now known as the Keeling number: a solitary data point, like the Dow Jones industrial average, … » More …

Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change cover
Winter 2016

Retreat from a Rising Sea

Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change cover

Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change

Orrin H. Pilkey ’57, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey

Columbia University Press: 2016

 

Our planet’s rapidly changing climate will make the bursting of the real estate bubble look like a picnic on a sunny spring day. Upside-down equity and underwater mortgages don’t begin to describe the scope of what rising sea levels … » More …

Fall 2016

Kids solving the unsolvable

Imagine Tomorrow

Flushing the toilet stirred up a good idea in four young women from Walla Walla High School. They recognized that families use hundreds of gallons of water per day, a real problem in places faced with water shortages. To ease that, Karen Maldonado, Edlyn Carvajal, Sandra Escobedo de la Cruz, and Ruth Garcia developed a trapping system using an inexpensive charcoal filter to recycle wastewater back to the toilet tank.

The Walla Walla teens took their plan to the Alaska Airlines Imagine Tomorrow competition, an annual problem-solving challenge at Washington State University that encourages high school students to propose and present ideas … » More …

Fall 2016

The long view

“I do not believe that any man can adequately appreciate the world of to-day unless he has some knowledge of … the history of the world of the past.” —Theodore Roosevelt, 1911

A hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt’s vision of conservation came to fruition with the establishment of the National Park Service. Although President Woodrow Wilson established the NPS, Roosevelt had doubled the number of national parks and passed the Antiquities Act in 1906 when he was in the Oval Office. Roosevelt believed that we must have a deeper and longer-term view of our country’s natural and historical heritage.

In the spirit of Roosevelt’s aims, … » More …

Thin Ice thumb
Summer 2016

Thin ice

Being put to the test at the ground zero of climate change

There’s the day the polar bear mangled the meteorological instruments. Or when a massive storm smashed two humidity sensors. Days of howling winds, extremely limited visibility, and weather so cold that power cords snapped like twigs.

For Von P. Walden, a professor in Washington State University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the most exciting day as part of the Norwegian Young Sea ICE Cruise (N-ICE2015) team was last May when the thin layer of Arctic sea ice on which the researchers were working started breaking up.

Wearing a Regatta suit … » More …

Sweet solution to toxic waste
Spring 2016

Sweet solution to toxic waste

A jar of foul-smelling clay sits on the cluttered workbench. “I’d better not open it,” says environmental engineer Richard Watts. He grabs a smaller jar filled with liquid the color of a dirty mud puddle. “These are soil and groundwater samples from an industrial waste site in North Carolina.”

The repugnant samples arrived in comparatively pristine Pullman to be analyzed by Watts, who then advises the best ways to remedy the mess. In a twist, one of those methods involves the use of sugar.

Watts, a pioneer in oxidizing systems for the detoxification of polluted soil and groundwater and a professor of civil and environmental … » More …