The headlines paint a dire picture: By the 2030s, global warming could completely melt Arctic sea ice, imperiling the 19 known polar bear populations that range across the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway.
Could, as some fear, the trend spell extinction for Ursus martimus?
For two of the country’s premiere polar bear researchers—wildlife biologists KARYN RODE ’99 MS, ’05 PhD, and DAVID C. DOUGLAS ’86 MS, both of whom work for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center—the answer is a decided “No.”
But neither is the future rosy for the animals, according to Douglas, who uses satellite tracking to monitor their … » More …
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 …
“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 …
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 …
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 …
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 …
“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.
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.
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 …
Salmon and other fish need cool, deep pools to spawn and survive in waterways like Washington’s Tucannon River. Washington State University researchers and their colleagues are measuring whether intentional logjams and stream reconstruction is creating better habitat for fish.