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Environmental Studies

Winter 2014

The Scrambled Natural World of Global Warming, A Travelogue

Jesse A. Logan ’77 PhD is hiking up a mountainside in Yellowstone National Park and walking back in time. He starts at 8,600 feet above sea level, in a forest thick with the scent of fir and lodgepole pine, and with almost every spry step, the scenery changes. There’s an understory of grouse whortleberry, then accents of mountain bluebells and higher still, the whitebark pine, one of the oldest organisms of the Interior West.

Finally, the vegetation gives way to large swatches of scree. Logan’s 70-year-old legs have gone up 2,000 feet and back more than 10,000 years, from the lush vegetation of the twenty-first … » More …

Cori Kane
Winter 2014

Diving deep in a unique tropical paradise

Cori Kane calls it “underwater skydiving.” She’ll be out in the middle of the North Pacific, more than 1,000 miles from Honolulu and most anything else that might be called civilization. Flopping out of a perfectly good boat, she will rocket down nearly 300 feet in just a few minutes, encountering a strange and largely unexplored layer of ocean that’s less familiar to science than the deep sea. It’s the ecosystem of the mesophotic reefs, which lie at a depth often called the “Twilight Zone.”

“When you jump in, it’s like you’re transported to this other world,” says Kane. “There are fish everywhere. There are … » More …

Orbiting Carbon Observatory
Fall 2014

Mission accomplished

It was 2 a.m. on February 24, 2009, and six years of George Mount’s work had just launched toward space.

Mount, then a physicist in the WSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, had been part of a team led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), a sophisticated instrument to measure carbon dioxide from space.

It looked like a picture-perfect launch. The researchers had boarded buses from the launch site and were riding back to their hotel when they learned the news: The rocket carrying their satellite had failed to reach orbit. Instead, the rocket and its … » More …

Salmon
Summer 2014

Salmon

Back in 1991, the Snake River sockeye was the first of nearly two dozen salmon populations listed as threatened or endangered. To fishermen, scientists, and wildlife managers it seemed that salmon might soon vanish from the waters and traditions of the Pacific Northwest.

Today, many runs are coming back, while more vibrant populations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have continued bringing a steady stream of salmon to our plates through the summer, into the fall, and thanks to flash freezing, the winter. Salmon remain a major part of the region’s culture and cuisine, as five Washington State University faculty and alumni can attest in … » More …

Winter 2013

Watching the sea

The paint has barely dried at the new Salish Sea Research Center near Bellingham, but the $2.2 million facility is already in use. Student scientists dip into a freezer full of recently collected shellfish, a Zodiac boat and a collection of waders are drying in the back mud room, and several projects to study acidity in the water and the health of the aquatic organisms are already underway.

The Northwest Indian College was established in 1973 to train technicians who would work in Indian-run fish and shellfish hatcheries throughout the region. More recently it has expanded to include two- and four-year college degrees. And today … » More …

Eugene Rosa. Photo Robert Hubner
Fall 2013

Eugene Rosa 1942–2013—Working for people and the planet

When you fill out a career pushing the limits of knowledge, rising to “pioneer in your field” status, things are bound to get pretty technical.

Gene Rosa, environmental sociologist, lived that reality, penning papers with terms like “biosociology,” “post-normal risk,” and acronym-rich analytical tools like STIRPAT. In spite of the technical thickets of his work, say friends and colleagues, Rosa kept his eye on the increasingly threatened natural environment and the people in it.

“Gene was not just interested in the environment for its own sake, but rather he had a deep desire to see a better world, one with greater quality of life and … » More …

Spring 2013

Passing the Smell Test

The act of smelling starts out as chemical detection but often ends up as an emotional trigger

Among all the modern variations on evolution are several hundred shoppers who two years ago wandered into a home decoration store in northern Switzerland. For most of them, it was just another chance to buy some plates or a basket, with the exception of a researcher asking them to fill out a questionnaire at the cash register. But after nearly a month of monitoring customers, researchers noticed that one group of about 100 spent on average significantly more money. The customers told the researchers as much, and receipts … » More …

Hanford
Spring 2013

Tiny cracks, big effect

Of all the troubling images evoked by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, the plume of uranium-tainted groundwater seeping into the Columbia River comes near the top of the list. Millions of gallons of radioactive waste were processed at the site and, starting in the ’40s, government scientists detected it in the area’s groundwater.

One site, called the 300 Area, has a plume of several million gallons affecting a 3,000-foot stretch of the Columbia River shoreline. Monitoring wells and riverbank springs have had uranium levels in excess of drinking-water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The river provides drinking water … » More …

forest near Mt St Helens
Spring 2013

The forgotten forest

Early successional forests, the stage following a major disturbance such as fire, windstorm, or harvest, have typically been viewed in terms of what is missing. Considered by the forest industry as a time of reestablishment or “stand initiation,” these early successional forests have been studied from the perspective of plant-community development and the needs of selected animals. Neither view fully grasps the diverse ecological roles of the early successional stage, argue WSU forest ecologist Mark Swanson and colleagues in a 2011 paper in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Forest management throughout the twentieth century focused at first on wood production and later … » More …