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Earth Sciences

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 … » 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 …

Spring 2014

A true story fraught with peril

As disaster-obsessed scientists go, geologists must be near the top of the list. They deal with time scales spanning billions of years, so a set of catastrophes occurring 10 million years ago is like yesterday. Something in the last century comes close to being, well, now. 

And they see catastrophe all over the place.

Take the roadcut near the Old Moscow Road. It’s a modest pile of crumbling rock, but John Wolff and Rick Conrey can see in its surrounding rock a thick blanket of hot lava inundating southeast Washington.

“It covers an area that goes from here to Spokane to The Dalles, buried at … » 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 …

New and Noteworthy
Summer 2013

New & noteworthy

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Planet Rock Doc: Nuggets from Explorations of the Natural World
WSU Press, 2012

The Whole Story of Climate: What Science Reveals about the Nature of Endless Change
Prometheus Books, 2012
by E. Kirsten Peters

The Harvard-trained geologist, columnist, and WSU employee compiles her syndicated science columns in a peripatetic, curiosity-fueled volume in Planet Rock Doc, and applies her knowledge of geological systems to climate change throughout Earth’s history in The Whole Story of Climate.

Blazing a Wagon Trail to Oregon: A Weekly Chronicle of the Great Migration of 1843
by Lloyd W. … » 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 …