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Environmental Studies

Spring 2010

Leave it to beavers

As we crunch through the snow in the hills above Winthrop, Steve Bondi ’02 and Ryan Anderson ’08 are eager to see evidence that their project to improve riparian habitat and provide late season water to the Methow Valley is working.

They’re building dams, but with the help of nature’s own unparalleled engineer—the beaver. The effort for a time seemed just a joke in the state capital—that of beavers building dams along rivers and streams in the Columbia River watershed to improve the hydrology of the region. “At the time, we couldn’t tell if they were laughing at us or with us,” says Anderson, watershed … » More …

Winter 2009

The Rising Sea

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Orrin H. Pilkey ’57 and Rob Young
Island Press, 2009

The island nations of Tuvalu and the Maldives, the Inupiat Eskimo village of Shishmaref, and Soldado Island off the Colombian coast might be tough to find on a geography quiz. But all of these locations foretell a future of oceans overwhelming coastlines. In each of these remote places, residents are either moving or preparing to move to higher ground before their homes get swallowed by … » More …

Winter 2009

Stormwater central

There’s nothing mundane about the new parking lot at the WSU research and extension center in Puyallup. It is a state-of-the-art polluted water collection system. The 70-some parking spots are specially designed to drain the water from each space into separate collection cells.

The project, which broke ground last summer, is an early step in the station’s efforts to become a leader in Low Impact Development techniques, providing guidance for the rapidly developing community along the Puyallup River Valley. In this case, the station will look at how to capture and clean stormwater runoff so that it doesn’t contaminate waterways, damaging … » More …

Better living…through solar

For more than two years, a group of Washington State University students in architecture, construction management, interior design, and engineering designed and built a solar house, including all of its systems, from the ground up. In September 2005, they transported the house to Washington, D.C., to take part in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall. WSU was one of only 18 schools from around the world-and the only school from the Northwest-to participate. Sponsored by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, the competition required students to plan and build a 650-square-foot home and provide it with all the modern conveniences, including … » More …

Winter 2002

The sink's nearly full

Some climate change researchers have placed high hopes in forest and grassland soils and their ability to act as carbon “sinks.” These sinks store excess atmospheric carbon and thus partially offset the effect of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, a recent study by Washington State University environmental scientist Richard Gill and his colleagues indicate the sink may be reaching capacity.

Although carbon dioxide has been increasing in the atmosphere for the last 10,000 years, the increase has been especially rapid in the last 150 years because of the industrial revolution and the conversion of land to agricultural uses. The rate of … » More …

Winter 2004

Unwelcome Hitchhikers

More than 30 feet above the ground, Brent Olson steers a mechanical lift across the outstretched limbs of a bigleaf maple tree. He aims his binoculars toward the trunks of two towering cottonwoods beyond, scanning for the enemy.

“They could be anywhere in there,” Olson says.

Across the street in this Tukwila neighborhood just south of Seattle, a resident swishes jump shots into a driveway hoop, while another loads children into a minivan, perhaps for a quick trip to the Wendy’s restaurant a few blocks away.

The suburban scene hardly resembles a battlefield, but Olson (’03 Entomology, ’04 M.S. Environmental  Science) is on the front … » More …

Summer 2004

Gardening on the Palouse

The area known to practically every Washingtonian as “the Palouse” is one of six large grassland communities in North America. The Palouse stretches from just south of Spokane to the Snake River valley, near Moscow and Pullman. Today, it is a fertile farmland, covered in wheat and other grain crops. But prior to the 1870s and the arrival of “new-world” settlers, these rolling hills were blanketed in perennial bunchgrasses and forbs, which had dominated the landscape for five million years. Those native plants are now found only in tiny pockets around old cemeteries, along creeks, and in other unplowable places.

Some gardeners in the area … » More …

Summer 2004

An environmental mystery is solved, but answer points to larger concerns

Vultures in India and Pakistan play a vital environmental role by quickly removing dead livestock, inactivating pathogens, and probably controlling the spread of livestock disease. Vultures are also essential to the “sky burials” practiced by Zoroastrian sects. So the sudden and precipitous decline in vulture population caused great consternation throughout the subcontinent.

Over the past decade, the population of the Oriental white-backed vulture has declined by more than 95 percent. Other vulture species have experienced similar catastrophic declines. When Washington State University veterinary diagnostician Lindsay Oaks arrived in Pakistan in 2000 to investigate the mysterious deaths, he selected for study three colonies of perhaps 1,000 … » More …