UW News


May 3, 2021

Earthquake early warnings launch in Washington, completing West Coast-wide ShakeAlert system

hand holding phone with alert

The U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Washington-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, and state emergency managers on Tuesday, May 4, will activate the system that sends earthquake early warnings throughout Washington state. This completes the rollout of ShakeAlert, an automated system that gives people living in Washington, Oregon and California advance warning of incoming earthquakes.


March 31, 2021

Thicker-leaved tropical plants may flourish under climate change, which could be good news for climate

tropical forest

As carbon dioxide continues to rise, multiple changes in the leaves of tropical plants may help these ecosystems perform better under climate change than previous studies had suggested.


March 2, 2021

Rating tornado warnings charts a path to improve forecasts

funnel cloud on dark background

A new method to rate tornado warnings shows that nighttime tornadoes in the U.S. have a lower probability of detection and a higher false-alarm rate than other events. Summertime tornadoes, occurring in June, July or August, also are more likely to evade warning.


February 24, 2021

Record-high Arctic freshwater will flow through Canadian waters, affecting marine environment and Atlantic ocean currents

Colored map of the North Atlantic and Arctic

The Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea has increased its freshwater content by 40% over the past two decades. When conditions change this freshwater will travel to the Labrador Sea off Canada, rather than through the wider marine passageways that connect to seas in Northern Europe. This has implications for local marine environments and global ocean circulation.


February 17, 2021

Q&A: ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system arriving in Pacific Northwest

scientists in orange suits with mountains in distance

After years in development, an earthquake early warning system known as ShakeAlert is on the cusp of being released in Oregon and Washington. Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, answers questions about the coming rollout.


February 10, 2021

Online tool displays Pacific Northwest mountain snow depth

colored lines sloping upward to Feb. 1

How’s the snow on Northwest mountains this year? Overall a little deeper than normal, but it depends where you look. A new collaboration between the University of Washington, the Northwest Avalanche Center lets you see how the current snow depth compares to past years for nine sites in Washington and two in Oregon.


February 9, 2021

Limiting warming to 2 C requires emissions reductions 80% above Paris Agreement targets

Even if all countries meet their Paris Agreement goals for reducing emissions, Earth has only a 5% chance of staying below 2 C warming this century, a previous study showed. But reductions about 80% more ambitious, or an average of 1.8% drop in emissions per year rather than 1% per year, would be enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.


February 4, 2021

Global warming found to be culprit for flood risk in Peruvian Andes, other glacial lakes

rooftops in front of glacier

Human-caused warming is responsible for increasing the risk of a glacial outburst flood from Peru’s Lake Palcacocha, threatening the city below. This study is the first to directly link climate change with the risk of flooding from glacial lakes, which are growing in number and size worldwide.


February 1, 2021

Marine organisms use previously undiscovered receptors to detect, respond to light

magnified cells of various shapes arranged in a mosaic

Single-celled organisms in the open ocean use a diverse array of genetic tools to detect sunlight, even in tiny amounts, and respond. The discovery of these new genetic “light switches” could also aid in the field of optogenetics, in which a cell’s function can be controlled with light exposure.


December 15, 2020

A.I. model shows promise to generate faster, more accurate weather forecasts

globe split into gridded squares

A model based solely on the past 40 years of weather events uses 7,000 times less computer power than today’s weather forecasting tools. An A.I.-powered model could someday provide more accurate forecasts for rain, snow and other weather events.


December 8, 2020

NSF-funded deep ice core to be drilled at Hercules Dome, Antarctica

closeup of ice in metal barrel

Antarctica’s next deep ice core, a 1.5-mile core reaching back to 130,000-year-old ice, will be carried out by a multi-institutional U.S. team led by UW’s Eric Steig. The site hundreds of miles from today’s coastline could provide clues to the most recent collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.


November 2, 2020

Flying through wildfire smoke plumes could improve smoke forecasts

propeller with smoke plume in background

The biggest study yet of West Coast wildfire plumes shows how a smoke plume’s chemistry changes over time. Results suggest current models may not accurately predict the air quality downwind of a wildfire.


October 15, 2020

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?

stormcloud in front of field

Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme weather to climate change. But when meteorologists warn of hazardous weather, they include a second key measure of success — the probability of detection.


September 23, 2020

Some polar bears in far north are getting short-term benefit from thinning ice

polar bear with ice and water in background

The small subpopulation of polar bears in Kane Basin were doing better, on average, in recent years than in the 1990s. The bears are experiencing short-term benefits from thinning and shrinking multiyear sea ice that allows more sunlight to reach the ocean surface, which makes the system more ecologically productive.


September 16, 2020

Most landslides in western Oregon triggered by heavy rainfall, not big earthquakes

bare slope and mountains in distance

Researchers at the University of Washington, Portland State University and the University of Oregon have shown that deep-seated landslides in the central Oregon Coast Range are triggered mostly by rainfall, not by large offshore earthquakes. The open-access paper was published Sept. 16 in Science Advances. “Geomorphologists have long understood the importance of rainfall in triggering…


August 20, 2020

February lockdown in China caused a drop in some types of air pollution, but not others

colored maps of China

Atmospheric nitrogen dioxide, which comes from transportation, was half of what would be expected over China in February 2020. Other emissions and cloud properties, however, showed no significant changes.


June 24, 2020

Puget Sound eelgrass beds create a ‘halo’ with fewer harmful algae, new method shows

gray skies and ocean

Genetic clues show that eelgrass growing underwater along Puget Sound shorelines is associated with fewer of the single-celled algae that produce harmful toxins in shellfish. The evidence shows this effect extends 45 feet beyond the edge of the eelgrass bed.


June 9, 2020

Volcanic activity and changes in Earth’s mantle were key to rise of atmospheric oxygen

layered brown rock

Evidence from rocks billions of years old suggest that volcanoes played a key role in the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere of the early Earth.


May 28, 2020

The most common organism in the oceans harbors a virus in its DNA

grey oval with orange circles attached

A new study in Nature Microbiology shows that the most common organism in the world’s oceans — and possibly the whole planet — harbors a virus in its DNA. This virus may have helped it survive and outcompete other organisms. The study began as a UW School of Oceanography senior thesis.


May 15, 2020

Ocean ‘breathability’ key to past, future habitat of West Coast marine species

silver fish

Historical observations collected off California since the 1950s suggest that anchovies thrive where the water is breathable — a combination of the oxygen levels in the water and the species’ oxygen needs, which are affected by temperature. Future projections suggest that the waters off Mexico and Southern California could be uninhabitable by 2100.


May 12, 2020

Seismologists to host virtual event on 40th anniversary of Mount St. Helens eruption

snow-covered mountain with smoke

The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, based at the University of Washington, will host an online event on the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, featuring seismologists from the UW and other institutions who can explain the events before, during and after the historic blast. The virtual event will take place from 6:30…


April 30, 2020

First results from NASA’s ICESat-2 map 16 years of melting ice sheets

colored map of Antarctica

Loss of ice from Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets since 2003 have contributed 0.55 inches to global sea level rise, with about two thirds coming from Greenland ice. The new, detailed satellite measurements provide a global picture of ice sheet change — and insights into the future of Greenland and Antarctica.


April 28, 2020

Agricultural pickers in US to see unsafely hot workdays double by 2050

pickers in field

A new study looks at temperature increases in counties across the United States where crops are grown. It also looks at different strategies the industry could adopt to protect workers’ health.


April 15, 2020

UW Center for Philosophy for Children helps families explore ‘big questions’ around COVID-19

Collage of children's book covers

The UW Center for Philosophy for Children created a resource list of books and short videos to explore the big questions around COVID-19 — about loneliness and isolation, boredom, illness and death, as well as fear and uncertainty.


April 1, 2020

Study synthesizes what climate change means for Northwest wildfires

bare trunks

A University of Washington study, published this winter in Fire Ecology, takes a big-picture look at what climate change could mean for wildfires in the Northwest, considering Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana.


March 24, 2020

Ships’ emissions create measurable regional change in clouds

aerial image of ships' tracks

Years of cloud data over a shipping route between Europe and South Africa shows that pollution from ships has significantly increased the reflectivity of the clouds. More generally, the results suggest that industrial pollution’s effect on clouds has masked about a third of the warming due to fossil fuel burning since the late 1800s.


March 23, 2020

Video: UW custodial staff in the midst of massive ‘deep clean’ of campus

woman at end of hallways wipes sculpture

When the UW moved to online instruction March 9, UW Facilities Services developed a three-week disinfection plan. Custodial staff are now working through more than 500 classrooms, lecture halls, libraries, auditoriums and shared spaces, with similar efforts under way in Bothell and Tacoma.


March 10, 2020

‘Age of A.I.’ documentary on YouTube features UW experts

three people stare at graph on screen

A documentary series produced and released this winter by YouTube features UW computer scientist Pedro Domingos and members of the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.


February 13, 2020

Researchers at AAAS to discuss latest science on Cascadia earthquake hazards

earthquake damage to brick building

At a Saturday afternoon session, researchers from the University of Washington and federal agencies will discuss the emerging research on Pacific Northwest megaquakes.


February 12, 2020

Polar bears in Baffin Bay skinnier, having fewer cubs due to less sea ice

polar bear walking

Satellite tracking of adult females and visual monitoring of polar bears in Baffin Bay show changes from the 1990s to the period from 2009 to 2015. Bears in Baffin Bay are getting thinner and adult females are having fewer cubs than when sea ice was more available.


January 30, 2020

Video: UW’s new broadcast meteorology course is first on West Coast

two people in front of green screen

The University of Washington has long boasted one of the country’s top programs in atmospheric sciences. Now, the UW is also teaching undergraduates how to share that knowledge online and on TV as a broadcast meteorologist.


January 24, 2020

Tiny, ancient meteorites suggest early Earth’s atmosphere was rich in carbon dioxide

shiny black balls on red background

Tiny meteorites that fell to Earth 2.7 billion years ago suggest that the atmosphere at that time was high in carbon dioxide, which agrees with current understanding of how our planet’s atmospheric gases changed over time.


January 16, 2020

Mobile protected areas needed to preserve biodiversity in the high seas

black bird with blue sky

Leaders are updating the laws for international waters that apply to most of the world’s ocean environment. This provides a unique opportunity, argues a UW Bothell marine scientist, to anticipate new techniques that allow protected zones to shift as species move under climate change.


December 30, 2019

Life could have emerged from lakes with high phosphorus

A lake in Africa with flamingoes and zebras along its shore.

Life as we know it requires phosphorus, which is scarce. So, how did a lifeless environment on the early Earth supply this key ingredient? A new UW study, published Dec. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds an answer to this problem in certain types of carbonate-rich lakes.


December 12, 2019

Video: Barrels of ancient Antarctic air aim to track history of rare gas

snow and tents

An Antarctic field campaign last winter led by the U.S. and Australia has successfully extracted some of the largest samples of air dating from the 1870s until today. Researchers will use the samples to look for changes in the molecules that scrub the atmosphere of methane and other gases.


December 10, 2019

UW scientist to lead NASA field study of East Coast snowstorms

professor in office

To better understand large, disruptive snowstorms, a University of Washington atmospheric scientist will lead a NASA field campaign this winter to fly through major snowstorms along the East Coast. The multi-institutional team will observe snow as it forms in clouds to help with satellite monitoring of snowfall and ultimately improve forecasts.


November 5, 2019

Fall storms, coastal erosion focus of northern Alaska research cruise

freight shipping container in foreground and research ship in background

A University of Washington team is leaving to study how fall storms, dwindling sea ice and vulnerable coastlines might combine in a changing Arctic.


November 4, 2019

Swordfish as oceanographers? Satellite tags allow research of ocean’s ‘twilight zone’ off Florida

closeup of swordfish

UW marine scientists are using high-tech tags to record the movements of swordfish — big, deep-water, migratory, open-ocean fish that are poorly studied — and get a window into the ocean depths they inhabit.


October 31, 2019

Washington’s first student-built satellite preparing for launch

tall silver rectangle inside glass box that reads "flight hardware"

After years of preparation, a tiny satellite built by UW students is scheduled to launch early Saturday, Nov. 2, from a NASA flight facility in Virginia. The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV.


October 23, 2019

UW team sending autonomous surfboard to explore Antarctic waters

researchers on ship lowering large surfboard into water

This week a UW team is releasing a robotic surfboard to explore the surface ocean around Antarctica.



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