UW News

Environment


April 10, 2024

New report ‘braids’ Indigenous and Western knowledge for forest adaptation strategies against climate change

treated forest

Forests could also be potential bulwarks against climate change. But, increasingly severe droughts and wildfires, invasive species, and large insect outbreaks — all intensified by climate change — are straining many national forests and surrounding lands. A report by a team of 40 experts outlines a new approach to forest stewardship that “braids together” Indigenous knowledge and Western science to conserve and restore more resilient forestlands. Published March 25, the report provides foundational material to inform future work on climate-smart adaptive management practices for USDA Forest Service land managers.


April 4, 2024

What four decades of canned salmon reveal about marine food webs

University of Washington researchers have shown that levels of anisakid worms — a common marine parasite — rose in two salmon species in the Gulf of Alaska and Bristol Bay over a 42-year period. The team discovered this by studying salmon caught, killed and canned from 1979 to 2021. Since anisakid worms have a complex life cycle involving multiple types of hosts, the researchers interpret their rising numbers as a potential sign of ecosystem recovery, possibly driven by rising numbers of marine mammals thanks to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.


In the Field: UW researchers traveling to capture total solar eclipse

orange orb on black background

Baptiste Journaux, a UW faculty member in Earth and space sciences, and four graduate students will travel to Arkansas on Monday to view the total solar eclipse. They will use a special telescope to capture images of solar features that can be viewed most clearly during an eclipse. 


March 22, 2024

Signs of life detectable in single ice grain emitted from extraterrestrial moons

illustration of gray planet spewing white mist on black background

Could life be found in frozen sea spray emitted from moons orbiting Saturn or Jupiter? New research finds that life can be detected in a single ice grain containing one bacterial cell or portions of a cell. The results suggest that if life similar to that on Earth exists on these planetary bodies, this life should be detectable by instruments launching in the fall.


March 12, 2024

AI analysis of historical satellite images show USSR collapse in 1990s increased methane emissions, despite lower oil and gas production

buildings with mountains in background

An AI-powered analysis of 25 years of satellite images yields the surprising finding that methane emissions in Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic and major oil-producing region, actually increased in the years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


March 8, 2024

Video: Predicting cherry tree bloom timing at the UW

Cherry trees on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus are waking up and getting ready to say hello. For the 29 iconic Yoshino cherry trees in the UW Quad, peak bloom will likely begin after March 20.


March 6, 2024

Scientists CT-scanned thousands of natural history specimens, which you can access for free

Natural history museums have entered a new stage of discovery and accessibility — one where scientists around the globe and curious folks at home can access valuable museum specimens to study, learn or just be amazed. This new era follows the completion of openVertebrate, or oVert, a five-year collaborative project among 18 institutions to create 3D reconstructions of vertebrate specimens and make them freely available online. The team behind this endeavor, which includes scientists at the University of Washington and its Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture, published a summary of the project March 6 in the journal BioScience, offering a glimpse of how the data can be used to ask new questions and spur the development of innovative technology.


February 28, 2024

80 mph speed record for glacier fracture helps reveal the physics of ice sheet collapse

drawing of glacier partly above and partly below water

New research documents the fastest-known large-scale breakage along an Antarctic ice shelf. In 2012, a 6.5-mile crack formed in about 5 and a half minutes, showing that ice shelves can effectively shatter, though the speed of breakage is reduced by seawater rushing in. These results can help improve ice-sheet models and projections for future sea level rise.


February 16, 2024

Video: Bringing stars back to the sea 

A clear box suspended deep in the water holds a few sea stars and mussel shells.

Scientists at Friday Harbor Laboratories, a University of Washington facility in the San Juan Islands, are working to help sunflower stars — a type of sea star — grow and thrive once again after their populations along the West Coast were devastated by a mysterious disease called sea star wasting syndrome.


January 29, 2024

Q&A: How ‘slow slip’ earthquakes may be driven by deep hydraulic fracturing

gray rock with lines through it

New research confirms the cause of slow slip along the Cascadia Subduction Zone and other faults that is accompanied by intermittent tremors or “pops” at the surface. Co-authors Marine Denolle and Joan Gomberg discuss the role of fluid-driven fracturing deep underground.


January 22, 2024

Shallow soda lakes show promise as cradles of life on Earth

people walking across large white surface

Field observations from an unusual lake show that in environments known as “soda lakes” phosphate can concentrate at the very high levels needed for the basic molecules of life to emerge. A shallow, salty lake in western Canada gives new support to Charles Darwin’s idea that life could have emerged in a “warm little pond.”


January 16, 2024

UW research helps California forest managers assess smoke hazards from prescribed burns

Forest on fire with smoke billowing, as seen from a helicopter

An international team led by researchers at the University of Washington built a framework to help land managers assess the air quality implications of land management scenarios with different levels of prescribed burning.


December 19, 2023

How will climate change affect how predators hunt prey? Two UW professors teamed up to find out

A hand wearing a glove next to a paw print in the snow

Two UW professors teamed up to study how climate change will affect predator-prey interactions in snowy landscapes. Together with a group of researchers, the two measured snow properties that led to a “danger zone,” where prey would sink but predators would not.


December 11, 2023

Beluga whales’ calls may get drowned out by shipping noise in Alaska’s Cook Inlet

pod of beluga whales with shoreline in background

Around Anchorage, communications among the critically endangered population of Cook Inlet beluga whales may be masked by ship noise in their core critical habitat, accordingly to the first repertoire of their calls.


November 16, 2023

In the Field: Tracking seismic clues in one of the driest places on Earth

researcher bends over using rock hammer with desert in background

Two University of Washington geophysicists will travel to the Atacama Desert in Chile this month to study a fault system that’s similar to the Seattle Fault in Puget Sound, but in a much different climate that makes it easier to monitor its effects on the landscape.


November 15, 2023

WhaleVis turns more than a century of whaling data into an interactive map

A humpback whale breaches in the Pacific Ocean.

A team at the University of Washington has created an interactive dashboard called WhaleVis, which lets users map data on global whale catches and whaling routes from 1880 to 1986. Scientists can compare this historical data and its trends with current information to better understand whale populations over time.


November 14, 2023

5th National Climate Assessment authors include UW climate experts

Three UW experts are among the authors of the newly released Fifth National Climate Assessment, an overview of climate trends, impacts and efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change across the nation.


November 13, 2023

North Atlantic’s marine productivity may not be declining, according to new study of older ice cores

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of declining phytoplankton in the North Atlantic may have been greatly exaggerated. Analysis of a Greenland ice core going back 800 years shows that atmospheric chemistry, not dwindling phytoplankton populations, explains the recent ice core trends.


November 9, 2023

New York Climate Exchange, on which UW is a core partner, names first CEO

illustration of building on Governors Island with Manhattan in the distance

The New York Climate Exchange, a first-of-its-kind organization working to implement innovative climate solutions in New York City and across the globe, on Nov. 9 announced Stephen Hammer as its founding chief executive officer. The University of Washington is a core member of the exchange.


October 25, 2023

UW experts offer hot takes on El Niño, weather and ocean temperatures

map of global oceans with red spots in Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean

Five University of Washington experts comment on the current El Niño, its effect on Pacific Northwest winter weather, as well as on regional and global ocean temperature trends.


October 18, 2023

DNA shows where Washington culvert replacements helped spawning salmon

Two researchers by a stream seen from inside a culvert

A project led by the UW used genetic sleuthing to study how salmon were affected by two major culvert replacements near the city of Bellingham. One project, a major upgrade under Interstate-5, had a big impact, while the other old culvert may have been less of a barrier to fish. Authors from the UW and NOAA are studying the use of eDNA in future environmental impact reporting.


September 21, 2023

NSF funds internet-connected ocean observatory through 2028

map of Juan de Fuca plate

The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Washington $52.4 million over five years to continue operating the Regional Cabled Array, a cabled deep-ocean observatory about 300 miles offshore from Newport, Oregon. The grant is part of a $220 million total investment that will fund the internet-connected ocean observatory, known as the Ocean Observatories Initiative, through 2028.


September 15, 2023

Polar experiments reveal seasonal cycle in Antarctic sea ice algae

sea ice with greenish underside

The frigid ocean surrounding Antarctica is home to much of the region’s photosynthetic life. A new University of Washington study provides the first measurements of how sea-ice algae and other single-celled life handle dramatic seasonal swings, offering clues to how this ecosystem might adapt to climate change.


September 12, 2023

Fall snow levels can predict a season’s total snowpack in some western states

The sun shines through trees in a forest and there is a light dusting of snow on the ground

Research led by the UW found that, in some western states, the amount of snow already on the ground by the end of December is a good predictor of how much total snow that area will get.


September 8, 2023

UW a lead partner on new NSF-funded earthquake research center

tsunami evacuation sign

The University of Washington is a lead partner on a new multi-institution earthquake research center that will study the Cascadia subduction zone and bolster earthquake preparedness in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.


August 31, 2023

Study connects greenhouse gas emissions to polar bear population declines, enabling greater protections under Endangered Species Act

polar bear torso looking at camera

A new paper from the UW and Polar Bears International quantifies the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and the survival of polar bear populations. The paper combines past research and new analysis to provide a quantitative link between greenhouse gas emissions and polar bear survival rates.


August 28, 2023

UW research links wildfire smoke to increased risk of emergency room visits for people of all ages

Taken together, the two papers’ findings suggest that wildfire smoke poses a risk to people of all ages, not just young children and older adults.


August 21, 2023

REBURN: A new tool to model wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and beyond

Researchers with the University of Washington and the U.S. Forest Service have developed a new tool, REBURN, that can simulate large forest landscapes and wildfire dynamics over decades or centuries under different wildfire management strategies. The model can simulate the consequences of extinguishing all wildfires regardless of size, which was done for much of the 20th century and has contributed to a rise in large and severe wildfires, or of allowing certain fires to return to uninhabited areas to help create a more “patchwork” forest structure that can help lessen fire severity. REBURN can also simulate conditions where more benign forest landscape dynamics have fully recovered in an area.


August 9, 2023

In the Field: UW team to spend six weeks visiting deep-ocean observatory

ship by dock in morning sun

Twenty-five undergraduates are among the participants on a 41-day cruise off the Oregon coast aboard the UW’s large research vessel, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. Principal investigator Deborah Kelley, professor of oceanography, answers questions about the expedition to visit and maintain the cabled ocean observatory.


July 6, 2023

Marine heat waves caused mass seabird die-offs, beach surveys show

dead seabirds lined up on a beach for measurements

New research led by the University of Washington uses data collected by coastal residents along beaches from central California to Alaska to understand how seabirds have fared in recent decades. The paper, published July 6 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, shows that persistent marine heat waves lead to massive seabird die-offs months later.


July 5, 2023

Research led by UW undergrad shows ultrafine air pollution reflects Seattle’s redlining history

The most comprehensive study yet of long-term ultrafine particle exposure found that concentrations of this tiny pollutant reflect the city’s decades-old racial and economic divides.  


June 26, 2023

New report, tool suggest how Washington can better protect against extreme heat

report cover with silhouettes on skyline

Two years after the Pacific Northwest heat dome — the deadliest weather-related disaster in state history — a collaborative effort has drawn up recommendations for how people and groups across the state could prevent future heat-related illness and save lives. The effort involves a report led by the UW Climate Impacts Group and an interactive risk-mapping tool led by the UW Center for Health and the Global Environment,


June 14, 2023

Phosphate, a key building block of life, found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus

gray planet in cross-section with white plumes escaping from surface

An international team including a UW scientist found that the water on one of Saturn’s moons harbors phosphates, a key building block of life. The team used data from NASA’s Cassini space mission to detect evidence of phosphates in particles ejected from the ice-covered global ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.


May 23, 2023

Q&A: UW polar bear expert appears in BBC-produced film about the Arctic

two polar bears

Polar scientist Eric Regehr studies polar bears on Wrangel Island, an island off Russia that is home to the highest concentration of polar bears in the world. Regehr and UW glaciologist Ian Joughin will field audience questions after screenings of “Arctic: Our Frozen Planet,” which focuses on the changing Arctic environment.


May 18, 2023

Out of the frying pan: Coyotes, bobcats move into human-inhabited areas to avoid apex predators — only to be killed by people

New research shows that in Washington state, the presence of two apex predators — wolves and cougars — does indeed help keep populations of two smaller predators in check. But by and large the apex predators were not killing and eating the smaller predators, known as mesopredators. Instead, they drove the two mesopredator species — bobcats and coyotes — into areas with higher levels of human activity. And people were finishing the job.


April 24, 2023

University of Washington is a core member of newly announced New York Climate Exchange

illustration of building on Governors Island with Manhattan in the distance

UW will be a core member of a consortium led by Stony Brook University that will build and operate The New York Climate Exchange – a carbon-neutral international hub focused on climate action and adaptation


April 19, 2023

Q&A: Two ways UW researchers are studying marine microplastics

microplastics seen in a water tank

Two University of Washington researchers are using very different methods to investigate the issue of marine microplastics. For Earth Day, UW News asked them to discuss their research.


April 18, 2023

Q&A: County-scale climate mapping tool helps Washington agencies prepare for the future

map of Washington colored red on right portion and around Puget Sound

The UW Climate Impacts Group created an interactive tool that lets state agencies and local governments see what climate scientists project for their county and what they might want to consider when developing their districts’ comprehensive plans through 2100.


April 10, 2023

Warm liquid spewing from Oregon seafloor comes from Cascadia fault, could offer clues to earthquake hazards

green seafloor with five bubble columns

UW oceanographers discovered warm, chemically distinct liquid shooting up from the seafloor about 50 miles off Newport. They named the unique underwater spring “Pythia’s Oasis.” Observations suggest the spring is sourced from water 2.5 miles beneath the seafloor at the plate boundary, regulating stress on the offshore subduction zone fault.


April 6, 2023

Washington state’s 2021 heat wave contributed to 159 excess injury deaths over three weeks

A record-breaking heat wave that baked Washington state in 2021 contributed to 159 excess injury deaths, according to research led by a UW professor.



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