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Tiny meteorites and computer models suggest CO2 blanketed early Earth | GeekWire
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Today, rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a cause for concern, but 2.7 billion years ago, high levels of CO2 probably kept our planet warm enough for life even though the sun was about 20% fainter than it is today. A newly published study estimates just how high those CO2 levels were. Owen Lehmer, a graduate student in Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
Early 'soda lakes' may have provided missing ingredient key to the origin of life | Space
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
The first life-forms on Earth needed a pu pu platter of ingredients to exist, but one of those ingredients, the mineral phosphorus, has long puzzled scientists. No one knew how phosphorus, one of the six main chemical elements of life, became plentiful enough on early Earth for life to burst forth. Now, researchers may have the answer. Jonathan Toner, a research assistant professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
By the numbers: UW in the media in 2019
Thursday, January 9, 2020
In 2019, the University of Washington was mentioned in 4,143 news articles around the world. Among those, UW experts were quoted 2,290 times: 1,185 in national or international outlets and 1,105 in regional and local outlets.
UW faculty, researchers, graduate students and staff who engage in these interviews offer their expertise and knowledge to the general public through the news media. These interviews can take significant time and effort, but they help demonstrate day after day the important, relevant and innovative work of the university.
Below are a few highlights from UW faculty and researchers quoted in 2019 and the top regional, national and international outlets the UW was mentioned in.
"Technology will always move faster than lawmakers are able to regulate. The answer to the dilemma is to listen to the experts at the outset, and be vigilant in updating laws to match current technological realities."
Margaret O'Mara, professor in the Department of History
The New York Times -- July 5, 2019
"You can either approach it from the standpoint that there is something fundamentally wrong with black women's bodies, or there'ssomething wrong with the way we treat black women and their bodies," Doll says. "We are not going to help women, and we are not going to solve this problem, if we don't deal with the problem of race and racism."
Dr. Kemi Doll, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the UW School of Medicine
Mother Jones -- October 21, 2019
"As in the Apollo era, innovations being developed for spaceflight have major benefits, often unforeseen at the time, for society."
Robert Winglee, professor in the Department of Earth & Space Sciences
GeekWire -- July 25, 2019
"Our impact on the climate is tied up with population in lots of different ways -- what resources people are using, how much industrial production is going on, how much energy is needed for heating, cooling and transportation."
Amy Snover, director of the UW Climate Impacts Group
NBC News -- June 17, 2019
Opinion: Investing in soil health is an investment in the future | The Spokesman-Review
Monday, January 6, 2020
"We've been treating soil like dirt for too long. Dirt needs to be fed in order to produce. Healthy soil contains tens of thousands of microbes pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and turning it into food for themselves and for us," writes Sue Lani Madsen for The Spokesman-Review. David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
Early 'soda lakes' may have provided missing ingredient key to the origin of life | Live Science
Friday, January 3, 2020
The first life-forms on Earth needed a pu pu platter of ingredients to exist, but one of those ingredients, the mineral phosphorus, has long puzzled scientists. No one knew how phosphorus, one of the six main chemical elements of life, became plentiful enough on early Earth for life to burst forth. Now, researchers may have the answer. Jonathan Toner, a research assistant professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, and David Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, are quoted. Read More
Earthquake: Disaster foretold in the Pacific Northwest | KING 5
Thursday, January 2, 2020
This KING 5 special report covers the "the Big One," the massive earthquake and tsunami that is expected to occur along the Cascadia subduction zone. Bob Freitag, director of the UW Institute for Hazards Mitigation and senior lecturer in the UW Department of Urban Design and Planning, and Harold Tobin, director of the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and UW professor of Earth and space sciences, are interviewed. In addition, the following UW projects are mentioned: a partnership between the UW and Washington Sea Grant to study past earthquakes and tsunami along the Cascadia subduction zone; the M9 Project, which is a partnership between the UW and the U.S. Geological Survey; and a project by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network to install seismometers in homes across the Puget Sound region. Read More
Here's what seismologists are saying about the flurry of Northwest earthquakes | Bellingham Herald
Thursday, January 2, 2020
Five moderate to strong earthquakes Monday at the northern end of the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault don't have seismologists too worried. Paul Bodin, UW research professor of Earth and space sciences and network manager of the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, is quoted. Read More
Scientists lay out scenario for life to emerge from carbonate-rich lakes | GeekWire
Thursday, January 2, 2020
Where did life on Earth get its start? In a newly published study, researchers from the University of Washington argue that carbonate-rich lakes would have been the best place for life's chemical building blocks to come together. Jonathan Toner, a research assistant professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted, and David Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, is mentioned. Read More
Life could have emerged from lakes with high phosphorus
Monday, December 30, 2019
Life as we know it requires phosphorus. It’s one of the six main chemical elements of life, it forms the backbone of DNA and RNA molecules, acts as the main currency for energy in all cells and anchors the lipids that separate cells from their surrounding environment.
But how did a lifeless environment on the early Earth supply this key ingredient?
“For 50 years, what’s called ‘the phosphate problem,’ has plagued studies on the origin of life,” said first author Jonathan Toner, a University of Washington research assistant professor of Earth and space sciences.
The problem is that chemical reactions that make the building blocks of living things need a lot of phosphorus, but phosphorus is scarce. 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 lakes.
The study focuses on carbonate-rich lakes, which form in dry environments within depressions that funnel water draining from the surrounding landscape. Because of high evaporation rates, the lake waters concentrate into salty and alkaline, or high-pH, solutions. Such lakes, also known as alkaline or soda lakes, are found on all seven continents.
While the exact concentration depends on where the samples were taken and during what season, the researchers found that carbonate-rich lakes have up to 50,000 times phosphorus levels found in seawater, rivers and other types of lakes. Such high concentrations point to the existence of some common, natural mechanism that accumulates phosphorus in these lakes.
Today these carbonate-rich lakes are biologically rich and support life ranging from microbes to Lake Magadi’s famous flocks of flamingoes. These living things affect the lake chemistry. Soresearchers did lab experiments with bottles of carbonate-rich water at different chemical compositions to understand how the lakes accumulate phosphorus, and how high phosphorus concentrations could get in a lifeless environment.
The reason these waters have high phosphorus is their carbonate content. In most lakes, calcium, which is much more abundant on Earth, binds to phosphorus to make solid calcium phosphate minerals, which life can’t access. But in carbonate-rich waters, the carbonate outcompetes phosphate to bind with calcium, leaving some of the phosphate unattached. Lab tests that combined ingredients at different concentrations show that calcium binds to carbonate and leaves the phosphate freely available in the water.
“It’s a straightforward idea, which is its appeal,” Toner said. “It solves the phosphate problem in an elegant and plausible way.”
Phosphate levels could climb even higher, to a million times levels in seawater, when lake waters evaporate during dry seasons, along shorelines, or in pools separated from the main body of the lake.
“The extremely high phosphate levels in these lakes and ponds would have driven reactions that put phosphorus into the molecular building blocks of RNA, proteins, and fats, all of which were needed to get life going,” said co-author David Catling, a UW professor of Earth & space sciences.
The carbon dioxide-rich air on the early Earth, some four billion years ago, would have been ideal for creating such lakes and allowing them to reach maximum levels of phosphorus. Carbonate-rich lakes tend to form in atmospheres with high carbon dioxide. Plus, carbon dioxide dissolves in water to create acid conditions that efficiently release phosphorus from rocks.
“The early Earth was a volcanically active place, so you would have had lots of fresh volcanic rock reacting with carbon dioxide and supplying carbonate and phosphorus to lakes,” Toner said. “The early Earth could have hosted many carbonate-rich lakes, which would have had high enough phosphorus concentrations to get life started.”
Another recent study by the two authors showed that these types of lakes can also provide abundant cyanide to support the formation of amino acids and nucleotides, the building blocks of proteins, DNA and RNA. Before then researchers had struggled to find a natural environment with enough cyanide to support an origin of life. Cyanide is poisonous to humans, but not to primitive microbes, and is critical for the kind of chemistry that readily makes the building blocks of life.
The research was funded by the Simons Foundation’s Collaboration on the Origins of Life.Read More
Using ice to track how nature has removed greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in the past | KNKX
Monday, December 23, 2019
Researchers are using ice to track the history of the atmosphere. Peter Neff, a postdoctoral researcher in Earth and space sciences at the UW, is interviewed. Read More