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  • Salt Spray May Stifle Lightning over the Sea
    Tuesday, November 8, 2022
    Most lightning occurs over land, but most precipitation occurs over the ocean, said Daniel Rosenfeld (Hebrew Univ), Robert Holzworth (ESS) and other coauthors, of a new study in Nature Communications ( ). For the past 20-some years, researchers have been batting about ideas on why. “I had many friendly arguments with my colleagues,” Rosenfeld said. Over land and sea, lightning forms from the collisions of ice particles and pellets in a cloud. The process starts with small water droplets being wafted high into a cloud, where it’s cold. Even when the temperature is below freezing, the droplets can stay liquid, becoming supercooled. But eventually, some droplets form ice crystals, and when other supercooled droplets ram into them, these droplets freeze fast. These pellets, called graupel, fall under their own weight. When graupel collides with small ice crystals, the collisions create electrical charges. The falling graupel tends to grab the negative charges, whereas rising ice crystals tend to stash positive ones. Eventually, the air between those separated charges breaks down, sending a bolt of lightning crashing through the cloud. But sea spray forms large salt particles—greater than 1 micrometer. Water gloms onto these aerosols, creating large raindrops. The falling rain starves oceanic clouds of the water needed to create zaps of lightning, researchers reported. WWLLN lightning data were used to make the case about lightning. Read More
  • "Lifting the Fog" Webinar and Panel Q&A
    Friday, November 4, 2022
    The Seattle Times and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust sponsored a webinar and Q&A panel on the subject of preparedness for regional earthquake and tsunami hazards. Panelists included ESS Research Professor Paul Bodin, Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton and Washington State emergency manager Elyssa Tappero The webinar recording is available online at Read More
  • UW is No. 6 in the world, according to US News Best Global Universities
    Thursday, October 27, 2022

    The University of Washington rose from No. 7 to No. 6 on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Global Universities rankings, released on Tuesday. The UW maintained its No. 2 ranking among U.S. public institutions.

    U.S. News also ranked several subjects, and the UW placed in the top 10 in 10 subject areas, including immunology (No. 4), molecular biology and genetics (No. 5), clinical medicine (No. 6), and geosciences (No 7.).

    In another ranking out this week, Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023 by Subject, six subject areas at the UW placed in the top 25.

    "As a global public research university, the UW's mission is to create and accelerate change for the public good," UW President Ana Mari Cauce said. "I'm proud that these rankings reflect the outstanding and wide-ranging work of our faculty, staff and students to expand knowledge and discovery that is changing people's lives for the better, particularly in the health sciences."

    university of washington sign

    The UW is No. 6 in the world, according to US News & World Report’s Best Global Universities ranking.Mark Stone/University of Washington

    The U.S. News ranking methodology -- based on Web of Science data and metrics provided by Clarivate Analytics InCites -- weighs factors that measure a university's global and regional research reputation and academic research performance. For the overall rankings, this includes bibliometric indicators such as publications, citations and international collaboration.

    The overall Best Global Universities ranking, now in its ninth year, encompasses the top 2,000 institutions spread across 90 countries, according to U.S. News. American universities make up eight of the top 10 spots.

    Here are all the top 10 UW rankings in U.S. News' subject rankings:

    • Immunology - No. 4
    • Molecular biology and genetics - No. 5
    • Clinical medicine - No. 6
    • Geosciences - No. 7
    • Infectious diseases - No. 7
    • Public, environmental and occupational health - No. 7
    • Social sciences and public health - No. 7
    • Biology and biochemistry - No. 8
    • Microbiology - No. 10

    In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject rankings, UW's programs in these areas placed in the top 25:

    • Computer Science: No. 15
    • Life Sciences (includes agriculture and forestry, biological sciences, veterinary science and sport science): No. 16
    • Clinical and Health (includes medicine, dentistry and other health subjects): No. 17
    • Social Sciences (includes communication and media studies, politics and international studies -- including development studies, sociology and geography): No. 18
    • Physical Sciences (includes mathematics and statistics, physics and astronomy, chemistry, geology, environmental sciences, and Earth and marine sciences): No. 19
    • Education (includes education, teacher training, and academic studies in education): No. 23

    The subject tables employ the same 13 performance indicators used in the overall World University Rankings 2023; however, the methodology is recalibrated for each subject, with the weightings changed to suit the individual fields.

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  • New ground as tech aims to help boost soil health | BBC
    Monday, October 24, 2022
    According to experts, more than half of the world's agricultural soil is degraded, devoid of healthy micro-organisms needed for plant growth. New tech might just be able to help freshen up the soil. David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Washington prepares for flooding, landslides as rain returns | KING 5
    Thursday, October 20, 2022
    Much of Western Washington is looking forward to forecasted rains heading into the weekend, hopeful that it will give some relief from wildfire smoke. But the rain also marks the start of a season that carries potential flood and landslide hazards, which emergency managers are preparing for, especially in areas scarred by fires. David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • When the Big One Hits Portland, Cargo Bikers Will Save You | WIRED
    Monday, September 26, 2022
    Community groups in Portland, Seattle, and Tsukuba, Japan, are preparing for earthquakes by hosting bike races. Cyclists who participate solve a variety of challenges that might face communities days after a devastating earthquake, demonstrating the capabilities of cargo bikes in a disaster and familiarizing the cyclists with local emergency response patterns. Quoted is graduate student Elizabeth Davis, who participated in the Portland event and organizes similar efforts in Seattle. Read More
  • Deepest scientific ocean drilling effort sheds light on Japan's next 'big one'
    Thursday, September 22, 2022

    Scientists who drilled deeper into an undersea earthquake fault than ever before have found that the tectonic stress in Japan's Nankai subduction zone is less than expected.

    The results of the study led by the University of Washington and the University of Texas at Austin, published Sept. 5 in Geology, are a puzzle, since the fault produces a great earthquake almost every century and was thought to be building for another big one.

    Although the Nankai fault has been stuck for decades, the findings reveal that it is not yet showing major signs of pent-up tectonic stress. Authors say the result doesn't alter the long-term outlook for the fault, which last ruptured in 1946, when it caused a tsunami that killed thousands, and is expected to do so again during the next 50 years.

    The findings will help scientists home in on the link between tectonic forces and the earthquake cycle. This could potentially lead to better earthquake forecasts, both at Nankai and other megathrust faults, like the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington and Oregon.

    White ship seen from below

    The deep-sea scientific drilling vessel Chikyu, which in 2018 performed the deepest drilling of a subduction zone earthquake fault.Wikimedia/Gleam

    Harold Tobin of the University Washington inspects drilling pipes. Researchers used similar equipment during a record-breaking attempt to drill Japan's Nankai fault in 2018.University of Washington

    "Right now, we have no way of knowing if the big one for Cascadia -- a magnitude-9 scale earthquake and tsunami -- will happen this afternoon or 200 years from now," said lead author Harold Tobin, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and co-chief scientist on the drilling expedition. "But I have some optimism that with more and more direct observations like this one from Japan we can start to recognize when something anomalous is occurring and that the risk of an earthquake is heightened in a way that could help people prepare.

    “We learn how these faults work by studying them all over the world, and that knowledge will directly translate into insight into the Cascadia hazard as well."

    Megathrust faults such as Nankai and Cascadia, and the tsunamis they generate, are among the most powerful and damaging on the globe. Scientists say they currently have no reliable way of knowing when and where the next big one will hit.

    The hope is that by directly measuring the force felt between tectonic plates pushing on each other -- tectonic stress -- scientists can learn when a great earthquake is ready to happen.

    "This is the heart of the subduction zone, right above where the fault is locked, where the expectation was that the system should be storing energy between earthquakes," said co-author Demian Saffer at University of Texas at Austin, who also co-led the scientific drilling expedition. "It changes the way we're thinking about stress in these systems."

    The nature of tectonics means that the great earthquake faults are found in deep ocean, miles under the seafloor, making them incredibly challenging to measure directly. Tobin and Saffer's drilling expedition is the closest scientists have come.

    Their record-breaking feat took place in 2018 aboard a Japanese scientific drilling ship, the Chikyu, which drilled almost 2 miles, or just over 3 kilometers, into the tectonic plate before the borehole got too unstable to continue -- 1 mile short of the fault.

    Nevertheless, the researchers gathered invaluable data about subsurface conditions near the fault, including stress. To do that, they measured how much the borehole changed shape as the Earth squeezed it from the sides, then pumped water to see what it took to force its walls back out. That told them the direction and strength of horizontal stress felt by the plate pushing on the fault.

    Contrary to predictions, the horizontal stress expected to have built up since the most recent great earthquake was close to zero, as if the system had already released its pent-up energy.

    The researchers suggested several explanations: It could be that the fault simply needs less pent-up energy than thought to slip in a big earthquake, or that the stresses are lurking nearer to the fault than the drilling reached. Or it could be that the tectonic push will come suddenly in the coming years. Either way, the researchers said the drilling showed the need for further investigation and long-term monitoring of the fault.

    "Findings like this can seem like they muddy the picture, because things aren’t as simple as our theory or models predicted they were," Tobin said. "But that just means we’re gaining more understanding of how the real world works, and the real world is messy and complicated."

    The research was funded by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, or JAMSTEC. Other co-authors are Takehiro Hirose at JAMSTEC and David Castillo at Insight GeoMechanics in Australia.



    For more information, contact Tobin at or Saffer at

    Adapted from an article by the University of Texas at Austin.

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  • Alaskan glaciers advance and retreat in satellite imagery | Eos
    Thursday, September 15, 2022
    Scientists tracked 19 maritime glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park over several decades and found that tidewater glaciers tended to experience less ice loss than other types of glaciers. Taryn Black, a doctoral student in Earth and space sciences at UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Artemis mission to the moon | KOMO Radio
    Friday, September 2, 2022
    NASA's upcoming Artemis mission will collect rocks on the moon that could show traces of water or ice. Baptiste Journaux, acting assistant professor of Earth and space sciences, is interviewed. Read More
  • How the White House nutrition conference may tackle Americans' unhealthy diets | NPR
    Wednesday, August 31, 2022
    The data are stark: the typical American diet is shortening the lives of many Americans. Diet-related deaths outrank deaths from smoking, and about half of U.S. deaths from heart disease - nearly 900 deaths a day - are linked to poor diet. The pandemic highlighted the problem, with much worse outcomes for people with obesity and other diet-related diseases. David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted Read More