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  • The College of the Environment has created a CoEnv COVID-19 Resources page.
    Thursday, June 10, 2021
    The College of the Environment has created a CoEnv COVID-19 Resources page for faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students. Read More
  • Deep-seated landslides triggered mostly by rainfall, not earthquakes.
    Wednesday, September 16, 2020
    Most landslides in western Oregon triggered by heavy rainfall, not big earthquakes New research published today in Science Advances by former ESS grad student Sean LaHusen, with faculty Alison Duvall, Dave Montgomery and others. Read More
  • Scientists say that Venus life is still a longshot | Forbes
    Tuesday, September 15, 2020
    Since being reported yesterday in the journal Nature Astronomy, the putative detection of phosphine in Venus' upper atmosphere has been gobbled up like raw astrobiological meat. But here's the rub. The putative detection of the toxic phosphine compound -- in and of itself an impressive technical achievement -- doesn't automatically point to any sort of biological source. David Catling, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Alaska earthquake provides valuable insight for Pacific Northwest scientists | KING 5
    Thursday, July 23, 2020
    A powerful earthquake off Alaska's southern coast jolted coastal communities and forced residents to briefly scramble for higher ground over fears of a tsunami. 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
  • 7 University of Washington researchers elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences in 2020. Congratulations to Prof. Dave Montgomery
    Thursday, July 16, 2020

    Seven scientists and engineers at the University of Washington have been elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences, according to an announcement July 15 by the academy. One-third of the 21 new members for 2020 hail from the UW.

    The new members are lauded for "their outstanding record of scientific and technical achievement and their willingness to work on behalf of the academy to bring the best available science to bear on issues within the state of Washington." The academy's current membership selected 17 of the new members, and four were chosen by virtue of their election to one of the National Academies.

    New UW members who were elected by academy members are:

    • Nancy Allbritton, the Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of the College of Engineering and professor of bioengineering, "for outstanding contributions to the design and application of microtechnologies to biomedical research, leadership in interdisciplinary research and education, and entrepreneurial excellence."
    • Christine Luscombe, professor of chemistry and of materials science and engineering, "for the development of controlled polymerization reactions for conjugated polymers, especially alkyl-thiophenes, for organic electronics applications." Luscombe is also a faculty member with the Clean Energy Institute, the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute and the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems.
    • David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences, "forfundamental contributions to geomorphology, for the elucidation of soils, rivers, and landscapes as underpinnings of ecological systems and human societies, and for reaching broad audiences through trade books on agriculture, microbes, creationism, and fisheries."
    • Sue Moore, research scientist at the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels in the Department of Biology, "for contributions to the understanding of Arctic marine ecosystems and pioneering the integration of Conventional Science and Indigenous Knowledge to yield better policy decisions."
    • Ning Zheng, professor of pharmacology, "for exceptional contributions to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which ubiquitin ligases, as a new classof enzymes, control protein ubiquitination in human physiology and diseases, as well as plant growth and development."

    UW members who were chosen by virtue of their election to one of the National Academies are:

    • Elizabeth Halloran, professor of biostatistics and of epidemiology at the UW and a faculty member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, "for pioneering work in the field of designing and analyzing vaccine studies, including studies of HIV vaccines and innovative use of mathematical and statistical methods to study infectious disease." Halloran was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2019.
    • Steven Kramer, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering, "for contributions to geotechnicalearthquake engineering, including liquefaction, seismic stability and seismic site response." Kramer was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2020.

    New members are to be inducted at the annual members meeting, which is currently scheduled for September.

    Read More
  • ESS faculty Steig and Fudge to lead major new drilling project in Antarctica
    Monday, July 13, 2020
    NSF-funding research led by Eric Steig and TJ Fudge at UW, with Heidi Roop at U. Minnesota, Murat Aydin at UC Irvine, Mark Twickler and Joe Souney at UNH, will drill for ice capturing West Antarctica’s last collapse. Read More
  • Early life was pumping out oxygen, but the Earth's mantle was absorbing it | Universe Today
    Friday, June 12, 2020
    The Great Oxidation Event took place 2.4 billion years ago. That's when photosynthetic bacteria flooded the atmosphere with oxygen, banishing early, non-oxygen using lifeforms to the fringes of the Earth. But photosynthetic bacteria were pumping out oxygen long before the event. Where did all the oxygen go? A new study examined that question. Shintaro Kadoya, a postdoctoral scholar in Earth and space sciences at the UW, and David Catling, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, are quoted. Read More
  • Volcanic activity and changes in Earth's mantle were key to rise of atmospheric oxygen
    Tuesday, June 9, 2020

    Oxygen first accumulated in the Earth's atmosphere about 2.4 billion years ago, during the Great Oxidation Event. A long-standing puzzle has been that geologic clues suggest early bacteria were photosynthesizing and pumping out oxygen hundreds of millions of years before then. Where was it all going?

    Something was holding back oxygen's rise. A new interpretation of rocks billions of years old finds volcanic gases are the likely culprits. The study led by the University of Washington was published in June in the open-access journal Nature Communications.

    "This study revives a classic hypothesis for the evolution of atmospheric oxygen," said lead author Shintaro Kadoya, a UW postdoctoral researcher in Earth and space sciences. "The data demonstrates that an evolution of the mantle of the Earth could control an evolution of the atmosphere of the Earth, and possibly an evolution of life."

    layered brown rock

    These giant mounds of fossil stromatolites from about 2.5 billion years ago are located in South Africa. For scale, notice a person's dangling legs at the top center. These layered minerals were deposited on an ancient coastline by communities of microbes, including photosynthetic bacteria that generated oxygen. The new study suggests that for millions of years the oxygen produced by these microbes reacted with volcanic gases before it began to accumulate in Earth's atmosphere, about 2.4 billion years ago.David Catling/University of Washington

    Multicellular life needs a concentrated supply of oxygen, so the accumulation of oxygen is key to the evolution of oxygen-breathing life on Earth.

    "If changes in the mantle controlled atmospheric oxygen, as this study suggests, the mantle might ultimately set a tempo of the evolution of life," Kadoya said.

    The new work builds on a 2019 paper that found the early Earth's mantle was far less oxidized, or contained more substances that can react with oxygen, than the modern mantle. That study of ancient volcanic rocks, up to 3.55 billion years old, were collected from sites that included South Africa and Canada.

    Robert Nicklas at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Igor Puchtel at the University of Maryland, and Ariel Anbar at Arizona State University are among the authors of the 2019 study. They are also co-authors of the new paper, looking at how changes in the mantle influenced the volcanic gases that escaped to the surface.

    The Archean Eon, when only microbial life was widespread on Earth, was more volcanically active than today. Volcanic eruptions are fed by magma - a mixture of molten and semi-molten rock - as well as gases that escape even when the volcano is not erupting.

    Some of those gases react with oxygen, or oxidize, to form other compounds. This happens because oxygen tends to be hungry for electrons, so any atom with one or two loosely held electrons reacts with it. For instance, hydrogen released by a volcano combines with any free oxygen, removing that oxygen from the atmosphere.

    brownish-red rock with sharp ridges

    An ancient komatiite lava from the Komati Valley in South Africa. Notice the tool on the right for scale. Co-authors used these types of lavas from more than 3 billion years ago to learn how the chemistry of the mantle has changed.CSIRO/Wikipedia

    The chemical makeup of Earth's mantle, or softer layer of rock below the Earth's crust, ultimately controls the types of molten rock and gases coming from volcanoes. A less-oxidized early mantle would produce more of the gases like hydrogen that combine with free oxygen. The 2019 paper shows that the mantle became gradually more oxidized from 3.5 billion years ago to today.

    The new study combines that data with evidence from ancient sedimentary rocks to show a tipping point sometime after 2.5 billion years ago, when oxygen produced by microbes overcame its loss to volcanic gases and began to accumulate in the atmosphere.

    "Basically, the supply of oxidizable volcanic gases was capable of gobbling up photosynthetic oxygen for hundreds of millions of years after photosynthesis evolved," said co-author David Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. "But as the mantle itself became more oxidized, fewer oxidizable volcanic gases were released. Then oxygen flooded the air when there was no longer enough volcanic gas to mop it all up."

    This has implications for understanding the emergence of complex life on Earth and the possibility of life on other planets.

    "The study indicates that we cannot exclude the mantle of a planet when considering the evolution of the surface and life of the planet," Kadoya said.

    This research was funded by the National Science Foundation.


    For more information, contact Kadoya at or Catling at

    Read More
  • Analysis: It's time to rethink the disrupted US food system from the ground up | The Conversation
    Friday, June 5, 2020
    "The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic shutdowns have severely disrupted and spotlighted weaknesses in the U.S. food system. Farmers, food distributors and government agencies are working to reconfigure supply chains so that food can get to where it's needed. But there is a hidden, long-neglected dimension that should also be addressed as the nation rebuilds from the current crisis," write the UW's David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences; Jennifer Otten, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences; and Sarah Collier, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences. Read More
  • NSF Plots a Course for the Next Decade of Earth Sciences Research
    Thursday, May 21, 2020
    ESS faculty Kate Huntington is highlighted today for her leadership on the decadal vision for Earth Sciences at NSF, produced by the National Academies. A new report released this week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, "A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020–2030: Earth in Time", lays out recommendations for how the National Science Foundation (NSF) should invest in the next decade of Earth sciences research. The report highlights 12 priority questions for the field to explore from 2020 to 2030, from the deceptively simple “What is an earthquake?” to the more urgent “How can Earth science research reduce the risk and toll of geohazards?”

    Link to full report: Read More