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Ep. 43: A reality check on regenerative agriculture | Undark
Monday, February 3, 2020
Farmers and researchers are testing the environmental and economic claims about a new type of agriculture. David Montgomery, a professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is interviewed. Read More
Tiny, ancient meteorites suggest early Earth's atmosphere was rich in carbon dioxide
Monday, January 27, 2020
Very occasionally, Earth gets bombarded by a large meteorite. But every day, our planet gets pelted by space dust, micrometeorites that collect on Earth’s surface.
A University of Washington team looked at very old samples of these small meteorites to show that the grains could have reacted with carbon dioxide on their journey to Earth. Previous work suggested the meteorites ran into oxygen, contradicting theories and evidence that the Earth’s early atmosphere was virtually devoid of oxygen. The new study was published this week in the open-access journal Science Advances.
“Our finding that the atmosphere these micrometeorites encountered was high in carbon dioxide is consistent with what the atmosphere was thought to look like on the early Earth,” said first author Owen Lehmer, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences.
At 2.7 billion years old, these are the oldest known micrometeorites. They were collected in limestone in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and fell during the Archean eon, when the sun was weaker than today. A 2016 paper by the team that discovered the samples suggested they showed evidence of atmospheric oxygen at the time they fell to Earth.
That interpretation would contradict current understandings of our planet’s early days, which is that oxygen rose during the “Great Oxidation Event,” almost half a billion years later.
Knowing the conditions on the early Earth is important not just for understanding the history of our planet and the conditions when life emerged. It can also help inform the search for life on other planets.
“Life formed more than 3.8 billion years ago, and how life formed is a big, open question. One of themost important aspects is what the atmosphere was made up of -- what was available and what the climate was like,” Lehmer said.
The new study takes a fresh look at interpreting how these micrometeorites interacted with the atmosphere, 2.7 billion years ago. The sand-sized grains hurtled toward Earth at up to 20 kilometers per second. For an atmosphere of similar thickness to today, the metal beads would melt at about 80 kilometers elevation, and the molten outer layer of iron would then oxidize when exposed to the atmosphere. A few seconds later the micrometeorites would harden again for the rest of their fall. The samples would then remain intact, especially when protected under layers of sedimentary limestone rock.
The previous paper interpreted the oxidization on the surface as a sign that the molten iron had encountered molecular oxygen. The new study uses modeling to ask whether carbon dioxide could have provided the oxygen to produce the same result. A computer simulation finds that an atmosphere made up of from 6% to more than 70% carbon dioxide could have produced the effect seen in the samples.
“The amount of oxidation in the ancient micrometeorites suggests that the early atmosphere was very rich in carbon dioxide,” said co-author David Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences.
For comparison, carbon dioxide concentrations today are rising and are currently at about 415 parts per million, or 0.0415% of the atmosphere’s composition.
High levels of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, would counteract the sun’s weaker output during the Archean era. Knowing the exactconcentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could help pinpoint air temperature and and acidity of the oceans during that time.
More of the ancient micrometeorite samples could help narrow the range of possible carbon dioxide concentrations, the authors wrote. Grains that fell at other times could also help trace the history of Earth’s atmosphere through time.
“Because these iron-rich micrometeorites can oxidize when they are exposed to carbon dioxide or oxygen, and given that these tiny grains presumably are preserved throughout Earth’s history, they could provide a very interesting proxy for the history of atmospheric composition,” Lehmer said.
Other co-authors are Donald Brownlee, a UW professor emeritus of astronomy; Roger Buick, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences; and Sarah Newport, a former UW undergraduate who is now at Rutgers University. The research was funded by NASA, the UW Astrobiology Program, the UW Virtual Planetary Laboratory and the Simons Foundation’s Collaboration on the Origins of Life.
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