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  • Early Earth's climate was more tame than previously thought, suggesting other planets may be suitable for life | Tech Times
    Tuesday, April 3, 2018
    There has yet to be consensus on the climate of early Earth. Different studies have described the planet as an extremely cold snowball, while others have said that it had unimaginable heat on the surface as it was cooling. A new UW study suggests that the climate of Earth was similar to its current climate. Read More
  • Moderate conditions on the early Earth raise the prospects of life elsewhere | IFLScience
    Tuesday, April 3, 2018
    Geologists have spent decades debating the temperatures during the first few hundred million years of Earth's history, as well as the early ocean's chemistry. A new paper provides evidence for relative moderation, similar to the world today. Joshua Krissansen-Totton, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences, is quoted. Read More
  • Life on alien planets? Earth's mild climate history hints at possibility | International Business Times
    Tuesday, April 3, 2018
    A new study presented by a group of researchers at University of Washington hints at a more moderate climatic history for our planet. David Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, and Joshua Krissansen-Totton, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences, are quoted. Read More
  • Earth's stable temperature past suggests other planets could also sustain life
    Monday, April 2, 2018

    Theories about the early days of our planet’s history vary wildly. Some studies have painted the picture of a snowball Earth, when much of its surface was frozen. Other theories have included periods that would be inhospitably hot for most current lifeforms to survive.

    New research from the University of Washington suggests a milder youth for our planet. An analysis of temperature through early Earth’s history, published the week of April 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supports more moderate average temperatures throughout the billions of years when life slowly emerged on Earth.

    “Ideas about the early Earth’s environment are all over the place, from a very hot world, to one locked in a permanent ice age, from a world with acidic oceans to one with seawater so alkaline it would sting your eyes,” said David Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. “These simulations show that our early world had about the same average temperature as today, and a seawater pH within roughly one unit of neutral.”

    image of early Earth with thermometer and pH strip overlaid

    The study significantly narrows the possible temperature of the early Earth to 0 to 50 degrees Celsius. It also finds the ocean’s pH has remained fairly moderate, gradually increasing from a slightly acidic initial value of about 6.6, through the neutral value of 7.0, to today’s slightly alkaline seawater of about 8.1.Joshua Krissansen-Totton/University of Washington

    Previous research studies have put average temperatures during the Archean era, 4 to 2.5 billion years ago, as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius. Other estimates, based on different interpretations of the evidence, have placed average temperatures as high as 85 degrees Celsius, under which only heat-loving microbes that now exist in hot springs could survive.

    The new results put the outer range of possible temperatures at 0 to 50 C (32 to 122 F).

    “Our results show that Earth has had a moderate temperature through virtually all of its history, and that is attributable to weathering feedbacks -- they do a good job at maintaining a habitable climate,” said first author Joshua Krissansen-Totton, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences.

    To create their estimate, the researchers took the most recent understanding for how rocks, oceans and air temperature interact, and put that into a computer simulation of Earth’s temperature over the past 4 billion years. Their calculations included the most recent information for how seafloor weathering occurs on geologic timescales, and under different conditions.

    Though we don’t think of wind and rain wearing away at the seafloor, the seabed is eroded as seawater percolates through rock on the ocean’s floor. Carbon-containing molecules settle out from the water, a process related to the temperature and acidity of the seawater, while other chemicals are dissolved from the rock.

    “Seafloor weathering was more important for regulating temperature of the early Earth because there was less continental landmass at that time, the Earth’s interior was even hotter, and the seafloor crust was spreading faster, so that was providing more crust to be weathered,” Krissansen-Totton said.

    The authors ran simulations for many possible scenarios for the size of the continents, the temperature sensitivity of chemical weathering and other factors to get the full range of possible scenarios for average air temperature and ocean pH through history.

    “We got this initial answer that early Earth had moderate temperatures and slightly acidic ocean pH,” Krissansen-Totton said. “I tried really hard to break that, looking for assumptions that could possibly change that answer. But I found that this is a really robust result. It’s hard to imagine a realistic scenario where temperatures or pH were more extreme.”

    That is good news for the search for life on other planets. If Earth’s temperature was moderate throughout its history, other planets located in the habitable zone must also retain a fairly stable climate long enough for other lifeforms to evolve.

    “There’s nothing particularly remarkable about these processes,” Krissansen-Totton said. “They can occur on any rocky planet with oceans. So other planets that are in the habitable zone are likely to have their climates stabilized to moderate values by these weathering feedbacks. And that’s a good thing for the search for life, because you need moderate temperatures for billions of years to have a stable environment for life to evolve.”

    The results may also help shed light on what conditions were like during the early evolution of life on Earth.

    “The results help us understand how natural processes kept Earth’s environment suitable for life to carry on for billions of years, from its humblest beginnings to the wonderful forms now around us,” Catling said.

    The paper’s other co-author is Giada Arney, a research scientist at NASA who contributed as part of her UW doctorate. The research was funded by NASA and the Simons Foundation.


    For more information, contact Krissansen-Totton at or 206-402-7007 and Catling at

    Grants: NASA: NNX15AR63H, NNA13AA93A, NNX15AL23G, Simons Foundation: 511570

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  • 2018 ESS Awards and Scholarships Applications are OPEN
    Sunday, April 1, 2018
    The awards application for ALL ESS students (MESSAGe grads, research grads, and undergrads) is now available! As you know, every year the ESS Department and our donors provide a number of funding opportunities for our students. Every ESS student should consider applying to these awards! Applications are due by 11PM on Sunday, April 1. Please also save the date for the ESS Awards Ceremony at 3:30PM on Thurs., May 10 in JHN 102. All applicants are expected to attend the Awards Ceremony. We look forward to receiving your applications! Read More
  • How would aliens detect life on Earth? | National Geographic
    Monday, March 26, 2018
    From gases in the atmosphere to satellites in space, Earth is sending plenty of signals that something here is alive. Joshua Krissansen-Totton, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences, is quoted. Read More
  • Not all icebergs are white: Here's what makes them blue, green or striped | ABC News
    Monday, March 26, 2018
    Icebergs can be beautiful and majestic -- but have you ever wondered what gives them their color? Steve Warren, professor of Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, is quoted. Read More
  • University of Washington graduate and professional disciplines rank highly in US News' Best Graduate School lists
    Tuesday, March 20, 2018

    Nearly 50 different graduate and professional programs and specialties at the University of Washington are among the top 10 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report's 2019 Best Graduate School rankings released March 20.

    Several schools and departments placed prominently in the 2019 rankings, including medicine, nursing, social work, computer science and public affairs.

    “From health care and human services, to public policy, to computer science and engineering, the University of Washington is home to world-class learning and discovery, and we are honored that the U.S. News rankings reflect the excellence of our students, faculty and research,” said President Ana Mari Cauce.

    The UW School of Medicine ranked third in the nation in the primary care medical schools category. Medical student training in family medicine and rural medicine ranked No. 1 last year; those two categories were not re-ranked this year. The UW medical school's graduate program in microbiology tied for second in the nation, and its graduate programs in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics ranked fifth.

    At the UW School of Nursing, the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program ranked third, and master's programs in nursing ranked fifth overall. Its family nurse practitioner program tied for first, its pediatric nurse practitioner program ranked third, and its program for training psychiatric/mental health practitioners ranked fourth.

    The UW School of Social Work tied for fifth in the nation.

    The UW's computer science program is considered No. 6 in the country, along with specialties artificial intelligence, which ranked fifth, and programming language and systems, which both ranked sixth.

    The UW's Evans School of Public Policy and Governance ranked in a three-way tie for sixth place. Its environmental policy training ranked second, non-profit management ranked fourth, public finance and budgeting ranked fifth, and public management and leadership tied for seventh place.

    Information about U.S. News & World Report's methodology can be found here.

    Below is a roundup of the UW's graduate and professional school and program rankings that were available under embargo to institutions before the full rankings were published. This list will be updated as more complete rankings become available:

    TOP 10:

    College of Arts & Sciences

    Chemistry (analytical): 8th

    Computer science (overall): Tie for 6th

    Artificial intelligence: 5th

    Programming language: 6th

    Systems: 6th

    Statistics: Three-way tie for 8th

    Physics (nuclear): 4th

    Earth sciences: Three-way tie for 10th

    College of Education (overall): 9th

    Education (administration/supervision): 10th

    Education (curriculum/instruction): 10th

    Education (elementary education): 5th

    Education (secondary education): 9th

    Education (special education): 8th

    College of Engineering

    Engineering (biomedical/bioengineering): Three-way tie for 9th

    Engineering (computer): Three-way tie for 9th

    School of Public Health: 6th (ranked in 2015)

    Biostatistics: Three-way tie for 3rd (ranked in 2015)

    Health care management: Five-way tie for 10th (ranked in 2015)

    Information School

    Library and Information studies: 2nd (ranked in 2017)

    Digital librarianship: 3rd (ranked in 2017)

    Law librarianship: 1st (ranked in 2017)

    Services for children and youth: 2nd (ranked in 2017)

    Information systems: 3rd (ranked in 2017)

    School library media: 7th (ranked in 2017)

    School of Medicine

    Primary care medical schools: 3rd

    Family medicine: 1st (ranked in 2017)

    Rural medicine: 1st (ranked in 2017)

    Pediatrics: Tie for 7th

    Internal medicine: 9th

    Geriatrics: 7th (ranked in 2017)

    Surgery: 8th

    School of Medicine basic science graduate programs

    Microbiology: Tie for 2nd

    Genetics/Genomics/Bioinformatics: 5th

    School of Nursing

    Doctor of Nursing Practice: 3rd

    Nursing master’s (overall): 5th

    Nurse practitioner (family): Tie for 1st

    Nurse practitioner (adult, primary care): 7th

    Nurse practitioner (pediatric, primary care): 3rd

    Nurse practitioner (psychiatric/mental health): 4th

    Pharmacy: Seven-way tie for 9th (ranked in 2016)

    Evans School of Public Policy and Governance

    Public affairs (overall): Three-way tie for 6th

    Environmental policy: 2nd

    Nonprofit management: 4th

    Public finance and budgeting: 5th

    Public management and leadership: Tie for 7th

    School of Social work: Four-way tie for 5th

    School of Speech and Hearing Sciences

    Speech-language pathology: Tie for 3rd (ranked in 2016)

    Audiology: Three-way tie for 4th (ranked in 2016)

    TOP 25:

    Biological sciences: Three-way tie for 23rd

    Chemistry: Six-way tie for 24th

    Computer science (theory): 11th

    Education (psychology): 11th

    Education (policy): 12th

    Engineering (aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical): Four-way tie for 17th

    Engineering (chemical): Tie for 24th

    Engineering (civil): Six-way tie for 17th

    Engineering (electrical): Four-way tie for 21st

    Engineering (environmental/environmental health): Six-way tie for 17th

    Engineering (industrial/manufacturing/systems): Three-way tie for 25th

    Engineering (materials): Three-way tie for 24th

    Fine arts: Seven-way tie for 20th (ranked in 2016)

    Fine arts (ceramics): Tie for 12th (ranked in 2016)

    Foster School of Business (overall): 22nd

    History: Four-way tie for 23rd (ranked in 2017)

    Part-time MBA: Tie for 13th

    Entrepreneurship: Three-way tie for 19th

    Executive MBA: Three-way tie for 23rd

    Marketing: 23rd

    Law (intellectual property law): 18th

    Law (clinical training): Four-way tie for 21st

    Law (tax law): Tie for 17th

    Local government management: Tie for 15th

    Public policy analysis: 11th

    Social policy: 12th

    Urban policy: Three-way tie for 19th

    Health (nursing-midwifery): Three-way tie for 12th (ranked in 2016)

    Mathematics (applied math): 11th

    Mathematics (analysis): 17th

    School of Medicine (medical research schools): Three-way tie for 11th

    Anesthesiology: Tie for 13th

    Obstetrics & gynecology: 15th

    Psychiatry: 11th

    Radiology: Tie for 11th

    Occupational therapy: Three-way tie for 14th (ranked in 2016)

    Physician assistant: Tie for 11th (ranked in 2015)

    Psychology: Seven-way tie for 14th (ranked in 2013)

    Nurse practitioner (adult, acute care): Tie for 13th

    Sociology: Four-way tie for 20th (ranked in 2013)

    Physics: 22nd


    TOP 35:

    Economics: Tie for 35th (ranked in 2013)

    Engineering (overall): Tie for 26th

    Engineering (mechanical): Five-way tie for 30th

    English: Seven-way tie for 35th (ranked in 2017)

    School of Law: Five-way tie for 32nd

    Mathematics: Six-way tie for 26th

    Physical therapy: Eight-way tie for 28th (ranked in 2016)

    Political science: Four-way tie for 33rd (ranked in 2017)


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  • Stephen Hawking's local legacy | KUOW
    Monday, March 19, 2018
    This week the universe lost one of its greatest minds; Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist, helped explain the behavior of black holes and demystify the cosmos for all of us. Erika Harnett, research associate professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is interviewed. Read More
  • New Cascadia quake analysis shows building retrofits would save thousands of lives | The Seattle Times
    Thursday, March 15, 2018
    A Portland-area study finds single-family homes do well and that upgrades to older commercial buildings could slash both casualties and damage. Research from the UW is referenced. Read More