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  • Risk of landslides in western Washington increases as rain subsides | KING 5
    Monday, February 10, 2020
    Experts say while the rain is starting to subside, the risk of landslides will persist due to heavily saturated soils. Alison Duvall, assistant professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Antarctica just hit 65 degrees, its warmest temperature ever recorded | The Washington Post
    Friday, February 7, 2020
    Just days after the earth saw its warmest January on record, Antarctica has broken its warmest temperature ever recorded. A reading of 65 degrees was taken Thursday at Esperanza Base along Antarctica's Trinity Peninsula, making it the ordinarily frigid continent's highest measured temperature in history. Eric Steig, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Old tapes reveal new details of a deadly volcanic outburst | Nature
    Wednesday, February 5, 2020
    Decades-old analogue tapes have yielded unprecedented details of earthquakes that shook Mount St. Helens in the months leading up to its cataclysmic eruption in 1980. Stephen Malone, emeritus research professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is mentioned. Read More
  • 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.

    shiny black balls on red background

    These tiny meteorites, about half a millimeter across, fell into the ocean and were collected from the deep sea. Like the samples used in the new study, these more recent micrometeorites are made of iron.Donald Brownlee/University of Washington

    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.

     

    For more information, contact Lehmer at olehmer@uw.edu or Catling at 206-543-8653 or dcatling@uw.edu.

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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.

     

    Margaret O’Mara

    "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


    Dr. Kemi Doll

    "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


    Robert Winglee

    "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


    Amy Snover

    "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


    We maintain a list of experts on various topicsfor useby journalists and archive the UW mentions in the media on our website.

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  • 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