Showing posts from May, 2017

How much ice? We don't snow!

Last week, I got an awesome question in my inbox from Stella, a 10-year-old from Shoreline, WA: "At its peak, how much of the earth was covered in ice?" First of all, STELLAr question! Second, there are a couple of answers to this question depending on how sure you want scientists to be about the answer. I’ll start with the answer that we’re pretty darn sure about. Ice during the “Last Glacial Maximum” The “Last Glacial Maximum” is the most recent time that the earth experienced a worldwide ice age, which was between 26,000 and 20,000 years ago [ Clark et al. , 2009] . For reference, humans had started making pottery by this time, but we wouldn’t start feeding ourselves through agriculture for another 10,000 years or so. Areas covered by ice during the LGM in grey. Data from  [ Ray and Adams , 2001]     At the Last Glacial maximum, about 1/4 of the Earth's land was covered by ice (compared to about 1/10 now). That might not sound like tha

Seeing the City Through the Trees

Cities are often thought of as forests of metal and concrete, but what if the trees can tell us something about the "forest"? Saba Asefa, a graduate student in the Geology Department at Western Washington University, is using tree leaves to determine pollution levels in two neighborhoods in Seattle: Duwamish Valley and Capitol Hill. Particle pollutants can be harmful to human health and her work gives us a better idea of what types of areas in a city see the most pollution. Saba’s work also informs cities on how to reduce particle pollution in their neighborhoods. Saba Asefa, a graduate student in the Geology Department at Western Washington University How big is the particulate matter we are talking about? REALLY, really small. The EPA is concerned with particles that are less than 10 microns (PM 10 in the image above, blue) and less than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5 in the image above, pink). These particles are so small, the can be breathed into the lungs and

Science for a changing world

In light of the recent funding agreement reached by lawmakers early this month, I would like to talk a bit about why federal science funding matters. As a geologist and lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, I am particularly aware of the importance of the work done by the US Geological Survey in Washington state. USGS funding was potentially on the chopping block for the 2018 federal budget but the Survey was spared cuts, at least until September, when budget negotiations will resume. The necessity of science funding, or at least government-backed science funding, is often called into question but government science entities, like the USGS, provide critical knowledge about the world we live in and improve our quality of life. Although federal science spending is decreasing, the federal government still accounts for almost halfof basic science funding in the US .  This basic science funding creates jobs,improves national security, bolsters local economies, and fuels new d