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College of Arts and Sciences Environmental Studies

Researcher warns of possible reprise of worst known drought, famine

Engraving showing the plight of animals as well as humans in Bellary district A Washington State University researcher has completed the most thorough analysis yet of The Great Drought — the most devastating known drought of the past 800 years — and how it led to the Global Famine, an unprecedented disaster that took 50 million lives. She warns that the Earth’s current warming climate could make a similar drought even worse.

Deepti Singh, an assistant professor in the School of the Environment, used tree‑ring data, rainfall records and climate reconstructions to characterize the conditions leading up to the Great Drought, a period of widespread » More …

‘Apple to Glass’ grant supports improving cider industry

Apples and a glass of ciderHard apple cider is growing in popularity around the country, and craft ciders from small cideries are the fastest growing segment of that market.

Equipped with a grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a new group, led by Washington State University researchers, will work with orchardists and cider makers to develop the best apples to make the tasty libation. » More …

Understanding the role of water around the planet

woman seated on rockOn the southern slope of Mount Adams in Washington, Kevan Moffett and her students are working to learn how soils recover moisture following wildfires so that trees and plants can sprout again. The field area has suffered three fires in the last 14 years—the McDonald Ridge fire of 2004, the Cold Springs fire of 2008 and the Cougar Creek burn of 2015.

“With three fires in overlapping areas, we can study field sites that have overlapping fires or just one,” said Moffett, an assistant professor of environmental hydrology at WSU Vancouver. “That’s the whole point of this project: these repeated fires are becoming » More …

Big data on big animals

Work at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center goes well beyond important things like enrichment programs and energy-monitoring collars. WSU scientists are looking at the genomic level to try and determine the myriad ways that bears adapt to their climate.

Joanna Kelley, an evolutionary geneticist and assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences, said for the last two years, her lab has collected three different samples from six of the bears three times a year. Each sample has over 200 million pieces of data, giving them 10.8 billion pieces of data to wade through each » More …

Revealing how bacteria and grasses fix nitrogen

SwitchgrassReducing synthetic fertilizer use, pollution, farming costs, while freeing up nitrogen, mark possible benefits of a research project by Sarah Roley, assistant professor with the School of the Environment, Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Roley, and her two colleagues, recently landed a $483,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation, to pursue a more detailed understanding of how bacteria work with perennial grasses to fix nitrogen. » More …

Student projects earn Summer Scholars awards

Students working in a labFour student projects mentored by College of Arts and Sciences faculty were selected to receive $3,000 each as part of the 2018 WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor’s Summer Scholars program. The projects span environmental and biological sciences, mechanical and electrical engineering, and fine arts.

The Chancellor’s Summer Scholars Program offers students the opportunity to develop skills to » More …

Researchers estimate magma under supervolcano

Washington State University researchers "spike" a Yellowstone hot spring with deuterium, a stable isotope, to calculate water and heat flowing out of the springs and estimate how fast magma is recharging beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano. The material had no environmental impact and was done with a permit from the National Park ServiceWSU geologists have found a new way to estimate how fast magma is recharging beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Scientists now have a better understanding of a key factor of what’s underneath the massive caldera: a pool of basalt magma continually recharging the system.

“It is the coal in the furnace that’s » More …

Wine industry history project earns Boeing graduate fellowship

vineyardFour years ago, on his way home to Walla Walla from school in Arizona, Taylor Hermsen was thumbing through an in-flight magazine when he was struck by an idea for his doctoral research.

“The magazine was all about wine,” Hermsen said. “Being a native of the Inland Northwest, I thought I knew a lot about my home, but the fact that many people visiting eastern Washington are doing so because of the wine industry had never really occurred to me before. I started wondering how it all got going, and the project kind of snowballed from there.” » More …

Researcher encounters rare, elusive beaked whales off coast of Ireland

Rare sighting off the coast of Ireland of elusive beaked whale. (photo by Ashley Bennison)A researcher at WSU Vancouver encountered rare and elusive beaked whales while on a research vessel west of Ireland last month.

Enrico Pirotta, a post doc in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, was on the last days of a six-day cruise when the crew had several sightings. The first sightings were too far away for positive identifications, but on the final day the crew saw four separate groups of breaching whales, according to an online log of the Ireland-based Marine Institute in Galway. » More …

Researchers honored for work on environmental DNA

Collecting water samplesWSU researchers Caren Goldberg, Katherine Strickler, and Alex Fremier are being honored this week for their use of a technique that can detect minute amounts of DNA to see if at-risk species are in an area.

The researchers took the Project of the Year for Resource Conservation and Resiliency award during the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and Environmental Security Technology Certification Program Symposium. » More …