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WSU researcher sees huge carbon sink in soil minerals

A Washington State University researcher has discovered that vast amounts of carbon can be stored by soil minerals more than a foot below the surface. The finding could help offset the rising greenhouse-gas emissions helping warm the Earth’s climate.

Marc Kramer.

Marc Kramer, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at WSU Vancouver, reports his finding in one of two related papers demonstrating how the right management practices can help trap much of the carbon dioxide that is rapidly warming the planet.

Soil holds more than three times the carbon found in the atmosphere, yet its potential in reducing atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels and mitigating global warming is barely understood.

Kramer, who is a reviewer for one of three reports issued with the federal National Climate Assessment released last week, compared what we know about soil to how little we know about the deep ocean.

“Hardly anyone has been down there and they just found a new species of octopus” he said. “We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about either oceans or soils on Earth”

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Science Magazine

From crystals to climate: ‘Gold standard’ timeline links flood basalts to climate change

About 16 million years ago an enormous volcano erupted in the Pacific Northwest, pouring lava across what’s now Washington, Oregon and Idaho, ultimately burying the region to the height of a 30-story building.

Before now, most geologists believed that it took almost 2 million years to erupt all that lava, collectively known as “the Columbia River flood basalts.” But new research shows it happened more than twice as fast as previously believed, with 95 percent erupting within a 750,000-year window.

Stephen Reidel.
Stephen Reidel

“This is the most significant paper to come out about the Columbia River flood basalts in a decade or two,” said Stephen Reidel, a research professor of geology at Washington State University-Tri-Cities, who has studied these lava flows since 1972 and contributed to the study analysis.

The researchers “deserve a lot of compliments for thinking to look at the zircons in the ash beds between the flows…,” he said. “Of course, now we’re going to have to go back and re-calculate everything that used the old timeline or eruption rate. That’s okay — that’s part of the fun.”

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Science Magazine
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Science on Tap: WSUV professor to share Ebola experiences

The first social scientist to be invited by the World Health Organization to help Ebola control efforts works right here in Clark County.

Barry Hewlett.
Barry Hewlett

Barry Hewlett, an anthropology professor at Washington State University Vancouver, visited Central Africa to help the WHO in 2000, and he has visited the continent about five times as part of response efforts.

Hewlett will share stories on his experience, and how he worked to develop trust between local communities and the international and national response teams, at 7 p.m. Wednesday for Science on Tap at Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver.

When Hewlett first arrived, there was some apprehension from locals when it came to dealing with those response teams.

“The number of cases was going up, even though they were doing everything they thought they needed to do,” Hewlett said. “People were essentially running away from the World Health Organization treatment centers, isolation units and the rest. So the thought is, ‘What’s going on here?’ ”

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Scientists Race To Research Stonefly Species Threatened By Climate Change

Scientists know very little about a species of stonefly that can only be found in the alpine streams of the Grand Teton Mountain Range: the Lednia tetonica.

It was discovered in 2012. But as climate change slowly melts glaciers and threatens the aquatic insect’s habitat, researchers are trying to learn as much as they can about the species, before it disappears.

Scott Hotaling squats on a rock at the edge of a glacier and mountain

Scott Hotaling looks for stoneflies in a stream under Skillet Glacier. Photo by Taylor Price

On a cold morning at a Grand Teton campground, three scientists prepared to do just that by packing their bags for an expedition.

Scott Hotaling, a post-doctoral scholar in biological sciences at Washington State University, got out of his green Subaru and said, “it’s about 6 am, people are just starting to wake up and we’re heading to the Skillet Glacier later today.”

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Wyoming Public Media

How Money Affects Elections

To quote the great political philosopher Cyndi Lauper, “Money changes everything.” And nowhere is that proverb more taken to heart than in a federal election, where billions of dollars are raised and spent on the understanding that money is a crucial determinant of whether or not a candidate will win.

This year, the money has been coming in and out of political campaigns at a particularly furious pace. Collectively, U.S. House candidates raised more money by Aug. 27 than House candidates raised during the entire 2014 midterm election cycle, and Senate candidates weren’t far behind. Ad volumes are up 86 percent compared to that previous midterm. Dark money — flowing to political action committees from undisclosed donors — is up 26 percent.

Travis Ridout.
Travis Ridout

Presumably, all that money is going to buy somebody an election. In reality, though, Lauper isn’t quite right. Political scientists, such as Travis Ridout, professor of government and public policy at Washington State University, say there’s not a simple one-to-one causality between fundraising and electoral success. Turns out, this market is woefully inefficient. If money is buying elections a lot of candidates are still wildly overpaying for races they were going to win anyway. And all of this has implications for what you (and those big dark money donors) should be doing with your political contributions.

Overall, advertising ends up being the major expense for campaigns, said Ridout. In 2012 and 2014, the average Senate campaign spent 43 percent of its budget on ads, he told me, and the average House campaign spent 33 percent. Presidential races spend an even bigger chunk of their budgets on advertising. In 2012, for instance, ads made up more than 70 percent of President Obama’s campaign expenses and 55 percent of Mitt Romney’s.

This is a really tough thing to study, Ridout said, and it’s only getting harder as media becomes more fragmented and it’s less clear who saw what ad how many times and in what context. But it’s also something people have been studying for a long time. Driven by fears that attack ads might undermine democracy by reducing voter turnout, researchers have been looking at the impacts of negative advertising since the 1990s. And, beginning around the mid-2000s, they began making serious progress on understanding how ads actually affect whether people vote and who they vote for. The picture that’s emerged is … well … let’s just say it’s probably rather disappointing to the campaigns that spend a great deal of time and effort raising all that money to begin with.

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