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Grant supports improving cider industry—‘Apple to Glass’

A new group, led by WSU researchers, will work with orchardists and cider makers to develop the best apples for cider.

Hard 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.

The $500,000 grant, called “Apple to Glass: Improving orchard profitability through developing regional craft ciders” covers three years of funding.

Marcia Ostrom.

“We want to make sure our orchards and cider makers benefit from this new market,” said Marica Ostrom, a professor in WSU’s School of the Environment and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. “We’re aiming to help family-scale orchards and cideries, with the idea being to provide benefits to both groups.”

WSU scientists will work with colleagues in Michigan, Vermont and Wisconsin on the grant. They will conduct needs assessments with orchardists to find out what barriers exist for producing cider apples. They also will host focus groups with cider makers to see what they’re looking for when selecting cider apples.

In addition, researchers will conduct research with consumers to try and understand how to communicate cider features produced in a particular place, much like the concept of “terroir” in wines.

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WSU researcher looks to find solution to fish mortality

A single source is not yet determined, but car tires may be partially to blame.

A WSU researcher is studying how urban stormwater runoff affects fish health.

Jennifer McIntyre.
Jennifer McIntyre

Jenifer McIntyre, assistant professor at the Washington Stormwater Center in Puyallup, Washington, is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

Recent findings show specific fish species react differently to urban runoff, which is a problem for certain fish but not others. Researchers are trying to see how many coho and chum salmon survive to spawn.

Once coho salmon are exposed to urban runoff, they die in a few hours, but chum salmon do not get sick or die. Researchers are not sure why this discrepancy occurs.

“Coho are at risk where we build cities,” McIntyre said.

This is because coho live in lowland areas and do not spawn very far upstream, she said. There are high mortality rates for coho salmon due to urban stormwater runoff because they commonly spawn in creeks near cities.

If coho salmon are not surviving to spawn, there are fewer salmon eggs, McIntyre said. That means fewer salmon are born, which could affect the food chain. This includes the Puget Sound orcas, which commonly feed on coho.

So far, the research has been in the Puget Sound Basin, but researchers plan to do studies outside of the area because the problem has been happening north and south of the their study sites as well.

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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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America’s Lakes Are Losing Their Blue Hue as Waters Shift to Murky Greenish-Brown

Over a five-year period, the country’s number of blue lakes declined by 18 percent, while murky lakes increased by 12 percent.

In 2007, blue lakes represented 46 percent of the freshwater bodies included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Lakes Assessment (NLA). By 2012, this figure had dropped to 28 percent; at the other end of the spectrum, the percentage of murky lakes skyrocketed from 24 percent to 35.4 percent.

Stephanie Hampton.

Researchers from the EPA, Virginia’s Longwood University, and Washington State University relied on NLA data to evaluate the current state of America’s lakes and, according to a press release, assess encroaching murkiness’ “potential negative consequences for water quality and aquatic life.” The team, which includes WSU environmental studies professor Stephanie Hampton, recently released their findings in Limnology and Oceanography.

Color can reveal information about a lake’s nutrient load, algal growth, water quality and surrounding landscape.

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Smithsonian Magazine