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A new way to curb global warming hides beneath the Earth’s surface

Marc Kramer, an associate professor of environmental chemistry at Washington State University Vancouver, has discovered that one-fourth of carbon within the Earth’s soil is bound to minerals about six feet below the surface. This revelation could lead to new ways to deal with the influx of carbon due to global warming.

Marc Kramer.

Kramer, who made this discovery with help from his colleague Oliver Chadwick, a soil scientist at the University of California Santa Barbara, explained via his study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, that water dissolves organic carbon and pulls in deep into the soil. There, the carbon is physically and chemically bound to certain minerals.

Kramer estimates that 600 billion metric tons (known as gigatons) of carbon is currently underneath the Earth’s surface — that amount is more than twice the carbon added into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. Most of this carbon is underneath the world’s wettest forests, which unfortunately, won’t absorb as much carbon as atmospheric temperatures continue to rise.

This “major breakthrough” discovery, as Kramer called it, is a starting point for the process of moving atmospheric carbon underground as climate change and global warming progresses. However, there is still major work to be done.

“We know less about the soils on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars. Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to actually understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around,” Kramer said. “This finding highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.”

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Ecologists ask: Should we be more transparent with data?

Computational reproducibility—the ability to accurately reproduce outcomes from data sets using the same code and software—will be an increasingly important factor in future scientific studies according to a new paper released in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications.

Stephanie Hampton.
Stephanie Hampton
Stephen Steve Powers.
Stephen Powers

Authors Stephen M. Powers and Stephanie E. Hampton, researchers in environmental science at Washington State University, highlight the importance of adapting to, providing, and using data sets that are open to and usable by the public and investigators in ecology and other field research.

“Increasingly, peers and the public want more transparency,” Powers explains.

Ecologists, finding themselves in an inherently field-oriented science, have long faced the challenge that it is impossible to perfectly repeat observational studies of the natural world—weather conditions vary, populations change over time, and many other conditions in field work are not reproducible. The paper argues that ecologists should focus more on data sharing and transparency in the future in order to increase scientific reproducibility.

An investigator may spend considerable time, effort, and cost attempting to generate results of someone else’s study from scratch. When both data and code used to obtain statistics and results are published, the investigator saves on these efforts, and can even improve or modify the original author’s computer code. Essentially, sharing this information means less time is wasted for reviewers, editors, and authors alike.

It’s not only scientists that benefit from reproducibility and transparency; “In natural resource management and similar policy issues, high transparency is essential to maintain public trust,” says Hampton, who is also director for the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Being open about data and code from the beginning of a project can help scientists minimize post-publication work to share or clarify the products or to answer questions about contentious results from outside audiences.

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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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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