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Rock Doc column: Mercury lingers from good old days
December 3, 2013

By E. Kirsten Peters, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Peters-e-k-2010-80PULLMAN, Wash. – When I was a younger and more sprightly woman, I spent part of my life investigating unusual hot springs in rural California. They were salty and quite stinky springs out in the middle of nowhere, and several of them occurred right in the center of an old gold-laced mercury deposit.

Rock Doc column: Clues lead to source of huge eruption
October 29, 2013

By E. Kirsten Peters, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences

Peters-e-k-2010-80PULLMAN, Wash. – When I was a child, I read a lot of murder mysteries. At a young age I favored the books featuring Miss Marple by Agatha Christie. When I was a bit older I fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey in the books by Dorothy Sayers.

Longevity of dogs shorter than owners would like
September 24, 2013

PULLMAN, Wash. – It’s just a fact: most of us outlive our dogs. Indeed, for people who are dog owners throughout their lives, a lot of grieving is guaranteed. Fido #1 dies, is replaced by Fido #2 who also dies, and so on down the long line of dogs in our households.

The sun is switching poles
September 17, 2013

Kirsten Peters, Rock Doc

As an aging citizen of Scandinavian descent, I dread this time of year. Each evening the sun sets significantly earlier. Deep in the bones of us northern people is the notion that summertime is the season of life and hope while winter is, well, cold and horribly dark.

This week all of the globe enjoys roughly 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of night.

The “reason for the season” relates to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. During summertime, our planet’s north pole points mildly toward the sun and … » More …

Progress in fighting wheat rust
August 20, 2013

Kirsten Peters, WSU, Rock DocPULLMAN, Wash. – Scientists have been hard at work in recent years combatting a significant disease of wheat. Stem rust is caused by a group of nasty fungal organisms that can infect wheat plants and devastate yields. In some cases up to 100% of the crop can be lost. That’s a disaster for farmers, obviously, but it’s also potentially an enormous problem for those of us who eat bread, hotcakes and muffins, and who want to keep such foodstuffs in our diet.

Ug99 an enormous threat

The battle between stem rust and … » More …

Fossil discovery bolsters dino of kiddies’ nightmares
August 13, 2013

PULLMAN, Wash. – What are the odds?

That was my thought when I read recent accounts of a very special fossil from the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota.

Here’s some background: if you saw the movie Jurassic Park, you may think that Tyrannosaurus rex was the biggest predator of all time. That’s certainly the way the movie portrays the 40-foot-long dinosaur that could weigh seven tons.

But there’s actually been a long debate in scientific circles about whether T. rex was a predator chasing down live prey or a scavenger feasting on dead carcasses.

A number of scientists have thought T. … » More …

A simpler, cheaper technology for solar panels
August 6, 2013

PULLMAN, Wash. – I recently pulled some weeds in my yard. Sometimes I’m glad to have a little simple work where I can see progress, even if the effects of my labor are only temporary.

I can only do a little bit at a time, having to take it slow due to arthritic knees. But one thing about pulling weeds in August stands out even when taken in small doses: it’s hot work.

With the sun beating down, warming the whole nation, it’s easy to wonder if solar power will some day replace fossil fuels as our mainstay energy resource. That could be … » More …

Medieval monks’ records, volcanoes and climate
July 30, 2013

PULLMAN, Wash. – Ireland enjoys a mild and stable climate. But even in Ireland there are years that stand out as unusual.

 

Recently a team of researchers led by Harvard University’s Francis Ludlow announced results of a study of Ireland’s climate based on the Irish Annals, a body of writings containing more than 40,000 entries.

 

Part of the Irish Annals.

The annals record events from 431 to 1649 A.D. During the medieval period they were written by monks. From the 1200s some entries were written by historians of the wealthy and aristocratic families of the period. Toward … » More …

Stalagmites speak of climate history
July 16, 2013

PULLMAN, Wash. – Caves fascinate people. I visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico as a kid when my family was on a summer vacation. Maybe that early exposure to the wonders of what geologic processes can do helped influence my decision to study natural science in college.

With any luck, you’ve been in a big cave at some point, and maybe you’ve exposed a kid or two to the wonders of these sometimes enormous holes in the rocky rind of our planet.

Some of the interesting features of certain caves are the column-like attributes that … » More …