Is potassium a key to understanding the ocean’s past?

Yan working in the lab.

When looking at a periodic table, potassium might not be the first element you’re drawn to – distracted instead by gold, copper or silver. But a new paper published in Science Advances suggests we should be paying more attention to this abundant substance. The study – with first author Yan Hu, a recent graduate student and postdoctoral researcher in the UW Department of Earth and Space Sciences and now at Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris – advances our ability to trace potassium isotopes at high precision, unleashing a suite of potential applications ranging from measuring past climates to further understanding ocean chemistry. 

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A whale murder mystery in the Arctic

A group of bowhead whales.

From a small aircraft flying over the Pacific Arctic, scientists with the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project surveyed the movements and interactions of marine mammals for more than four decades. Observations and images from these surveys offer clues informing our understanding of the lives, and deaths, of marine mammals in this remote region. A new study, published in Polar Biology and led by researchers at the University of Washington’s Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and Ecosystem Studies (CICOES), is particularly interested in the ‘death’ part of those survey observations, and has uncovered the first direct evidence of killer whales as the primary cause of death for one of the Arctic’s endangered species, bowhead whales of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort seas stock. 

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