43 news posts related to Environmental Chemistry

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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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Marine organisms use previously undiscovered receptors to detect, respond to light

Students with an oceanography instrument

Just as plants and animals on land are keenly attuned to the hours of sunlight in the day, life in the oceans follows the rhythms of the day, the seasons and even the moon. A University of Washington study finds the biological light switches that make this possible. Single-celled organisms in the open ocean use a diverse array of genetic tools to detect light, even in tiny amounts, and respond, according to a study published the week of Feb. 

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Microbes help unlock phosphorus for plant growth

Poplar trees along the Snoqualmie River

Phosphorus is a necessary nutrient for plants to grow. But when it’s applied to plants as part of a chemical fertilizer, phosphorus can react strongly with minerals in the soil, forming complexes with iron, aluminum and calcium. This locks up the phosphorus, preventing plants from being able to access this crucial nutrient. To overcome this, farmers often apply an excess of chemical fertilizers to agricultural crops, leading to phosphorus buildup in soils. 

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Volcanic activity and changes in Earth’s mantle were key to rise of atmospheric oxygen

Fossils in South Africa

Oxygen first accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere about 2.4 billion years ago, during the Great Oxidation Event. A long-standing puzzle has been that geologic clues suggest early bacteria were photosynthesizing and pumping out oxygen hundreds of millions of years before then. Where was it all going? Something was holding back oxygen’s rise. A new interpretation of rocks billions of years old finds volcanic gases are the likely culprits. 

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Ships’ emissions create measurable regional change in clouds

Pollution from ships create lines of clouds.

A container ship leaves a trail of white clouds in its wake that can linger in the air for hours. This puffy line is not just exhaust from the engine, but a change in the clouds that’s caused by small airborne particles of pollution. New research led by the University of Washington is the first to measure this phenomenon’s effect over years and at a regional scale. 

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