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Forty feet below the surface of Puget Sound, a marbled murrelet dives for its catch. The water is cold, dark — and incredibly noisy. A ping-ping-ping emanates from the shore over second-long intervals and continues on for the next several hours, sending a series of pressure waves through the ocean. For the endangered bird, these sounds could result in anything from a disturbing annoyance to internal injuries or even death.
The pings come from installing marine piles, concrete or steel pipes that are driven into the sediments to hold up piers or other platforms over the sea. Piles are ubiquitous in waterfront cities like Seattle. In the early 2000s, however, researchers began to realize there was a connection between installing piles and the dead fish that turned up floating on the water when they did it: the pile-driving noise was so loud, it was literally killing the surrounding marine life.
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It’s been called global warming’s evil twin. Scientists have pegged it as the culprit behind low shellfish harvests, and some researchers warn that it will kill off some of the main players at the base of the marine food web.
Commonly called ocean acidification, the phenomenon occurs when carbon dioxide infiltrates the sea, changing the water chemistry and thus lowering the pH. And while we usually think of it in the context of a global affliction — it is driven by the same rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that also drives climate change — a report released Monday points out that it is also a local problem, with uniquely local solutions.
In short: If we’re worried about Puget Sound’s acidifying waters, we should clean up the wastewater that we’re pouring into it.
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I’m sitting with my back against a rotting, red log, my chin resting on my knees as I hug them in toward my chest.
I close my eyes, and listen. There’s the drip, drip, drip of rain hitting the hood of my jacket. There’s the sound of leaves rustling as I fidget, trying to find a more comfortable position without sitting on the wet moss and soaking my pants. There’s my own breath, which suddenly seems like an absurdly loud nuisance I can’t escape. In fact, I feel like I’m messing up the very thing I came out here to find: silence.
I’m in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, at a spot that has been christened the “quietest square inch in the United States” by Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who spent more than three decades traveling the globe and making sound records of pristine environments. These days, however, he is more concerned with protecting these soundscapes than in documenting them — starting with the very patch of forest where I’m sitting.
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Sarah Bird is one of the relatively few female leaders in the local tech industry, serving as CEO of Moz, a Seattle-based outfit that helps businesses build up their online presence. And the company’s gender equity doesn’t stop at the top: while, on average only 29 percent of employees at American tech firms identify as female, a whole 40 percent of “Mozzers” are women.
That seems laudable. But Bird sees it differently. “Our gender diversity numbers are still terrible,” she wrote in the 2015 company report.
Bird has emerged as one of the state’s top advocates for achieving a greater gender balance in tech – within her company, at the state legislature in Olympia, and even at the White House. In her eyes, it is an ethical imperative.
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At the 2013 Women Think Next conference in Israel, Microsoft’s head of Human Resources and “chief people person” Lisa Brummel stood before an audience of 500 women who worked in tech. She was wearing a blue button-down shirt: the stereotypical garb of an American businessman.
“I find that men wear these blue shirts all the time,” Brummel said in her opening remarks. “It’s the oddest thing … there’s something about this color blue that keeps cropping up, I don’t know what it is. So my first career advice is please, go buy a blue shirt.”
An openly gay woman at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies until her retirement in December 2014, Brummel’s career path itself made her a pioneer in women’s and LGBT equality. But it’s no secret that the issues of gender imbalances are still well entrenched in the tech field at large – and Microsoft is no exception. According to the company’s most recent diversity report, only 26.8 percent of employees at the company are female. The number dips down to 17.3 percent if you look at leadership positions.
Seattle Aquarium cancels annual Valentine’s Day mating ritual, fearing cephalopods might turn to cannibalism.
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It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, which means one thing: It’s time to show a little love for one of our most enigmatic local creatures from the deep — the giant Pacific octopus. Yes, it’s Octopus Week! Only this time without the sex.
Every February for the past decade, the Seattle Aquarium has hosted this celebration of cephalopods, and these 8-armed mollusks give us plenty to ooh and ah over: shape-shifting abilities that let them squeeze their bulbous bodies through pencil-thin crevices; the ability to instantly change the color and pattern of their skin to blend into their environs; and a surprising cunning and intelligence.
The highlight of Octopus Week is usually the “blind date,” in which the aquarists bring two of their octopuses together to mate in front of a large audience. (Really, I could not make this up.) Unfortunately, the octopus copulation has been cancelled this year — not because it was deemed too sordid an affair, but because staffers were worried that this year, one of the animals might get eaten instead.
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When a doctor determines a patient has a brain tumor, the next step is usually surgery. Knife in hand, the surgeon is soon presented with an inevitable conundrum: how much is the right amount to cut away? Too little and, if the tumor is malignant, the patient will be subjected to more toxic chemotherapy or radiation than necessary. Too much, and the doctor will be slicing into healthy tissue—and possibly causing the patient undue brain damage.
Yet this high-stakes surgical process can be surprisingly rudimentary. “Surgeons don’t have a very good way of knowing when they’re done cutting out a tumor,” Jonathan Liu, a University of Washington assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said in a press release. “They’re using their sense of sight, their sense of touch, pre-operative images of the brain—and oftentimes it’s pretty subjective.”
Which is why research groups and companies around the world have been working to build technology that can distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous cells, right in the operating room. A device developed by Liu’s UW research group, along with partners at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford University and the Barrow Neurological Institute, is on the frontlines.
Spirits were high at Mount Baker Ski Area last Saturday as skiers and snowboarders trickled in to the resort’s White Salmon Lodge after a day on the slopes. The day was bright and clear and the mountain was still laden with the snow from December’s winter storms. But the après-ski fare was a little gloomier than you might expect: a talk about a phenomenon that has potential to kill off the very activity they came here for.
It was the first of a three-part lecture series by University of Washington scientists about global warming in the Pacific Northwest. The brainchild of UW ocean scientist and longtime Baker skier Sarah Myhre, the “1.5 Degrees Series,” named for the target set at the recent United Nations climate summit in Paris to limit warming to just 1.5°C, aims to bring climate science directly to people who have a vested interest in fighting it.
The orca iconography in Puget Sound tourist gift shops borders on sappy, but for those lucky enough to have seen an orca in the flesh, the love of these whales is not so hard to understand. Yet the whale tourism industry may also come with a darker side: Are we literally loving the Southern Resident killer whales to death?
The Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance — a non-profit dedicated to reducing the mortality rates of Puget Sound’s endangered local killer whales — thinks we are, through the demand to see orcas via boat-based whale watching tours. So the organization is pushing for the establishment of a whale protection zone on the west side of San Juan Island, where the orcas frequently hunt and rest.
As Mark Anderson, the group’s founder and chairman, explains, disturbance noise from boats interferes with the sonar the whales use to communicate and to hunt. “It’s like a loud piece of music, right over the frequencies they use,” Anderson says. Putting further restrictions on boats within this zone “would be like giving them a dining room they can use without harassment.”