How social science is continuing to change and improve marine ecosystem conservation and management: Part I

This article was originally published in The Skimmer.

In 2017, MEAM (now The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management) interviewed 17 social science and interdisciplinary researchers from around the world to learn how their work could improve marine conservation and management practice. Since then, the social science of marine management has developed further in these areas and branched out in many other valuable directions. In this issue of The Skimmer and the next, we update our previous coverage by interviewing an ensemble of other social science and interdisciplinary researchers doing innovative social science work with great potential to improve (or a proven track record) of improving marine conservation and management practice. This work ranges from the use of cognitive mapping to create mental models of how fishers in the Caribbean view and organize the world…to testing how “nudges” could cost-effectively increase compliance with conservation regulations…to innovating how communities participate in marine planning processes to reduce feelings of exclusion and suspicion.

Here is the first set of interviews. As with last time, we hope that you find these research and practice profiles as energizing and inspiring for your own work as we found editing them.

Yoshitaka Ota and Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor: Without new scholarship on ocean governance and equity, we risk a future that further separates the haves and have-nots

Editor’s note: Yoshitaka Ota is the director of the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center and a research assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. He can be contacted at Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor is deputy director of the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center and a research associate at the University of British Columbia Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. He can be contacted at and on Twitter @AndresMCisneros.

What we are working on: Working with partners all over the world, we have created the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at the University of Washington EarthLab. We do research on oceans, but our focus is on people. Our aim is to close the gap of inequality over the long term and meet the urgent needs of people today. We will do this by recognizing the root causes of inequity; recovering an equitable approach to managing human-oceans activities; and ultimately building new evidence, tools, and narratives that reverse these harms and create a future where oceans are for all people.

Potential and observed influence: After spending a decade working on interdisciplinary socio-ecological research with the Nereus Program to predict the future state of our oceans, it was clear and unsurprising that global environmental changes will negatively impact sustainability – the ability to sustain habitat, biodiversity, and cultural landscapes; protect traditional stewardship; and maintain livelihoods and food sovereignty in coastal communities. What is even more important is that this work has revealed systemic inefficiencies within ocean governance. Decision-makers are unable to respond to sustainability issues in ways that do not exacerbate inequalities between those who benefit from the oceans and those who do not. There are limited governance structures for empowering economically and politically marginalized oceans populations – the people who will be disproportionally affected by the very environmental problems we are trying to solve. Without new scholarship on ocean governance and equity, we risk a future that further separates the haves and have-nots.

To avoid this future, management options must be examined within a much broader context of political powers and social organizations. This does not mean we are getting away from protecting the health of our oceans, but we must prioritize people within the ecosystem that we are trying to improve. In terms of marine management, we must reassess how we make decisions. The usual order linking climate, environment, economy, society, and a policy response may not be the appropriate model. Solutions based on a domino or donut theory, always starting from environmental changes, may fail as an adaptation policy and furthermore cause imbalanced burdens and injustice in our relationships with the oceans (and with each other).

Applicability of this work elsewhere: We view this approach as scalable to other environmental issues because it asks the question: shall humans use and control the environment for our own good or shall we learn to live in harmony for our environment?

Learn more: Learn more about the Ocean Nexus Center and its work here.

To read the other interviews, visit the full article here.

Washington Commissioner’s Climate Summit Highlighted Area, Global Vulnerabilities

Photo by Issy Bailey on Unsplash

“The insurance buying public wants to know that insurance is going to be available and affordable to them when they need it.”

That was the take-home message from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who hosted a half-day virtual summit on climate change on Wednesday.

“We expect to see the area burned by wildfires in Washington quadruple by the 2040s.” – Amy Snover

The Climate Summit 2020 featured a host of experts talking about climate change, its impact on the Pacific Northwest, and the globe, as well as steps being taken to mitigate the impacts of a warming world.

Kreidler has in the past pushed the insurance industry to do more to address climate change, including calling for greater insurer disclosure on climate risk. He founded the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Climate Risk and Resilience Working Group in 2007 and has been the chair since its inception.

He said he worries about insurance consumers, and that as large wildfires continue to become the norm, and flooding becomes more frequent, the insurance industry may look at withdrawing from risker areas.

“At that point, you become very vulnerable,” Kreidler said.

Other presenters at the conference included Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability for Amazon.

Hurst discussed the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative, which is intended to accelerate sustainability research in partnership with organizations like NOAA, NASA and the U.K. Met Office.

She said Amazon’s goal is to reach zero carbon emissions in the next few years. As part of that goal, the company has launched 90 solar and wind projects globally, and is on a path to do more each year.

“We’re going to reach 100% renewable by 2025,” Hurst said.

Michelle Lancaster, director of sustainability for Microsoft Corp., said the software giant is working on addressing four areas: carbon, water, waste and the ecosystem.

The company plans to operate “carbon negative” by 2030.

“That’s a big target,” she said. “Somewhere on the order of 16 million metric tons of carbon that we have to reduce or replace by 2030.”

Another Microsoft goal is to be “water positive,” replenishing more water than used, by 2030, and be zero waste by 2030, she added.

She also talked about the company’s “planetary computer,” also being called AI for Earth, to help the world become more sustainable.

“We think that’s really the tip of the spear of what Microsoft can do in this marketplace,” Lancaster said.

Amy Snover is the director of the Climate Impacts Group and the university leader of Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. Both organizations are members of EarthLab.

Dr. Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group and Northwest Climate Adaption Science Center at the University of Washington, said temperatures in the Northwest have been increasing since 1800s, the snowpack is declining, glaciers are shrinking, the timing of stream flow is changing in rivers, sea level rise is affecting Washington’s coast, and coastal waters are warming and acidifying.

“We’re also seeing a large number of fires and area burned has increased in the Northwest in the last couple of years,” she said, noting that dryer fuel is leading to worse wildfires because of human-caused warming. “We expect to see the area burned by wildfires in Washington quadruple by the 2040s.”

What’s worse, she added, is “we’re headed for significant change.” She also said models suggest increased flooding should be expected inland.

Projections show that the river flows in Puget Sound’s 12 largest rivers are expected to rise between 18% to 55% by the 2080s.

Other summit speakers included Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians, Francis Bouchard, Group Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability for Zurich Insurance, Sherri Goodman, with the Polar Institute and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

This article was originally published in Insurance Journal.

Justice and sustainability: Geographer focusing on fair ocean governance in international project

From our economy to our culture and health, our interactions with the ocean are a part of our daily lives in Newfoundland and Labrador.



It is only fitting, then, that Memorial University is one of the research universities that is part of the Ocean Nexus Center.

Based at the University of Washington EarthLab and in collaboration with the Nippon Foundation, Ocean Nexus is an international network of interdisciplinary researchers with a focus on justice and sustainability.

“I’m leading some of the Nexus work primarily thinking about the oceans as they relate to our planning for sustainable development and achievement of sustainable development goals,” said Dr. Gerald Singh, who began as faculty in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, in August 2019. Dr. Singh is deputy director of research and represents Memorial in Ocean Nexus, a 10-year, (USD)$32.5-million project.

“Memorial will kind of be the hub for a lot of the international work on that,” he said.

Ocean Nexus

Ocean Nexus focuses on five major themes: ocean and human health; ocean economy and livelihood; ocean people and society; fair ocean governance; and ocean climate and extreme events.

Dr. Singh’s work with PhD students and post-doctoral researchers at Memorial will focus on ocean governance in Canada. The interdisciplinary scope includes fisheries management related to climate change and potential environmental impact of offshore oil and gas development.

Interdisciplinary work is valuable, says Dr. Singh, who is also a former fellow of the Nippon Foundation in Japan.

“I do a lot of work on risk and human impacts on the ocean, and what that means for the benefits people derive from ocean ecosystems and marine systems,” he said. “I also increasingly do a lot of work at the intersection of fisheries and planning for sustainable development.”


Dr. Singh moved to St. John’s and Memorial from Vancouver to join the Ocean Frontier Institute, a research network of Atlantic Canadian universities. That was an exciting opportunity, he says. But meeting his colleagues in the Department of Geography and across the university also influenced his decision.

“It was one of the most collegial working environments I’ve ever experienced.”

Environmental changes in our oceans have widespread effects across all sectors of society, he says. Studying those effects reveals solutions that don’t further marginalize those at risk when oceans change. Dr. Singh’s role with Ocean Nexus helps place Memorial at the forefront of those important discussions.

“There’s a lot of good work done out here on emerging coastal development and ways to use different sustainable development planning tools,” Dr. Singh.

“We’ll definitely be able to use some of that existing expertise.”

This article was originally published in the Memorial Gazette.

EarthLab’s ‘Voices Unbound’ second season talks of social tensions from COVID-19

This article was originally published in UW News.

Voices Unbound: Enviro-Amplify” is a podcast created by EarthLab and UW Tacoma, and hosted by Robin Evans-Agnew associate professor in the school’s Nursing and Healthcare Leadership Program. The podcast has now published its second season.

“In this series opener we go way-deep into the social tensions of our time,” show notes say, “discussing how racism in law enforcement and governmental responses to the COVID-19 epidemic contribute important environmental threats to communities in our region and elsewhere.”

The podcast also will continue to report on its analysis of answers to questions posed since 2019 about public attitudes toward environmental challenges.

Principal investigators for the work are Evans-Agnew and Christopher Schell, urban ecologist and assistant professor in UW Tacoma’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.

Read an earlier UW Notebook story about this podcast. For more information, contact Evans-Agnew at

As Wildfire Smoke Clears, King County’s Airport Communities Continue Fight for Clean Air

This article was originally published in The Seattle Times.

Through thick haze from fires, a plane taxis to a runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Sept. 15. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

SEATAC — As massive clouds of smoke from wildfires throughout the region obscured the sky last week, SeaTac Deputy Mayor Peter Kwon filtered the air in his own home by attaching a furnace filter to a box fan and then duct-taping a triangular piece of cardboard over the gaps. When the air quality index (AQI) rose to 225 last week, Kwon said that his contraption reduced the living room to below 50 AQI.

The ultrafine particles from aviation and roadway traffic had long concerned Kwon, who lives about a half-mile from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: While recent wildfires have forced residents across Western Washington to experience the hazards of poor air quality, Kwon and others who live in communities surrounding the airport say they’ll continue to face a year-round threat to their air from aviation-related pollution.

Three months ago, Kwon joined three other residents who had installed air monitors on their properties near the airport by placing one outside of his home. Their findings, documented in the citizen-gathered Purple Air Map, came as no surprise to him: “The air quality around the airport is not as clean as areas farther away,” he said.

He believes the addition of smoke pollution could form a toxic cocktail that would exacerbate respiratory diseases such as COVID-19. “One of the problems is that SeaTac has historically had poor air quality. So with the wildfires, the poor air quality has just skyrocketed,” Kwon said.

As wildfires become more common along the West Coast, residents of airport communities such as SeaTac, Burien and Des Moines fear they will be harder hit by pollution. In the future, cities under flight paths will need to become “smoke ready,” said Elena Austin, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s department of environmental and occupational health sciences. “But they’re also going to have to develop ways to be resilient to the air and road traffic impact on their communities.”

Local politicians, residents, and researchers are working with airport communities throughout the nation to study the effects of air pollutants, as well as brainstorm solutions for homes and schools. For the Port of Seattle’s part, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has electrified hundreds of ground vehicles and encouraged Uber and Lyft to reduce carbon emissions by switching to hybrid or electric cars.

“We recognize that the local communities have the impact from the airport,” said Perry Cooper, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s media relations manager.

Still, concerned residents say more drastic changes are needed to address the potentially harmful effects of particles seeping into windows and doorways.

“The impact that’s difficult for people living near the airport is that they already experience and perceive poorer air quality,” said Austin. “So that creates challenges in a search for safe and healthy spaces.”

Wildfire smoke particles are much larger than pollutants emitted from airplanes. For that reason, the aircraft ultrafine particles are more likely to infiltrate the indoors, said Austin, adding that smoke still seeps in.

It is difficult to measure the combined effects of various pollutants during wildfire seasons. Air quality index monitors mostly measure the largest particles in the air, which is the wildfire smoke, said Austin, while ultrafine particles from aviation and ground traffic do not influence the value.

Still, the particle pollution has widespread impacts. SeaTac ranked 14 for 24-hour particle pollution out of 216 cities in The American Lung Association’s State of the Air report. Exposure to air pollution has been shown to cause “delays in psychomotor development, lower IQ in elementary school children, increased risk for autism, greater anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit related problems during childhood,” cited a recent state Department of Health summary of health research on ultrafine particles.

Meanwhile, SeaTac has among the highest percentage of positive COVID-19 cases in the county, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County, at 2,070 per 100,000 compared to King County’s 964 per 100,000.

Environmental advocates argue that the area’s shorter life expectancy compared to King County’s average indicates that residents are living in unhealthy conditions.

“We have a perfect chemical zoo of potential respiratory problems,” said former Burien City Councilmember Debi Wagner. She’s now a member of the Burien Airport Committee, where she advises the City Council on matters concerning the airport, as well as the nonprofit Quiet Skies Coalition.

Wagner started researching airport emissions about two decades ago, when she said she awoke in her quiet Des Moines home to a “war zone” as hundreds of jets suddenly flew overhead every day.

A two-year UW study released last December study shows that ultrafine particles emitted by aircrafts impact communities under their flight paths. This graphic is from the report. (University of Washington)

“As wildfires are becoming the norm, airport communities need mitigation more critically than other areas because we’re living with a much lower quality of air and life,” said Wagner, now a Burien resident.

About three years ago, SeaTac lobbied the State of Washington to fund an air quality study in the vicinity of the airport. That led to a two-year UW study co-authored by Austin and released last December, funded by the Washington State Legislature and the Port of Seattle. The study showed that ultrafine particles emitted by aircrafts impact communities under their flight paths.

UW plans to launch a second phase of the study that will rely on drones to measure the effect of vegetation on ultrafine particles. Researchers hope the study will offer insight on the role of urban planning programs that use greenery to mitigate particulate air pollution.

Last year, the state Legislature voted to create another commercial airport in Washington, which Kwon hopes will reduce layover flights at Sea-Tac that contribute to air pollution. “The reality is that Sea-Tac airport is so small: There’s a physical size limit of the airport because it’s surrounded by developed land,” he said.


Black scientists call out racism in the field and counter it

This 2020 photo provided by Tanisha Williams shows her in Lewisburg, Pa. Williams, a botanist at Bucknell University, knows exactly which plants she’s looking for. But after being questioned by strangers in public parks, Williams, who is Black, has started carrying her field guides with her. “I’ve been quizzed by random strangers,” she said. “Now I bring my wildflower books and botanical field guides, trying to look like a scientist. It’s for other people. I wouldn’t otherwise lug these books.” (Tanisha Williams via AP)


This article was originally published by the Associated Press.

University of Washington ecologist Christopher Schell is studying how coronavirus shutdowns have affected wildlife in Seattle and other cities. But when planning fieldwork, he also thinks about how he’s perceived in neighborhoods where he installs wildlife cameras.

“I wear the nerdiest glasses I have and often a jacket that has my college logo, so that people don’t mistake me for what they think is a thug or hooligan,” said Schell, who is African American.

The recent episode of a white woman calling the police on a Black birder in New York’s Central Park shocked many people. But for Black environmental scientists, worrying about whether they are likely to be harassed or asked to justify their presence while doing fieldwork is a familiar concern.

Tanisha Williams, a botanist at Bucknell University, knows exactly which plants she’s looking for. But after being questioned by strangers in public parks, Williams, who is Black, has started carrying her field guides with her.

“I’ve been quizzed by random strangers,” she said. “Now I bring my wildflower books and botanical field guides, trying to look like a scientist. It’s for other people. I wouldn’t otherwise lug these books.”

This 2016 photo provided by Tanisha Williams shows her in Cape Town, South Africa. (Beatrix D. Fields/Tanisha Williams via AP)

Overt harassment and subtle intimidation during fieldwork compound the discrimination that Black scientists and those from other underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds already feel in academic settings.

Now researchers in the environmental sciences are increasingly raising issues of discrimination and marginalization in the wake of a national reckoning on race. They are also pointing out how a lack of diversity among scientists can lead to flawed or incomplete research.

National Science Foundation survey found that in 2016, scholars who identified as Black or African American were awarded just 6% of all doctorates in life sciences, and less than 3% of doctorates in physical and Earth sciences. Students who identified as Hispanic or Latino were awarded less than 8% of doctorates in life sciences and about 5% of doctorates in physical and Earth sciences. According to the most recent census, Black people make up 13.4% of the population, and Latinos 18.5%.

“The issue is not lack of interest” on the part of students from the underrepresented groups, said the University of Washington’s Scott Freeman, who studies educational pipelines to degrees in science, technology, engineering or math. But many of those students come from families with fewer financial resources and face gaps in access to secondary education that is geared toward the sciences or college preparation. Those factors can influence how well they perform in freshman general chemistry — considered a gateway course for pursuing these so-called STEM majors.

It’s possible to decrease the impact of these disadvantages by adjusting teaching styles, such as replacing traditional large lectures with hands-on learning, according to Freeman’s research. And students from underrepresented backgrounds who overcome initial obstacles are “ hyper persistent ” in their studies, continuing at higher rates in STEM fields compared with their white peers, he found.

Addressing these gaps has taken on new urgency as the U.S. confronts systemic racism in the wake of nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

At a meeting this summer of the Society for Conservation Biology North America, one panel was devoted to “why conservation science needs to prioritize racial and social justice.” Hundreds of scientists have joined a wider discussion among academics about racism, posting their personal experiences of discrimination under the Twitter hashtag #BlackintheIvory, referring to the ivory tower.

But environmental scientists must confront discrimination not just in the halls of academia but in the field as well.

Carnivore ecologist Rae Wynn-Grant, a fellow at the National Geographic Society, said she has to put her “feelings aside” when her fieldwork takes her to places where she encounters racist symbols. While driving in rural Maryland to study bears, Wynn-Grant, who is Black, passed several Confederate flags and a cloth doll of a lynched man hanging from a tree.

“This is the extra labor Black people have to do in order to participate in something they’re interested in,” she said.

Many researchers say that exposing middle school and high school students to scientists from diverse backgrounds is essential to combating systemic racism.

“Growing up, the only Black botanist I’d heard of was George Washington Carver,” said Williams, the scientist at Bucknell, who helped organize a Twitter campaign to highlight the achievements of Black botanists.

Itumeleng Moroenyane, a doctoral student at the National Institute of Scientific Research in Quebec, grew up in post-apartheid South Africa and said he was the only Black botany student in his university’s graduating class. Moroenyane now makes it a priority to mentor younger Black scholars.

This 2019 photo provided by Itumeleng Moroenyane shows him in Laval, Quebec, Canada. (Itumeleng Moroenyane via AP)

Corina Newsome said her passion for biology started during a high school internship at the Philadelphia Zoo, where a zookeeper who mentored her was the first Black scientist she had met.

Now an ornithologist at Georgia Southern University, Newsome, who is Black, said institutions can promote diversity by helping students find mentors and offering paid internships. “To enter wildlife studies, you are often expected to do a lot of free labor and free internships early in your career,” she said. “This automatically excludes many people.”

Empowering ecologists and other researchers from diverse backgrounds can improve the research itself, scientists say.

Deja Perkins, a Black conservation biologist at North Carolina State University, has studied gaps in how community-science bird-watching projects are conducted in wealthy and poor communities.

“It’s a problem if data from poor neighborhoods isn’t collected, and that shapes wildlife management plans,” she said.

The University of Washington’s Schell noted that Black scientists have led the field of urban ecology to examine crucial questions about how redlining — racial discrimination in mortgage-lending practices — has shaped urban landscapes, influencing which neighborhoods have more or less green space and biodiversity.

This 2020 photo provided by Deja Perkins shows her on Sapelo Island, Ga. (Jason Ward/Deja Perkins via AP)

“Who you are affects the questions you ask and the type of data that’s being collected,” Schell said. “We cannot understand how our natural world interacts with our cities without understanding the problems and legacy of racism.”


Follow Larson at


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Climate Impacts Group Scientists Tapped for Expertise on West Coast Climate Fires

As multiple fires on the West Coast devastate towns and fill the air with toxic smoke, people are looking for answers. Multiple regional news outlets have relied on experts from EarthLab Member Organization Climate Impacts Group to provide clarity into the current situation and hope for the future.

Climate Change Front of Mind as Cloud of Smoke Chokes Washington Again, KING-5, Sept. 11
Fires and smoke are sometimes called the “new normal” of climate change in the Northwest. But some hope these events will be yet another wake-up call. Climate Impacts Group Director Amy Snover is quoted.

“It’s terrifying to see what’s happening,” Snover said. “It’s upsetting to see what’s happening. And the worst of it is, it’s only going to get worse until we decide we don’t want it to get worse anymore, and reduce and eliminate greenhouse emissions.”

Threat Multiplier: How Climate Change, Coronavirus and Weather are Scorching WA, Seattle Weekly, Sept. 9
Fires swept across the state and much of the west in the first full week of September. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, draws the connection between wildfire and climate change.

Gusty Winds, Hot Weather and Wildfires: Will Washington See More of This in the Future? KOMO-4, Sept. 9
For the third day in a row, relentless winds from the east and northeast helped to significantly increase the fire danger across western Washington amid mounting requests for residents to avoid starting any new fires. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, is quoted.

Multiple Wildfires Devastate Large Swaths Of Areas In Eastern Washington, NPR, Sept. 9
In Washington state, fires burned more land in a day than they normally burn in entire fire seasons. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, discussed the connection between climate change and wildfire for National Public Radio.

“Basically, climate change is loading the dice” when it comes to wildfire risk, Crystal says. “And then you get a wind event, and things are just ready to go.”

Officials Say Stay Inside: Unhealthy Air Through Wednesday, Herald, Sept. 9
Smoke from more than two dozen wildfires in central and eastern Washington, as well as some in Canada, covered north Puget Sound Monday night. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, is quoted.

Systemic racism has consequences for all life in cities

Megan Kitagawa/UW Tacoma
An aerial view showing the differences in tree cover in two neighboring cities. The more affluent city of University Place, Washington (left) has more tree cover, while a neighborhood in the city of Tacoma, Washington (right) has fewer trees. The neighborhoods are about 4.5 miles apart.

Social inequalities, specifically racism and classism, are impacting the biodiversity, evolutionary shifts and ecological health of plants and animals in our cities.

That’s the main finding of a review paper led by the University of Washington, with co-authors at the University of California, Berkeley, and University of Michigan, which examined more than 170 published studies and analyzed the influence of systemic inequalities on ecology and evolution. Published Aug. 13 in Science, it calls on the scientific community to focus on environmental justice and anti-racism practices to transform biological research and conservation.

“Racism is destroying our planet, and how we treat each other is essentially structural violence against our natural world,” said lead author Christopher Schell, an assistant professor of urban ecology at the University of Washington Tacoma. “Rather than just changing the conversation about how we treat each other, this paper will hopefully change the conversation about how we treat the natural world.”

The authors also hope this paper paves the way for younger scientists entering the field, especially people of color, to have legitimacy in pushing for science that is centered around anti-racism and environmental justice.

“Identity matters, and creating space for researchers who aren’t straight white cis males to pursue questions that arise from their lived experiences can really strengthen science,” said co-author Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, assistant professor and social scientist in the UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. “I hope that scientists will read this paper and be inspired to think about representation in our labs and departments, and how that might matter for science going forward.”

Read more at UW News

Learn more about our Innovation Grants program, including the Voices Unbound project co-led by Schell and the Píkyav on the Mid-Klamath River: Peeshkêesh Yáv Umúsaheesh project co-led by Woelfle-Erskine.

Can Trees Clean Up Jet Pollution?

This article was originally published on the DEOHS blog.

Members of Seto’s team test a drone outfitted with air pollution sensors. From left, DEOHS PhD student Yisi Liu, UW undergraduate Chris Hayner, DEOHS postdoc Jianbang Xiang and Research Scientist Tim Gould. Photo: David Shean


New DEOHS study uses drones to test whether vegetation filters harmful aircraft pollution

Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park, once called trees the lungs of the city.

Trees and shrubs filter a variety of air pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter.

But could they also benefit communities near airports by absorbing harmful ultrafine particles from aircraft exhaust?

A team of University of Washington researchers led by Edmund Seto, associate professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS), is using drones to answer this question in King County.

Their new project, which was recently awarded a $75,000 UW EarthLab Innovation grant, is a partnership with the Seattle nonprofit community group El Centro de la Raza and state and local agencies.

The problem with ultrafine particles

Last year, Seto and colleagues reported that planes descending toward Seattle-Tacoma International Airport leave behind a plume of air pollution in communities underneath and downwind of their landing paths. Similar plumes have previously been documented at Los Angeles International Airport and others.

In their Mobile ObserVations of Ultrafine Particles (MOV-UP) study, Seto’s team showed that jet pollution is dominated by ultrafine particles, invisible flecks of less than a micron in diameter. When inhaled, they can pass into lung tissue and the bloodstream, as well as through the blood-brain barrier and across the placenta.

Greater exposure to these miniscule pollutants is linked with increased risk for heart and lung disease, some cancers and adverse birth outcomes. It may even contribute to cognitive issues such as dementia.

Community-inspired science

So what can we do about this? That was the question Seto heard again and again in talking with city leaders, community partners and residents about the results of the MOV-UP study.

Members of El Centro de La Raza, a nonprofit in Beacon Hill committed to serving the Latino community and people of all races, wondered whether urban planting projects could help.

As Seto dug into the literature, he found some hopeful evidence. It’s still unclear, however, what type and configuration of planting works best to filter out ultrafine particulates.

“Not every type of urban greening project might be as effective,” Seto said. “There are some interesting questions there.”

Read the rest of the story on the DEOHS blog.

Here’s a mental health tip to get you through coronavirus quarantine: Find tranquility in nature

This article features EarthLab Nature and Health leaders Kathleen Wolf and Peter Kahn.

Written by Corinne Whiting for  The Seattle Times.

During the coronavirus pandemic, getting out in nature can be beneficial for your mental health. Just make sure you’re still practicing social distancing while walking around in a park. Photographed at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland, Nov. 18, 2019. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

At this bizarre moment in time, most are digging deep into internal “toolboxes” in an attempt to retain some semblance of zen. Maybe you’re experimenting with meditation and yoga, crafting and cleaning, or indulgent wining and dining, shared with a Brady Bunch-esque setup of telesocializing friends.

Yet there’s one thing two University of Washington scholars guarantee can bring relief: nature. And thankfully, Seattleites have abundant access to this healing resource. There’s more good news: Even if you can’t experience the budding trees and chirping birds in person, connecting through a window or computer screen brings welcomed benefits, too.

Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist at UW’s College of the Environment, cites widely sourced evidence — spanning some 40 years — that emphasizes the importance of nearby nature experiences for both our physical and mental health, and “deep, compelling” research that proves these experiences to be restorative. Experimental studies show positive effects for people with clinical mental challenges, from adults with depression to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“We fully recognize that this is not a substitute for a diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional, yet it’s one opportunity for people to feel better,” Wolf said. “Everyday nature experiences are so good for mental wellness. Pursue them; be mindful.”

Peter H. Kahn Jr., a professor in the UW psychology department and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, recommends getting your heart rate up through daily movement — outside in nature, if possible. Even urban dwellers can practice social distancing on neighborhood sidewalks and in green areas. “This is the very time for people to get out on walks, no matter your level of ability,” Kahn said. He believes this practice connects us to our ancestral paths, and an age-old pattern of leaving and homecoming that dates back to hunter-gatherer days.

“The going out and the return is powerful,” he says.

Click here to read the full article.