Washington State Magazine

Spring 2002


Spring 2002

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In This Issue...

Features

Nurses to the homeless :: Gypsy's camp is evidence of the harsh living conditions faced by a growing number of homeless in Spokane. It also doubles as a classroom, and a lesson in reality, for student nurses. By Andrea Vogt.

A campus full of wonders :: All over campus, curiosities emerged from closets to form one of the most popular and unusual shows ever to fill the art museum. By Tim Steury.

What don't we know? :: James Krueger wants to know why the average person will spend 219,000 hours asleep. By James Krueger and Tim Steury.

Memories are made of this :: Neuroscientists Jay Wright and Joe Harding can approximate Alzheimer's symptoms in a rat by injecting a certain protein into its hippocampus. What's more, they can reverse those symptoms. By Tim Steury.

Catherine Mathews Friel is thankful for...Life in a small college town :: Catherine Friel has lived in Pullman nearly 100 years, and she has some stories to tell. By Pat Caraher.

Opening Day...a great way to reunite Cougars :: Cougars batten their hatches and hoist their mainsails. By Pat Caraher.

Fiction

The Peking Cowboy :: He wanted to tell the story in the third person, but it came out in the first; he wanted to tell it in the past, but it came out happening in the now; even if he wanted to, he could not change a word of it, its sequence and language clarifying its own shape and direction in his voice. A short story by Alex Kuo.

Panoramas

Departments

Tracking

Cover: Student Jennifer Schwarzer and Intercollegiate College of Nursing instructor Carol Allen. Read the story here. Photograph by Ira Gardner.

Panoramas

It came from outer space

by | © Washington State University

The dust on your mantelpiece may be more interesting than it appears at first swipe. Some of it may be from outer space. While that may not make much difference to your dust rag, some feel that extraterrestrial dust might help explain the cyclical nature of the Earth’s climate, says Ed Brook, assistant professor of geology and environmental science at Washington State University's Vancouver campus.

Brook and his collaborators have developed a method to measure the extraterrestrial dust found in the ice cores taken at Vostok, Antarctica. It involves filtering the dust out of the ice core, a process that takes four days per sample, then assaying the dust for an isotope of helium that’s prevalent in outer space but rare on earth. Brook and his colleagues are using it to construct a record of the dust flux from the Vostok ice cores over the past 100,000 years.

The Vostok ice cores hold a well studied record of climate over that time, says Brook. “We know the rates of accumulation of the ice, and we know very well how the ice record relates to changes in climate.” If the extraterrestrial dust is responsible for cyclical change, the pattern of its accumulation should track with the climate change.

Brook doesn’t think it’s likely that extraterrestrial dust is responsible for the 100,000-year climate cycles characteristic of the last million years. “There’s not enough extraterrestrial dust,” he says—at least not to influence climate directly. The link could be more obscure. The dust might have changed the upper atmospheric chemistry. “Or maybe,” he says, “the dust is rich in iron, a limiting nutrient for phytoplankton.” Increased numbers of phytoplankton presumably would reduce atmospheric CO2 and cause climate change.

But even if large changes in the amount of extraterrestrial dust don’t track with climate change, they would be of interest.

If there’s no variation in the amount of extraterrestrial dust over time, glaciologists will be happy. An even dust fall would mean a higher concentration of dust in years of little snow fall, a lower concentration in years of high snow fall—a means of determining rates of ice accumulation in the past.

Any data will be useful to scientists working to understand how dust moves in the solar system, as well as to those who study the origin of the atmosphere and oceans—for it’s believed that most of our volatile elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon came here in meteorites.

Categories: Earth sciences | Tags: Space dust

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