Print this page

Have a news item you would like featured? Fill out the request here (UW NetID Restricted).

  • Thousands of properties in Seattle are prone to landslides -- here's how to protect your home | KING 5
    Tuesday, December 5, 2023
    There are 20,000 properties considered to be prone to landslides in Seattle. The city is encouraging people to be aware of the risks. David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is interviewed. Read More
  • From the ice to the lab, glaciologists search for clues of BC's past wildfires, volcanoes and other calamities | The Globe and Mail
    Monday, November 20, 2023
    Eric Steig has spent more than 20 years on a quest to reveal the climate history recorded in British Columbia's southern glaciers. Eric Steig, professor and chair of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • In the Field: Tracking seismic clues in one of the driest places on Earth
    Thursday, November 16, 2023

    Unlike the Pacific Northwest, the Atacama Desert in Chile experiences very little rain. But the two regions are both seismically active. Faults in the Atacama Desert are slowly sliding past each other in a way similar to the Seattle Fault in Puget Sound and the San Andreas Fault in California. The Atacama Desert's lack of rain makes it easier to see how those gradual movements shape the landscape over time.

    Alison Duvall, a University of Washington associate professor of Earth and space sciences, and doctoral student Tamara Ar?nguiz-Rago will travel to Chile this month to study landscapes developed along these types of faults. Duvall has previously studied historic landslides at the site of the rainfall-triggered Oso mudslide and how rainfall, earthquake and landslide risks combine in Oregon.

    researcher bends over using rock hammer with desert in background

    UW doctoral student Tamara Ar?nguiz-Rago collects rock samples on the hills next to a fault in Chile’s Atacama Desert for a pilot study in September 2022. This month she will collect more data to try to reconstruct the history of the formation of these mountains.Emma Heitmann/University of Washington

    UW News asked the two geophysicists about their upcoming trip as part of a new series, "In the Field," highlighting UW field research.

    Where are you going, and when?

    Tamara Ar?nguiz-Rago: We will visit the Salar Grande, in the hyper-arid, or dry, core of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile. The Salar is a dry lakebed that contains economic resources, in the form of salt, that is extracted from the basin and then exported around the world. We'll be there Nov. 19-25.

    Follow updates Nov. 19-25 on X at @tamaranguiz and @ARDuvall.

    We're interested in this area because it's extremely dry and has active faults slicing through it. Only a few places on Earth register such low rates of precipitation, offering a landscape that stores climate and tectonic variations from the past 50 million years. At our field site, there are places that haven't seen a drop of rain in 500 years!

    As a result, this is one of the best places on Earth to study how landscapes respond to earthquakes and plate tectonics under hyper-arid conditions. Dry conditions slow down erosion and help preserve landscape form and enable us to observe processes, like tectonic processes, that modify the surface from deeper down.

    desert scene with hill on one side and blue sky in background

    The Atacama Desert in September 2022. The flat strip of land in the middle is not a human-built road but a strike-slip fault, where two blocks slowly slide past each other. Researchers will travel to the site again this month to learn more about these types of faults.Tamara Ar?nguiz-Rago/University of Washington

    Have you visited this field site before?

    TA: I visited this site last fall with Emma Heitmann, another doctoral student in the Department of Earth & Space Sciences.

    Alison Duvall: This will be my first time to this site, to Chile and to South America.

    What do you hope to learn there?

    AD: We want to learn more about the dynamics of slow faults that move laterally -- strike-slip faults, similar to the San Andreas Fault in California -- and how these dynamics control the shape of the landscape. In wet places, it's hard to isolate faults' effects on the landscape since water is the main agent driving erosion. What we observe on the surface in other places is a combination of tectonics and surface processes. However, thanks to the aridity of this place, it is easier to be confident about what is changing the landscape.

    We're also interested in how this landscape has shifted with a changing climate. This place was wetter in the past, and there is evidence of climate change happening to make the region hyper-arid. So we are also studying how the landscape has adapted to that change.

    What's something that you enjoy about this field work -- especially something that might not occur to most people?

    TA: There is a really special feeling when you're in the driest place on Earth. It almost feels like you're on a different planet. You don't see any signs of life -- no water, no animals, no plants -- but it's just amazing to feel that nothingness.

    Changes in the landscape are so slow that when you visit the site, you know that each step you make, or any perturbation we make to collect our samples, can be one of the biggest modifications to the landscape in hundreds of years.

    person standing in desert scene surrounded by boulders

    University of Washington doctoral student Emma Heitmann stands at the bottom of one of the biggest paleochannels in the study area in September 2022. The size of the rocks in the channel provides researchers with information about past wet events that have interrupted the current very dry climate.Tamara Ar?nguiz-Rago/University of Washington

    Anything you'd like to add?

    AD: I'm super excited to get to this incredible field site and spend time with Tamara studying it. We have done field work together in New Zealand, and I have done decades' worth of field work in many different geomorphic settings, but never in a hyper-arid landscape like this one. I can't wait to see what we find!


    Read More
  • UW researchers map landslides in Seattle Fault earthquake study | KING 5
    Thursday, November 9, 2023
    UW researchers published a study Tuesday that mapped and dated past landslides in the region to better understand historical earthquakes along the Seattle Fault. Eric Herzig, a doctoral student of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Man accused of Antarctic assault was then sent to remote icefield with young graduate students | Associated Press
    Monday, November 6, 2023
    A man accused of physically assaulting a woman at a U.S. research station in Antarctica was then sent to a remote icefield where he was tasked with protecting the safety of a professor and three young graduate students, and he remained there for a full week after a warrant for his arrest was issued, documents obtained by The Associated Press show. Howard Conway, a research professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • On a BC glacier, researchers unearth climate history frozen in time | The Globe and Mail
    Monday, November 6, 2023
    Deep ice samples extracted from the glacier could help explain the string of climate-related events buffeting Western Canada. Eric Steig, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is mentioned. Read More
  • Sunday earthquake near Tacoma over 3.0 -- here's where it hit | Tacoma News Tribune
    Tuesday, October 24, 2023
    Just weeks after a 4.3 magnitude earthquake rattled Puget Sound, some northwest Washington residents felt the ground beneath their feet shaking again Sunday night. Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • A rare and puzzling 'domino effect' triggered 4 powerful quakes in Afghanistan | National Geographic
    Monday, October 23, 2023
    A back-to-back sequence of four 6.3 magnitude earthquakes in just over a week has stunned scientists. Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse may be unavoidable, study finds | NBC News
    Monday, October 23, 2023
    The study is the first attempt to model the uncertain atmosphere and ocean processes that could doom the sheet's ice shelves, leading to considerable sea level rise. Eric Steig, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • ShakeAlert offers latest earthquake science as region practices Great ShakeOut safety drill Oct. 19
    Thursday, October 19, 2023
    As people and organizations across the globe practice earthquake drills Oct. 19 on International ShakeOut Day, closer to home in the Pacific Northwest, communities are bolstered by a state-of-the-art earthquake early warning system — and a research center that maintains the second-largest seismic network in the U.S. Read More