PSI study links happiness to interactions with nature

Lani Matthews, 13, is chased down the Buckley Cemetery hill by her dog, Kona, in February. A study finds a link between interactions with nature and happiness for people in the Puget Sound area. Drew Perine Read more here:

Lani Matthews, 13, is chased down the Buckley Cemetery hill by her dog, Kona, in February. A study finds a link between interactions with nature and happiness for people in the Puget Sound area. Drew Perine

Can nature make you happy? Science weighs in. A recent study by PSI social scientist Kelly Biedenweg found that Puget Sound residents reported increasing happiness the more they engaged with the natural environment.

“We (in the Pacific Northwest) are pretty much the leaders in trying to understand how happiness and integration with the environment relate to each other,” Biedenweg told The News Tribune, which featured the study in its April 7th edition. Biedenweg has been working with the state of Washington to identify indicators of human well-being such as happiness, physical and psychological health and economic prosperity for the Puget Sound region.

The study was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology and was funded by The National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. It was based on online surveys of 4,418 area residents across eleven Puget Sound counties.

A version of The News Tribune story was also published on April 9th in The Olympian. 


Study of seals and sea lions gains interest

Seal vs Salmon. West End, Vancouver, BC. Photo: cesareb (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Seal vs Salmon. West End, Vancouver, BC. Photo: cesareb (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Our story last week about the impacts of predators on Chinook salmon populations in Puget Sound continues to gather strong interest from our readers. Several thousand viewed it after it came out last Thursday, and it was reprinted in the Kitsap Sun on Monday.

The story was written by PSI senior writer Christopher Dunagan and reports on a new study showing that area seals and sea lions are eating a much higher amount of threatened Chinook than previously known. Many questions still remain, but it is the first time that a peer-reviewed study has attempted to quantify these predator impacts to such a degree and in such detail.

Here are a few highlights: As many as one in five young Chinook are eaten before they can make it out of Puget Sound into the open ocean. Area seals and sea lions eat twice the amount of Chinook as do Puget Sound’s endangered orcas, and six times the annual commercial and recreational catches from local fishermen combined. Scientists attribute the large numbers to an increase in seals and sea lions since the 1970s after the animals were protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Not surprisingly, scientists and policymakers will have to look more closely at these numbers to determine what to do. Seals and sea lions are rightly protected, and old (and undesirable) policies of hunting the animals to protect salmon are not an option. Scientists say that even if such policies were possible, there is no saying that they would actually protect the salmon population.

The fact is that the seals and sea lions are just doing what they do naturally, and while their populations are healthy, there aren’t necessarily more of them than there should be. Some would argue that this study is a reminder that we need to continue to recover habitat and create better conditions for the salmon to withstand what are essentially normal pressures from the environment. Historically, Puget Sound’s Chinook and predators co-existed just fine, but that was before millions of humans started destroying the local streams and floodplains, degrading beaches and polluting the water. See a harbor seal with a salmon in its mouth? That can also be seen as a sign of Puget Sound’s health.


Study of eelgrass shows populations steady across Puget Sound

Eelgrass provides critical habitat for many Puget Sound species. Photo courtesy of NOAA and the Seattle Times

Eelgrass provides critical habitat for many Puget Sound species. Photo courtesy of NOAA and the Seattle Times.

Although eelgrass populations have declined in some parts of Puget Sound, overall numbers for the aquatic plant have remained steady ecosystem-wide, according to an analysis of 41 years of data from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The study, published in the Journal of Ecology, was co-authored by Puget Sound Institute lead ecosystem ecologist Tessa Francis and was aided by a team of University of Washington student assistants who sorted through more than 160,000 notebook entries to parse out survey findings.

The data comes from long-time surveys of Pacific Herring, which also included the detailed observations of eelgrass abundance. (We first wrote about this treasure trove of hand-written notebooks in a PSI blog focusing on its implication for herring studies.) The paper was co-authored by a team of scientists from NOAA, PSI, Earth Resource Technology, The Nature Conservancy, WDFW and the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

The researchers say the findings give some hope that eelgrass meadows may be more resilient than expected to pressures such as climate change, but they caution that sharp declines in some areas are a source of concern.

“The fact that eelgrass has been stable over the last 40 years tells you that things are probably not getting worse, but it doesn’t mean that things are good,” study co-author Phil Levin, of the University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy told the Seattle Times today.

PSI’s Francis was also quoted in the Seattle Times story and called the findings “promising in terms of recovery, because it’s a lot easier to think of what we might do on a local scale, than to think of what we might do on a grand, ecosystem scale.”

Eelgrass is an aquatic flowering plant that provides important habitat for young salmon, herring, Dungeness crabs and many other species. You can read about efforts to restore eelgrass beds in Puget Sound in our magazine series Salish Sea Currents.

Read more about the new eelgrass paper in The Seattle Times and UW Today.


CUW scientists among first to receive Amazon Catalyst grants

geekwire_story_screenshotCenter for Urban Waters engineers are among the first to receive a University of Washington Amazon Catalyst Grant. Dr. Andy James (also a member of the Puget Sound Institute) and Alex Gipe received $50,000 from Amazon to improve a process to remove phosphorous from stormwater pollution. Phosphorous can cause increased algal growth in lakes and ponds which in turn can poison fish and other species.

The Center for Urban Waters is the Puget Sound Institute parent organization and is affiliated with the University of Washington Tacoma.

The Amazon Catalyst program began in 2015 and 12 projects across the University of Washington have been selected for grants so far. The program supports innovation at universities, and encourages “people in all fields to think big, invent solutions to real-world problems, and make a positive impact on the world,” according to the program’s website.

Read more about the grant in GeekwireAmazon ‘Catalyst’ program reveals the first university projects it’s backing.


PSI armoring report featured on KUOW

KUOW's John Ryan interviews Aimee Kinney about the ecological impacts of shoreline armoring.

KUOW’s John Ryan interviews Aimee Kinney about the ecological impacts of shoreline armoring. Photo by Jeff Rice.

KUOW interviewed PSI’s Aimee Kinney today about the impacts of shoreline armoring on the Puget Sound ecosystem. Kinney was the lead author of an analysis report of recent nearshore studies funded by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. New studies reveal that shoreline armoring degrades beach ecology and hurts Puget Sound species like forage fish and salmon. Read the analysis report on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.


Herring fishery’s strength is in the sum of its parts, study finds

Young adult herring from Puget Sound.Margaret Siple/University of Washington

Young adult herring from Puget Sound.Margaret Siple/University of Washington

The online publication UW Today reports on a recent paper co-authored by PSI research scientist Tessa Francis. The paper, published in the journal Ocealogia, describes how individual herring populations in Puget Sound exhibit a portfolio effect, collectively influencing and stabilizing the region’s population as a whole. Francis teamed up with the paper’s lead author UW doctoral student Margaret Siple to analyze more than 40 years of herring data on 21 subpopulations in Puget Sound.

Read the feature in UW Today.


Siple, M. C., & Francis, T. B. (2016). Population diversity in Pacific herring of the Puget Sound, USA. Oecologia, 180(1), 111-125.


In the news: UWT talk aims to root methanol debate in science

TacomaNewsTribuneLogoThe News Tribune reported on an upcoming discussion series on a proposed methanol plant in Tacoma. The series is sponsored in part by our parent group the Center for Urban Waters at the University of Washington.

Columnist Matt Driscoll writes:
  • A four-part series on Tacoma’s proposed methanol plant starts Thursday at UWT
  • Joel Baker, the science director at the Center for Urban Waters, hopes to focus on the facts
  • Whether Tacomans will be receptive remains to be seen

Read more about the discussion series.


In the news: Radiolab event will feature PSI’s water detectives

TacomaNewsTribuneLogoThere is a nice story in The News Tribune today on the upcoming Radiolab event in Tacoma. The January 22nd show at the Pantages Theater will focus on Northwest water issues and features a panel of environmental leaders, including PSI Director Joel Baker. The paper calls Joel and his lab “the ‘CSI’ of water science” and highlights some of their research into the high prevalence of household chemicals in local waterways.

“What we find in the water is by and large what you find in your house, from refrigerators to medicine cabinets,” Baker told the paper. The article describes how Baker and his group at the Center for Urban Waters are finding everything from artificial sweeteners to long-banned substances like DDT in nearby Puget Sound. Known as emerging contaminants, these substances often escape filtration systems and can be found in levels that, although tiny—sometimes in the parts per billion or even trillion—can still be potentially harmful.

Baker will be one of several panelists interviewed onstage by Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich. Other panelists include Ryan Mello of the Pierce Conservation District, Puget Sound Partnership’s Sheida Sahandy, and Jennifer Chang of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative. The event will focus on local water issues and will also go behind the scenes of the popular Radiolab podcast and radio series.

‘Inside Radiolab’ will interview PSI Director and other Puget Sound area panelists

1280px-WNYC_Radiolab_logo.svgOur Director Joel Baker is part of a panel of four environmental leaders in Puget Sound who will be interviewed onstage at the Inside Radiolab show next week in Tacoma. Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich will host the January 22nd event at the Pantages Theater where he will interview panelists about Northwest water issues.

In addition to Baker, other panelists include Jennifer Chang of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative, Ryan Mello, Executive Director of Pierce Conservation District and Sheida Sahandy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Radiolab’s quirky take on science has made it one of the Internet’s most popular podcasts, with more than 4 million downloads. It is also broadcast on over 450 public radio stations around the country. The live theater presentation will go behind the scenes of the show, with Krulwich talking about how he and his co-host Jad Abumrad create some of radio’s most compelling science journalism. The show begins at 7:30.

Read more about the event.


PSI Director talks climate with News Tribune

The impact of the record heat and lack of precipitation has made Mount Rainier much less snow covered in recent years. LEE GILES III Puyallup Herald file

The impact of the record heat and lack of precipitation has made Mount Rainier much less snow covered in recent years. LEE GILES III Puyallup Herald file

Puget Sound Institute Director Joel Baker was interviewed by the The News Tribune in Tacoma this week as part of the paper’s coverage of climate change in Puget Sound. The article features a new University of Washington report commissioned by the Puget Sound Institute that provides the most comprehensive look to date at expected climate impacts in the region.

New Puget Sound climate study: Older projections coming true, more changes ahead 


New report details the broad sweep of climate change in Puget Sound

PS-SoK_2015_cover_0A new report commissioned by the Puget Sound Institute and the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the expected impacts of climate change on the Puget Sound region.

The report was produced by the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, and is meant as an easy-to-read summary that covers topics such as increasing landslides, flooding, sea level rise, impacts on human health, agriculture and rising stream temperatures for salmon. Partners in the report include NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, the Puget Sound Partnership, the WWU Huxley Spatial Institute and others including dozens of contributing scientists. Major funding for the report was provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Download: “State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound” 

You can also read highlights from the report in a three-part series from Puget Sound Institute senior writer Chris Dunagan. This week’s story covers the potential increase in landslides, something of special concern during the winter rainy season. Continue reading