Science news

Woodland Park Zoo

The howls of a new yearling wolf pack can be heard at the Woodland Park Zoo this spring. The 4 female gray wolves were born at the New York State Zoo and arrived in Seattle last fall. Until now, they've been secluded from public view, getting used to their new surroundings in the Northern Trail exhibit.

Ready, set, walk!

Apr 6, 2011
Paula Wissel

How about going out for a stroll? Today is National Start Walking Day.  The American Heart Association, which sponsors the day,  says taking just 10 minutes three times a day to walk will help you live longer.

Several hundred people turned out at Seattle city hall to kick off Start Walking Day by taking a 30 minute walk around downtown. Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine led the way.

Dean Forbes / FHCRC

Whether or not to take hormones has become one of life’s difficult choices as women face menopause, and look for ways to relieve the symptoms. A new study suggests women may be able to minimize the risks if they start in their 50’s.

It also shows negative effects appear more common for women if they take estrogen after age 60.

Courtesy Ecola Architects, PC

If you’re near the coastline and a major earthquake strikes, the advice as always is to scramble for higher ground. But sometimes, high ground is far away. For example, if you’re in Ocean Shores or Seaside, Ore., the best option could be to head for the rooftop of a sturdy building, if there is one.

In Westport, and communities along the Northwest coast,  the horrible and gripping images of destruction from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are still top-of-mind. In this fishing and beach resort town, retiree Linda Orgel is one of hundreds of coastal residents spurred to become better prepared. That interest is being channeled into planning and design meetings for a possible string of manmade refuge towers.


In a bipartisan push to bring the retired Space Shuttle to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington's U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with the state's entire congressional delegation, have sent a a letter to Charles F. Bolden, the Administrator of NASA, urging him to select the museum as the home for the retired NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter.

In the letter, the delegation says:


Earthquake scientists are hoping to build an early-warning system for Washington, Oregon and California.  It would give typically about five to 30 seconds of notice that a big quake was starting. The scientists have been meeting this week to craft a proposal. 

There’s no way to predict earthquakes. But once a big one starts, it sends out different kinds of shock waves that move at different speeds. One type is fast-moving, but barely perceptible. These are called P-waves. They arrive before the slow traveling but damaging shock waves (called S-waves).  

So, if you have precise sensors, they can detect the fast-moving waves and send out alarms. 

Matt McGee / Flickr

How much income will you need to be financially secure after age 65?  It’s often hard to know. A new study shows what it costs for the elderly in Washington to live at home and stay out of debt.  

Rob Gipman, Uganda Program on Cancer and Infectious Diseases / FHCRC

The fight against diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis has made Seattle a center for global health. 

Now, increasingly, the battle is including cancer -- which might seem ridiculously impossible.  Isn’t it hard enough to fight infectious diseases in poor countries? Can we afford to start talking about the diseases like cancer, which we still struggle with in the United States? 


Construction should start as soon as Wednesday at a site near Copalis Beach in Grays Harbor County on a Doppler radar station.

Sen. Maria Cantwell's office says it could be operating as soon as September, giving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a better look at Pacific storms heading for the Northwest.

The new radar will fill in information that is missing because the Olympic mountains block the only other Western Washington Doppler radar station on Camano Island.

AP Photo

From Chehalis to Chicago, local health food stores are seeing their stock of potassium iodide pills sell out, as public fear over radiation fallout from Japan's damaged nuclear plants continues.

The trouble is the fear doesn't match the risk, say numerous scientists and government officials, both here and across the nation, according to The News Tribune and other reports.

NHK via YouTube

You may have heard Washington has an earthquake fault similar to the one that devastated Japan.  While there are many fault-lines criss-crossing western Washington, the only one that bears a strong similarity is under the ocean, parallel to our coast-line.  It’s called the Cascadia subduction zone. 

Brian Atwater / University of Washington

The same type of tectonic earthquake that hit Japan - involving the collision of plates that make up the Earth's crust - could happen in the Northwest.  Similar faults lie in the Cascadia subduction zone. 

The head of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington, John Vidale, told The Seattle Times' Sandi Doughton the Cascadia fault last ruptured in 1700.  Scientists believe it generated at magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami that may have been bigger than the one that battered Japan. 

If you've had arthroscopic knee surgery for osteoarthritis, maybe you shouldn't have.  And if you've tried any of these treatments, there are questions, too, about whether it was worth it:

A virus outbreak has closed the Seattle Yacht Club's mainstation clubhouse on Portage Bay. Dozens of people who attended the JO Ball and a private party at the end of February became ill with gastrointestinal symptoms. Yacht Club General Manager Steve Hall says the club contacted the King County Health Department, sanitized the kitchen area, and closed the facility until March 12.

Thousands of people are still dying unnecessarily in America's hospitals, according to a new set of quality ratings.  That’s despite a decade of attention to preventing errors. 

More than 20,000 hospital deaths should have been prevented, just among Medicare patients (people over the age of 65), according to a report from Health Grades Inc. of Denver.

Hospitals in Washington as a group are about average in terms of their error rates.

Keith Seinfeld / KPLU

The giant digging machines that will bore twin tunnels from Husky Stadium to Seattle’s Capitol Hill are being assembled at the Port of Tacoma. They're called Tunnel Boring Machines, and they vaguely resemble Apollo-era rockets, lying on their sides. 

And with their current paint-jobs, sporting Sound Transit's green and blue colors, they might be Lego toys, inflated to a surreal scale.


April 12 is the day we'll learn if the Puget Sound region will become home to one of NASA's retiring space shuttles. There are 27 institutions vying for the three orbiters, and Seattle's Museum of Flight is one of the contenders.

Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP

If your heart suddenly stops beating, your chances of getting revived are better in King County than in the rest of Washington.

The Seattle area has one of the highest survival rates from cardiac arrest in the country. Now, a new campaign in Washington aims to boost survival from cardiac arrest by 50-percent in the rest of the state. 

Burke Museum

A new species of crab spider was found last spring by Rob Crawford, curator of arachnids for the Univesity of Washington's Burke Museum.  He discovered it on Foster Island in the Washington Park Arboretum. reports a team of students will soon be scouring the island for more information.

Just as intriguing as a new discovery is the question raised by Knute Berger of Crosscut who wonders about the effect a newly discovered spider could have on the Highway 520 expansion.  The highway cuts across Foster Island.


Experts in the northwest warn the deadly earthquake in New Zealand was similar to what might happen here. 

The quake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, a city comparable in size to Spokane, along a fault-line that was unknown until last September. That's when an even larger quake hit New Zealand -- but with limited damage, since it was centered farther from any city. Authorities in Christchurch were predicting the death-toll would rise to 300.

In recent years, scientists have found evidence of shallow faults across the northwest, such as the Seattle fault that runs beneath Qwest Field and roughly follows Interstate-90.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

Java, a 12-year-old, an endangered Sumatran tiger, is leaving his home at Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to find love at the Dallas Zoo. His keepers tried to mate him with the zoo's female tiger, Jaya, but that didn't work out and she mated with Java's brother, Bali, instead. Jaya gave birth to cubs Bima and Mali last May.

Photo Courtsey of Good Samaritan

New emergency rooms keep opening around western Washington. It's part of a trend.

On Thursday (Feb. 17th), Swedish Medical Centers will open a free-standing Emergency Department in Mill Creek, between Seattle and Everett. And, on the same day, MultiCare opens a new medical tower at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup -- which has the busiest ER in Pierce County. 

It turns out, the busiest ER’s in Washington are mostly outside the biggest cities.

Google Earth

The National Weather Service expects to have a Doppler radar station operating by September on the Washington coast to give forecasters a better look at Pacific storms.  KBKW radio reports that Doug McDonnal with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said they've always had a blind spot in Grays Harbor County.

Construction should begin in the next few months at the site at Langley Hill in northern Grays Harbor County.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was in Seattle this week, to hear about local efforts to make the medical system more efficient.

Sebelius is in charge of implementing the new national health care law – and defending it. The Affordable Care Act has been under fierce attack by Republicans and their allies. Democrats and their supporters recently hired political strategists to launch a campaign in defense of the law.

At the same time, Sebelius has been trying to sell it across the country, alongside sympathetic mayors and governors. 


Crisis centers for the mentally ill are gaining popularity across Washington, as a way to help people and potentially save taxpayers' money.  They’re an alternative to jails and emergency rooms. 

But these short-term treatment centers are also running into hostility. Potential neighbors are unhappy about being next door to a facility where patients arrive by police car and ambulance, in the middle of a mental health or drug crisis.

In central Seattle, an angry backlash of homeowners is threatening to delay the opening of a proposed “Crisis Solutions Center.” The location is on a block near Rainier Avenue and Dearborn, where businesses and stores give way to single-family homes.  

Gary Davis / KPLU News

You might have wondered -- as you gazed out your sunny window and listened to news of record cold and snow sweeping the midwest and East coast -- is there a connection?

Yes, there is.

"Our weather often is the just the opposite of what it is in the eastern part of the united states," says Cliff Mass, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington. 

"When we are cold, like it was just before Thanksgiving, they tend to be warm," says Mass.

The reason we're yin when they're yang, and vice versa, has to do with the jet stream and "ridges" of high and low pressure in the sky, as Mass explains it.

A nurse may have contributed to a baby’s death, during transport to Seattle Children’s Hospital last September, according to investigators from the Washington Department of Health (DOH). An earlier autopsy said the baby died from natural causes, but state investigators are not convinced. They also say the hospital must improve how it monitors medications in ambulances.

National Weather Service/NOAA website

You might not have realized it, but weather forecasts have been getting more accurate for the past ten to twenty years. Forecasters have a lot more precision about when and where different weather systems will hit.  But, this isn’t always communicated very clearly.

You can handle a weather rocket, create a flooding torrent of mud, and learn how to make a cloud inside a one-gallon jar this Sunday. 

It’s all part of a one-day exhibition called Weather-Fest, which pops up once a year as part of the American Meteorological Society annual conference.  The meeting this year is in Seattle, from Sunday through Jan. 27th. 

King County's major medical centers continue jockeying for position in the emerging new health-care world. 

U.W. Medicine and Valley Medical Center proposed this week what they call a "strategic alliance." Valley wants to retain its name, although the news release says Valley would become "part of U.W. Medicine."

Earlier this year, U.W. Medicine took over running Northwest Hospital (in north Seattle), without actually owning the hospital.