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Research highlights

November 26, 2019

Surprising arsenic related discoveries in contaminated lakes

Although the American Smelting and Refining Company copper smelter near Tacoma, Wash., hasn’t been operational for more than 30 years, legacy sediment contamination serves as a long-term source of toxicity in the area. After a surprising discovery that some shallow lakes, such as Lake Killarney in Federal Way, Wash., have unique characteristics that facilitate the movement of arsenic from lakebed sediment up into the food web, researchers are currently working to better understand the hydrodynamics of the lake. In deeper lakes, separate layers of water do not mix for extended periods of time, which keeps the arsenic trapped in the bottom waters devoid of oxygen and aquatic life. The researchers identified a daily heating and cooling cycle that occurs during the summer in shallow lakes, which causes the layers of water to mix, resulting in arsenic traveling up into the surface waters where the aquatic food web resides.

Americans cautious about autonomous vehicles

The perceived cost of commute time changes depending on who’s driving, using the concept that time is money, according to new research led by CEE associate professor Don MacKenzie. Through a survey, researchers found that people considered a ride-hailing service at least 13% “less expensive,” in terms of time, compared to driving themselves. If the
researchers told people the ride-hailing service was driverless, however, then the cost of travel time increased to 15% more than driving a personal car. This suggests that people would
rather drive themselves than have an autonomous vehicle drive them. The survey results are not surprising, according to the researchers, since driverless cars aren’t commercially available yet and people are not familiar with the new technology.

Wave Glider explores Antarctic waters

Using an autonomous surfboard called the Wave Glider, UW researchers led by CEE professor Jim Thomson are investigating the Antarctic Peninsula to better understand how the warming ocean interacts with ice shelves. The Wave Glider will first gather data near the Antarctic Peninsula, to analyze how the warming ocean interacts with ice shelves that protrude from the shore. It will then head north into Drake Passage, braving some of the stormiest seas on the planet that large research ships avoid. As it surfs along, the board will measure turbulence in the ocean, which helps to determine how heat and other properties move between the water and the air. The board sends information back via satellite, which researchers will retrieve once the mission is complete. In 2016, the researchers sent the autonomous platform, which has been upgraded with advanced capabilities, across the 500-mile channel between Antarctica and Argentina.

First university building earns Fitwel rating

UW Tower is the first university building in the world to be recognized as a Fitwel certified building thanks to the work of CEE assistant professor Amy Kim, post-doc Shuoqi (Stanley) Wang and support from the UW Tower facilities and IT teams. One of the leading certifiers of healthy buildings around the world, Fitwel was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. General Services Administration to emphasize occupant wellness. Several enhancements were made to UW Tower, including adding standing desks, collaborative work spaces, enhanced emergency response kits and stairwell improvements to encourage using the stairs versus elevator. The researchers also added a display to advertise amenities within walking distance of UW Tower, from parks to gyms to restaurants.