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Map image of Puget Sound and surroundings. Courtesy of USGS.

The Puget Sound ecosystem is shaped by its physical environment. This article looks at Puget Sound's geologic history as well as dynamic factors such as the flow of its rivers and currents.


Sea lion sunbathing between meals in Seattle's Eliott Bay. Photo: Johnny Mumbles (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mumbles/3283168713

A new study shows that increased populations of seals and sea lions are eating far more of Puget Sound’s threatened chinook than previously known, potentially hampering recovery efforts for both salmon and endangered killer whales. 


Benthic invertebrates range in size from those easily seen with the naked eye to those that cannot be spotted without the use of a microscope. Photo: Christopher Dunagan

Many groups have been formed around the goal of saving salmon, but few people talk about a concerted effort to save microscopic creatures. Whether or not a pro-bug movement catches on, future strategies to save salmon are likely to incorporate ideas for restoring streambound creatures known as benthic invertebrates.


An eelgrass bed near Bainbridge Island, Washington. David Ayers/USGS

Eelgrass, a marine plant crucial to the success of migrating juvenile salmon and spawning Pacific herring, is stable and flourishing in Puget Sound, despite a doubling of the region’s human population and significant shoreline development over the past several decades. [Story reprinted from UW Today.]


Heartbeat line overlays Seattle Skyline from Alki Beach. Graphic: Puget Sound Institute w/ copyrighted images

New EPA-funded Implementation Strategies are designed to target Puget Sound recovery in the most direct and coordinated way ever conducted by state and federal agencies. We report on how these strategies will affect Puget Sound’s Vital Signs for years to come, and why you should care (a lot).


report cover: Synthesis of 2011-2014 results and key recommendations for future recovery efforts: Final analysis report

A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute provides an overview of key products, results, and recommendations presented in three previous reports reviewing 50 projects from the first four years of the Puget Sound Marine and Nearshore Grant Program.


Former feeder bluff with sediment impounded by armoring. Photo by Hugh Shipman.

A 2016 article in the journal Conservation Letters makes policy recommendations to address shoreline armoring in the Salish Sea.


Steps in the Adaptive Management cycle. Figure 1 from  the article.

A "learn and adjust" strategy known as adaptive management plays a central role in state and federal Puget Sound recovery efforts. It is an approach that is gaining traction for ecosystem management worldwide. A December 2016 article from the Puget Sound Institute provides an overview of the concept and how it is being applied locally. 


report cover: Analysis of strategic capital investments for habitat restoration and protection

A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 27 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program.  The report is an analysis of findings on shoreline restoration and derelict net and fishing gear removal. 


The 2016 Action Agenda for Puget Sound cover page

The Puget Sound Actiona Agenda is a shared plan for Puget Sound recovery resulting from a collaboration by state and federal agencies, tribal governments, local governments, business and environmental groups, and others. 


Fluoxetine hydrochloride. Photo: Meg (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/disowned/1125134972

Drugs like Prozac and cocaine have been showing up in the region’s salmon. But these are just some of the potentially thousands of different man-made chemicals that escape into the Salish Sea every day, from pharmaceuticals to industrial compounds. Now the race is on to identify which ones pose the greatest dangers.


Flame retardants -
Room fire simulation shows burned furniture. Photo: Kecko (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/kecko/3648477592/

Efforts to reduce fire hazards over a half century ago have left an unintended trail of persistent environmental contaminants from flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs. Bans and substitutes are still evolving.


Industrial plant. Photo: Gray World (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/greyworld/6159264209

New federal legislation, approved overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress in December 2015 and signed into law by President Obama in June 2016, is designed to make sure that people and the environment are not harmed by new and old chemicals on the market.


Screenshot of Puget Sound Recovery Atlas view by Legislative District

The Puget Sound Recovery Atlas is a map-based, online tool that allows users to learn more about an important subset of Puget Sound restoration and protection activities.


Sunflower sea stars have all but disappeared from the Salish Sea due to sea star wasting disease. Photo courtesy of PLOS ONE

A study in the journal PLOS ONE uses volunteer diver surveys to assess the impacts of sea star wasting disease in the Salish Sea. Data shows that sunflower sea stars were especially hard hit and have all but disappeared from the region. 


Before and after composite view at the site of a 2013 bulkhead-removal project on the shore of Penrose Point State Park in Pierce County. Composite: Kris Symer, PSI; original photos: Kristin Williamson, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group

New numbers show progress in the state’s efforts to remove shoreline armoring, but they don’t tell the whole story.


Bay Mussels (Mytilus trossulus) on Edmonds Ferry Dock. Photo [cropped]: brewbooks (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/8840874065

Scientists are testing ways to use transplanted shellfish such as mussels to monitor toxic contaminants in Puget Sound. 


Toxic algal blooms are sometimes associated with invasive plankton. Photo: Eutrophication&Hypoxia (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/48722974@N07/5120831456

Invasive species are considered a top threat to the balance of ecosystems worldwide. New discoveries of non-native green crabs in Puget Sound have highlighted that concern here at home, but invasive species can impact more than just the food web. Some introduced species can produce toxins that accumulate in shellfish or by directly infecting the human body.


Puget Sound Marine Waters 2015 report cover

The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program released its fifth annual Marine Waters Overview this week. The report provides an assessment of marine conditions for the year 2015 and includes updates on water quality as well as status reports for select plankton, seabirds, fish and marine mammals.


Carcinus maenas. Photo: Brent Wilson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/59048895@N06/5409329320/

Another European green crab has been spotted in Puget Sound prompting concern that the species may gain a foothold in the region. 


Rhinoceros Auklet carrying sand lance. Photo by Peter Hodum.

Sand lance in parts of British Columbia are ingesting small pieces of plastic that may be passed through the food web.


Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Bellingham Bay, WA. Photo: Andrew Reding (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/seaotter/9509722373/

After an almost complete collapse in the 1970s, harbor porpoise populations in Puget Sound have rebounded. Scientists are celebrating the recovery of the species sometimes known as the "puffing pig." 


Clam hunger -
2013 Swinomish Tribe clam bake. Photo: Copyright Northwest Treaty Tribes https://www.flickr.com/photos/nwifc/9517621153

Social scientists around the Salish Sea are predicting the effects of environmental change through the lens of culturally important foods.


A 2016 paper in the journal Society and Natural Resources looks at the creation of human well-being indicators across three regions in the Puget Sound watershed. The author suggests that overarching domains for these indictors might be applied more broadly in other environmental contexts. 


Pacific sand lance at rest on sand. Photo: Collin Smith, USGS. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgeologicalsurvey/13378704834

Some of the most important fish in the Salish Sea food web are also the most mysterious. Researchers have only begun to understand how many there are, where they go, and how we can preserve their populations for the future. A University of Washington researcher describes how scientists are looking into the problem.