All posts by Monique Dubos

A global strategy for road buildingdeforestation from road building in the Amazon

Build it and people will follow — that’s the nature of roads. In many parts of the world, that fact is having an impact on ecosystems, with increased human access leading to habitat and wilderness loss, fragmentation, wildfires, overhunting and other environmental degradation. With a 60 percent increase in global road expansion predicted by 2050, careful planning of road building is crucial.

In a report published this week in the journal Nature, researchers have offered a “global road map” to steer road expansion into areas that would have maximum human economic and social benefits while protecting areas with high environmental values such as biodiversity, ecosystem services and carbon storage.

“So much road expansion today is unplanned or chaotic, and we direly need a more proactive approach,” said William F. Laurance, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia, in the Nature news release about the study. “It’s vital because we’re facing the most explosive era of road expansion in human history.”

Across the globe, logging, mining, agriculture, transportation, energy and trade require roads. “While new roads can promote social and economic development, they also can open a Pandora’s box of environmental problems. This is especially the case in pristine or frontier regions, where new roads often dramatically increase land colonization, habitat destruction, and overexploitation of wildlife and natural resources,” the study noted.

Christine S. O’Connell, graduate research assistant with the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative and a co-author of the study, said, “This study was a true team effort from a global team of researchers. I was delighted to participate and bring GLI’s agriculture and land use impacts data and expertise to the table.”

“We focused on agriculture because global food demand is expected to double by mid-century, and new or improved roads are vital for farmers,” said Nathan Mueller of Harvard University in the news release. Mueller completed his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota working with GLI. “With better roads, farmers can have improved access to fertilizers, information, and markets for their crops — the whole economic equation changes, which can make farming more efficient and profitable.”

The researchers used data from GLI and other public sources to figure out where roads and road improvements would have the biggest costs and benefits. From that information, they developed a map showing where high environmental costs suggested road construction should be avoided, where roads could provide big agricultural benefit at a relatively small environmental cost, and ”conflict areas,” in which roads would bring both great agricultural benefit and substantial environmental harm.

Also contributing to the study were Gopalasamy Reuben Clemens, James Cook University and Universiti Malaya Terengganu, Malaysia; Sean Sloan, Miriam Goosem and Oscar Venter, James Cook University; David P. Edwards, University of Sheffield, U.K.; Ben Phalan and Andrew Balmford, University of Cambridge, U.K.; Rodney Van Der Ree, University of Melbourne; and Irene Burgues Arrea, Conservation Strategy Fund, Costa Rica.

“We hope our scheme will be adopted by governments and international funding agencies, to help balance development and nature conservation,” said Laurance in the news release. “It’s very exciting to see GLI data contributing to a study that we hope can contribute directly to conservation planning efforts.”

The maps are available online at www.global-roadmap.org for immediate use.

The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment seeks lasting solutions to Earth’s biggest challenges through research, partnerships and leadership development. For more information, visit environment.umn.edu. To learn more about the Global Landscapes Initiative, visit gli.environment.umn.edu.

Banner: Deforestation associated with forest roads in Roraima in the southern Brazilian Amazon (image from Google Earth).

Big questions: Frontiers’ fresh lookbig questions

This fall, the Institute on the Environment is refreshing our popular Frontiers in the Environment series. We’ll ask some Big Questions and host solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery.

Each week, we’ll ask a pressing question such as, “Can we build a more resilient food distribution system?” Researchers and other experts from IonE and the greater University and Twin Cities’ communities will dive into the topic, sharing cutting-edge insights to move us closer to the answer. Continue reading

Focusing ag expansion can save billions of tons of carbonAir view, birds eye view of the fields and hills

Meeting the growing demand for food and other agricultural products is one of the most daunting challenges we face today. At the same time, clearing forests and grasslands for farming releases carbon into the atmosphere, fueling climate change, a similarly alarming and expensive problem.

A study published today by University of Minnesota researchers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that limiting agricultural expansion to several key global regions could meet the predicted need to double food production by 2050 while preserving nearly 6 billion metric tons more carbon than would be safeguarded with unguided expansion. Preserving this much carbon is worth approximately $1 trillion in terms of climate change mitigation. Continue reading

Sustainability studies: Something for everyonenews_students_outside

Sustainability. It has become such a common word, we take it for granted that everyone knows what it is and how to practice it. But what is it, really?

Sustainability is the concept that humans use natural resources to meet current physical, social and economic needs while maintaining adequate resources for future generations.

In our homes, schools, communities and businesses we incorporate sustainability into our day-to-day lives. Some things are so ingrained we hardly think about them anymore: flipping off the lights when we leave the room; tossing bottles into the recycling bin; taking shorter showers. University of Minnesota Twin Cities undergrads from any major who want to do even more can make sustainability part of their academic program — and eventually, their career — through the sustainability studies minor.
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Repair stations boost biking with Mini Grant helpComo residents lined up to receive a free tune-up, courtesy of SECIA and the I on E Grant

Located halfway between the St. Paul and East Bank campuses of the University of Minnesota, Como neighborhood is home to hundreds of students. And where there are students, there are bikes.

To accommodate all the two-wheeled traffic, the Southeast Como Neighborhood Improvement Association, in partnership with the U’s urban studies program and with support from an IonE Mini Grant, installed two bike tune-up stations in the neighborhood this spring. Continue reading

Visiting scholar brings fresh eyesSiew in the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, northwest China

This summer, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is hosting visiting scholar Tuck Fatt Siew, a postdoctoral researcher at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, who is exploring ways to integrate ecosystem services valuation into watershed management in China.

Visiting scholars bring fresh perspectives, “positive disruption” to the day-to-day way of seeing and doing, says Lewis Gilbert, IonE’s managing director. Visiting scholars are not paid by the University or IonE but are given desk space and the use of office equipment. Continue reading

Fellows capture MnDRIVE Transdisciplinary AwardsPhoto by Adrian S Jones Flickr Creative Commons

Four Institute on the Environment-related research projects have been awarded a total of $2 million from MnDRIVE’s Transdisciplinary Awards, a state-funded grant initiative. Nine IonE resident fellows from six colleges are named as principal investigators or co-investigators on projects to advance renewable energy use in rural food processing systems; produce a database of bacteria that break down chemicals in the environment; develop tools for early disease detection in fish and swine; and create new agricultural products from emerging agricultural technologies. Continue reading

IonE all-stars win MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures grantsGround Beef

Four Institute on the Environment–related research projects won grants from MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures, a state-funded grant program. Four IonE resident fellows, as well as IonE’s managing director, are named as co-investigators on projects that seek to develop holistic and integrated approaches to ensuring a sustainable, safe and resilient food system.

MnDRIVE – Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and Innovation Economy – is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the state of Minnesota, administered through the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research. Funding is intended to foster discoveries in four of the state’s key and emerging industries: robotics, sensors and advanced manufacturing; global food ventures; advancing industry, conserving our environment; and discoveries and treatment for brain conditions. Continue reading

Science on a SpherePhoto by Will von Dauste

What would you get if you crossed a map of the world with the Discovery Channel? You’d get something close to Science on a Sphere, a mash-up of science data and video artistry.

SOS is a cool piece of technology that can illustrate — with compelling imagery and narrative — earth science to audiences at museums, zoos, universities and research institutions around the world. Continue reading

Campus garden sprouts at U of M CrookstonPhoto by Tashi Gurung

Between the seemingly interminable June rains, ground was broken and crops began to sprout in the Allen and Freda Pederson Garden near the U of M Crookston campus. 

Dan Svedarsky, director of the Crookston Center for Sustainability, says completion of the project is “due in no small measure to support of the garden suppers,” funded through an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant. Continue reading

Study: Oil palm plantations alter water qualityPhoto: Yadi Purwanto

New research from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and Stanford University shows that freshwater stream ecosystems are highly vulnerable to oil palm plantation expansion.

The three-year study compared streams draining watersheds dominated by four land uses — intact forest, manually logged forest, community agroforest and oil palm plantation — in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, which is ground zero for palm oil production. Continue reading

Summertime viewing to enlighten and inspireearth_east_nasa

Keep your brain limber this summer by learning about cutting-edge solutions to the planet’s environmental grand challenges. During your down time, we invite you to watch video recordings of the Institute on the Environment’s Frontiers in the Environment series, a forum for experts from the University of Minnesota and other institutions to informally share their work on a wide-range of cutting-edge issues, wrapped up with a lively Q&A.

Browse the archives or choose from this list of nine, hand picked from nearly 40 talks. They are sure to enlighten and inspire! Continue reading

Estar en el PrairieOur difference is our strength

Imagine yourself living in a foreign country where the native language is different from your own. Perhaps you have relocated with your family, or maybe your family is thousands of miles away and most people are strangers to you. What would you say about yourself to the people in this new country or to your family far away?

Dozens of Latino immigrants to western Minnesota are being asked this very question — and invited to display that message to the world.

Estar en el Prairie,” the current installation in IonE’s Commons Meeting & Art Space, is a montage of immigrants photographed in their work,  home or school environment, holding a written message about themselves and their lives.

“I’m happy to experience a new world and meet people with their own universes,” and “Far from home with new horizons” are two of the messages. One newcomer chose to write that he prefers working in Minnesota to California.

The project was led by students at the University of Minnesota Morris. Come see the images and the stories they have to tell now through the end of summer.

Commons Meeting & Art Space
R350 Learning & Environmental Sciences Building
1954 Buford Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108

Directions >>

Photo: Nic McPhee

Acara teams make Minnesota Cup semifinalsMighty Axe Hops Hub

Four teams with roots in the Institute on the Environment’s Acara program have advanced to the semifinals in the 10th annual Minnesota Cup, the state’s largest venture competition.

Acara is a social entrepreneurship program that helps University of Minnesota students develop impact ventures that address societal and environmental challenges through courses, workshops and field experiences.

The four Acara-based social ventures were chosen from a pool of 1,300 and will be competing against 66 other teams for up to $30,000 in seed money for their start-ups. The ventures are:

  • MyRain – supplies drip irrigation systems to small-plot farmers in India
  • Pragati Palms – markets sustainably sourced Indian artisan crafts
  • Mighty Axe – grows Minnesota hops for local brewers
  • BDW Technologies –  is instituting a process for genetically engineering probiotic bacteria to counteract infection in farm animals.

In addition, IonE managing director and chief operating officer Lewis Gilbert has been advising another finalist, Kate Thompson of Ground Truth Collaborative.

Learn more about the Minnesota Cup and the semifinalists here.

Photo: Matthew Wildenauer

Accolades for Acaraacara banner

With its innovative work to encourage impact entrepreneurship around the world,we’ve always had a hunch the Acara program is something special. That hunch got some solid affirmation recently when Acara won the C. Eugene Allen Award for Innovative International Initiatives (III Award) from the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance. The award recognizes faculty and staff who internationalize their work or the work of their department. The recipients receive an award trophy and a $2,500 professional development or program assistance stipend.

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Leaders are made, not bornseagull

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made,” said revered football coach Vince Lombardi. That’s the guiding principle behind the Boreas Leadership Program, a strategic initiative of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment. Boreas offers leadership development opportunities to graduate, professional and postdoctoral students from all University colleges.

Boreas seeks to develop the next generation of social and environmental leaders — those who will tackle the tough challenges facing the world today — through skills workshops, networking and mentoring events (the weekly Boreas Booyah!), and participation on a student advisory board.

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Unfair air?Air Pollution

People of color in the U.S. are exposed to 38 percent more nitrogen dioxide air pollution in the neighborhoods in which they live than are white people, according to new research from the University of Minnesota. The exposure they receive results in approximately 7,000 heart-related deaths per year.

U of M Instititute on the Environment resident fellows Julian Marshall and Dylan Millet and fellow researcher Lara Clark compared U.S. Census data and nitrogen dioxide levels in cities across the country and found that, irrespective of income, nonwhites had higher average exposure to nitrogen dioxide than whites. The findings received extensive coverage in the media this past week. Continue reading

Boreas leadership alum gets Earth Day spotlightUrban heat island

Plenty of folks were out enjoying the overdue warmth of the spring sunshine on Earth Day yesterday — appropriate weather and occasion for a TV news spot highlighting an IonE-supported study at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on how different landscapes affect local temperatures. The study is part of a project on the urban heat island effect, in which buildings and other urban infrastructure absorb and radiate the sun’s heat, causing cities to be relatively warmer than their rural neighbors. Continue reading

Common groundconeflowerbarn

This article is part of a series of profiles of IonE resident fellows highlighting the value of their collaborations across the U of M, Minnesota and the world.

Conventional wisdom has it that farmers and conservationists don’t see eye to eye. Conservationists want to see farmers plant diverse vegetation, in addition to crops like corn and soybeans, that produces ecosystem services; farmers’ main priority is earning a living. Right?

“Farmers care just as much about the environment as anyone, but there are financial realities,” says Nick Jordan, a resident fellow with the Institute on the Environment and an agroecology professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Continue reading