All posts by Mary Hoff

Into the woodsPeter Reich, Principal Investigagor of the B4Warmed project, ans

“How do we know the forest? How does the forest know us? As climate change alters the landscape and its ecology, how do we bridge our past experiences of this place to our future hopes?”

I recently heard the Institute on the Environment’s managing director, Lewis Gilbert, talk about interdisciplinary work in terms of “boundary objects” — topics that can unite people, such as a banker and a butcher at a dinner party discovering they are both into baseball. At a recent IonE-sponsored workshop I co-facilitated, the beautiful and changing forest at the University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center was the boundary object for scientists, artists and community members. “Forest Trails & Forest Tales: Exploring Place, Story, and Climate Change at the Cloquet Forestry Center,” was held June 21-23 and engaged many perspectives on the history and nature of the center, how it is being altered by climate change, and what it means to both adapt and respond to those changes. Continue reading

Earthducation brings environmental awarenessEarthducation in the arctic

When you’re traveling in remote areas of Burkina Faso, it can take multiple layers of translation from English to the tribal language just to ask a single question. So it goes if you’re on a quest to educate the masses about the remote climate hot spots of literally every continent on the world. That’s Institute on the Environment resident fellow Aaron Doering’s mission, and he’s made tremendous strides completing it through the IonE-sponsored Earthducation program. Continue reading

Collaboration with consistency: The Nutrient NetworkNutNet India

When scientists ask big questions, it’s always difficult to get the big answer. When scientists ask big ecological questions that require synthesizing data from a variety of geographical locations and different research protocols, it can seem downright impossible.

In the case of the Nutrient Network, a project that recently began receiving funding from the Institute on the Environment, that frustration with such scientific incongruence fueled a solution. Continue reading

Are crop yield trends on track to meet future demand?NeilPalmer CIAT

Several reports estimate that global crop production needs to double by 2050 to meet the demands of more people, more people eating meat, and more crops being used for biofuel production. I previously wrote a post about five strategies for increasing food security while improving the environment. One strategy is quite obvious: Increase crop production. We need more food, so let’s grow more on our current cropland or expand into new areas. Sounds simple, right? Let’s unpack a few of the details to see if we’re on track to meet projected needs in the coming decades. Continue reading

Dripping with potentialMy Rain 2

“I should be ashamed of this, but I’m not.”

After spending the last year in rural India building the MyRain business he co-founded with his partner Paula Uniacke, Steele Lorenz (BS ’10) was ready for some comfort snack food. So when I asked him if he wanted anything from the U.S. before I left, he gave me a list that included items like Little Debbie cookies and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. On the trip over to India, I learned that Little Debbie cookies caused TSA more problems than anything else I have ever carried onto an airplane. They seem to be impenetrable to X-rays. “I should be ashamed of this list, but I’m not,” Steele confided to me. The work Steele has done with MyRain over the past year, however, deserves a whole shipping container of cookies.

Continue reading

Sustainability semesterUM Morris

Among the projects funded in part by recent Institute on the Environment Mini Grants is a new course in sustainability being offered this summer at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

Students taking part in this innovative “Sustainability Semester” will make connections between food, renewable energy, history, and culture while networking with peers interested in sustainability and making change. Participants may choose from two complementary courses – Culture, Food and Agriculture and Experiencing Sustainability – or enroll in both. Continue reading

Grown to runGrown 2 Run 2

On Friday, May 10, a group of graduate students and a professor from the University of Minnesota set off for the Minnesota-South Dakota border excited and anxious. The plan: go from farm to farm and school to school by bike and on foot, collecting media artifacts on innovative agricultural practices for 7th-12th grade teachers and students following along.

Toward the end of the first day the “Grown to Run” adventure learning team saw plumes of white and gray smoke drifted across the road. Traffic slowed as flames flickered from a prairie reserve being burned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Armed with cameras, the G2R team videotaped a segment of the daily adventure update that would illustrate the role fire plays in prairie ecosystems. Continue reading

Soil surpriseCedar Creek

Living things that lurk beneath the surface of the soil have huge impacts on living things above, influencing everything from individual plants’ ability to obtain nutrients to the integrity of the elaborate food webs that keep animals of all shapes and sizes alive. Now, thanks to research by IonE resident fellows Peter Reich (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences), Sarah Hobbie (College of Biological Sciences) and colleagues, it’s clear that what’s happening above the surface has a huge impact on the living things below as well.

Continue reading

The case of too much or too little nitrogen fertilizerNational Geographic

Many of the increases in food production during the Green Revolution can be attributed to a single element in the periodic table — nitrogen. Begun in the early 1900s as an effort to convert nitrogen gas from the air we breathe into a solid form that could propel ammunition farther, the Haber-Bosch process later became the key mechanism for boosting crop yields through mass production of nitrogen fertilizer. Unfortunately, excess nitrogen degrades our drinking water quality, causes many coastal areas to be oxygen-depleted “dead zones,” and adds a very powerful greenhouse gas to our atmosphere. How can we manage our farmlands more effectively?
Continue reading

Frontiers: Three questions about air pollutionJulian Marshall

More than 2 million people die each year from the health complications of air pollution, such as heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and acute lower respiratory infections, according to the World Health Organization.

Julian Marshall, IonE resident fellow and assistant professor of environmental engineering in the College of Science and Engineering, addresses the problem of air pollution by asking three questions.
Continue reading

Acara meets Kampalakampala

Over spring break, it’s not unusual to go south to get some sun, but I took it to an extreme. I spent the week a few miles north of the equator, in Kampala, Uganda, teaching Makerere University students about social entrepreneurship.

This course at Makerere University is part of the USAID-sponsored RESPOND program, in which the University of Minnesota is playing a major role. RESPOND is creating capacity to strengthen outbreak response for emerging infectious diseases from humans, domestic animals and wildlife.
Continue reading

Frontiers: A mangrove lagoon in the time of climate changeMangrove

Imagine living in a region where your livelihood depended on the frequent flooding of your property.  David Lipset has lived with and chronicled the lives of people who make such a location their home. He shared how a population of roughly 3,000 in the Murik Lakes region of Papua New Guinea is being effected by rising sea levels at the March 6 Frontiers in the Environment seminar, “A Mangrove Lagoon in the Time of Climate Change: The Politics, Science and Culture of an Intertidal Environment in Papua New Guinea.”
Continue reading

Frontiers: Sound ecologyEcology of Sound

What is noise, and how does it affect the natural world? These are among the questions Mark Pedelty, IonE resident fellow and College of Liberal Arts associate professor, posed at his February 27 Frontiers in the Environment seminar, “Sound Ecology: The Environmental Effects of Mechanical Noise and Human Music.”

Pedelty is hoping to influence land development policy to take the effects of mechanical and human noise into account. For example, he noted that some songbirds sing louder and at a higher pitch in urban landscapes, and industrial noise has been shown to inhibit foraging and reproduction in certain frog species.
Continue reading

Hamburger or hummus?Hamburger

Hamburger or hummus? Organic or conventional? Mediterranean diet or McDonald’s?

If you’re puzzled by which dietary choices are truly the most sustainable when you consider that what we eat affects not just our health but also the environment and the well-being of others, check out Sustainability of Food Systems: A Global Life Cycle Perspective, a new MOOC (massive open online course) developed and taught by IonE resident fellow Jason Hill, McKnight Land-Grant Professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Continue reading