Category Archives: IonE Resident Fellow

Shining new light on trees and CO2news_reich_main

How much do trees vary in the way they suck carbon dioxide from the air and use it to make roots, trunks, branches and leaves? The answer to that question is an important one because it has a huge impact on our ability to predict how destroying or creating forests influences climate change. And the correct answer is a surprising one, according to two related studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week by University of Minnesota forest ecologist Peter Reich and colleagues in Minnesota, Arizona, Australia, China, Poland and Germany.

Conventional models used to assess the impact of forests on greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere assume that the way trees use carbon to build roots, leaves and trunks is fairly constant across a range of conditions — that is, that trees everywhere devote the same fraction of new growth to each component and that components have the same durability everywhere. However, analyzing massive amounts of data gathered from around the globe, Reich and colleagues documented predictable differences in key properties of forests across north-south climate gradients.

“These findings both advance our understanding of how trees vary and provide useful tools for making earth system models more accurate,” said Reich, a Regents professor and distinguished McKnight University professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and resident fellow of the Institute on the Environment. “[Most of all, they dramatically improve our ability to accurately assess the impact of forests on climate change and vice versa.]”

In one paper, the scientists addressed the question of whether trees invest more heavily in building roots to enhance uptake of water and nutrients in cold climates, where these resources are scarce. Using data from more than 6,000 forests in 61 countries, the researchers discovered that cold-climate forests tend to build more roots and less leaves than those found in warmer climates. This information will improve scientists’ ability to estimate how much carbon trees store worldwide.

The second study looked at how the amount of time cold-climate evergreens such as spruce, fir and pine hang onto their needles varies with climate. Until now, research looking at the flow of carbon through ecosystems generally assumed that evergreens like spruce and pine keep their needles for an average of two years pretty much everywhere. These new findings, gathered from more than 125 sites in North America and Europe, paint a far different picture. The researchers found that the needles of evergreen trees such as spruce and pine in the cold, far north of Canada and Scandinavia last longer but have a lower capacity for capturing carbon than do needles of trees in warmer (relatively speaking) climates such as Minnesota or Germany. These north-south geographic patterns are similar enough among pines and spruces and Europe and North America to enable their incorporation into global vegetation and earth system models, resulting in more accurate projections of forest productivity, carbon flow and how forest are likely to change in the future.

The research involved multiple partners, including a large IonE-sponsored initiative, the Plant Data Synthesis project, which seeks to bring together massive amounts of data from around the world in search of big-picture patterns related to how trees and forests function.

“By improving our understanding of how forests vary from tropics to temperate zone to the polar edges of boreal forest, we hope to provide fundamental advances to basic science and new tools for better modeling forest growth and climate regulation today and into the future,” Reich said.

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.

Photo by Jim Brekke (Creative Commons / Flickr)

Ecologist David Tilman awarded prestigious Balzan PrizePhoto of Ecologist David Tilman

University of Minnesota ecologist and IonE resident fellow David Tilman has received a 2014 Balzan Prize in recognition of his outstanding scholarly contributions in ecology. The international award comes with an $800,000 prize, half of which is to support young researchers working with Tilman.

According to a release by the International Balzan Prize Foundation, Tilman received the distinction for his “huge contributions to theoretical and experimental plant ecology, work that underpins much of our current understanding of how plant communities are structured and interact with their environment.”

The Balzan Prize recognizes achievements in the humanities and natural sciences, as well as in advancing peace among humanity. The foundation varies the fields it recognizes each year with an eye to uplifting innovative research across disciplinary boundaries. Tilman was one of four scholars from around the world to receive the prize this year. Past recipients of the award include Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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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

Frontiers: Understanding urban eutrophicationUrban runoff

When you think about the primary sources of water pollution, you probably imagine a factory pipe or perhaps massive livestock farms. But would you believe that your quiet neighborhood could be degrading water quality locally and downstream?

Portrait: Sarah HobbieThat was the topic of the season finale of Institute on the Environment’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture series on Wednesday, May 7, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

In “A Watershed Approach to Understanding Urban Eutrophication,” Sarah Hobbie, an IonE resident fellow and professor of ecology, evolution and behavior in the College of Biological Sciences, discussed how nutrients from lawns, pets and boulevard trees contribute to excessive algal growth in urban water bodies.

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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

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

Earthducation Expedition 6 heads to the land of EverestPokhara, Nepal

What does education look like in remote mountain villages where electricity is nonexistent or unreliable? How does a developing country seeking to grow its economy, boost tourism and expand its infrastructure do so sustainably?

Earthducation Expedition 6 aims to find out — and share what it learns with teachers and students around the world. This sixth in a series of seven-continent explorations investigates the intersections between education and sustainability in Nepal, the roof of the world. Led by Aaron Doering and Charles Miller of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development with funding from the University’s Institute on the Environment, the expedition will set out April 27 for a journey to this diverse ecological powerhouse that boasts some of the most majestic geographical wonders on Earth. Continue reading

Can technology save the planet?Nanotech by Matthias Weinberger.

The Thinking Ahead Seminar Series: Emerging Technologies and the Environment, hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs with funding from an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant, explores the newest technologies from multiple disciplines inside and outside the University and their potential to help solve the most daunting environmental challenges. Continue reading

Frontiers: North of SixtyNorth of Sixty

Trekking across Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, Aaron Doering’s dogsled of supplies crashed through the ice. Most would see a disaster; Doering saw an opportunity to educate millions around the world.

Portrait: Aaron DoeringDoering, an Institute on the Environment resident fellow, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, and director of the Learning Technologies Media Lab, discussed online distance and adventure learning in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture – “North of Sixty: Narratives of a Changing World” earlier this month.

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IonE names seven new resident fellowsLake Malawi

Faculty from across the U of M accept the challenge of addressing environmental problems through interdisciplinary work

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (2/18/14)—Seven University of Minnesota faculty from seven different colleges have been named resident fellows of the Institute on the Environment. Representing a range of disciplines, the new fellows join 58 others conducting interdisciplinary projects that seek to understand and address environmental problems.

Fellows maintain their appointment in their own departments, but receive additional funding to pursue projects that cross disciplinary boundaries. The fellowships also help accelerate professional and leadership development. Continue reading

Frontiers: Nanotech environmental monitoringPortrait: Jian-Ping Wang

Pollution and contamination aren’t always as obvious as a burning river or a massive algal bloom. In fact, pathogen and heavy metal contamination can be difficult to detect – even with today’s most modern technology.

Jian-Ping Wang, an IonE resident fellow and distinguished McKnight University professor, is working to change that. Wang discussed his research using spintronic and nano magnetic technologies at his Frontiers in the Environment lecture, “Intelligent Nanotechnology for Environmental Monitoring,” Feb. 5.

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Frontiers: Science communicationFrontiers Round-Up, beginning with MinuteEarth

YouTube is usually a one-stop shop for movie trailers, music and cat videos. But one family is using the popular website to educate viewers on earth and climate science, one video at a time.

Portraits: Henry, Peter and Alex ReichLast March, brothers Henry and Alex Reich, along with their father, IonE resident fellow Peter Reich, created the YouTube channel MinuteEarth, featuring one- to three-minute animated videos focusing on topics ranging from fisheries management to atmospheric science. The three shared their experience at the Institute on the Environment’s first Frontiers in the Environment presentation of the semester - “Science Communication: Teach, Entertain or Inspire?” – Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.

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New tool aims to clean up supply chainSponge Life Cycle

There you are, hunkered over your sink, hands wrist-deep in hot water, swiping suds over food-crusted dinner plates. That squishy, soapy thing that’s helping you do so many daily chores…ever wonder where its life began and where it will end?

That sponge, like everything on the planet, has a life cycle, composed of all the materials and energy that brought it to your sink and all the tasks it will help you complete until you’ve squeezed the last bit of work from it and tossed it into the trash. Continue reading

John Gulliver: Runoff wranglerHeron in Ditch

Stormwater falling on paved and other impermeable surfaces is the main source of urban runoff. That water is laden with nutrients and minerals that are detrimental to the water quality of rivers and lakes.

IonE resident fellow John Gulliver, a professor in the College of Science and Engineering, has spent more than a decade working on ways to protect water from the ravages of runoff. Continue reading

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

Frontiers: University-community collaboration: Cool!RCP

How can we build long-term capacity to produce sustainable solutions and resilient institutions? How can we foster innovation in engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration in universities? Carissa Schively Slotterback, IonE resident fellow and associate professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, addressed these questions during the April 24 Frontiers in the Environment seminar, “University-Community Collaboration to Advance Sustainability.”
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