Category Archives: News

Boosting nutrients gives a leg up to invasive speciesPhoto by Anita (Flicker/Creative Commons)

U of M researchers conduct global grassland experiment to gain unprecedented insight into differences in the way exotic and native plant species operate.

This article is reprinted with permission from the College of Biological Sciences.

Species invasions come at a high cost. In the United States, the annual cost to the economy tops $100 billion a year and invasive plant infestations affect 100 million acres. While it’s tempting to focus attention on headline-grabbing cases of exceptionally fecund flora such as the kudzu vine, also known as “the vine that ate the South”, basic questions remain about how and whether exotic species are functionally distinct from native species and why they tend to take over when introduced into new environments. Continue reading

What does climate change mean for Minnesota’s trees?Photo by Justin Meissen (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Climate change is affecting weather patterns across the globe — and on our doorstep. As temperatures warm and moisture availability shifts as a result, what effect will these changes have on Minnesota’s trees?

IonE resident fellow Rebecca Montgomery, associate professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, talked with WTIP North Shore Community Radio about an ongoing study that is revealing what trees might disappear from Minnesota’s north woods and which are likely to take their place.

IonE resident fellows are faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries and are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges.

Photo by Justin Meissen (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Oil palm plantations & tropical peatland carbon lossPhoto © Marcel Silvius

New study uncovers limitations in past carbon calculations, suggests improved strategies

Draining tropical peatlands for oil palm plantations may result in nearly twice as much carbon loss as official estimates, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and the Union of Concerned Scientists in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Peatlands — waterlogged, organic soils — have developed over thousands of years as carbon storage systems. In Southeast Asia, peat swamp forests cover about 250,000 square kilometers, a land area about the size of Michigan. In the past 15 years, peatland forests have been rapidly drained and cleared to make way for oil palm and pulpwood plantations. Draining exposes the upper peat layer to oxygen, raising decomposition rates and soil carbon losses. Most of that carbon is emitted to the atmosphere, speeding up climate change. Continue reading

U of M names Jessica Hellmann director of the IonEnews_ione_director_announcement

Renowned environmental researcher, scholar and communicator Jessica Hellmann has been named the new director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Hellmann, who is currently on the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, will begin her tenure as director of the Institute on the Environment August 31, 2015. She also will join the University faculty as the Russell M. and Elizabeth M. Bennett Chair in Excellence in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior in the College of Biological Sciences. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Food systems expert Randel HansonPhoto by jb (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Over the course of the next year, this series will introduce our diverse resident fellows in their own words. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Randel Hanson, assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of MInnesota Duluth. Let the conversation begin!

What’s the most interesting thing you’re reading now? 

I have been deeply moved by Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work on thinking through the new reality that we humans collectively and differentially face with anthropogenic climate change: this emergent reality engages in new ways the conjoinment of the history of the Earth system, the history of life (including human evolution) on our planet, and the history of industrial “civilization” and capitalism. Each of these histories has its importance in terms of understanding where we’re at today and yet, as he explores, they are intertwining in ways that deeply challenge how our knowledge systems and our disciplinary systems organize how we approach the world. How do we sufficiently grasp the complexity and enormity of this moment in these histories? And how do we create understandings and actions requisite to our time? For me his work is the richest engagement that I’ve come across in exploring these questions. He doesn’t provide the answers, but he is moving the ball compellingly forward in terms of grasping the complexity of our times. Continue reading

Conservation and conversation in Costa RicaCCCR

Can communication improve conservation? That was the goal in early June, when more than 80 biologists, conservationists, students and journalists gathered from around the world for a two-day open house to share ideas and experiences, network, and strategize how to communicate the value of the research and conservation activities going on at the Área de Conservación Guanacaste (Guanacaste Conservation Area) in northwestern Costa Rica.

ACG spreads across 402,781 acres of rain forest, dry tropical forest and cloud forest, as well as a marine reserve in the northwestern corner of Costa Rica. Scientists and ACG staff are engaged in about 150 different research projects there, from studying ants, primates and sea turtles to observing tropical forest regeneration and how it affects water availability to local communities. Continue reading

Catch up with Frontiers in the Environment talksPhoto by Photo Phiend (Flickr Creative Commons)

Can art help kids connect with nature? What do sustainability and happiness have in common? How can Twitter help researchers understand resource use? These are some of the questions we tackled in the Spring 2015 Frontiers in the Environment speaker series. University, government and industry experts engaged with attendees in hourlong conversations — and debates — over these and many other timely topics.
Continue reading

Art exhibit: We watch the streamIMG_0326 - Cr2

How do we learn to see the deep interconnections we have with the world around us?

That is the question Jonee Kulman Brigham seeks to answer with her art-led environmental education project, “River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi River.” Brigham, an IonE resident fellow, sustainable design program faculty member in the College of  Design and a visiting scholar in the College of Education and Human Development, wanted to help youth connect the Mississippi River to the water coming out of their taps at school and at home. Photographs and student reflections of this exploration are the focus of the art exhibit now on display in IonE’s Commons Meeting and Art Space.
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U of M researchers advance natural capital principles around the worldNatural Capital PNAS

Key leaders around the world are becoming more aware of the importance of including the value of nature in development decisions — witness the publication this week of a special issue of the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the topic — thanks to the work of The Natural Capital Project and researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

It is exciting to see ecosystem services becoming more mainstream. We’ve seen some impressive successes as leaders begin to use the science of ecosystem services to make decisions with better outcomes for people and the planet. The next steps are to learn from these successes, to reform institutions so that we provide incentives for the stewardship of natural capital, and encourage widespread adoption of these ideas,” says Stephen Polasky, NatCap project lead, IonE resident fellow, and professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Continue reading

Humans are inadvertently fertilizing grasslands around the worldGrasslands

Gardeners know how a few key inputs can dramatically change the productivity of plants —timely additions of water and fertilizer, for instance, or the right soil conditions, can dramatically boost plant productivity.

Scientists seeking to understand what determines rates of plant growth in natural grasslands and rangelands have long focused on climatic conditions such as temperature and rainfall. However, in recent years a new suspect has emerged: nitrogen. The growth of fossil-fuel-based industrial activity, transportation and agriculture in recent decades has increased the amount of nitrogen traveling through the water and air around the world. One potential result is that areas that appear to be little impacted by human development and that are not being farmed can actually be fertilized from afar by these excess nutrients. Continue reading

What happens when food crosses borders?Graham MacDonald Interview

This article was written by Bob Henson and reprinted with permission from Wunderground. IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative collaborates with leaders in agriculture and related sectors to develop solutions for meeting current and future global food needs while sustaining our planet.

If you’ve ever encountered Argentinian pears in your New York grocery or snacked on California almonds while visiting Tokyo, you’ve seen the global food market in action. How will the nuance and complexity of global food trade be affected if some agricultural areas benefit from a warming climate, while others get hurt? Graham MacDonald gave us a sneak preview. He’s a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, where he studies the role of trade in the global food system. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Epidemiologist Dominic TravisElephant Dominic Travis

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Over the course of the next year, this series will introduce our diverse resident fellows in their own words. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Dominic Travis, epidemiologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Let the conversation begin!

What’s the most interesting thing you’re reading now?

I like to read 10 to 15 books at a time. Maybe because I’m subject-ADHD and a slow reader, I have many different reading moods. One book I am reading is the locally published Borlaug series (three volumes) by Noel Vietmeyer. It is amazing to see how the father of the Green Revolution had some of his formative years at the University of Minnesota and then to compare to the current culture here — I think the IonE concept follows on that fairly well.  Continue reading

University-Rosemount partnership “a gift”courtesy of City of Rosemount

This article was adapted from the original by Emily Zimmer for Rosemount Town Pages.

During his speech at the Resilient Communities Project end-of-year celebration May 1, Rosemount, Minn., mayor Bill Droste called the partnership a “great gift.”

The University of Minnesota Resilient Communities Project celebrated the conclusion of its one-year partnership with Rosemount during a luncheon at the McNamara Alumni Center. Continue reading

Community solar and Minnesota’s energy futureSolar Community

What part does solar energy have to play in Minnesota’s energy future? Ellen Anderson, executive director of the Energy Transition Lab — supported by IonE, the University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President for Research and the Law School — addressed that big question recently on Minnesota Public Radio’s Climate Cast program. Anderson explained how Minnesota’s community solar laws are helping expand solar energy in the state and called for more permanent and consistent policies and investments to insure success in renewable markets.

Listen to the broadcast.

Photo by BlackRockSolar (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The outsize role of Earth’s largest lakesLake Superior Great Lakes

The Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota Duluth is the only institute in the country dedicated to the study of large lakes throughout the world.

IonE resident fellow Robert Sterner, LLO director and professor at the UMD Swenson College of Science and Engineering, talked with WTIP North Shore Community Radio about the importance of the Earth’s largest lakes, the mission of the LLO and an upcoming research project aimed at cataloging the ecosystem services large lakes provide.

Watch the lecture here.

IonE resident fellows are faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries and are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges.

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Featured Fellow: Anthropologist Mark PedeltyRitual Mark Pedelty

Editor’s note: IonE’s nearly 70 resident fellows — faculty with appointments throughout the University of Minnesota system who come together here to share ideas, inspiration and innovation across disciplinary boundaries — are among the shining stars of IonE’s signature approach to addressing global grand challenges. Over the course of the next year, this series will introduce our diverse resident fellows in their own words. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Mark Pedelty, professor in the College of Liberal Arts. Let the conversation begin!

What’s your current favorite project?

I am writing a book whose working title is Environmentalist Musicians: Cases from Cascadia for Indiana University Press’s Music, Nature, Place series. It is based on six case studies of musicians working with environmental movements, starting with Dana Lyons and ending with the Idle No More movement, performers who mobilize communities through music. They shared their ideas, techniques and experiences with me over the course of two years. Continue reading

New Mini Grant awards focus on Galapagos and moreGalapagos Islands Otter

A workshop on invasive species in the Galapagos Islands, the launch of a food festival at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and the implementation of a new course on impact ventures in rural Nicaragua are some of the projects receiving Institute on the Environment Mini Grants this spring. Eleven projects received grants of up to $3,000 and one received $5,000 for a total disbursement of $43,300.

Mini Grants are designed to encourage collaboration on environmental themes among faculty, staff and students across University of Minnesota disciplines, units and campuses. Along with funding, each recipient is provided space for meetings, workshops and conferences and some administrative support for a year. Continue reading

Grand challenge: sustainably feed the worldGLI strategic plan

The times are a-changin’. In his prophetic 1963 lyrics, Bob Dylan sings that if our time on Earth is worth saving, we’d “better start swimmin’ or . . . sink like a stone.” Whether the times bring food scarcity or abundance, water risk or availability, deforestation or revitalized ecosystems, is up to us. In other words, if we want a sustainable future, we need to start swimming — developing solutions that will allow us to adapt and thrive.

To lead the way, the University of Minnesota recently released a strategic plan detailing the first of a series of “grand challenges” it aims to address over the next 10 years: cultivating a sustainable, healthy, secure food system; advancing industry while conserving the environment and addressing climate change; and building vibrant communities that enhance human potential and collective well-being in a diverse and changing world. Continue reading

Influencing outcomes for people and natureNatural Capital Symposium

In March, the Natural Capital Project, a partnership among the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, Stanford University’s Woods Institute of the Environment, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund that works to develop ecosystem services concepts, tools and science that influence decision making and lead to better outcomes for humans and nature, hosted a Natural Capital Symposium at Stanford. The three-day event provided a platform for a broad audience to learn new and existing tools, network among fellow researchers and practitioners, and share and discuss ongoing ecosystem services research and projects. Continue reading