Category Archives: News

Get in on the action: Sustainability Action! Open HousePhoto courtesty of Sustainability Studies Minor, Institute on the Environment

On September 4, thousands of first-year students will have the chance to sneak a peek at the many environmental- and sustainability-related opportunities offered across the University of Minnesota at the seventh annual Sustainability Action! Open House. The Institute on the Environment and University Services are co-hosts of this full, fast-paced day devoted to sustainability-focused games, displays, meet and greets, food samplings, shows, and information. The Learning & Environmental Sciences building will transform into a dynamic space with hands-on activities, demonstrations and chances to see, touch, taste and try.   Continue reading

Food for thought: The Sustainable Agriculture ProjectPhoto by Jeanette (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Amidst uncertainties over how the global food system will respond to climate change, and the potential conflicts and resource scarcities that may accompany it, communities are turning more and more to locally grown and distributed food. The Sustainable Agriculture Project at the University of Minnesota Duluth is one such effort to build a resilient regional food system.

Randel Hansen, IonE resident fellow and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Duluth College of Liberal Arts, explores how the SAP farm provides both local food and opportunities for students to explore the connections among agriculture, water and energy on WTIP North Shore Community Radio.

 

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 Jeanette (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Drones study has media buzzingPhoto by Lee (Flickr/Creative Commons)

They’re becoming increasingly common, careening overhead at the beach or in the park. I’m not talking about mosquitoes, I’m talking about drones. And a new Institute on the Environment–supported study about drones and bears is creating a lot of buzz in the media.

The study, led by University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences professor Mark Ditmer with support from an IonE Mini Grant, found that bears’ heart rates increase significantly when drones are present, indicating a heightened level of stress.

It turns out that bears are not the only creatures to get excited about drones. The story has been shared by such heavy hitters as The Washington Post, National Public Radio, the British Broadcasting CorporationSlate and National Geographic, in addition to more science-oriented news sites such as ArsTechnica and LiveScience.

IonE’s Mini Grant program provides seed funding to help spur new interdisciplinary collaborations at the University of Minnesota.

Photo by Lee (Flickr/Creative Commons)

IonE fellow to lead global project on sustainable citiesPhoto by m01229 (Flickr/Creative Commons)

What is a healthy city? How does society weigh the conveniences of transportation, readily available water and electricity, and placement of that new shopping center against the environmental impacts of those assets?

With more than half the world’s population living in cities, building resilient and healthy communities has never been more important. Estimates indicate that by 2050, some 3 billion more people — two-thirds of the world’s population — will inhabit urban areas, increasing pressure on water, energy and land resources. Continue reading

Grand challenge: build resilient communitiesStock photo © KIVILCIM PINAR

More than half of all people live in cities, a number expected to rise to 60 percent by 2050, according to the United Nations. That means that how we build and manage our urban areas is “one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century,” wrote John Wilmoth, director of the United Nations Population Division, in a recent report.

It’s not surprising, then, that the University of Minnesota has recognized the need to focus on cities in its recently released 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

Featured Fellow: Roboticist Volkan IslerPhoto by Jennifer C. (Flickr/CreativeCommons)

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 Volkan Isler, associate professor in the College of Science and Engineering. Let the conversation begin!

What is your current favorite project?

Our lab [the Robotic Sensor Networks Lab] is building robotic systems and deploying them in environmental applications. We have developed a network of robotic boats to track invasive fish. We are now developing a team of unmanned aerial and ground vehicles that can do in-field measurements of crops such as apples. Hopefully soon, we will be able to perform other kinds of in-field inspection, such as disease detection.

So far, the success of robotics is mainly in factory settings that can be controlled. Taking them into the field, into an unstructured environment, allows for uncertainties to be introduced. This makes structured and uniform agricultural settings, such as apple orchards or cornfields, ideal for the transition to more natural environments. Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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