Category Archives: News

7 things we learned about feedback technologyFlickr: Photo by keila k. (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Frontiers was joined this week by John Petersen, director of the Environmental Studies program at Oberlin College in Ohio. Through an engaging talk on technology and the ways it can be used to provide a visual representation of human impact, Petersen discussed the how the Environmental Dashboard project has leveraged the concept of feedback and the potential it has to change human behavior. Here are seven things we learned: Continue reading

10 things we learned about chemicals & environmentFlickr: Photo by Bert van Dijk (Flickr/Creative Commons)

What better way to commemorate Earth Day than by learning about how our everyday actions affect the environment? This week’s Frontiers focused on common chemical pollutants and their impacts. IonE resident fellow and College of Science and Engineering professor Bill Arnold kicked off the talk, followed by Matt Simcik, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Ron Hadsall, professor in the College of Pharmacy. With conversations ranging from flaming couches to perspiration and peeing, here are 10 things we learned: Continue reading

Oil and gas extraction drives ecosystem lossOil Extraction News

Present-day oil and gas extraction practices drive the large-scale loss of ecosystem services across the North American Great Plains.

That’s the take-away from a new study published today in Science co-authored by a University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment researcher. Improved drilling technologies coupled with energy demand has resulted in an average of 50,000 new wells drilled per year in central North America — displacing an area of crop- and rangeland equivalent to three Yellowstone National Parks between 2000 and 2012.  Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Industrial Ecologist Tim SmithCrops Tim Smith

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 Tim Smith, associate professor of environmental sciences, policy and management, and bioproducts and biosystems engineering in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. Let the conversation begin!

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

I am currently reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty (along with just about everyone else . . .). I love the fact that, through his own admission, the book is as much a contribution to our understanding of economic history as illuminating key dynamics shaping wealth and inequality. Our understanding of big thorny problems and our ability to implement potential solutions are rarely isolated within individual fields of study or areas of practice. His interpretation of the societal, political and economic balancing act dictating the roles of income and capital across countries is fascinating. Continue reading

Study: Plants’ ability to absorb CO2 limitedTree Canopy

Does more atmospheric carbon mean bigger plants?

Not necessarily, according to a new study co-authored by a University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment researcher. Most climate scenarios, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, assume that, since plants convert carbon dioxide to food for growth, more CO2 in the atmosphere will accelerate plant growth, thereby reducing the net amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. This study supports a growing body of knowledge that suggests instead that plants can’t keep absorbing more CO2 because there aren’t enough nutrients in the soil to sustain their growth.  Continue reading

6 things we learned about managing pandemic threatsFlickr: Photo by Matthew Anderson (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The April 15 Frontiers looked at ways we can manage disease threats at home and abroad. Thanks to a diverse panel including Patsy Stinchfield, director of infection prevention and control at the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota; Cheryl Robertson, an associate professor in the School of Nursing, and John Deen, a professor of Veterinary Population Medicine, here are six things we learned:
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Featured Fellow: Environmental Educator Patrick HamiltonPhoto by Arend (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 Patrick Hamilton, program director of Global Change Initiatives at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Let the conversation begin!
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Energy Transition Lab promotes 21st century upgradesWind Turbine and Power Lines

The Energy Transition Lab, supported by the Institute on the Environment, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Law School, brings together leaders in government, business and nonprofit organizations to develop new energy policy pathways, institutions and regulations.

In this audio clip, Hari Osofsky, ETL’s faculty director, Law School professor and IonE resident fellow, discusses the lab’s goals and what communities and business and utility partners are doing to bring the energy system into the 21st century with WTIP North Shore Community Radio.

Photo by mwwile (Flickr Creative Commons)

RCP recognized for excellence, innovationResilient Communities Project Drive to Discover Flag

The Resilient Communities Project has been selected as the 2015 recipient of the MAGS/ETS Excellence and Innovation in Graduate Education Award. Jointly sponsored by the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) and Educational Testing Service (ETS), this annual award is given to a MAGS member institution in recognition of outstanding contributions to domestic and international graduate education at both the graduate school and program level.
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8 things we learned about health and wildlife tradeFlickr: Photo by Craig ONeal (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Combine cutting-edge University of Minnesota research and heightened interest in infectious disease due to recent ebola outbreaks, and you get a fascinating discussion on wildlife and the ways it may influence global health. At this week’s Frontiers in the Environment, Dominic Travis, IonE resident fellow and associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine; Shaun Kennedy, director of the Food Systems Institute and adjunct professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Kristine Smith, associate director of health and policy with EcoHealth Alliance explored the health risks associated with the global wildlife trade. Here are eight things we learned: Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Civil engineer John GulliverPeople John Gulliver

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 John Gulliver, civil engineer at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory. Let the conversation begin!

What environmental challenge concerns you most?

Population control. We are overpopulating and exploiting the Earth and these are at the root of all environmental problems. I do not know how many people a sustainable world can support, but I suspect that it is less than a population of 9 billion. Continue reading

7 things we learned about social media & environmentFlickr: Photo by Kris Olin (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This week Brent Hecht, an assistant professor in the College of Science and Engineering, and Spencer Wood, senior scientist with the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, joined Frontiers in the Environment to discuss how social media can be used to inform the causes and consequences of environmental change. Here are seven things we learned:

1. We’ve entered a new era of data. The explosion of social media has created an abundance of data not previously available. Geotagged information (the inclusion of geographical information on forms media, such as marking your location in a Tweet) from social media is one way to harness these data in a useful way. Using the combination of location information in conjunction with the information included in the post, researchers can gleam new insights. Continue reading

We need system change, not regulationSystem Change

This article was originally published in The Conversation.

The higher levels of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels are one feature of what many call the Anthropocene, a new geological era dominated by humans.

Yet regulatory approaches to managing carbon in the Earth system are doomed to fail. This is because the rise of carbon dioxide levels — what I call the CO Catastrophe — is taking place at the scale of the Earth system itself. Humans are inside of that system, COemissions are coupled to energy use, and increasing energy use is central to economic advancement. I have become convinced that it is simply not possible to manage energy usage from the scale of households to that of the planet itself using regulatory methods. Continue reading

Carver County is new RCP partnerCarver Co

Carver County, one of seven counties in the Twin Cities metro, has been chosen as the 2015–16 Resilient Communities Project partner. Enhancing bike and pedestrian facilities near park-and-ride locations, evaluating stormwater reuse opportunities, crafting an ecotourism marketing plan and exploring opportunities for preservation of a historic farmstead are among the 34 projects the county will tackle with help from University of Minnesota sustainability expertise.
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5 things we learned about advanced heat recoveryFlickr: Photo by Bryan Kennedy (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Buildings are huge parts of our lives, yet we rarely think about what it takes to keep them running. This week, Frontiers took a look at advanced heat recovery, one a way to improve building energy efficiency. Leading the discussion was Patrick Hamilton, IonE resident fellow and director of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Global Change Initiatives. Panelists were Scott Getty, energy project manager for Metropolitan Council Environmental Services; Katie Gulley, regional program manager with the BlueGreen Alliance; and Peter Klein, vice president of finance for the Saint Paul Port Authority. Here are five things we learned: Continue reading

Uncovering the impacts of oil palmBanner photo by CIFOR (Flickr Creative Commons)

This profile originally appeared in the Union of Concerned Scientists Science Network.

While studying oil palm plantation expansion in Indonesian Borneo as part of her Ph.D. work at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Institute on the Environment postdoctoral scholar Kimberly Carlson witnessed how growing global demand, coupled with poor forest governance, resulted in rapid loss of tropical forests. Led by her adviser Lisa Curran and collaborating with the Indonesian non-governmental organization Living Landscapes Indonesia, Carlson has helped uncover the impacts of oil palm development on forest loss, carbon emissions and stream water quality. She finished her Ph.D. wishing not only to document the dynamics and effects of agricultural land use change, but also to design studies that directly inform tropical land use policy. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Dendrochronologist Scott St. GeorgePhoto by Landahlauts (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 Scott St. George, assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts. Let the conversation begin!

What is your current favorite project?

I’m working with colleagues at Cornell University to understand how and why the environmental “stories” recorded by trees differ from place to place. Every year, trees in Minnesota and other parts of the world with strongly seasonal climates form a new layer of wood around their stem. That layer of wood — a tree ring — is very clear evidence of the passing of time and records, indirectly, the immediate environment of that tree. Over the last several decades scientists have collected tree-ring records from hundreds of thousands of trees around the planet. A tree ring may be a very simple thing, but reading millions of them at the same time might tell us a great deal about the environmental past (and perhaps future) of our planet. Continue reading

7 things we learned about government & environmentFlickr: Photo by Mahinda Rajapaksa (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in the early 1970s were clear public policy wins for the environmental movement. But are we still able to make progress through government action in the same way we did 40 years ago? Eric Lind, a postdoctoral associate in the College of Biological Sciences, was curious about what “successful” government action on the environment looks like today, so he asked three professionals to share their experience in this week’s Frontiers on the Environment. Kate Knuth, Boreas Leadership Program director, spoke of her experience as a Minnesota state representative, followed by Julia Frost Nerbonne, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, and Jessica Tritsch, senior organizing representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign. Here are seven things we learned: Continue reading

5 things we learned about groundwaterFlickr: Photo by Benjamin Jakabek (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This week’s Frontiers talk featured Kate Brauman, lead scientist with IonE’s Global Water Initiative, and a panel of experts providing perspectives on the current state of groundwater resources. Joining her was Perry Jones, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey; Steve Polasky, IonE resident fellow, The Natural Capital Project lead, and professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; and Sherry Enzler, general counsel for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Here are five things we learned: Continue reading