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. Continue reading
Pollinators have a direct impact on human nutrition, especially in the developing world where malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent, according to new research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The Natural Capital Project study — a collaboration of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and Stanford Woods Institute on the Environment — overlapped data of 115 common food crops with data on pollination dependence and micronutrient content and found that, in places like Southeast Asia and Latin America, almost 50 percent of plant-derived vitamin A requires pollination. Read more
Banner photo @iStockphoto.com/hkratky
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.
Meeting the growing demand for food and other agricultural products is one of the most daunting challenges we face today. At the same time, clearing forests and grasslands for farming releases carbon into the atmosphere, fueling climate change, a similarly alarming and expensive problem.
A study published today by University of Minnesota researchers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that limiting agricultural expansion to several key global regions could meet the predicted need to double food production by 2050 while preserving nearly 6 billion metric tons more carbon than would be safeguarded with unguided expansion. Preserving this much carbon is worth approximately $1 trillion in terms of climate change mitigation. Continue reading
The Office of the President of the United States announced a significant expansion of the White House Climate Data Initiative yesterday in Washington, D.C. Through a partnership with the Kellogg Company, the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative will support this effort by providing maps and data showing the potential impacts of climate change on global agriculture.
“Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor, in a press release. “The commitments being announced today answer that call by empowering the U.S. and global agricultural sectors with the tools and information needed to keep food systems strong and secure in a changing climate.”
Feeding a growing human population without increasing stresses on Earth’s strained land and water resources may seem like an impossible challenge. But according to a new report by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, focusing efforts to improve food systems on a few specific regions, crops and actions could make it possible to both meet the basic needs of 3 billion more people and decrease agriculture’s environmental footprint.
The report, published today in Science, focuses on 17 key crops that produce 86 percent of the world’s crop calories and account for most irrigation and fertilizer consumption on a global scale. It proposes a set of key actions in three broad areas that that have the greatest potential for reducing the adverse environmental impacts of agriculture and boosting our ability to meet global food needs. For each, it identifies specific “leverage points” where nongovernmental organizations, foundations, governments, businesses and citizens can target food-security efforts for the greatest impact. The biggest opportunities cluster in six countries — China, India, U.S., Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan — along with Europe.
Conversion of grasslands to agricultural fields across Southeastern Minnesota is increasing groundwater nitrate contamination in private drinking water wells according to a new study by researchers with the University of Minnesota and the Natural Capital Project.
Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the researchers outline the economic costs associated with groundwater pollution along with threats to overall water quality and ecosystem services.
“Households can dig a new well, purchase bottled water, or install a home nitrate-removal system, but dealing with a contaminated well is expensive and these costs are typically born entirely by private households,” said Bonnie Keeler, lead author and lead scientist with the Natural Capital Project at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. “We found evidence that recent trends in grassland loss to agriculture between 2007 and 2012 are likely to increase the future number of contaminated wells by 45%, leading to millions of dollars in lost income and remediation costs for private households.”
Four teams with roots in the Institute on the Environment’s Acara program have advanced to the semifinals in the 10th annual Minnesota Cup, the state’s largest venture competition.
Acara is a social entrepreneurship program that helps University of Minnesota students develop impact ventures that address societal and environmental challenges through courses, workshops and field experiences.
The four Acara-based social ventures were chosen from a pool of 1,300 and will be competing against 66 other teams for up to $30,000 in seed money for their start-ups. The ventures are:
- MyRain – supplies drip irrigation systems to small-plot farmers in India
- Pragati Palms – markets sustainably sourced Indian artisan crafts
- Mighty Axe – grows Minnesota hops for local brewers
- BDW Technologies – is instituting a process for genetically engineering probiotic bacteria to counteract infection in farm animals.
In addition, IonE managing director and chief operating officer Lewis Gilbert has been advising another finalist, Kate Thompson of Ground Truth Collaborative.
Learn more about the Minnesota Cup and the semifinalists here.
Photo: Matthew Wildenauer
(4/15) Groundbreaking nationwide study finds that people of color live in neighborhoods with more air pollution than whites. Gap results in an estimated 7,000 deaths each year among people of color from heart disease alone. Read more
(3/26) The IonE-sponsored Resilient Communities Project has chosen the city of Rosemount as its partner community for the 2014-2015 academic year. The partnership will bring the expertise of the University to sustainability-related projects in the city. Read more
(2/27) Eleven teams of student social and environmental entrepreneurs have been selected winners of the 2014 Acara Challenge, a competition co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the College of Science and Engineering. Read more
(2/25) The Heinz Awards, established by Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation to honor the memory of the late U.S. Senator John Heinz, today recognized IonE director Jonathan Foley as one of the five recipients of the 19th Heinz Awards. Read more
Photo credit: Steve Wewerka
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
(1/21) Recognizing that the vast bulk of most companies’ carbon footprint rests in its supply chain, the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise has teamed up with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to help global suppliers reduce their carbon emissions. Six large customers – Bank of America, L’Oreal, PepsiCo, Philips, Vodafone and Walmart – and over 100 of their suppliers are participating in the pilot program. Read more
An archive of news released by the Institute on the Environment during calendar year 2013. Continue reading
(12/22) Plant researchers, including Institute on the Environment resident fellow Peter Reich, have assembled the largest evolutionary tree to show the order in which flowering plants evolved specific strategies, such as the seasonal shedding of leaves, to move from warm climates into areas with cold winters. How they managed this expansion has long vexed researchers searching for plants’ equivalent to the winter parka. Read more
(12/11) In March 2013, a group of University of Minnesota students – some with IonE connections – laid out for an assembly of a thousand state environmental leaders their vision and hopes for the future that belongs to them. Their future is longer than the future of the leaders, and promises to be subject to harsher climate and other environmental travails. Read more
(12/6) A student proposal to develop a renewable fuel–enabled free piston engine captured the $10,000 top prize in a Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) competition held Thursday at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Read more
Photo credit: Nancy Johnson, ME Department
An archive of news released by the Institute on the Environment during calendar year 2012. Continue reading