Spring 2013 Frontiers in the Environment

February 13 – Is Frac[k] a Four-Letter Word?

Larry Wackett, IonE Resident Fellow and Professor, BioTechnology Institute

Fracking operationThe ability to frack, or hydraulically fracture, deep shale layers has unlocked enormous reserves of oil and gas. Due to its abundance from fracking, natural gas is rapidly replacing coal as the energy source for generating electricity; a complete switch could cut carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half. At the same time, the hydraulic fracturing process uses large quantities of water that become contaminated with chemical additives and shale hydrocarbons. Wackett will discuss the pros and cons of the fracturing process and discuss emerging technologies to deal with water remediation and recycling.

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February 20 – Watersheds: Clean Water, Wild Places and Healthy Communities

Tim Bristol, Director, Trout Unlimited Alaska Office

RiverBristol will talk about the importance of protecting watersheds and the communities that depend on them. Specifically, he will discuss conservation work in the Tongass National Forest, where revisions to the forest management plan and the roadless rule and other changes have led to the opportunity for significant watershed protection in America’s largest national forest; and in Bristol Bay, where monumental challenges to the watershed and its world-class wild salmon fisheries arise out of a proposed massive copper mine in the headwaters. Both are case studies of how to address watershed threats in real time.

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February 27 – Sound Ecology: The Environmental Effects of Mechanical Noise and Human Music

Mark Pedelty, IonE Resident Fellow and Associate Professor of Mass Communication, Media Studies and Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts

SonogramHomo sapiens is a loud species. Humans and human technologies have occupied every biome on Earth, contributing a cacophony of sound. From interfering with animal communication to mobilizing environmental movements, anthropogenic sounds are affecting ecosystems in ways we are just beginning to understand. Pedelty will explain how human sound is negatively impacting animal communication, foraging and reproduction and what people are doing to create more sustainable soundscapes. The presentation will also mark the kick off of the Ecomusicology Listening Room, an interactive exhibit on display in Room 350 LES.

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March 6 – Unleashing Minnesota’s Solar Power Potential

Michael Noble, Executive Director, Fresh Energy

Solar PV panelMinnesota has a great solar resource. But our state is an underperformer when it comes to translating that resource into solar market growth, largely because (unlike the leading solar states) we have yet to adopt comprehensive solar power policy. Noble will present the results of a one-year federal policy research project to unlock Minnesota’s potential of rooftop photovoltaic solar power. What would a comprehensive solar power policy look like? And what would be the benefits for private-sector investment, business innovation, state and local economies, consumer choice, economic opportunity, and clean energy deployment?

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March 13 – A Mangrove Lagoon in the Time of Climate Change: The Politics, Science and Culture of an Intertidal Environment in Papua New Guinea

David Lipset, Professor of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts

A mangrove lagoonTropical mangrove forests occupy bays, estuaries and river inlets. Their adaptation to waterlogged soil, ecology, reproductive cycles and native fauna have been studied by biologists. Their regional distribution has been thoroughly mapped. Most recently, they were afforded global value as the United Nations associated them with climate change mitigation. Lipset will present data from ongoing research in which he brings cosmopolitan views of mangrove environments into dialogue with local views of the Murik Lakes, a mangrove lagoon in the estuary of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea.

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March 20 – No Frontiers: Spring Break


March 27 – No Frontiers: Canceled


April 3 – No Frontiers: Canceled


April 10 – Air Pollution Kills! So What? Air Quality Engineering to Improve Public Health

Julian Marshall, IonE Resident Fellow and Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, College of Science and Engineering

Portrait: Julian MarshallUrban air pollution is one of the top 15 causes of death globally, responsible for around 1.7 percent of deaths. How can we reduce its health effects? Marshall will discuss three investigations into that question: (1) Marshall and colleagues have found that air pollution is related to the physical layout of an urban area, raising the question of whether urban planning can help cities meet air quality goals. (2) In developing countries, indoor air can be especially polluted, owing to combustion of solid fuels for heating and cooking. In a rural village in Karnataka, India, Marshall and colleagues have studied whether a higher-efficiency stove improves indoor air pollution, health effectsand climate-relevant emissions. (3) Marshall and colleagues also have explored how shifting from conventional fuels to biofuels impacts air quality and who is exposed to pollution. The goal is to understand whether biofuels are better for human health and the environment than the fossil fuels they displace. A constant theme through these topics is environmental justice: which groups have higher exposures to air pollution, and how exposure correlates with attributes such as race and income.

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April 17 – Are All Tomatoes Created Equal? Maybe It’s Not Just What We Eat, But How Our Food Gets to the Table That Matters for Health

Kim Robien, IonE Resident Fellow and Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health

Tomato fieldThe emerging field of environmental nutrition has been defined as the intersection between environmental health and nutritional science. Occupational health researchers have been studying how exposures to agricultural chemicals (residual fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones) are associated with disease risk among farmers or rural populations. What is less clear is the degree to which chronic, low-level exposures to agricultural and food processing chemicals through the food and water supply effect the health of the general population. Recent studies suggest that some of these exposures may, in fact, be among the many factors contributing to increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease.

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April 24 – University–Community Collaboration to Advance Sustainability

Carissa Schively Slotterback, IonE Resident Fellow and Associate Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Instructor with students on a farmAs an increasing number of communities and universities work to advance the priorities of sustainability and resilience, their collaboration can yield wide-ranging benefits. This presentation will highlight the Resilient Communities Project (RCP)—a new and innovative model of education and community engagement intended to build long-term capacity to produce sustainable solutions and resilient institutions. RCP facilitates a yearlong partnership between the University of Minnesota and a Minnesota community, matching University expertise with local projects to produce on-the-ground sustainability outcomes and meaningful practical experience for students. The presentation will explore RCP’s work during its inaugural year and further prospects for making the University more engaged, more interdisciplinary and more strategic in responding to critical challenges in Minnesota communities and beyond.

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Bonus Monday Talk
April 29 (Monday) – The Future of Biodiversity

William F. Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia and Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Portrait: William F. Laurance. How many species exist on Earth? Where do these species live? And what will happen to them in the future? Laurence will explore these and other controversial issues that will ultimately determine the fate of biodiversity on Earth. There is great uncertainty about the number of species alive today, with plausible estimates ranging from 2 million to 50 million species, excluding microbes. New techniques are rapidly improving our ability to identify and catalog species. Species richness and endemism tend to be concentrated in certain locales, many of which are in the tropics and among the most imperiled environments on Earth today. These centers of biodiversity are likely to come under even greater pressures in the coming century, but the magnitude of expected species losses is hotly debated. Despite many uncertainties, it is apparent that we face two great challenges: sustaining Earth’s natural biological wealth and identifying vast numbers of unknown species before they vanish forever.

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May 1 – Knowledge Systems for Ecosystem Services: Where Does the Cultural Dimension Fit In?

Laura Musacchio, IonE Resident Fellow and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, College of Design

Office building gardenMusacchio is a knowledge broker. In this presentation she will provide her perspective on the opportunities, challenges and limitations facing knowledge systems to enhance the ecosystem services approach, especially in highly modified and intensively used landscapes such as urban, agricultural and industrial areas. The ecosystem services approach is one of the most promising interdisciplinary approaches because it is concerned with scientific discovery as well as professional application. Yet the exchange and translation of knowledge between the two has not reached its zenith because of a major sticking point. The cultural dimension of ecosystem services is very robust in these landscapes—and at times very unwieldy for scientists and professionals alike—because of the high complexity of society-nature interactions. To address this situation, knowledge brokers like Musacchio are emerging as an essential third culture between scientific discovery and professional application to help synthesize, translate, integrate and facilitate the development of knowledge systems for ecosystem services.

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The opinions expressed in Frontiers in the Environment are those of the speakers and not necessarily of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.