IonE investments take on lives of their ownnews_livesoftheirown_main

Children are the future, goes the familiar adage. Here at the Institute on the Environment, our projects are like our children. We invest in them with the expectation that their ideas and actions will change the world for the better.

“IonE’s mission of seeking solutions to grand environmental challenges spurs us to invest in innovative projects that will have major impacts,” says Lewis Gilbert, IonE managing director and chief operating officer. “The Resilient Communities Project, for example, is changing how we think about engaged teaching. We see our investments as catalysts for evolution at the U of M writ large.” Continue reading

New water scarcity map offers tool for better planningNepali girl drinking

Innovative approach to depicting the balance between water use and supply offers unprecedented resolution and incorporates both seasonal and dry-year data into a single global snapshot

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (1/20/16) Water is essential to human well-being, yet reports of water shortages surface daily. Now, thanks to a team of global water experts, planning for water development and use just took a giant leap forward.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, the Global Water Policy Project and the Center for Environmental Systems Research at the University of Kassel in Germany measured global water scarcity — the lack of sufficient water resources to meet demand — around the world at unprecedented resolution, incorporated seasonal and dry year shortages, and synthesized the information into a single, easily understandable global map that planners and policy-makers can use to improve access to water around the world. The result of their work was published today in the journal Elementa. Continue reading

We make a bridgePhoto by John Brueske (iStock)

The University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center, which has been a focal point for forestry research at the University for more than a century, is located near the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Reservation in northern Minnesota. The two communities often share educational and cultural resources, and are developing a plan to facilitate those connections.

In early December, landscape architecture professor John Koepke spoke with WTIP North Shore Community Radio about the class he will lead in spring 2016 that aims to design a bridge and trail that will literally and figuratively help connect the two communities. The project is funded by an IonE Mini Grant.

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

Photo by John Brueske (iStock)

What is the future of clean water in Minnesota?Photo by Monique Dubos

Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but clean water is becoming an increasingly scarce and valuable resource in the state. Does that matter? It does if we want to have enough water to support growing towns and cities, healthy ecosystems, and thriving industry and tourism sectors. An ambitious project underway at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment will assess the state of Minnesota’s water resources and provide cutting edge research and models to support more informed management of the state’s most valuable natural resource. Continue reading

New study finds world forest carbon stocks overestimatednews_forest_carbon_stocks_study

Scientists have been significantly overestimating the amount of carbon stored in the world’s tropical forests, a new study shows. Carbon storage estimates matter because world leaders use these numbers to devise carbon trading and mitigation agreements, such as those at the center of the recent 21st United Nations Climate Change talks in Paris.

Deforestation is a huge source of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and leaders recognize forest conservation and restoration as a critical tool for reducing and mitigating climate change. Continue reading

Climate adaptation is crucial, but how much will it cost?Photo by WorldFish (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Most of the international and scientific community knows that adaptation is a vital part of how the world will confront climate change. Gone are the days when we worried that adaptation was a distraction from mitigation. Now we know the two concepts go hand in hand. Climate change has started and will continue for coming decades, thanks to the greenhouse gases we have already emitted, and continue to emit. On the other hand, adapting to the extreme climate change that would come about if we carried on with business as usual would overwhelm adaptation in much of the world. Continue reading

Recyclable polyurethane foam project wins Dow SISCADow SISCA competition winners Tessie Panthani, Debbie Schneiderman, Alex Mannion and Marie Vanderlaan. Photo by Brian Bell

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (12/9/2015) A project aimed at developing polyurethane foam that can be recycled has won the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award competition held Dec. 3 at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in St. Paul.

The award, made possible by a collaboration between IonE and the Dow Chemical Company, recognizes and rewards students and universities for innovation and research that encourages and promotes sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental problems. The competition is open to full-time graduate and professional students enrolled at all campuses of the University of Minnesota. This year’s award was presented to a team of four Ph.D. candidates in the University’s College of Science and Engineering. Continue reading

Global plant growth not keeping up with rising CO2Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Flickr/Creative Commons)

New study suggests reevaluating global carbon emissions targets

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (12/7/2015) Because plants need carbon dioxide to grow, scientists have expected rising atmospheric CO2 to substantially enhance plant growth, offsetting a portion of human CO2 emissions and, in turn, slowing climate change. However, new research from the Institute on the Environment published today in Nature Climate Change adds to a growing body of research challenging this expectation.

The study, led by William Kolby Smith, a Luc Hoffman Institute postdoctoral fellow working with IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative and the Natural Capital Project, found that global plant growth has indeed increased over the past 30 years, but not as much as expected given the change in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Comparing their findings with results of widely used on-the-ground measurements and the best available models of plant responses to increasing CO2, Smith and colleagues concluded that current model estimates of plants’ ability to offset growing greenhouse gas emissions may be unrealistically optimistic. Continue reading

The Germany-Minnesota energy connectionPhoto by TebNad(iStock)

Minnesota and Germany have a lot in common — ancestry, cultural traditions, climate. Now, in a German-Minnesota energy policy exchange, the two are also sharing technology and policy innovations as they both transition from coal-based to low-carbon energy economies. And the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment is facilitating the partnership.

For the past five years, leaders from the University, the Minnesota Legislature and the business and non-profit communities have been meeting to strategize how best to achieve Minnesota’s goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Sabine Engel, then director of the University’s Center for German and European Studies, connected those leaders to energy experts in Germany to exchange knowledge about transitioning to a clean energy economy. IonE and the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research have co-sponsored the exchanges, known as the Berlin Seminars on Energy Policy, with funding for University staff to travel to Germany. Continue reading

As NatCap turns 10, a Q&A with co-founder Stephen PolaskyPhoto by Jeffrey Zeldman (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This article is repubublished with permission from the Natural Capital Project and the author, Stacey Solie.

How much does clean air contribute to a society’s well-being? Or having access to the calming shade of a city park? Economic systems that shape our built environment often fail to account for the contributions of natural systems, such as those that naturally filter and cool the air we breathe. The Institute on the Environment’s Natural Capital Project works to change the way people think about nature and to integrate the value it provides into land use and development decisions.

Economist Stephen Polasky co-founded NatCap at a time when economics was still viewed with suspicion by many conservationists. In an interview commemorating his 10 years with the organization, Polasky, a professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and an IonE fellow, opens up about what it was like to be seen by some as an enemy of conservation. He also talks about what’s inspired him along the way, including how both China and Rwanda have embraced conservation as a way to bring prosperity to people, and whether NatCap has accomplished what he imagined back in the beginning. Continue reading

Disease forecasting in a One Health worldPhoto by Britta Kasholm-Tengve (iStock)

Reducing the toll of disease is an important goal around the world. It’s also an extremely challenging one, because interconnections among humans, animals and the environment create a complex system in which disease outbreaks can be difficult to forecast and control. One Health is a growing way to think about disease that recognizes the importance of these interconnections and promotes collaboration among disciplines to improve population health. Through the One Health lens, epidemiologists, biologists, ecologists and veterinarians work together to understand and solve problems such as swine flu, dengue, leptospirosis and other infectious diseases that can spread between humans and animals. Continue reading

10 things we learned about biodiversity and climate changeFrontiers October 21 – Can we save biodiversity from climate change?

The atmosphere is getting hotter, and the conditions for plants and animals worldwide are changing. It’s a challenge that slaps a big question mark on our future: Can we save biodiversity from climate change?

That’s the issue we tackled at IonE’s Frontiers in the Environment talk October 21. Jessica Hellmann, who serves as director of the Institute on the Environment and a professor in the College of Biological Sciences, studies just that. Here’s what she had to say: Continue reading

Twin Cities heat island study yields surprisesPhoto by MYDinga (iStock)

Results provide valuable insights into efforts to reduce heat-related harm in metro areas globally

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/14/2015) Some parts of the Twin Cities can spike temperatures up to 9° F higher than surrounding communities thanks to the “urban heat island” effect, according to a new study from the University of Minnesota.

The study, which was funded by the Institute on the Environment and published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, used a network of 180 sensors deployed throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area in residential backyards and city parks to paint the most detailed picture anywhere in the world of how temperature varies with time and place across pavement-filled metropolitan areas and surrounding communities. Continue reading

Vines inhibit forests’ ability to store CO2Photo by RegiMu (iStock)

This article is republished with permission from Inquiry and the author, Deane Morrison.

The liana vines that wind their way to the top of tropical forest canopies have the potential to significantly reduce those forests’ ability to remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to a study by University of Minnesota researcher and IonE resident fellow Jennifer Powers and two colleagues.

Based on data from the lowland semi-deciduous forest of Panama’s Gigante Peninsula, the researchers estimate that over the next 50 years, lianas could potentially slash long-term storage of carbon in New World lowland tropical forests by 35 percent. These forests include most of the Amazon basin, as well as similar forests in Central America. Such a slowdown in this carbon “sink” would weaken the planet’s ability to dampen rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Continue reading

5 things we learned about spatial thinking and environmental challengesFrontiers October 18 – How can spatial thinking solve environmental grand challenges?

Space and place permeate today’s pressing problems, so spatial thinking can help.

That was the message of IonE’s October 14 Frontiers on the Environment talk, in which Institute fellow Steve Manson listed example after example as he addressed the Big Question, “How can spatial thinking solve environmental grand challenges?”

In addition to his IonE title, Manson is a professor of geography, environment, and society in the College of Liberal Arts and director of U-Spatial, an initiative that has worked with every college on campus to offer software, training and consulting for spatial thinking. Here’s what he made clear: Continue reading

Turning to India for insights on water usePhoto by Sarath Kuchi (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Is drip irrigation an effective tool to increase crop production while conserving water?

Pursuing that question will take IonE Global Water Initiative lead scientist Kate Brauman halfway around the world this month as she travels to Tamil Nadu state in India with funding from an IonE Mini Grant to explore opportunities to study irrigation water use by smallholder farmers. The question is an important one because 80 percent of the world’s crops are grown by small “family” farms, estimated at 500 million by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and efficient water use will become increasingly important in years to come as demand for food increases. Continue reading

Making ecosystem services countPhoto by digitaltree515 (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Around the world, farmers invest in dams and other infrastructure to supply water to their crops. This water is increasingly at risk, however, as more and more reservoirs fill with sediment from soil loss and land use change upstream. Conservation and restoration activities can help these farmers protect their water supplies and other ecosystem services upon which their livelihoods depend.

This is just one example of how providing natural resources to growing populations while protecting the environment is the crux of the sustainable development challenge currently playing out on the world’s stage, and IonE’s Natural Capital Project is creating software to help communities make informed land management decisions. Continue reading

New Mini Grants fund energy, education, health & morePhoto by BraunS (iStock)

Building a bridge between a University research site and an American Indian reservation, creating natural spaces for elementary school learning and using nanotechnology to scrub mercury from crematoria are among the 16 projects chosen to receive fall 2015 Institute on the Environment Mini Grants. The projects will receive grants of up to $3,000 each for a total disbursement of $45,800.

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