Featured Fellow: Geographer Steven Mansonnews_StevenManson_main

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 Steven Manson, associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts. Let the conversation begin!

What environmental challenge concerns you most?

While I believe sustaining humanity in the face of gradual climate change is probably the biggest challenge we face overall, I am particularly concerned about the potential for rapid shifts in climate-related systems that catch us by surprise. Continue reading

Climate has a big say in crop yield variabilitynews_climatecropyield_main

What impact will future climate change have on food supply? That depends in part on the extent to which variations in crop yield are attributable to variations in climate. A new report from researchers at IonE’s Gobal Landscapes Initiative has found that climate variability historically accounts for one-third of yield variability for maize, rice, wheat and soybeans worldwide — the equivalent of 36 million metric tons of food each year. This provides valuable information planners and policy makers can use to target efforts to stabilize farmer income and food supply and so boost food security in a warming world. Continue reading

Measuring carbon & water footprints just got easierione_main_warehouse

Which bag of coffee is more sustainable? Which television emits the lowest levels of greenhouse gases over its lifetime? Does a grass-fed beef hamburger use less water? For many who want to do right by the environment, these questions are not easily answered. Now, imagine that you buy hundreds of thousands of products every year. How would you decide which make the most difference from an environmental standpoint? Whether suppliers’ environmental performance claims hold water? What combination of environmentally preferred purchases is most cost-effective?

These questions are increasingly being asked by sourcing and supply chain managers at the largest global corporations and governments — arguably, some of the biggest buyers in the world. Today, the Global Environmental Management Initiative, in collaboration with the Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise and Climate Earth, introduced a tool that takes a first step at helping answer some of these questions. Continue reading

Investing in watersheds: Back to basicsPhoto by Steve Dunleavy (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Investing in watersheds makes sense. Keeping water clean and flowing at the source is cheaper and more reliable than fixing problems downstream. It’s something people have been doing for a long time and in lots of places. Where I grew up in California there are lots of water supply reservoirs that are pretty to look at but off limits for swimming. Across the country in the Catskills watershed, New York City is paying folks to replace septic systems and keep cattle away from riverbanks instead of building a water filtration plant. And we’ve seen some pretty bad things happen when watersheds aren’t managed right, such as streams turning brown from sediment or drying up all together.

So watershed investments are hot. All over the world, governments, non-profits and businesses are getting excited about the possibility of paying residents upstream to take actions that will keep clean water flowing consistently downstream. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Landscape ecologist Laura MusacchioPhoto by Ryan Blyth (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 Laura Musacchio, associate professor in the College of Design. Let the conversation begin!

How does your work fit into the transdisciplinary framework of IonE?

With my IonE resident fellowship, I am working on how to enhance theory-to-practice integration of landscape stewardship and ecosystem services. There is a vast storehouse of academic knowledge that is waiting to be translated to real-world problems in professional practice. It is a key opportunity to enhance knowledge and action across the numerous disciplines at universities. However, one of the challenges is the multiple steps needed to decode the language of scientific research into the language of professional application and then back again.

Continue reading

New video for a new yearPhoto © kamisoka (iStock)

The Institute on the Environment cultivates collaboration across disciplines among scientists, academics, and business, government and community leaders. This new video highlights how we work together to solve some of humankind’s grand challenges. Enjoy it and pass it along!

 

Banner photo © kamisoka (iStock)

Inquiry’s top 10 overflows with IonE folksPhoto © Robert Churchill (iStock)

What a year! Of the University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President’s Top 10 Inquiry stories of 2014, six feature IonE-related people and projects.

At number 10, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Science and Engineering and IonE resident fellow Jian-Ping Wang’s disease-detecting device is a noted example in “How to create a successful start-up – a university’s perspective.” Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Chemist Marc HillmyerPhoto by Shaun Amey (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 Marc Hillmyer, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Science and Engineering. Let the conversation begin!

What environmental challenge concerns you most?

Nonrenewable plastics that contribute to land and water pollution. And the global water crisis. Continue reading

A new tool for dam planningPhoto by RightBrainPhotography (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Nearly half of the world’s river volume is moderately to severely altered by dams today — a figure that could double by 2030 if all dams planned or under construction are completed, according to a report published online Jan. 6 in Environmental Research Letters.

An international team led by McGill University researchers overlaid data from nearly 6,500 existing large dams on a high-resolution map of the world’s rivers to create a detailed picture of how the dams alter the connections among rivers and their tributaries and interrupt natural fluctuations in water and sediment flowing downstream. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Fungal biologist Jonathan SchillingBasidiomycete fungi. Photo by Jonathan Schilling

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 Jonathan Schilling, associate professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Let the conversation begin!

How does IonE facilitate your work?

My IonE resident fellowship has focused on applying the tools from one area of my work (microbial biotechnology) to another area where I think they are useful (forest ecology). I study mechanisms of plant decomposition, particularly among fungi. Exploring the potential to apply these mechanisms to deconstruct plant biomass industrially has been a significant effort in my lab group since our first Department of Energy grant in 2007. These efforts have been fruitful, as planned, but I have learned that the same methods have impressive traction beyond the targets I’ve laid out in my proposals. This cross-pollination is efficient, it is fun, and it wouldn’t happen without collaborative spaces like IonE. Continue reading

Big questions are usPhoto by Always Shooting (Flickr/Creative Commons)

How do we feed all the people of the world while reducing food-borne illness? Why is it important that kids get out into nature? Does it make sense for environmental and corporate leaders to put their heads together? These are a few of the questions explored during IonE’s Frontiers in the Environment Big Questions series this fall. University, government and industry experts engaged with attendees in hour-long conversations — and debates — over these and many other timely topics.

We’ve summarized each talk into a quick, easy read as well as archived the videos for you to watch on your own schedule. Review the entire list or peruse these picks: Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Computer scientist Shashi Shekhar© elenaleonova

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 Shashi Shekhar, McKnight Distinguished University Professor in the College of Science and Engineering. Let the conversation begin!

What pivotal experience led you to the work you’re doing today?

It is hard to believe that paper maps were used for routing and navigation until the early 1990s, when we worked on research projects exploring spatial computational questions underlying envisaged handheld and in-vehicle GPS-based navigation devices. It was challenging since large road maps challenged the conventional wisdom that “640K (bytes of computer memory) ought to be enough for anyone.” Today, GPS-based navigation apps are commonplace and have transformed our society. They have also reduced fuel waste — and related greenhouse gas emissions — due to fewer drivers getting lost in unfamiliar areas.

This experience has strengthened my interest in potentially transformative research by envisioning better futures for our society and taking the first steps toward that by exploring promising approaches. Continue reading

Clean fuel, cleaner airPhoto http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/traffic-at-nightfall-18676327?st=14c6e58

Cars powered by wind-, water- or solar-generated electricity reduce air quality–related health impacts by up to 70 percent compared with gasoline, according to a life-cycle analysis of conventional and alternative vehicles and their fuels.

The findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study authors are Christopher W. Tessum and Julian D. Marshall, College of Science and Engineering; and Jason D. Hill, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Marshall and Hill are also Institute on the Environment resident fellows. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Engineer Matteo ConvertinoPhoto by Michael Foley (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 Matteo Convertino, assistant professor in the School of Public Health. Let the conversation begin!

What is your current favorite project?

I would say that the food system project I am involved in is very interesting because it integrates agriculture, public health, veterinary medicine and ecology via engineering models for understanding how foodborne outbreaks and other food-related emerging infectious diseases arise globally. The ultimate goal is to provide a tool for the food industry and public health authorities for designing food supply chains that diminish the risk of foodborne outbreaks, and for building surveillance systems that detect early signs of contamination and enable more rapid response to incipient outbreaks. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Architect/artist Jonee Kulman BrighamPhoto by Teresa Boardman (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 Jonee Kulman Brigham, a sustainable design program faculty member in the College of  Design and visiting scholar in the College of Education and Human Development. Let the conversation begin!

Which of your projects relates to the transdisciplinary mission of IonE?

Through my fellowship at IonE, I’m working on a project called “River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi.” This project is taking place at River’s Edge Academy Charter Environmental High School, where I am collaborating with teachers, staff and students on a yearlong art-led environmental exploration of water through their school, tracing the flows to the Mississippi River both upstream and downstream. With the assistance of project partner U-Spatial, students will use online mapping software (ArcGIS online) to share their learning about the water cycle and increase public awareness. Community contributors include the National Park Service, St. Paul Regional Water Services, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, the Lower Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization and others. You can read more about it on the River Journey blog. Continue reading

7 things about environmentalist-corporate partnershipsNovember 19 Frontiers in the Environment - Environmentalist Corporations

In the final Frontiers presentation of the semester, Steve Polasky, IonE resident fellow, Natural Capital Project lead scientist and professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, moderated a discussion on the relationship between environmentalists and corporations. Participants included Amy Skoczlas Cole, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Pentair; J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy; and Chris P. Lambe, managing director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The panel members shared their thoughts on the role of the private sector as stewards of the environment and left us with the understanding that environmentalists and corporations may not be such strange bedfellows after all. Here are seven other things we learned:

Times have changed. A few decades ago, environmental organizations and corporations barely talked to each other and sustainability was a term not often used in corporate vernacular. Now, we see many companies accepting environmental challenges and recognizing the links between themselves and the environment. In some respects, large companies have embraced environmental challenges more than have governments or society as a whole. Don’t get too excited, though — there is still a lot of work to do. Companies have started with the low-hanging fruit, but now they need to amplify their actions and tackle bigger challenges. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Biochemist Lawrence WackettPhoto by Mickey Zlimen (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. Here we interview IonE resident fellow Lawrence Wackett, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Biological Sciences. Let the conversation begin!

What project are you focused on now?

I am working on developing broad-based computer and practical methods for cleaning problem chemicals from the environment and setting up conditions whereby there is a business incentive to use the methods. The latter goal is typically outside the domain of academic research. But to really make an impact on the environment, I have come to believe we must go beyond publishing journal articles and op-ed pieces for people to read. It takes enormous creativity to think of environmental solutions that many people will be incentivized to implement. However, lasting environmental benefits will only accrue when business and the majority of citizens are driven by self-interest to eagerly adopt environmentally responsible practices. The carrot is more powerful than the stick! Continue reading

Energy Transition Lab will be hub of innovationPhoto courtesy of U of M Law School

Reprinted by permission from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Our energy system is in the midst of a major transition. Power sources are shifting from coal to more natural gas and renewables. The aging grid needs to adapt, becoming “smarter,” more flexible and resilient. New greenhouse gas emissions regulations and a changing climate add further complexities.

This transition has the potential to spark innovation in business and government, leading to new jobs and a cleaner environment, and the University of Minnesota has launched the Energy Transition Lab to help turn this potential into reality. Ellen Anderson, a former state senator and energy advisor to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, is the ETL’s inaugural executive director; its faculty director is Law School professor Hari Osofsky, an expert in energy law and an IonE resident fellow. Continue reading

Featured Fellow: Computer Scientist Tian HePhoto by Never House (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 Tian He, a McKnight Distinguished Land-Grant professor and associate professor in the College of Science & Engineering. Let the conversation begin!

What environmental challenge concerns you most?

I am interested in utilizing the latest metropolitan-scale taxi networks for urban pollution monitoring and reduction. Currently, smart vehicles are equipped with sensors such as GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes. This enables crowd-based sensing, a new technique for gathering information that offers unprecedented flexibility, scale and resolution. Crowd-based sensing has the potential to generate a comprehensive view of phenomena such as urban traffic patterns, real-time city pollution maps and the micro-scale monitoring of land use that is difficult or impossible for previous techniques to produce. It also can offer direct benefits to individuals, such as faster and more fuel efficient commuting.  Continue reading