Frontiers in the Environment: Spring 2010 Archive

The Whole Village Project

Craig Packer, Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior
(2/3) The Whole Village Project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of foreign aid projects in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty is the principal cause of habitat loss. As part of the project, more than 20 University of Minnesota researchers in applied economics, agronomy, ecology, education, medicine, nursing, public affairs, public health and veterinary science are working together in 240-plus villages throughout Tanzania. The project seeks to measure changes in health, nutrition, education, socio-economics, food security, land use and natural resource status for 10 to 20 years, as well as identify best practices for development agencies, local government and village communities. View Presentation


Biofuels as a Contact Sport: Shifting the Debate from Food vs. Fuel to Sustainable Land Management

John Sheehan, Scientific Program Coordinator, Institute on the Environment
(2/10) Ever since Jimmy Carter introduced the notion of gasohol to a nation beset by high prices and long lines at the gasoline pump, experts have struggled with the question of whether agriculture should feed the world or fuel the world. The result of this 40-year debate? Acrimony and confusion. Policy makers and the public don’t know what to make of it. The latest round of expert debates centers on the CO2 released from the clearing of forests due to increased biofuels demand—the so-called indirect land use effect. This is really the same old debate recast as a climate problem. John Sheehan offers a critical and common sense perspective on the controversy over sustainable use of land for food, feed, fiber and fuel production. View presentation


High-tech Global Change Experiments in Terrestrial Ecosystems: A Lot of Hot Air?

Peter Reich, Professor, Forest Resources
(2/17) Earth faces a complex set of challenges to its climate and ecological systems. Researchers have invented a diverse array of tools to help scientists and policy makers better understand what we are doing to our planet, and what the consequences might be. Among these tools are technologically advanced, multi-year outdoor experiments aimed at improving our understanding of ecosystem responses to climate warming, rising CO2 levels and other environmental changes. What are these experiments good for, if anything? And what can they not help us understand? Peter Reich will address these issues with examples from his own work in grasslands and forests in Minnesota, and the broader set of related studies from around the world. View presentation


Eyewitness to Global Warming

Will Steger, Founder, Will Steger Foundation
(2/24) Will Steger will offer a vivid account of the changes he's witnessed firsthand, caused by global warming pollutants, in Arctic regions over four decades of polar exploration. Steger shares stunning photographs from his expeditions along with compelling data, satellite imagery and multimedia videos to document the deterioration in the polar ice caps. While the issue is critical, and the presentation is dramatic, Steger’s message is one of hope and empowerment. An understanding of our role in the causes and effects of global warming make this personal. But as Steger explains, solutions are readily available and, by making economically and environmentally smart choices, people can make a difference. View presentation


One Health:  An Emerging Field in a Wicked World

Katey Pelican, Assistant Professor, Veterinary Population Medicine
Rapid changes in human demographics, animal populations and the environment are increasingly resulting in “wicked problems” that impact health and fitness across the globe. Such problems arise in highly integrated systems and have no solution, since every action to make change results in many unintended and unanticipated outcomes. Infectious disease, food security, the biodiversity crisis and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are examples of wicked challenges at the intersection of health in animals, humans and the environment. Understanding and addressing these challenges will require a new way of doing things. Enter “One Health,” a new transdisciplinary field of study. Katey Pelican will discuss this emerging discipline and how the University of Minnesota is advancing this field. View presentation


Engaging Audiences in the Anthropocene

Patrick Hamilton, Director of Environmental Sciences and Earth-System Science, Science Museum of Minnesota
(3/10) We live in a world being thoroughly reconfigured by human activity. Humans cumulatively have set in motion global changes that will reverberate for millennia. The term Anthropocene is being used to describe this new geologic epoch in Earth history, where humans are the dominant agents of planetary change. Global change scientific research is evolving rapidly, but the U.S. public’s awareness of and concern about global environmental issues has not kept pace, hindering the formulation of corrective societal actions. How might scientific and informal education institutions work together to help advance how solutions to pressing environmental problems are communicated and discussed by citizens and decision makers? View presentation


The Raingarden Renaissance (film screening)

Mark Pedelty, Associate Professor, Journalism and Mass Communication
(3/24) A Neighborhood of Raingardens is a three-part film about local nonprofit Metro Blooms' effort to clean up Powderhorn Lake. Metro Blooms is working with residents to install 150 rain gardens throughout Powderhorn, using a similar-sized neighborhood as a control to evaluate the effect of the gardens on stormwater quality and quantity. The film presents compelling images, sound and information related to the material, animal and human components of this pioneering project. A team of University of Minnesota faculty, students and staff is working on the film, and would like community feedback on Part 1, a 20-minute segment that explains rain garden ecology and looks at the planning and volunteer recruitment, along with the challenges related to the monitoring plan. This film is part of Mark Pedelty's resident fellowship with the IonE, and will air statewide via TPT's Minnesota Channel on April 22 at 7:30 p.m., with repeats on April 23 at 1:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.


Life on the (Future) Mississippi: Or, It’s Not (Just) Mark Twain’s River Anymore

Pat Nunnally, Coordinator, River Life
(3/31) The Mississippi River is a critical source of drinking water, transportation and recreation for tens of millions of people, as well as an important flyway for migratory birds and a critically important fishery. Currently, dozens of groups in various disciplines are passionately engaged in planning for the future of the Mississippi and its watershed, but lacking communication in coordinating these efforts. Learn how the River Life program works from its “lab” in the Twin Cities to strengthen the connections among the University of Minnesota, the Mississippi River, and communities and organizations along the river to create a sustainable urban riverfront. View presentation


Why We Can't Stop Eating

Allen Levine, Dean, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
(4/7) The world is home to 1 billion overweight and 300 million obese people. There are a variety of hypotheses about the cause of the obesity epidemic. This seminar will address the central nervous system controllers that regulate food intake and the rewards associated with ingestion. View presentation


The Role of Urban Households in Pollution

Sarah Hobbie, Associate Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior
Kristen Nelson, Associate Professor, Forest Resources
(4/14) The flow of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus through urban households contributes significantly to the overall biogeochemical cycles of American cities. However, little is known about how cycles that contribute to environmental pollution vary among households, or how socioeconomic factors contribute to that variation. In the Twin Cities Household Ecosystem Project, University of Minnesota researchers are quantifying these cycles in households along an urban to exurban gradient in the Saint Paul-Minneapolis metro area. The goal is to determine how demographic and behavioral control factors contribute to household-to-household variation in biogeochemical fluxes. Ultimately, this project will inform policies intended to mitigate local and global pollution arising from human activities in cities. View presentation


Greener, Resilient, Secure and Smart Power Grid and Energy Infrastructure

Massoud Amin, Director, Technological Leadership Institute
(4/21) Recent developments and policies, combined with potential for technological innovations and business opportunities, have attracted a high level of interest in smart power grids and energy infrastructure. The potential for a highly distributed system with a high penetration of renewable sources poses opportunities and challenges: 1) How do we retrofit and engineer a stable, resilient grid with large numbers of such unpredictable power sources? and 2) What roles will increased efficiency, energy storage, advanced power electronics, power quality, electrification of transportation, novel control algorithms, smart grid and cyber security, and policies and technologies play in transforming the power grid? This talk will focus on how the smart grid relates to all of us. View presentation


Designing Minnesota's Energy Future

Steve Kelley, Senior Fellow / Director, Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy, Humphrey Institute
(4/28) Former state senator Steve Kelley will talk about new approaches to public policy development that could help Minnesota move forward on both energy efficiency and the generation of renewable energy. He will also discuss the role that design thinking and systems approaches ought to play in developing solutions to achieve our energy savings and energy generation goals. Kelley is the director of the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. View presentation


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