Institute on the Environment awards $1.9 million in Discovery Grants to six projects with global reach

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Contacts:
Todd Reubold, Institute on the Environment, reub0002@umn.edu, (612) 624-6140

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (10/12/2010) – The Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota has announced the selection of six projects to receive $1.9 million over four years through its Discovery Grant program. From reducing health and environmental harm caused by household stoves in developing countries to carrying out an adventure learning program that connects climate hot spots around the world with learners via social networking, the projects will accelerate innovation in environmental research and problem solving related to improving air and water quality, protecting ecosystems and the services they provide, and reducing the threat of global climate change.

“The Institute on the Environment is dedicated to solving today’s most pressing global environmental problems by bringing together teams from across the University and from many different disciplines. These projects are going to launch some exciting new initiatives, which we expect will change the way the world’s addresses these issues,” says Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute.

The new Discovery Grants cut across numerous campus units and involve many different departments, colleges and outside partners. The projects were selected through a rigorous review process involving outside national experts as well as internal strategic reviews. 

All six projects build on the unique strengths of the University and provide opportunities for graduate and postdoctoral leadership training as well as undergraduate research.

They join 11 others that are already part of the Institute’s research portfolio: Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, Global Landscapes Initiative, River Life, Natural Capital Project, Global Great Lakes, Reinventing the Boreal Forest, Science-on-a-Sphere, Whole Village Project, Global Health and the Environment in Africa, Dialogue Earth, and NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, the Institute will award $100,000 per year per project as follows:

Earthducation

Principal Investigator: Aaron Doering, Department of Curriculum and Instruction (College of Education and Human Development)
Co-PIs: Charles Miller, Department of Curriculum and Instruction (College of Education and Human Development); Cassie Scharber, Department of Curriculum and Instruction (College of Education and Human Development).

The Institute will support the Earthducation team as it travels to climate hot spots on all seven continents and collaborates with cultures around the world to create the first global ecological narrative of collective beliefs related to education and sustainability. The ecological narrative will engage students and the public through an adventure learning program tied into social networking to allow global documentation, sharing and discussion. (three years)


Water Crisis in the 21st Century: Global Challenge, Local Solutions

Principal Investigator: Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, Department of Civil Engineering (College of Science and Engineering)
Co-PIs: Tom Johnson, Great Lakes Observatory, Department of Geological Sciences (U of M Duluth); Upmanu Lall, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering and Department of Civil Engineering & Engineering Mechanics (Columbia University)

Key to sustainable water use is knowledge of the source, movement and stores of water in the atmosphere, surface and subsurface. With the Institute’s support, researchers will develop a framework that makes it possible to integrate data from satellite, on-the-ground and other sources to predict local water quality and supply at remote places of the world. The team will then apply the model to understanding and enhancing water sustainability in India and East Africa.   (two years)


Connecting People, Land and Water in Urban Ecosystems

Principal Investigator: Sarah Hobbie, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (College of Biological Sciences)
Co-PIs: Larry Baker, Water Resources Center; Kristen Nelson, Department of Forest Resources and Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences); Carissa Schively Slotterback, Humphrey Institute

Trees, shrubs, grasses and other plants not only beautify cities, but also enhance air and water quality, provide protection from wind and sun, offer recreational opportunities, and much more. To help make the most of the ecosystem services urban vegetation offers, the Institute will support research to identify and characterize motivations and institutional forces that shape vegetation management in cities, assess the consequences of vegetation management for aquatic ecosystems, and explore how vegetation management affects plants’ ability to deliver ecosystem services. (four years)


Stove Change-Out: A “Win-Win-Win” for Development, Environment, and Health

Principal Investigator: Julian Marshall, Department of Civil Engineering (College of Science and Engineering)
Co-PI: Gurumurthy Ramachandran, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (School of Public Health)

Biomass-burning household stoves used in developing countries contribute to local health problems and global climate change. The Institute will support a neighborhood-scale stove change-out program in India that will reduce air pollution while exploring opportunities for establishing financially sustainable businesses. (three years)


Opportunity Knocks: Transformative Steps in Plant Data Synthesis

Principal Investigator: Peter Reich, Department of Forest Resources (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)
Co-PIs: Arindam Banerjee, Department of Computer Science and Engineering (College of Science and Engineering); Daniel Boley, Department of Computer Science and Engineering (College of Science and Engineering); Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (College of Biological Sciences); Singdhansu Chatterjee, School of Statistics; Vipin Kumar, Department of Computer Science and Engineering (College of Science and Engineering); Jacek Oleksyn, Department of Forest Resources (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences); Shashi Shekhar, Department of Computer Science and Engineering (College of Science and Engineering); Rebecca Montgomery, Department of Forest Resources (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)

Studies that seek to understand Earth’s biological resources must be integrated across time and space if we are to effectively apply the knowledge they yield to efforts such as maintaining biodiversity, regulating atmospheric CO2 , and promoting other economic and ecosystem services. This Institute-supported initiative will use data mining, management and analysis tools to create a comprehensive plant trait data base; conduct multidimensional studies of forest diversity, community dynamics and biomass pools; synthesize data from long-term ecological research sites; and link ecosystem modelers and global change ecophysiologists. (three years)


Islands in the Sun: Redesigning Cities to Mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect

Principal Investigator: Peter Snyder, Department of Soil, Water and Climate (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)
Co-PI: Tracy E. Twine, Department of Soil, Water and Climate (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences)

Most urban areas are warming at twice the rate of the planet as a whole. With half the human population now living in cities, the implications for morbidity and mortality during heat-related events are alarming. The goals of this Institute-supported project are to quantify the factors contributing to the formation of urban heat islands for cities around the world, develop numerical models to assess strategies for mitigating urban heat islands, and create practical mitigation strategies using the Twin Cities metropolitan area as an example. (four years)