Eye on Earth

Boreas Leadership Alum Gets Earth Day Spotlight

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Plenty of folks were out enjoying the overdue warmth of the spring sunshine on Earth Day yesterday -- appropriate weather and occasion for a TV news spot highlighting an IonE-supported study at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on how different landscapes affect local temperatures. The study is part of a project on the urban heat island effect, in which buildings and other urban infrastructure absorb and radiate the sun's heat, causing cities to be relatively warmer than their rural neighbors.

Brian Smoliak, a postdoctoral student in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, spoke confidently in front of the WCCO cameras as they tracked him installing temperature sensors at the arboretum. Smoliak credits an IonE Boreas Leadership Program workshop for his confidence in front of the camera.

"I attended the Boreas class called 'Interacting with the Media,' where we got to talk with media from print, TV and radio. It was helpful to get in front of people from media and practice talking about my work," he says. "They also suggested reaching out and pitching stories to the media, so that's what I did."

Smoliak contacted WCCO, suggesting that the project would make a good Earth Day story, and they agreed. "What you saw is what we got," says Smoliak about the news clip, which can viewed on the WCCO website.

The project to install temperature sensors at the arboretum was funded by an IonE Mini Grant. Smoliak's work with Islands in the Sun on the urban heat island effect is also supported by an IonE Discovery Grant.

Common Ground

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This article is part of a series of profiles of IonE resident fellows highlighting the value of their collaborations across the U of M, Minnesota and the world.

Conventional wisdom has it that farmers and conservationists don't see eye to eye. Conservationists want to see farmers plant diverse vegetation, in addition to crops like corn and soybeans, that produces ecosystem services; farmers' main priority is earning a living. Right?

"Farmers care just as much about the environment as anyone, but there are financial realities," says Nick Jordan, a resident fellow with the Institute on the Environment and an agroecology professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Tim Gieseke, a fourth-generation Minnesota farmer with a background in environmental science, explains that it's just not that easy to plant multiple crops on a landscape. "Adding crops means more work, more equipment, more time. Plus, lots of third- and fourth-generation farmers don't know how to grow crops other than the ones they've been growing," says Gieseke. "The level of expertise for the crop they know is high and the margin of error is tight. You only get one season, one chance."

How can these interests be reconciled? With the help of two cool technologies, Jordan and a cross-disciplinary team from the University of Minnesota are bringing farmers and conservationists together in an attempt to satisfy both economic and environmental bottom lines.

Yellowstone: More Valuable Than Gold

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Mining near sensitive ecosystems is one of the hottest natural resource debates, pitting economic and environmental values against each other. As the controversy surrounding mining in Minnesota continues, opponents may want to take a few notes from one of the nation's largest, successful anti-mining campaigns to date.

Mike Clark, former executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, shared his experience fighting the New World mining project outside the nation's largest national park in the 1980s and 1990s in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture Wednesday, April 9 on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus.

IonE Director Leads off National Geographic Series With 5-Step Plan to Feed the World

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Institute on the Environment director Jonathan Foley today served up the first article in an eight-month National Geographic series on feeding the world without destroying the planet.

"When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner," writes Foley in the opening paragraph. "But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet."

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"A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World" was published online today, with the print issue hitting newsstands next week. Drawing on research by IonE's Global Landscapes Initiative, Foley proposes five steps that could solve the world's food dilemma.

"This is a pivotal moment when we face unprecedented challenges to food security and the preservation of our global environment," Foley concludes in the piece. "The good news is that we already know what we have to do; we just need to figure out how to do it. Addressing our global food challenges demands that all of us become more thoughtful about the food we put on our plates. We need to make connections between our food and the farmers who grow it, and between our food and the land, watersheds, and climate that sustain us. As we steer our grocery carts down the aisles of our supermarkets, the choices we make will help decide the future."

After you've digested the "Five Step Plan," tune in to NPR's Marketplace this Wednesday, April 16, 6:30 p.m. and Science Friday on Friday, April 18, 1-3 p.m. CT to hear Foley discuss the future of food.

Foley, who was recently honored with the 2014 Heinz Award in the Environment, is a McKnight Presidential Chair of Global Environment and Sustainabililty and professor in the College of Biological Sciences. 

May 2014 cover courtesy of National Geographic


Earthducation Expedition 6 Heads to the Land of Everest

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What does education look like in remote mountain villages where electricity is nonexistent or unreliable? How does a developing country seeking to grow its economy, boost tourism and expand its infrastructure do so sustainably? Earthducation Expedition 6 aims to find out -- and share what it learns with teachers and students around the world. This sixth in a series of seven-continent explorations investigates the intersections between education and sustainability in Nepal, the roof of the world. Led by Aaron Doering and Charles Miller of the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development with funding from the University's Institute on the Environment, the expedition will set out April 27 for a journey to this diverse ecological powerhouse that boasts some of the most majestic geographical wonders on Earth.

Everything's Coming Up Rosemount

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The city of Rosemount has spring in its step -- and not just because of the change of seasons.  Just a short drive south of the Twin Cities, this fast-growing community was chosen as next year's partner in the University of Minnesota's Resilient Communities Project, an Institute on the Environment-supported program. 

RCP organizes yearlong partnerships between the University and Minnesota communities. The partnership will bring the expertise of hundreds of graduate students to sustainability-related projects identified by Rosemount city staff and community partners. Development of open space and public amenities and enhancing pride of place are some of the projects the city hopes to tackle with the help of the University's sustainability expertise.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.

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