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Understanding Urban Eutrophication

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When you think about the primary sources of water pollution, you probably imagine a factory pipe or perhaps massive livestock farms. But would you believe that your quiet neighborhood could be degrading water quality locally and downstream?

That was the topic of the season finale of Institute on the Environment's Frontiers in the Environment lecture series on Wednesday, May 12, on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus.

Paddle Forward: Mississippi River

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BY ELIZABETH JUST

Last fall, 10 other people and I paddled more than 2,000 miles in canoes. Our trip was called Paddle Forward, and we were on a mission to paddle the length of the Mississippi River. I've been paddling for years but mostly in wilderness areas such as the Boundary Waters. While I love these places and enjoy the quiet time alone in nature, recreating on local waterways brings a new appreciation to the place you live. 

I spent the majority of college learning about environmental issues surrounding climate change, such as energy usage, water depletion, resource extraction and decreases in biodiversity. Alone, secluded in serene wilderness, you are less likely to think about difficult climate issues. However, while paddling a river that more than 50 cities depend on for daily water supply, you can't escape noticing the effects humans have on the fourth largest watershed in the world.  

I became interested in sustainability issues after I took an off-campus course from HECUA that opened my eyes to the many environmental challenges we face today. After completing the HECUA course, I immediately signed up for the sustainability studies minor, housed at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, to dive even deeper into the complexity of these issues. The minor furthered my knowledge on sustainability topics and provided the necessary tools to think critically about complex environmental systems. I also thrived in the experiential learning environment provided by the minor. I graduated in 2012 from the College of Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences with a B.S. in environmental science and policy management. 

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.

Can Technology Save the Planet?

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The Thinking Ahead Seminar Series: Emerging Technologies and the Environment, hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs with funding from an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant, explores the newest technologies from multiple disciplines inside and outside the University and their potential to help solve the most daunting environmental challenges. 

On Feb. 25, Larry Wackett, IonE resident fellow and Distinguished McKnight University professor in the College of Science and Engineering, discussed the role of hydraulic fracturing in the new energy landscape and how fracking water is being recycled, conserving the finite resource. "Hydraulic Fracturing, Energy and the Environment" can be viewed online

On March 25, R. Lee Penn, IonE resident fellow and associate professor of chemistry, will discuss the role of nanotechnology in the production of safe, clean and sustainable energy in "Nanoparticles in the Environment: Challenges for Science and Policy." Join the talk from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. in Humphrey School room 180.

The monthly talks are part of the Initiative on Governance of Emerging Technological Systems in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and funded by an IonE Mini Grant. IonE Mini Grants help spur new collaborations by providing small amounts of funding (from $500 to $3,000), administrative support and space to interdisciplinary groups of faculty, staff and students from across the University of Minnesota system. 

For more information and a list of future speakers, contact Leili Fatehi at fateh002@umn.edu.

Image: Matthias Weinberger (Flickr Creative Commons)

I Am Water

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Throw a pebble into a lake or stream and ripples will radiate out from the place of entry, breaking the inertia at the surface. Minneapolis artist Camille Gage hopes her art piece, "I AM WATER," will have a similar effect on people, catalyzing their sense of responsibility for tackling one of the biggest challenges we humans face: protecting Earth's finite water reserves.

Water Stewardship and the Private Sector

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Thumbnail image for 02-26-Rajan.jpgWater is essential to a healthy life and a healthy business. So as the world's water resources are becoming more scarce, the private sector is paying attention.

Raj Rajan, global sustainability technical leader and research, development and engineering vice president at Ecolab, Inc., discussed how commercial enterprises must shift the way they think about water in their business models in last week's Frontiers in the Environment lecture. His talk, "Water Stewardship and the Private Sector" took place Wednesday, Feb. 26 on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus.

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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