Environment & Science

Steven Stinson

A large plume of clay-laden silt has clouded the waters in portions of East Grand Traverse Bay.

The plume has been linked to run-off from the construction site of Grand Traverse Town Center in Acme Township, a 160-acre multi-use development which will be anchored by a Meijer store.

Brian Jankowski of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said the run-off violates various state and federal permits.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It's only one study. 

But if it's right, then researchers at the University of Michigan and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration have just proven that Lake Erie is even more vulnerable to toxic bacterial blooms than we thought.

And we don't really know why. 

Don Scavia is one of the study's coauthors. He's a professor at the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. 

"So we know that phosphorous loads going into the western basin of Lake Erie, primarily from agricultural sources, is what’s driving these blooms," he says. 

Clarence S. Metcalf Great Lakes Maritime Research Library

Michigan Radio's M I Curious project is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Shelly Scott asked Michigan Radio this question:

Have there ever been pirates on the Great Lakes?

“I thought: we’ve got such nice water bodies around here, why don’t we hear anything about fantastic things that happened on the Great Lakes?” she says.

Scott is an engineer at Ford and she’s also a leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.  These 5th grade girls had some questions about freshwater pirates too:

“What do pirate ships look like? Was there any pirate treasure in the Great Lakes? How did they get away with stealing other people’s treasure?” asked Maria Kokko, Lilli Semel and Shannon Scott.

This 250-year-old bur oak tree on the University of Michigan's campus will be moved on Oct. 25, weather permitting.
Corey Seeman / Flickr

I hope they have more success than I did.

I tried moving a four-year-old oak tree in my backyard… and failed. Of course, they’ll be using more than just a spade and a burlap sack.

We’ll likely find out over the next few years whether the $300,000 to $400,000 project to move the 250-year-old bur oak tree on the campus of the University of Michigan worked.

The tree is being moved as part of a $135 million, donor-funded expansion of U of M’s business school. The school announced today that the oak will be moved on October 25, weather permitting.

Moving my tree's root ball was hard enough. How in the world will they move a 700,000 to 850,000 pound root ball?

Glad you asked. Here’s a video showing exactly that:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The University of Michigan is opening a $46 million complex for researchers to study nanotechnologies in energy, biotechnology and other fields.

The Center of Excellence in Nano Mechanical Science and Engineering is a 62,000-square-foot addition to laboratories on the Ann Arbor school's north campus. Researchers will be able to watch the degradation of materials that go into things like cars and medical devices.

NWF / screenshot from YouTube video

Michigan Radio's MI Curious project puts our journalists to work for you: We investigate questions you submit about our state and its people.

One of the MI Curious questions was submitted by listener Justin Cross from Delton, Michigan. He asked: "What's the status of the Enbridge pipeline in the bottom of Lake Michigan running through the Straits of Mackinac?"

Michigan Radio's Mark Brush has been working to find an answer to the question. Brush says what he found is that Enbridge holds all the cards. The company is willing to talk, and they are aware of people's concerns. 

Morgue File

New legislation that would repeal Michigan’s renewable energy standard has been met with heavy opposition from environmentalists, and even some utilities.

In 2008, state lawmakers said electric utilities must generate at least ten percent of their energy using renewable sources by 2015. Recent studies show they are on track to meet that requirement.  

Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, introduced a bill last week that would repeal that part of Michigan’s energy law.

“Obviously, if it was not more costly, we wouldn’t have to mandate it,” said McMillin.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Credit an Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

We've been working to find an answer to the question, "What's the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?"

It was posed by Justin Cross for our M I Curious project.

One of the first things we discovered was that the company holds all the cards.

The eclipse is happening now. You can watch it online here, or better yet. Go outside and look!

One of our Facebook fans, Ben Wojdyla, reminds us that a big event is yet to come:

If you're vigilant, you can catch the selenelion, a rare celestial occurrence wherein a lunar eclipse and the rising sun can be observed simultaneously. Should occur between 7:30 and 7:45.

Here are the photos being shared on Twitter:

With Dutta's technologies, gadgets like Fitbit don't need to be plugged into the wall or need batteries.
User: Ian D / Flickr

 

It's not often you can say without a shadow of a doubt that someone is "brilliant." 

But you can make a good case for Prabal Dutta. He's an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan.

And he has been named one of Popular Science's 2014 Brilliant Ten, a list saluting scientific innovators who are changing the world as we know it.

Dutta made this list for his work on energy scavenging sensors. He explains that these sensors won't need batteries because they can harvest energy from the world around them.

A silver carp.
Michigan Sea Grant

ALLEGAN, Mich. - Officials say genetic material of Asian carp has been found in a river in the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan.

The state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced DNA from silver carp was detected in one of 200 samples taken in July the Kalamazoo River in Allegan County. The river flows into Lake Michigan.

Officials say the discovery marks the first time so-called environmental DNA for silver carp has been found in Michigan's Great Lakes waters outside of Maumee Bay in Lake Erie. In a statement, the agencies say there's "no evidence that a population of silver carp is established."

The silver carp is one of the Asian species threatening to invade the Great Lakes and compete with native fish for food.

Central Power Plant, Ann Arbor, MI
Press Release Distribution / prlog.org

A new study states that Michigan is one of five states that would see the most public health benefits from the EPA's proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan Radio's M I Curious is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Justin Cross asked Michigan Radio this question:

What is the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?  

User: Takver / Flickr

Say the words "climate change," and just watch the battle lines form.

On one side, we have those – including the scientific community – who say it is not only coming, it is here and we're going to be challenged by extreme weather as a consequence.

On the other side, we have those who doubt the grim warnings of climate scientists. They believe warming is just a part of nature's cycle.

user farlane / flickr

The rough winter of 2013-2014 was not kind to Michigan grapes.

And we're going to see that in the wine grape crop this year.

Linda Jones is executive director at Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. Jones projects a 50% reduction in wine output due to the harsh winter. 

Michigan-sportsman.com

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Scientists plan to trap up to 18 feral swine and fit them with radio collars in a five-year project to learn more about the unwanted critters' movements and habits in rural Michigan.

Researchers with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan at Flint will participate in the $500,000 study funded by the state and U.S. agriculture departments.

Michigan State wildlife professor Gary Roloff says getting rid of the animals requires a better understanding of how they spread and how their rooting behavior damages woods and farmlands.

Center for Effective Government

They are supposed to be a safe places to learn, but a new report finds that hundreds of thousands of Michigan children attend schools inside what chemical companies call a vulnerability zone.

Sean Moulton, director of open government policy with the Center for Effective Government, says the level of risk associated with a particular chemical facility has to do with the quantity of chemicals being handled, how dangerous those chemicals are and the proximity of the facility to population centers.

A diamondback terrapin hatchling.
C.A. Chicoine / TurtleZone News

The Detroit Zoo is caring for more than 1,000 turtles authorities say are tied to an international smuggling ring.

According to a news release Friday from the zoo, a number of the turtles were found stuffed into rubber snow boots and cereal boxes inside a Canadian man's luggage at Detroit Metropolitan Airport last week. The man was attempting to board a plane for Shanghai, China. 

Where's the tracker? This Kirtland's warbler has a tracker attached to its back that is incredibly tiny, weighing just 0.65 g.
Dan Elbert / USFWS

October is a time of falling leaves, eager trick-or-treaters, and the southward migration of the exceptionally rare Kirtland's warbler.

The Kirtland's warbler is found almost exclusively in the jack pine forest of northern Michigan. To counteract the devastating impact of habitat loss on the bird's population, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources initiated the Kirtland's Warbler Management Plan in 1981.

Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

Wastewater from fracked wells that produce gas and oil in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is coming to Ohio. 

Julie Grant, a reporter who has been researching this issue, says Ohio has become a go-to place for the nation's fracking waste disposal. Grant reports on environmental issues in Ohio and Pennsylvania for the program The Allegheny Front

"Energy companies point to the geology. They say the layers of underground rock that are better for wastewater storage are easier to access in Ohio, than in Pennsylvania’s hilly Appalachian basin," Grant says.

Pennsylvania is one of the top natural gas producers in the nation, but it’s more difficult to permit a disposal well there. Grant says there are only a few waste disposal wells in the whole state.

Ohio also has industry-friendly regulations. Oil and gas companies need permits to dispose of fracking waste underground.

In other states around the region, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Environmental Protection Agency has authority over those permits -- and the process can take a year or more. But in Ohio, the same permits can be issued in a matter of months. That's because Ohio has primacy over injection wells, so the state, not the federal government, issues the permits and the process is often faster.

Ambergris
User: aquagreenmarine.blogspot.com

Ambergris is an animal by-product that's been used for centuries in, as flavoring for food, and as an aphrodisiac. It's one of the world's most expensive substances.

Pretty glamorous, especially when you consider that ambergris is: whale poop.

Christopher Kemp is a molecular biologist at Michigan State University. He's written a book about ambergris called Floating Gold: A Natural (& Unnatural) History of Ambergris.

Kemp says ambergris is used in perfumes because of its musky scent that can hold together the other lighter tones. Besides, its fatty, cholesterol-rich texture can stabilize the fragrance and make it last longer on the wearer's skin. 

User: NASA Goddard Space / Flickr

 

University of Michigan researchers believe the water in your glass or bottle might be older than the sun.

One of those researchers is Ilse Cleeves, an astronomy PhD student. 

Cleeves and her fellow researchers arrived at the estimate by simulating the chemistry that went on as our solar system formed. They studied the ratio of two different varieties of water – common water and a heavier version. Through the simulation, the researchers found that at least half of our water likely formed in the cold molecular cloud that spawned our solar system. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Lakes Michigan and Huron have recovered after more than a decade of low water levels.

Government scientists say the lakes rose above their historic average this month.

Just two years ago, the water was at the lowest level ever recorded.

The quick recovery has stifled an effort to engineer a solution to the problem of low lake levels in Huron and Michigan.

But proponents say it would be shortsighted to forget about the issue.

dailyinvention / Creative Commons

It's a really good year for the 850 family-run apple farms in Michigan.

They're approaching a near-record crop.

It’s thanks in part to the awful winter Michigan had.

It turns out, the cold weather helped the apple trees stay dormant long enough so their spring blooms didn't freeze.

Diane Smith is the executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.

She says this year’s crop is one of the “cleanest” they’ve seen in years – no bug issues or early blossoming killing the crop off.

NOAA

Several Great Lakes mayors want stronger and faster action to keep Great Lakes drinking water safe.

A drinking water summit was held this week in Chicago, hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

Nicola Crawhall, deputy director of the initiative, said the meeting was triggered by the August shutdown of Toledo Ohio's drinking water system. The water was contaminated by microcystin toxins.

"We felt that was a watershed moment, if you like," said Crawhall.

MCM Management Corp.

Detroit is in the middle of one of the most ambitious demolition campaigns the nation has ever seen, tearing down about 200 houses every week.

Many of the homes being razed are in neighborhoods where people still live. So Detroit officials sat down before the blitz to come up with some new regulations designed to keep people safe from dust, and from hazardous materials that could be in that dust – like lead, or asbestos.

User: memories_by_mike / Flickr

As an article in the New York Times put it this week, “Alaskans stay in Alaska. People in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest: sit tight.” That’s the message from climate change researchers, who are predicting what places in the U.S. will be hit hardest by climate change.

It looks like the Midwest will be all right, relatively speaking.

Matthew Kahn is a professor at the UCLA Institute of Environment. He says that in 80 or 90 years, Detroit could be seeing a huge trend of people moving in – because of climate change.

"If rainfall really stops falling in the Southwest, and we don't come up with ways to allocate water efficiently, you're going to see millions of households and thousands of firms looking across the United States for better, less risky places to live. And the Midwest might compete very well there, just as it has in the past," says Kahn. 

*Listen to our conversation with Matthew Kahn above.

Michigan State University

It sounds like science fiction - but robotic fish are here, and their high-tech capabilities are helping scientists pursue some vexing questions.

Michigan State University researchers have received funding for a new project using robofish, to figure out how native lake trout are rebounding, after decades of decline.

Xiaobo (pronounced shaw-bo] Tan is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

He says the robofish don't look like fish so much as they do gliders -- they have wings, and a tail --

The Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club "Mushroom of the Month" - the Boletus variipes.
MMHC

There may be folks grumbling about the cool, wet end of summer we've had, but not the “shroomers.”

Mushroom hunters are having a blast with a bumper crop of wild mushrooms.

Philip Tedeschi is president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club.

"Fall has been starting out very good. This summer, the chanterelles and black trumpets and some of my favorite mushrooms come up then," said Tedeschi.

"Right now, the hen of the woods are starting. Hen of the woods is a mushroom that averages about three pounds. The ones I pick are typically one to five pounds. In our club, someone brought in a 42-pounder."

Tedeschi says the record for this mushroom weighs in at more than 100 pounds, from Pennsylvania.

Mushrooms love wet, cool weather.

“Mushrooms are even higher percentage water than animals. They need the water to grow. (In) a dry year we won’t see very many mushrooms at all,” he said.

*Listen to our interview with Tedeschi above.

user:yooperann / Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service has put out a report on how our warming climate is affecting forests in the U.P.

Stephen Handler is a climate change specialist with the Forest Service. He says, over the past several decades, we’ve been getting more extreme rainstorms in the region.

“So, more rain of two inches at a time, three inches at a time; and we’re seeing our winters, which is our characteristic climatic feature, shrinking, so, getting shorter and getting more variable, or getting less consistent snowpack,” he says.

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