Environment & Science | Michigan Radio

Environment & Science

Decades after falling from popularity, Spartan barley returns with the help of MSU researchers.
Courtesy of Ashley McFarland

Michigan’s local food movement has brought heirloom plants back into the spotlight, making for the perfect time to bring back a century-old barley strain.

Developed in 1916 by an MSU professor, “Spartan” barley is now making a comeback with the help of a team of the school's researchers.

Farmer Mick Luber stands along the southern border of his property in eastern Ohio, where Marathon has begun installing a liquid natural gas pipeline.
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

There’s been a big push to build new pipelines to move natural gas from well heads, to the people who need it. If it’s considered in the public interest, pipeline companies can get the power of eminent domain. That allows them to route their lines through people’s land, whether the landowner likes it or not.

But what happens when they’re carrying other products - like propane, butane, or ethane - byproducts of natural gas production?

What does your intelligence show about you?

Aug 1, 2016
Intelligence makes a huge difference in one's life, but what is it exactly?
Flickr user ssmegss / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

 

Intelligence is one of the biggest factors for success in contemporary American society. But what is intelligence and what does one’s intelligence reveal about them?

Flickr user orangesparrow / Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Next Idea

 

Many Michiganders enjoy walking in our outdoor spaces, whether private or public, being rejuvenated by the sights and sounds they encounter. But how many know what they are experiencing? Are they just seeing “walls of green?” Are they merely hearing a sound coming from somewhere high in a tree? And do they know whether the animals and plants they see are healthy?

Piping plover.
USFWS

There’s some good news for birds on the endangered species list.

A new report by the American Bird Conservancy says 78% of the birds listed as threatened or endangered are now stable, increasing, or have recovered enough to be taken off the list (think: Bald Eagle). The group analyzed data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

NOAA

Now, you can type in your zip code and see the future.

At least, you can see how hot it’s probably going to be.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has updated the tool it calls Climate Explorer. It’s an interactive website loaded with data for each county in the U.S.

David Herring is with NOAA’s Climate Program office. He says you can type in your city or zip code, and see projections: for example, how many days might be hotter than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hunt for methane gas leaks goes high tech

Jul 26, 2016
Carnegie Mellon researcher Aja Ellis monitors air emissions near a Marcellus Shale gas well in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania.
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Scientists are trying to find leaky gas wells and pipelines. They want to know how much of this infrastructure is leaking methane - a potent greenhouse gas.

Naomi Zimmerman is checking a computer screen inside a white van that looks like it came straight from an episode of Storm Chasers.

“There’s a blue line with the green line, but you can’t even see it anymore because the fit is spot on. We’re ready to do our calibrations,” she says.

Ford Motor Company

Using plants to make plastics is an idea that’s been around for a while. Henry Ford produced an experimental car with a soybean plastic exterior in 1941.

Now, 75 years later, Ford is looking to make car parts out of another plant, a plant that’s best known for being an ingredient in Tequila.

Michigan could see a West Nile virus outbreak this year

Jul 21, 2016
Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

The wetter the summer, the more mosquitos you’re likely to find outside.

In hot, dry summers, like the summer we are having now, there are fewer mosquitoes. But the mosquitos that are around pose a greater threat. That’s because West Nile virus spreads more easily in warm weather.

This summer Michigan State University has predicted an outbreak of West Nile in Michigan.

cford3 / Wikipedia

Consumers Energy in April closed seven of its coal-burning units.

DTE Energy plans to shut eight of its coal-burning units by the year 2023.

Mark Barteau is Director of the University of Michigan Energy Institute.  He says eventually, coal is going away because natural gas, wind and solar are more cost-effective - as well as being better for public health and the planet.

The confluence of Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River in 2010 (left), and in 2015 (right).
USEPA and Mark Brush / USEPA, Michigan Radio

You probably remember hearing about fines levied against Enbridge for the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill before. You're right. You did.

The company paid fines and settlements to the state of Michigan, fines to tribes, and fines to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and settlements with nearby homeowners and landowners.

Bryan Weinert told us Michiganders are throwing away some $350 million worth of recyclable material every year
Mike Blank / Michigan Radio

Do you have any idea how much money we are throwing away with that all that garbage that's going into our landfills?

Tomorrow, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting in Lansing to figure out how to rethink the way we deal with garbage and trash.

At the meeting, members of the public will get a chance to weigh in on the first major revision of our trash disposal and recycling laws since the 1990s.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Toxic blooms of cyanobacteria have been forming on Lake Erie for several years now.

A kind of cyanobacteria called Microcystis produces a toxin that can hurt pets and make the water unsafe to drink. Back in 2014, Toledo had to shut down its drinking water supply because of the toxin.

The states around the lake – and Ontario - are working to cut back on phosphorus. It’s a nutrient that runs off from farms and wastewater treatment plants and makes those toxic blooms grow like crazy.

The Great Lakes Commission just launched a new pilot program with Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. It’ll be a trading program for phosphorus, and they’re calling it the Erie P Market.

Proposed salmon cuts upset some fishermen

Jul 19, 2016
Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A proposal to reduce the number of Pacific salmon stocked into Lake Michigan has upset some sport fishermen. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently took a poll of its advisory group.

It found about 40% of those surveyed were against the plan.

Millions of king salmon have been planted in Lake Michigan since the 1960s, as many as seven million fish a year at the peak. That has created a booming sport fishery.

But there is not much food for salmon in the lake these days, so fewer fish are being stocked.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

It's been two years since drinking water in Toledo was contaminated by cyanobacteria in Lake Erie.

Four hundred thousand Toledo-area residents couldn't drink the water for a few days.

 

That fired up Pam Taylor to start tracking how Lake Erie's been getting contaminated.

 

A lead service line removed from a Flint home. Lead service lines were useful because the metal is flexible and can bend - making installation easier.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There are several potential sources of lead in your home plumbing that can get into your drinking water.

  • The service line connecting the water main to your house could be made out of lead
  • The solder in your plumbing could have lead in it
  • And older brass faucets and valves can contain lead

So how do you figure out what you have in your house?

This question has been nagging at me for some time. At our house, we drink the water straight from the tap.

Screen showing Line 5 on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan has contracted with Det Norske Veritas to conduct a risk analysis of Enbridge Energy Line 5, two oil pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac.

A separate consultant, Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, will study the alternatives to keeping the aging pipelines open.

Environmental groups say a failure of the pipelines would be a catastrophe for the Great Lakes.

Chart showing greenhouse gas emissions over time.
Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle / University of Michigan

Industries in the U.S. have made some progress cutting greenhouse gas emissions over the past couple of decades. But emissions are up from the transportation sector. This matters because transportation is the nation’s second-largest source of the emissions that are causing climate change.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The U.S. and Canada have added polybrominated diphenyl ethers to their list of "Chemicals of Mutual Concern."

PBDEs are a class of flame retardants in furniture, electronics, car seats and the padding under our carpets. But the toxic chemicals don’t stay put. They leach out and build up in people and in wildlife.

Dave Dempsey is a policy advisor with the International Joint Commission. The IJC advises both countries on Great Lakes issues.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

A lawsuit asking Flint to remove lead service lines free of charge for all of its water customers may proceed, according to a U.S. District Court ruling. The suit was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the ACLU of Michigan, Concerned Pastors for Social Action, and Flint resident Melissa Mays. 

NOAA

Scientists predict this year's cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie will be smaller than any year since 2010.

Cyanobacteria produces a dangerous toxin. In 2014 a large mass surrounded Toledo's water intake and shut it down for two days.

Last year, record blooms covered a huge area of Lake Erie with green slime.

Rick Stump is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says this year, a relatively dry June will prevent what happened in 2015.

Cale Nordmeyer searches for the endangered Poweshiek skipperling.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of people spent the Fourth of July weekend grilling out or swimming at the beach. But Cale Nordmeyer spent his time trudging through the muck and grasses in a Michigan wetland.

Nordmeyer works for the Minnesota Zoo and he’s on a mission with a small window of time. He’s part of a small team of researchers working to save endangered Poweshiek skipperlings.

The current detection rate of chronic wasting disease is low, but Chad Stewart warned that the disease could decimate Michigan's deer population if left unchecked.
flickr user Rachel Kramer / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease that affects deer.

The State Department of Natural Resources is concerned about the spread of CWD through Michigan's deer population. 

user mytvdinner / Flickr

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 48 million Americans get sick from eating contaminated food each year. That's one in six people.

One of the big challenges for companies is tracing those food products and getting them off the shelves quickly.

Kaitlin Wowak is an assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business. She’s the lead author of a new study in the Journal of Business Logistics. She says a number of factors determine how difficult it is to recall a food product quickly.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Next week, Virginia Tech researchers return to Flint to test the city’s drinking water for a third time.

A year ago, their tests showed high levels of lead in the city’s tap water.

A second round of testing showed improvement, but not enough.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

This fall, water experts from around the world are expected to come to Flint for a summit on water infrastructure issues.

Flint’s water crisis has become a symbol for the problems facing aging water systems.

Bryce Feighner is special advisor on drinking water with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He’s helping to organize the summit.

Feighner says they’re reaching out to experts across the U.S. and Europe, seeking innovative answers to the problems that Flint and other cities with aging, faltering municipal water systems face.

Courtesy of the Kent County Department of Public Works

The Next Idea

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – one that’s worth about $56 million. That’s the estimated value of the wasted material sent to landfills every year, reports the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF).

Flickr user/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

If it looks like your parched lawn is crying out for a drink, you've got company.

Parts of the state are in the grips of a dry spell, and it's turning lawns crispy and brown. 

Flint resident Michael Poole says he has enough water in his basement, "I could probably put it in a big ol' barrel and take a shower for days."
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Michael Poole doesn’t buy the line that filtered tap water is safe for him and his neighbors to drink.

“There may be a day when I might be able to trust” the water, he says. “But until then, I’m getting this right here.”

Flickr user eelke dekker/Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Science isn’t cheap, and research needs funding. But are researches crossing ethical lines by accepting money from corporations and the government?

Kevin Boehnke is the recipient of a fellowship from Dow Chemical Co. and a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He studies water quality on a global scale, and receiving this funding will allow him to pursue his research further.

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