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Environment & Science

Reviving Michigan's coastal marshes

Sep 22, 2016
Allison Smart, a biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, examines wild rice in Arcadia Marsh.
Peter Payette

 

Most visitors to northern Michigan are looking for sugar sand beaches on the Great Lakes. But if you’re a spawning fish or a migratory bird, you might be looking for a coastal marsh.

The Great Lakes used to be lined with coastal marshes that were full of native plants and wildlife. But in lower Michigan, many of these places been drained, plowed, polluted and, more recently, overrun by exotic plants from other parts of the world.

 

Some conservation groups are working to restore and protect the marshes we have left.

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

As the summer road construction season moves into its final weeks, you might find yourself wondering: instead of pouring time and money into patching roads that crack every year during the winter, why not make better concrete?

Average surface temperatures for 2015.
NOAA

Every day, you and I burn up all kinds of things.

We burn gasoline to get to work, mow the lawn, or fly to a conference. We burn natural gas, coal, or heating oil to heat our homes. And we burn up coal or natural gas when flipping on that light switch.   

Whenever we burn stuff, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Burned a gallon of gas driving around town? You just put around 20 pounds of CO2 into the air.

That CO2 traps heat, and all the burning we do is causing the planet to warm dramatically.

Cobb power plant in Muskegon, which shut down in April 2016
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan and its Midwest electric grid operator, MISO, believe they've come up with a solution to a potential shortage of electricity that could happen as early as 2018.

That's the year yet another power plant in the grid will shut down (this time in Indiana); Michigan's Consumers Energy shut down six smaller power plants in April. 

The shutdowns mean there might not be enough electricity generation capacity during times of peak demand.

Kayaks and a rowing shell on the Huron River
Deb Nystrom / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Update Friday, September 23:

Recreation on the Huron River has been resumed and, so far, water tests show no threat to human health, according to an updated press release by the city of Ann Arbor.

It is believed that the leak was caused after a motorist drove through barriers near the entrance to Gallup Park. The investigation of that incident is ongoing.

Raw sewage flowed out of the pipe from Saturday, September 17 to Monday, September 19.

More from the city’s press release:

Filling a sample bottle.
Courtesy photo / Virginia Tech

This week, a state lawmaker from Flint says he’ll introduce legislation that would make Michigan’s regulations on lead in drinking water some of the strictest in the U.S.

Governor Rick Snyder first rolled out the proposal in April in reaction to the Flint water crisis. He said federal rules on the amount of lead allowed in drinking water were “dumb and dangerous” because they’re not based on protecting public health.

Wind turbines
(courtesy Consumers Energy)

Researcher Markus Hagemann says even he was surprised by the radical degree of change that will be required in energy use in order to limit global warming to a 2 degree Celsius increase.

Hagemann is with NewClimate Institute, a partner with Climate Action Tracker.

The group's research shows that gas and diesel-burning cars and trucks would have to get about 100 miles to the gallon by 2030, and the entire fleet will need to be at least 50% electric by 2050.

Microplastics widespread in Great Lakes tributaries

Sep 15, 2016
A Healthier Michigan / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Tiny particles of plastic are prevalent in rivers that flow into the Great Lakes, according to a new study by scientists with  the U.S. Geological Survey  and the State University of New York at Fredonia.

The study found  microplastics in every sample taken from 29 Great Lakes tributaries in six states. These tributaries account for more than 20% of the total river water running into the Great Lakes.

The ESPniagara, aka "lab in a can."
NOAA GLERL

Scientists launched a kind of underwater robotic tool in Lake Erie this week to test the water for toxins.

Timothy Davis is a researcher with NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“We affectionately call it a lab in a can,” he says.

He says this tool takes water samples to test the levels of a toxin in the green blooms of cyanobacteria that've been showing up in the lake each year.

The plaintiffs say older, poor and impoverished people in Flint aren't getting enough water
Flickr user Daniel Orth

Should a judge force the government to deliver bottled water, door to door, to everybody in Flint?

The Flint water crisis has gone to federal court: a group of activists say the state’s efforts really aren’t reaching a lot of people – especially older, sick, or low-income people.

There’s several plaintiffs here:  a group called the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a Flint resident/activist named Melissa Mays.

Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

You may remember from your school days that one of the ways geologists measure time is by epochs, which can be seen in changes in rock layers. These epochs tell us much about what was happening on the earth at that time.

Grass carp.
USGS

The Canadian government has confirmed that, for the first time, a fertile grass carp has been caught in the Canadian waters of western Lake Erie.

Grass carp are considered less of a threat than bighead and silver carp (but grass carp can eat a lot of aquatic plants) and for a long time, people thought the grass carp in the lakes were sterile. But lately, fertile grass carp have been turning up.

A commercial fisherman caught the fish off Point Pelee.

A natural gas pipeline
www.FERC.gov

Are people writing from beyond the grave to support a proposed natural gas line that would run from Ohio into Southeast Michigan and on into Ontario?

According to a story in today's Detroit Free Press, the answer is yes.

Wikipedia

Warmer waters due to climate change are likely to hurt the reproduction of walleye in inland lakes in Midwest states like Michigan.

Gretchen Hansen is a research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

She says over the next 30 years, as the planet and its waters warm, there will be a significant decline in walleye, especially those in smaller inland lakes, and an increase in largemouth bass. 

That's because walleye reproduce more readily in colder waters.

Hansen says the trend will be most noticeable in smaller inland lakes.

Wikipedia/US Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing a new regulation to require public notices of combined sewer overflow discharges into the Great Lakes.

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller is in favor of such a regulation, but she says it won't be enough.

Combined sewer overflows happen when heavy rains overwhelm a city's combined sanitary and stormwater system, sending untreated or partially treated sewage into rivers and lakes.

Mark Katakowski explained that as we age, the number, function and "therapeutic potential" of our bodies' stem cells diminshes.
flickr user Tareq Salahuddin / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

Could the ancient search for the Fountain of Youth lead to Ann Arbor?

That's where a company called Forever Labs is working to solve the universal problem of getting old. 

Its solution: store your stem cells when you're a young adult so you can use them as you age.

Do teachers' beliefs on climate change affect their students? Yes and no.
Flickr user Frank Juarez / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The vast majority of climate scientists agree climate change is happening and it’s mainly caused by people.

A new study looks at how middle school students' beliefs about climate change are shaped by their teachers’ own beliefs.

Dredging on the River Raisin. A mechanical dredge removing material on July 11, 2012.
USEPA

State and federal officials are celebrating the completion of a twenty-year river cleanup effort in southeast Michigan.

The River Raisin was once one of the most polluted rivers in Michigan. It will soon be clean enough for both commercial navigation and recreational use.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the cleanup effort is in its final stage, which is set to be finished by the end of October.

Cameron Davis is senior advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video / Enbridge Energy

 

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 goes right under Lake Michigan. It splits into two pipelines at the Straits, and it was recently announced that the supports that hold the pipeline in place are not in compliance with a 1953 easement agreement with the state.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Crews hired by Enbridge are back at work along the Kalamazoo River again this month.

In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline broke near Marshall, spewing about a million gallons of crude oil that fouled the Kalamazoo River. The company spent more than a billion dollars cleaning up the spill.

The clean-up is done. But Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy says the restoration of the habitat along the river continues.

“We’re just doing some work along the river,putting in logs, roots, woody structures, things like that along the river banks,” says Duffy.

user Alchemist-hp / wikimedia commons

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has proposed approving a permit for a company that plans to develop a gold, zinc and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The agency announced the decision Friday about the mining permit for Aquila Resources for the Back Forty Project in Menominee County. The project also includes a proposed processing facility in Lake Township.

A public hearing is planned for October 6.

The MDEQ says it determined the application meets the requirements for approval under Michigan's mining law.

city of Detroit skyline
James Marvin Phelps / Flicker

Our cities are especially vulnerable to climate change. More than 80% of people in the U.S. live in cities, so things like flooding and heat waves can affect a lot of people at once.

But city planners don’t always have a good handle on the risks their cities face.

Wikimedia user Gyre / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The state of Michigan has hit a roadblock in its efforts to cut down on air pollution in Wayne County.

U.S. Steel is suing the state over a rule that requires the company to submit a plan for meeting sulfur dioxide standards at its Great Lakes Works plant in Ecorse.

Michigan has been trying get the Pittsburgh-based company and several others in the Detroit-area to scale back emissions since 2010, when a federal review found that levels were above standards.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

State officials in Ohio want to list parts of the Lake Erie shoreline and drinking water intakes in the lake as impaired. They want to do this because of the toxic blooms of cyanobacteria that have been growing on the lake every year. The blooms are fueled by excess nutrients, mostly phosphorus, that get into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

An impaired listing under the Clean Water Act sets pollution limits and outlines what has to happen to clean up that pollution.

Ecologist Ryan Utz and graduate student Catherine Giles check on a recent arrival to their “moth board” at Chatham University. Utz says they could see as many as 1,500 different species on campus over the next several years.
Kara Holsopple / Allegheny Front

 

What do you know about moths, besides that they’re attracted to your porch lights? It turns out researchers still have a lot to learn about the many species of moths and the role they play in ecosystems.

Ryan Utz is an assistant professor of water resources at Chatham University. But right now, he only has eyes for moths.

 

“It feels like just a wall of gems because you never know what you’re going to find," he says.

 

Bill Schroer told us that we waste about 30% of our food in America.
United States Department of Agriculture

The Next Idea

There's a halfway decent chance you scraped food into the trash can today. Or maybe you pitched an apple core out the car window on your way to work.

If so, then you are contributing to America's food waste problem, and it's a big one.

Some $218 billion big.

Battle Creek wants to be America's test laboratory and lead the way to zero food waste.

Inside one of the more successful recycling programs in the state - Emmet County's Material Recovery Facility.
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Recycling programs in Michigan have run into some problems.

Some, like the University of Michigan's program, cut back on what they take. And businesses are paying some of the highest prices they've seen in recent years to have their leftover material recycled.

The folks at Ventura Manufacturing wrote to us to say they're having a hard time finding a good recycling option for their facility in Zeeland.

Mary Finn told us the study asked pimps in Atlanta and Chicago how technology has changed their business.
pixabay user Unsplash / Public Domain

It's known as the world's oldest profession, but make no mistake: Some 80% of all sales of sex happen online.

That figure comes from a first-of-its-kind study done by researchers from Michigan State University and Loyola University Chicago. They interviewed pimps in Atlanta and Chicago to find out how the digital world has affected the way they do business.

On July 27, Vayu's fully autonomous drone transported clinical lab samples from a remote village in Madagascar to a laboratory for testing.
Courtesy of Vayu

Fighting disease in developing countries is an uphill battle. 

One of the biggest challenges: the lack of roads. 

How do you get clinical samples – blood, stool, urine – from a remote village to a laboratory where the samples can be tested for disease?

A Michigan start-up called Vayu has taken a promising step toward addressing that crucial problem by using a drone on a life-saving medical mission in Madagascar.

Tougher pipeline safety rules could be a tough sell

Aug 23, 2016
Two men walk the scene of a natural gas transmission line explosion in western Pennsylvania, April 29, 2016. The blast was so powerful it ripped a 12-foot crater into the landscape and burned a section of the field with a quarter-mile radius.
Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

There's a building boom for pipelines all across the country right now, and that’s created anxiety about new pipelines close to where people live and work. While the federal government is trying to ratchet up safety rules, there are limits on what these new rules can do.

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