Environment & Science

The Environment Report
10:16 am
Thu January 30, 2014

The case of the mysterious rocks and signs related to the Kalamazoo River oil spill

Craig Ritter's mysterious rock formations he started finding this summer on the banks of the Kalamazoo River.
Craig Ritter

In case you’re new in town, three and a half years ago an Enbridge pipeline broke, causing a huge oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.

The case of the mystery rocks

A couple of years ago, I met Craig Ritter while doing some reporting on the river cleanup.

He’s your typical, passionate, Michigan out-of-doors type.

He says he was out fishing last summer.

“I started noticing these weird formations that I’d never seen before,” Ritter said.

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Environment & Science
12:15 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

A Michigan company is making snow for the Olympics

This is a shaman. Altai shamans have a ritual to encourage snowfall, which the Sochi Organizing Committee is using.
user: arzarubin Flickr

SMI Snowmakers of Midland is involved in the snowmaking and the snowmaking design in Sochi, Russia. SMI is working with Skado (a local Russian company) to design and carry out the process.

According to SMI's website, there are several challenges the company is facing at the Rosa Khutor Resort near Sochi:

The snowmaking design and owner objectives were extremely challenging due to the big vertical, marginal temperatures, wide slopes, environmental aspects, energy and logistics. 

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Environment & Science
8:20 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Environmental groups divided over possible tax break for oil and gas companies

morguefile

Oil and gas companies in Michigan could soon get a tax break for better utilizing wells, and the proposed measure is causing a split among environmental groups in the state.

A state House panel held its first hearing Tuesday on a bill meant to encourage companies not to abandon oil and gas wells once they’re no longer profitable. Supporters of the legislation say it is meant to encourage an extraction method that pumps carbon dioxide into older or low-producing wells to get relatively small amounts of oil out.

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The Environment Report
7:00 am
Tue January 28, 2014

Two stories of Michigan solar power ambitions

Jim Wolter, right, and Ed Brandel of Energy Partners LLC in Muskegon.
Courtesy Photo

First up, a Michigan man who’s trying to win millions of dollars with solar power.

He’s trying to put solar panels on as many Michigan homes and businesses as he possibly can.

Prasad Gullapalli’s Novi-based Srinergy wants you to invest in solar panels – for your home, for your business – doesn’t matter. He’s looking for anybody in Michigan to go solar.

He’s making the offer with no upfront costs.

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Environment & Science
10:46 am
Mon January 27, 2014

White Lake could become Michigan’s first to come off U.S-Canada list of pollution hot spots

White Lake is the larger lake pictured. It lies north of Muskegon, Michigan.
Doc Searls Creative Commons

An inland lake north of Muskegon is expected to reach a major milestone this year. Officials anticipate White Lake will be removed from a list of the most-polluted places surrounding the Great Lakes this year.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most of the pollution in White Lake was caused by a chemical company that dumped waste into the water.

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Environment & Science
6:06 am
Sun January 26, 2014

'Problem' wolves killed in U.P. hunt, DNR says

USFWS Midwest

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Michigan officials say most of the wolves killed in the recent Upper Peninsula hunt probably belonged to packs that have caused problems for people.

Adam Bump of the state Department of Natural Resources tells The Associated Press that 17 of the 23 kills happened in locations within territories of packs with reputations for "conflicts" such as preying repeatedly on livestock.

Bump says those locations typically were within five miles of a farm or other place where conflicts occurred.

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Environment & Science
11:59 am
Thu January 23, 2014

These researchers say you'll be less productive if you use your smart phone at night

Smart phones can reduce your productivity, according to a new study
user: Dru Bloomfield Flickr

MSU conducted a study that links productivity to smart phone usage.

Russell Johnson is an assistant professor at Michigan State and conducted the study in collaboration with the University of Florida and the University of Washington.

The study found two big correlations.

First, that the amount of sleep you get is directly related to how much time you spend on your cell phone at night.

If you spend a lot of time on your phone, you'll get less sleep. 

The second big thing has to do with productivity.

Johnson and the other two researchers found that it's harder for people to be focused and engaged at work if they spent a lot of time on their smart phones the night before.

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Environment & Science
7:00 am
Thu January 23, 2014

What heavy ice coverage means for Great Lakes shipping and water levels

USCGC Morro Bay departs from Detroit to break ice down the Detroit River to Toledo.
Credit Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Ice formed on the Great Lakes early this year, thanks to the arctic temperatures we’ve been experiencing.

And that should be good for lake levels, which have plummeted in recent years. Right?

Well, it turns out the answer to that question is a bit complicated.

Lake levels are affected by a number of factors, including temperature, precipitation, evaporation and ice cover.

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Stateside
4:37 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

Giving DIY satellites a push in space

A rendering of the Cubesat Ambipolar Thruster being developed by U of M researchers
PEPL University of Michigan

Technology has opened the doors in recent years for do-it-yourselfers to complete scientific projects without help from universities or government agencies. But space exploration is one field that has remained largely out of reach for amateur scientists who don’t have NASA-sized budgets.

One way space enthusiasts have found to get more involved in the last few years is by building little satellites themselves, called cubesats.

Basically just metal boxes about the size of a loaf of bread, cubesats are popular in the DIY space community because they can be built cheaply with off-the-shelf parts and can be stuffed with cameras and all sorts of other instruments depending on the builders’ interests.

They’re usually put together by groups of amateurs or classes who pay to have their cubesat catch a ride on bigger rocket missions and once they’re dropped off, they stay in orbit and transmit pictures or other data back down to Earth.

Now, researchers at the University of Michigan say they are working to expand the scientific capabilities of cubesats by giving them a push in new directions, literally.

They want to take the plasma propulsion systems that power big spacecraft, like communication satellites, and shrink them down so that amateurs can send their cubesats into new orbits or even off into the solar system.

*Listen to the full story above

Environment & Science
10:00 am
Wed January 22, 2014

The solution to the Asian carp problem? 'Dam it,' say many at public hearing in Ann Arbor

Brigadier General Margaret Burcham, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speaks to the audience at a public hearing on Asian carp last night in Ann Arbor.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

About a hundred people showed up at a public hearing Tuesday night in Ann Arbor to discuss ways to keep Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes.

One by one, people took to the microphone to tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the only way to stop the Asian carp is to close the man-made waterways connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin.

Asian carp have devastated native fish populations in parts of the Mississippi River basin since first being introduced in the southern United States. Some species of Asian carp were brought in to help keep retention ponds clean in aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities.

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Environment & Science
12:16 pm
Tue January 21, 2014

Student captures video of Lake Michigan ice with a drone and a GoPro camera

Ice sheets on Lake Michigan shot with a drone.
screen shot from WZZM video

Spend a little over a thousand bucks and you too could capture some images that will grab the attention of your local TV station.

WZZM-TV in West Michigan featured a story about Hope College sophomore Jeff Zita.

Zita was curious about the ice forming on the lake and sent up his chopper. Here's the news segment (Click here if you can't see the video):

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The Environment Report
7:00 am
Tue January 21, 2014

The teeny, tiny ingredient that could add up to a big problem for the Great Lakes

Credit 5 Gyres

Ever seen a commercial for a face scrub or body wash that promises to “polish” your skin with “micro-beads?”

Or maybe one of the hundreds of these products already sits in your shower.

Ever wonder what those little beads are?

Chances are pretty good they’re plastic. And once they circle your drain and go down your pipes, chances are also pretty good they’re not going to get filtered out by your city’s sewage treatment plant.

Millions of tiny beads that look a lot like fish food

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Environment & Science
6:00 am
Tue January 21, 2014

First meeting on U.S. Army Corps’ plans for Asian carp is tonight in Ann Arbor

DNR fishery technician Vince Balcer holds up one of the "common carp" already found in many rivers in Michigan. The DNR held a practice drill in September 2013 to test their carp catching skills, just in case bighead or silver carp make it here.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

This week federal officials will talk about the options for preventing Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan.

People and organizations will get a chance to have their say about which option they support. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will host meetings in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night and in Traverse City on Thursday.

The meetings are two of six scheduled this month, from Louisiana to Pennsylvania. Officials will also take written comments through early March.

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Environment & Science
9:50 am
Mon January 20, 2014

Spring groundbreaking expected on physics project at MSU

(courtesy of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams)

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A massive physics research project at Michigan State University is expected to break ground this spring.

The Lansing State Journal reports that there is $55 million allocated for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams in the federal budget. Plans call for more than $160 million in construction costs alone over the next four years.

The U.S. Department of Energy last year estimated the cost of FRIB at $730 million. The aim is for completion between 2020 and 2022.

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Environment & Science
12:42 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

Managers at Sleeping Bear Dunes want take down more diseased Beech trees

A beech tree in Michigan killed by beech bark disease.
Joseph O'Brien U.S. Forest Service

For a beech tree, the end comes in two parts.

It starts with the wooly beech scale opening up a wound, then a fungus gets into that wound and can eventually kill the tree (either by girdling it or by weakening it until it falls over).

The disease has been around in Canada and parts of the U.S. for more than a century. It was discovered in Michigan in 2000.

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The Environment Report
9:38 am
Thu January 16, 2014

Can sewage treatment plants protect fish from the chemicals in the water?

The USGS found that a third of all the male smallmouth bass they sampled had intersex traits.
micropterus_dolomieu Wikimedia commons

So you know the saying, right? Stuff flows downhill? Myron Erickson knows a lot about that "stuff."

He heads up the sewage treatment plant that sits along the Grand River in Wyoming, Michigan (right next to Grand Rapids).

The screening room is where they take out the "grit." Erickson calls them "knick knacks."

"It's a small particle like sand, and also all things that come to us in sewage, like peas, and corn, and peanuts," says Erickson.

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Environment & Science
11:21 pm
Wed January 15, 2014

After “uncommon” incident, regulators keeping a close eye on Enbridge Energy pipeline installation

A federal regulator keeps a close eye on work going on behind Dave Gallagher's house Wednesday afternoon.
Dave Gallagher Courtesy photo

Federal regulators are overseeing the installation of an oil pipeline after an accident last week near Ceresco.

It’s hard for Dave Gallagher not to watch the work. The pipeline is going in just 12 feet behind his house.

“Yeah they’re really scrutinizing that pipe now. There’s like 10 people down there,” Gallagher said, watching from his back porch Wednesday afternoon.

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Stateside
4:49 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Michigan dams are in bad condition

The dam in question.
Photo by Bob Allen

There are nearly 2,600 dams in Michigan, and more than 90% are going to hit or exceed their design life by 2020.

That's according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave Michigan a grade of "D" on the condition of its dams.

Keith Metheny looked into the issue of Michigan's aging dams in a recent piece in the Detroit Free Press, where he is the environmental reporter. He joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

The Environment Report
9:05 am
Tue January 14, 2014

What should we do about the trace chemicals found in drinking water?

Lack of funds threaten to shut down a monitoring system for southeast Michigan's drinking water.
user william_warby Flickr

The radio version of this story.

Before I talk about the small bits of chemicals often found in drinking water, I want to direct some attention to the national water contamination story going on now because I think it reveals something.

The water is bad in West Virginia

The nation has its eyes on a nine-county area in West Virginia that’s under a state of emergency. A coal-processing chemical leaked into a river and poisoned the drinking water there. Cleanup is ongoing. As they attempt to flush the chemical out of their drinking water systems, officials are trying to determine what level of the chemical is safe.

Ken Ward Jr. of the West Virgina Gazette reports that local and federal officials are saying that "1 part per million" of  crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (the coal processing chemical) is safe for people to drink.

But Ward is having a tough time finding out what they based that number on:

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Environment & Science
1:18 pm
Sun January 12, 2014

University of Michigan faces proposed fine from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

www.oseh.umich.edu/radiation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing a $3,500 fine against the University of Michigan Radiation Safety Service after a routine materials inspection turned up security-related violations.

The federal agency says the inspection conducted between last June and September looked at the use of licensed materials for medical applications, research and development.

Violations were found on the school's Ann Arbor campus.

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