Environment & Science

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.

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

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.

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):

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

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.

(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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

user william_warby / Flickr

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:

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.

http://www.michiganlcv.org/

Gov. Snyder delivers his State of the State address a week from today. He'll likely talk about new policy initiatives and proposals and issues concerning everything from transportation and infrastructure to education. Lisa Wozniak, however, will be listening intently to what the Governor has to say about one specific topic: the environment.

Lisa Wozniak is the Executive Director of the Michigan League for Conservation Voters, and she joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

user vaxomatic / flickr

In China, more and more cities are seeing their streets filled with smog as cars and power stations pollute the air. One response by the Chinese government is to launch a major push for cleaner renewable energy. China is now the world's leading producer of wind power and it has plans to install thousands of turbines every year, especially in the remote regions in the country's far west.

That's where the BBC's science editor David Shukman is, and he sent us this report.

Listen to the full audio above.

Sometimes people don’t tell the truth. More often, they don’t tell the whole truth. Sometimes they do it on purpose to make their argument appear stronger. Other times they make honest mistakes. Sorting it out is my job as a reporter. Yesterday, the Sierra Club dumped a fair amount of work on my lap when it released an error laden press release giving Governor Snyder a failing grade on energy and environmental actions.

Here’s what I found that I think you should know.

MODIS / NASA

Update: Friday, February 7, 2014

The ice bridge to Isle Royale has formed. See our post here.

Original post: January 9, 2014

Wolves first came to Isle Royale in Lake Superior by crossing an ice bridge in the late 1940s, but these ice bridges have not been forming as often in recent years and the wolf population on Isle Royale has been suffering as a result.

Dan O'Keefe / Michigan Sea Grant

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a study about what might be done to keep those invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

It took seven years and that was a rush job after some members of Congress accused the Corps of dragging its feet.

The study outlines eight scenarios.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The food industry wants the government to give the okay for calling products using genetically engineered ingredients “natural” foods.

I went to my local grocery store looking for the term “natural” or “naturally” and I didn’t have to go very far.

In the cereal aisle I found products labeled “naturally flavored,” “100% natural,” and an “all natural pancake mix.” A couple aisles over, looking at the chips there were “all natural” pretzels, “naturally sweet” popcorn, and then there was a drink with a label that read “naturally flavored beverage with other natural flavors blended with vitamins.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A controversial development that’s proposed on 300 acres of critical duneland in Saugatuck is likely to get the state permit it needs to get the project rolling. The parcel has been at the center of a years-long legal battle.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It’s been seven years since America hit the accelerator on corn-based ethanol fuels. Homegrown corn became the centerpiece of a push to find an alternative to foreign oil.

President Bush signed this expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007, promising it would make us “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But, as is so often the case, something that offers great promise on one hand, takes its toll on the other hand. So the view of corn-based ethanol very much depends upon which side of the fence you’re standing on.

Purple signifies the extreme cold in the U.S.
NWS

The temperatures certainly are extreme. Last night, it was colder in Michigan than it was at the South Pole.

Parts of the state saw temperatures reach 16 below zero with wind chills exceeding 40 below zero.

The "polar vortex" has brought air to the Midwest that normally stays way up in the arctic.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

A new report says a permanent solution to the Asian carp threat to the Great Lakes could take years to build and cost billions of dollars.

The report says it’s very possible for the invasive species to slip from the Mississippi River system into the Great Lakes. And that it’s possible for the species to live in the lakes and grow in population.

The report was prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Congress.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan could deregulate the electricity market, allowing people to choose where they buy electricity.

In downtown Frankenmuth there are two very popular restaurants: the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and right across the street, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. Both are famous for their chicken dinners. And the owners are cousins -- both of them are Zehnders.

Sami / Flickr

Snow has covered the state.

Up to 16 inches of snow was on the ground in Flint last night.

Even more snow is expected today in addition to extreme wind chills.

The wind chill could drop to 15 below to 30 degrees below zero today.

On top of that, more snow is in the forecast today for the region.

In West Michigan, 6 to 8 inches of snow could fall by tomorrow morning.  

Classes have been canceled at Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University.

Hundreds of schools and many state offices are closed today.

If you like what we've been having, you're going to love the weather forecast.

Temperatures will be more tolerable than the single-digit temperatures we've had for the past several days, with highs in the low 30s  today (Saturday). But the reprieve will be short lived: A winter weather advisory will be in effect for West Michigan from 4 p.m. today until early Monday morning. Snow totals could range from 3 to 6 inches.

Hundreds of snowy owls have descended on the Great Lakes and Northeast as part of this year's "irruption." / toddraden

Every year, some snowy owls make their way south from their Arctic homeland in search of food, and some of us here in the Great Lakes region have been lucky enough to spot these magnificent birds on tree branches, or poles, or … near airports.

Airports have wide open treeless spaces, and can look a lot like home to snowy owls. And for wildlife specialists who work at airports from the Great Lakes to the Northeast, this has been a busy winter.

Eight owls trapped in one week at DTW

Finally. 

The lights are back on, and the heat is warming the house, for the roughly 670,000 Consumers Energy and DTE customers who lost electricity from a severe ice storm.

"It was one of the worst storms in our history," says Debra Dodd of Consumers Energy.

Heavy ice brought down hundreds of lines, and in some cases, pulled the poles down with it.

Dodd says customers were patient, understanding and grateful to the line crews, who worked 16-hour days to repair the damage.

Judy Putnam

There are times when warm weather is not a good thing, and this is one such time.

Brian Wheeler is with Consumers Energy.  He says the severe ice storm that struck a big portion of the state early Sunday left extremely heavy ice on the trees.

"The ice has been pushing trees and tree limbs into different positions," says Wheeler.  "A rapid melt could cause them to snap back into a different position pretty quickly too, and as they move suddenly, they could interfere with power lines yet again."

USFWS

The state Department of Natural Resources says hunters are unlikely to bag the limit of 43 wolves before the season ends on December 31. In fact, it’s been two and a half weeks since the last wolf was taken on December 5.        

State wildlife officials say an extreme cold snap in the Upper Peninsula may be responsible. They say it’s also possible wolves have learned to avoid hunters.

Pages