Environment & Science

Historically, missions executed by NASA (and others) were on a grand scale – massive spacecraft built with massive budgets and a massive labor force, but in the past decade, an education and industrial focus has emerged on sending nano-satellites, known as CubeSats, into orbit (so named for their cubical shape).

David Kenyon / Michigan DNR

Snowy owls spend their summers in the Arctic. Sometimes, they fly south in the winter in big migrations called irruptions.  In a typical year, we might end up with a few dozen snowy owls in the Great Lakes region.

Last year was a mega-irruption, a really rare event. Snowy owls came south by the thousands. Some birds got all the way down to Florida and Bermuda.

Scott Weidensaul is one of the founders of Project SNOWstorm. It’s a group of owl experts who are raising money to track the owls

Michigan offers free energy and pollution audits to businesses

Feb 5, 2015
Corey Seeman / Flickr

A  state program is offering free help to businesses looking for ways to conserve energy and reduce waste.

Teams of retired engineers perform about 100 efficiency audits each year for businesses with 500 or fewer Michigan employees – and for any public institution.


Mercury levels are going down in the Great Lakes.

But they're going up in the oceans.

Paul Drevnick, a researcher at the University of Michigan, has a new study showing that mercury levels in a specific species of tuna – yellowfin – are increasing at a rate of 3.8% a year in the Pacific.

The ET Rover natural gas pipeline's planned route in Michigan has changed. You can see the oringal planned route on the left, and the revised plan on the right.
Draft FERC filing / Energy Transfer

The Texas-based pipeline company Energy Transfer announced that they plan to cut through fewer counties in Michigan when building the Rover natural gas pipeline.

The company's new agreement, they say, will eliminate their need to build new pipeline in six Michigan counties.


There’s a new report card of sorts out on fish sold commercially from the Great Lakes.

It’s from Seafood Watch. That’s a program at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.


Calling it a "choke point" that could let invasive carp into the Great Lakes, State Attorney General Bill Schuette is urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate, interim steps at the Brandon Road lock on the Des Plaines River near Joliet, Illinois.


The Great Lakes sunk to some of their lowest water levels ever two years ago. People were concerned about the low levels then, but today people are concerned for the opposite reason – water levels are high.

The Great Lakes from space.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - President Barack Obama's proposed budget for 2016 seeks a $50 million cut in a multi-year program to clean up the Great Lakes.

The president's spending plan released Monday requests $250 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, down from $300 million appropriated for this year.

5 Gyres

Indiana lawmakers are getting closer to banning cosmetics containing tiny plastic particles that scientists say are polluting the Great Lakes. Illinois and New York already have.

You can find micro-beads in face scrubs, even toothpastes. They make up about 20 percent of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes, according to a recent study.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new study shows people are concerned about how their medical samples might be used in medical research. 

Donated blood, tissue and other body samples play a critical role in medical research

The Department of Natural Resources

HANCOCK, Mich. (AP) - State officials have closed 32 waterfront campsites at F.J. McLain State Park in the Upper Peninsula because of unsafe conditions and erosion along the Lake Superior shoreline.

  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says 18 sites at the park near Hancock will remain closed permanently, while 14 will be evaluated in the spring for safety and accessibility.

Graymont is seeking to buy thousands of acres of state-owned land and mineral rights for a proposed limestone mining operation near Rexton.
User clau+ / flickr.com

Next month, a decision could be made on whether to sell thousands of acres in the Upper Peninsula to a Canadian mining company, Graymont Inc.

It would be the largest sale of public land in Michigan’s history.

Director Clover Adams and Deputy Commissioner Xia Qianbao of the Ocean & Fisheries Bureau from the Jiangsu Province signing a Memorandum of Understanding.
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Officials from Michigan and China plan to work together on developing advancements in fisheries and aquaculture.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development last week in Lansing hosted a delegation from the province of Jiangsu.

Hovercrafts float on air and are used in ice rescues
Flickr user Eric Bégin

Next weekend, firefighters and rescue personnel can brush up on their ice rescue skills at an event called the Ice Rescue Conference and Education in Muskegon.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

State wildlife officials are concerned a large bat die-off in Keweenaw County this month might be a sign of things to come.

The small brown bats died from white-nose syndrome. The distinctive white nose is created by a fungal growth that typically kills most of the bats hibernating in an infected cave.

The coal-burning Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Michigan is being kept afloat by ratepayers in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin.
WE Energies

In his State of the State address this week, Governor Snyder said we need a long-term energy policy.

“It needs to be an adaptable policy, because of the lack of federal policy and the challenges of a global marketplace," he said. "We need to focus on important things such as eliminating energy waste, and the conversion from coal to natural gas—an asset of the state of Michigan—and renewables."

Lynette Smith

Many birds leave Michigan for warmer weather. But what birds stay here and tough it out with us in the frigid weather?

Macklin Smith, a University of Michigan professor emeritus of English and a veteran bird watcher, tells us which birds we can expect to hear during the colder months.

A wind turbine in the Garden Wind Farm in the Upper Peninsula.
Garden Wind Farm Project

GARDEN, Mich. - Eleven people who live near the first wind farm in Michigan's Upper Peninsula say the whir of turbines has reduced property values, diminished their sleep and put birds at risk.

They filed a lawsuit last week in federal court against Heritage Sustainable Energy and the U.S. government, seeking to block expansion and require more study on the impacts.

Bureau of Land Management

Residents of northern Michigan got a surprise last summer. They found out some drilling for oil and gas can be done confidentially. That unnerved some people in Emmet County, who now want their local government to do something about it.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The federal government is offering farmers in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan $17 million dollars to cut back on pollution that runs off their farms into Lake Erie. 

That's after toxic bacteria linked to farm runoff shut down Toledo's drinking water for a few days this past summer.

This is a totally voluntary program. If a farmer wants to apply for money to do things like plant strips of grass or cover crops to absorb and filter pollutants, now the pot of potential funding just got a little bigger.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Wolf attacks in Michigan's Upper Peninsula killed at least 26 cattle and 17 hunting dogs last year.

MLive.com says the numbers come from the Department of Natural Resources, through Dec. 22. The number of attacks, 35, was higher than the 20 reported in 2013.

Asian carp
KATE.GARDNER / flickr.com

A federal report says genetic markers of Asian carp are still showing up in Chicago-area waterways, which environmentalists say highlights the continuing threat that invasive fish will reach the Great Lakes. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its findings from 240 water samples it collected during the week of October 20, 2014. Twenty-three of these samples tested positive for DNA from silver carp, one of several Asian carp species that currently infest many Midwestern rivers.

Forestland in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula.
user {inercia} / Flickr

Today, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that attempted to keep state officials from managing the state's forests and parks for biodiversity.

Senate Bill 78 was sponsored by State Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and it passed the Michigan Legislature during last year's "lame duck" session.

From Gov. Snyder's veto letter:

Michigan State University

Spring came early in Michigan three years ago — very early — and fruit crops were later wiped out by frost. That has some researchers in Lansing asking if there's a way to delay the spring bloom in a warm year.

It's no secret what cause a cherry or apple blossom to come out in the spring — warmth. So if you want to slow down that process you just spray cold water on the tree.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Our environment laws in Michigan have become sharply more partisan in the past 14 years.

That statement comes from an analysis by MIRS News in Lansing. Reporter Craig Mauger examined about 200 new laws that the Michigan Legislature enacted from 2000 to 2014. 

He noted several changes.

David Johnson / Flickr

The Sierra Club is suing the federal government to get an order for an environmental risk study of an oil pipeline that runs through some sensitive areas.

The Sierra Club is disputing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to allow Enbridge Energy to continue pumping oil through the 1,100-mile line that connects Minnesota to Ontario through Michigan and Wisconsin. 

Former BWL GM, Peter Lark.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Lansing Board of Water & Light fired its general manager yesterday. The commission voted five-to-three to terminate J. Peter Lark's contract. Lark took a barrage of criticism because of BWL's response to a huge ice storm just before Christmas 2013.

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

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, announced today that much of this federal money will come to Michigan in the form of conservation projects and water quality improvement projects.

Stabenow's office says the money is the result of last years Farm Bill.

The coal-burning Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Michigan is being kept afloat by ratepayers in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin.
WE Energies

The state of Michigan, several energy providers, and a mine operator have all agreed in principle on a plan that could put a stop to costly rate payments for people in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Utility bills in the Upper Peninsula were expected to jump by 30%. That's in a region where annual wages are much lower than the national average.