Environment & Science

Ambergris
User: aquagreenmarine.blogspot.com

Ambergris is an animal by-product that's been used for centuries in, as flavoring for food, and as an aphrodisiac. It's one of the world's most expensive substances.

Pretty glamorous, especially when you consider that ambergris is: whale poop.

Christopher Kemp is a molecular biologist at Michigan State University. He's written a book about ambergris called Floating Gold: A Natural (& Unnatural) History of Ambergris.

Kemp says ambergris is used in perfumes because of its musky scent that can hold together the other lighter tones. Besides, its fatty, cholesterol-rich texture can stabilize the fragrance and make it last longer on the wearer's skin. 

User: NASA Goddard Space / Flickr

 

University of Michigan researchers believe the water in your glass or bottle might be older than the sun.

One of those researchers is Ilse Cleeves, an astronomy PhD student. 

Cleeves and her fellow researchers arrived at the estimate by simulating the chemistry that went on as our solar system formed. They studied the ratio of two different varieties of water – common water and a heavier version. Through the simulation, the researchers found that at least half of our water likely formed in the cold molecular cloud that spawned our solar system. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Lakes Michigan and Huron have recovered after more than a decade of low water levels.

Government scientists say the lakes rose above their historic average this month.

Just two years ago, the water was at the lowest level ever recorded.

The quick recovery has stifled an effort to engineer a solution to the problem of low lake levels in Huron and Michigan.

But proponents say it would be shortsighted to forget about the issue.

dailyinvention / Creative Commons

It's a really good year for the 850 family-run apple farms in Michigan.

They're approaching a near-record crop.

It’s thanks in part to the awful winter Michigan had.

It turns out, the cold weather helped the apple trees stay dormant long enough so their spring blooms didn't freeze.

Diane Smith is the executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.

She says this year’s crop is one of the “cleanest” they’ve seen in years – no bug issues or early blossoming killing the crop off.

NOAA

Several Great Lakes mayors want stronger and faster action to keep Great Lakes drinking water safe.

A drinking water summit was held this week in Chicago, hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

Nicola Crawhall, deputy director of the initiative, said the meeting was triggered by the August shutdown of Toledo Ohio's drinking water system. The water was contaminated by microcystin toxins.

"We felt that was a watershed moment, if you like," said Crawhall.

MCM Management Corp.

Detroit is in the middle of one of the most ambitious demolition campaigns the nation has ever seen, tearing down about 200 houses every week.

Many of the homes being razed are in neighborhoods where people still live. So Detroit officials sat down before the blitz to come up with some new regulations designed to keep people safe from dust, and from hazardous materials that could be in that dust – like lead, or asbestos.

User: memories_by_mike / Flickr

As an article in the New York Times put it this week, “Alaskans stay in Alaska. People in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest: sit tight.” That’s the message from climate change researchers, who are predicting what places in the U.S. will be hit hardest by climate change.

It looks like the Midwest will be all right, relatively speaking.

Matthew Kahn is a professor at the UCLA Institute of Environment. He says that in 80 or 90 years, Detroit could be seeing a huge trend of people moving in – because of climate change.

"If rainfall really stops falling in the Southwest, and we don't come up with ways to allocate water efficiently, you're going to see millions of households and thousands of firms looking across the United States for better, less risky places to live. And the Midwest might compete very well there, just as it has in the past," says Kahn. 

*Listen to our conversation with Matthew Kahn above.

Michigan State University

It sounds like science fiction - but robotic fish are here, and their high-tech capabilities are helping scientists pursue some vexing questions.

Michigan State University researchers have received funding for a new project using robofish, to figure out how native lake trout are rebounding, after decades of decline.

Xiaobo (pronounced shaw-bo] Tan is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

He says the robofish don't look like fish so much as they do gliders -- they have wings, and a tail --

The Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club "Mushroom of the Month" - the Boletus variipes.
MMHC

There may be folks grumbling about the cool, wet end of summer we've had, but not the “shroomers.”

Mushroom hunters are having a blast with a bumper crop of wild mushrooms.

Philip Tedeschi is president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club.

"Fall has been starting out very good. This summer, the chanterelles and black trumpets and some of my favorite mushrooms come up then," said Tedeschi.

"Right now, the hen of the woods are starting. Hen of the woods is a mushroom that averages about three pounds. The ones I pick are typically one to five pounds. In our club, someone brought in a 42-pounder."

Tedeschi says the record for this mushroom weighs in at more than 100 pounds, from Pennsylvania.

Mushrooms love wet, cool weather.

“Mushrooms are even higher percentage water than animals. They need the water to grow. (In) a dry year we won’t see very many mushrooms at all,” he said.

*Listen to our interview with Tedeschi above.

user:yooperann / Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service has put out a report on how our warming climate is affecting forests in the U.P.

Stephen Handler is a climate change specialist with the Forest Service. He says, over the past several decades, we’ve been getting more extreme rainstorms in the region.

“So, more rain of two inches at a time, three inches at a time; and we’re seeing our winters, which is our characteristic climatic feature, shrinking, so, getting shorter and getting more variable, or getting less consistent snowpack,” he says.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The ArtPrize competition opens tomorrow in Grand Rapids. One of the exhibits will have live animals roaming all over the artwork.

Inter-species collaboration

There are a bunch of bees on West Fulton Street in Grand Rapids. People slow down to stare at the guy opening up the beehive. His name is Ladislav Hanka.

Hanka’s been an artist for several decades. He became a beekeeper four years ago when a friend put a box of bees on his kitchen table.

“The bees just awakened in me the need to be more involved. I don’t make my living from beekeeping and I don’t have to, thank goodness, because it looks like beekeeping is in such an eclipse now that there’s a question of whether there will be any pollinators left in the next few years for the crops,” he says.

He brought the bees to install in his exhibit in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.  The museum’s theme for ArtPrize is collaboration.  Ladislav Hanka is crossing the species barrier with that theme.

Part of the new line 6B pipeline in central Michigan.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy has finished laying its new oil pipeline across Michigan as part of its $1.3 billion pipeline replacement project.

Much of the new pipeline was put in the ground near the old pipeline. That old line broke in 2010, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of heavy tar sands crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. The company is just finishing cleanup work four years after that spill.

The company finished laying the new section of pipeline in St. Clair County and is taking the old Line 6B pipeline offline there.

In August of 2010, crews prepare to remove the broken section of Enbridge's Line 6B pipeline.
EPA

Federal, state, and local agencies took part in a mock oil spill Wednesday in northern Michigan along the Indian River.

The emergency drill conjured memories of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill. About a million gallons of crude oil have been cleaned up from that spill. There’s some concern about whether Enbridge has made important internal changes to avoid future pipeline problems.

Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust said one of the reasons Enbridge failed to prevent the pipeline break near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010 is not because the company was completely unaware of corrosion and a cracks in the pipeline.

He says Enbridge inspection teams weren’t sharing information with each other.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It wasn’t the real thing, but federal and state agencies joined with local groups to respond to a mock oil spill in northern Michigan today.

“That boom is to keep out any oil from coming on this side,” one of the coordinators told reporters, as he pointed at crews lowering pillow-like yellow floaters into the Indian River. 

The booms were deployed just downstream from where an oil pipeline has sprung a make-believe leak.  A short distance away, officials from a variety of agencies manned a full command center, organizing the response in the mock disaster drill. 

Here are 10 West Michigan trails to explore this fall

Sep 17, 2014
Hiking in Seidman Park in December of 2012.
Steven Depolo / Flickr

The days are getting shorter, but don't resign yourself to settling in for a long, lazy season inside.

One of Grand Rapids' greatest assets is the natural beauty that surrounds this mid-size city, with amenities that you won't even find in many big cities. From small pocket parks to epic-sized Lake Michigan, you're never far away from a wooded trail, a mountain bike path, or a gorgeous beach.

As summer turns to fall, Rapid Growth rounded up ten of West Michigan's best hikes, with hidden urban hiking trails mixed in with cross-country paths that lead to the great lake even in the snowiest of months.
 
City hikes
 
Have an hour or an afternoon? Looking for a hike that can happen within the city limits?

Grand Rapids contains more urban paved trails and hidden hikes than we can count. Savvy West Michiganders already know about the bounty of outdoor experiences at Blandford Nature Center, Provin Trails, Meijer Gardens, and the Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve around the city's edges, plus favorites like Riverside Park and Huff Park right in the city.

Here are a few more in-town walks and hikes to get you started.

Dave Douches shows some of his potato memorabilia.
User: Betsy Agosta / The StateNews

A salute, now, to the potato.

This is National Potato Month. Many of the potatoes that make their way onto America's dinner plates, into French fries or into potato chip bags come from Michigan. 

There's some pretty interesting research and development happening right now, all focused on the honest, humble potato.

We found out more from the man known on the Michigan State campus as "Mr. Potato Prof."

David Douches heads up MSU's Potato Breeding and Genetics Program. He says young people nowadays are driving some of the changes in potato consumption habits.

Enbridge Energy oil spill
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s been a lot of controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. But there’s another company working to bring more tar sands oil into the U.S.

Enbridge Energy wants to increase the amount of heavy crude oil crossing the border from the Alberta tar sands into the Great Lakes region.

Lorraine Little is with Enbridge. She says Enbridge wants to move more oil on its pipeline known as the Alberta Clipper. That pipeline runs about a thousand miles from northern Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.

“Its purpose is to carry heavy crude oil from the oil sands in Alberta into our Superior terminal where then it can get off on other pipelines and serve refining markets around the Midwest region or other parts of the country,” she says.

Back in November of 2012, Enbridge filed an application with the U.S. State Department. The company wants to raise the capacity of the border segment of the Alberta Clipper pipeline to 800,000 barrels per day (they're currently transporting 450,000 barrels per day).

That permit is still under review.

U.S. Geological Survey

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey have been monitoring pesticides in rivers and streams around the country for 20 years. They just released their findings, and they found there are levels of some pesticides that could be a concern for bugs and fish.

For example, they found the insecticide fibronil at levels that could cause harm. That chemical disrupts insects’ nervous systems.

The study, "Pesticides in U.S. Streams and Rivers:  Occurrence and trends during 1992-2011” is published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. 

Wes Stone, a hydrologist with the USGS, says some pesticides have been phased out and others have come on the market, and you can see that directly reflected in the water.

“What it shows is to stay on top of what’s in the environment, we’re going to have to constantly evolve and keep looking at the newest ones and evolving new methods to sample for them," he says.

But Stone says their study probably underestimates potential risks to aquatic life. He says there are more than 400 different pesticides in use, but he says funding is limited, so his agency only tests for a fraction of those pesticides in rivers and streams.

mollyall / Flickr

The rights to drill under a landmark old-growth forest in northern Michigan are off the auction block.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creigh says the family that donated most of the land that makes up the Hartwick Pines state forest objected to allowing energy exploration under the pines.

“It was certainly a very generous gift from the family and, in my opinion, we needed to honor both the spirit and the legal requirements of the deed,” he said.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan lawmakers recently went around two ballot proposals that sought to end wolf hunting in Michigan.

They passed a law that allows wolf hunts to continue, but they apparently didn't pass their law in time for a hunt this year.

Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press has it:

Pages