7/28/14

Social science strengthens outreach for the Upper Trenton Channel clean-up plan

Scientists and engineers are working together to design a clean-up plan for Michigan’s Upper Trenton Channel, where high concentrations of historic pollutants pose a threat to aquatic life and public health. The process began about a year ago with a feasibility study. In January, local residents had a chance to weigh-in on an early draft of the plan. And in the coming years, this Great Lakes Legacy Act project could remove or cap around 240,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.  

Just as important as the clean-up effort itself, is ensuring that local communities and other key stakeholders understand the project and its goals. But before they can begin public outreach, project partners have to understand and appreciate the role the channel and nearby Detroit River play in the communities. 

That is where IISG’s social scientist Caitie McCoy and her interns Erika Lower and Mark Krupa come in. The three were in Michigan earlier this month to conduct a needs assessment that will help the project team tailor outreach products and messaging to those who use and visit the river.

They interviewed around 35 people with diverse backgrounds—everyone from area residents to city planners to members of boating associations—to learn more about their perceptions of the channel and river. The final results of the study won’t be available for a few months, but the interviews have already given Caitie, Erika, and Mark a better understanding of the interests and concerns surrounding this popular recreation site.

“One interesting thing we learned was that the safety of the channel and river during dredging is of prime importance to the community,” said Caitie. “This is a fast flowing channel, and we will need to explain the science and engineering behind what keeps stirred up sediment from flowing downstream during the project—in terms that everyone can understand.”

An impromptu trip on the channel also gave Caitie, Erika, and Mark deeper insight into how the community uses the channel and river. The trip—which set off bright and early on the 16th—was led by the Wyandotte Rowing Club. Later that night, the group took to the water once again with one of the residents they interviewed.  

Similar studies for the Sheboygan River and St. Louis River areas of concern have already helped shape outreach efforts there and allowed project partners to gauge changes in community perceptions at the end of a clean-up project.

The Upper Trenton Channel, which sits about 20 miles south of Detroit, is part of the Detroit River AOC. Project partners include Michigan Sea Grant, Friends of the Detroit River, the Detroit River Public Advisory Council, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Community Health, and the U.S. EPA. 

7/25/14

Friday Foto: Green infrastructure funding is part of newly-signed Clean Water Initiative

This week Governor Pat Quinn signed the Clean Water Initiative, which will provide financial support for communities in Illinois to improve stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water infrastructure, and be better prepared to cope with the impacts of climate change - increased risk of drought and extreme precipitation.

7/24/14

Knauss Fellow Sara Paver shares her experiences at NSF

It’s been a few months since IISG-sponsored graduate students Sara Paver and Katerine Touzinsky began their Knauss fellowships. We were curious to hear about their experiences so far and thought you might be too. First up is Sara, an alum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who is spending the year at the National Science Foundation Division of Ocean Sciences. 
“I have officially reached the halfway point in my fellowship. I am having a wonderful experience, and the time has passed unbelievably quickly. I would consider the best aspects of being a Knauss Fellow to be (in no particular order) the abundance and breadth of opportunities—no two fellowship experiences are the same, and there is quite a bit of flexibility to tailor your experiences to your interests—and the awesome people you have the opportunity to interact with along the way. I really enjoy working with my colleagues at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and spending time with the other fellows. 
My fellowship placement is in the Division of Ocean Sciences, where I have been working to facilitate the review of grant proposals submitted to the Coastal Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (Coastal SEES) program and the Biological Oceanography core program. I submitted a few grants to NSF as a graduate student, and it has been very illuminating to see the grant review process from the other side. I especially enjoy meeting and interacting with the scientists who serve on panels.

My position at NSF has also enabled me to improve my science communication skills. I revised the 2014 Coastal SEES award abstracts to make them accessible to a non-specialist audience. I have also been writing NSF Highlights to describe the broader impacts of research accomplishments funded by the NSF Biological Oceanography program.
Outside of my work at NSF, I have been using my non-stipend fellowship funds to travel. I recently returned from Waterville Valley, NH, where I attended my first Gordon Research Conference. The theme of the conference was “Ocean Global Change Biology: Interactive Effects of Multiple Global Change Variables.” In May, I had the opportunity to travel to the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, ME to participate in an Ocean Carbon and Biogeochemistry scoping workshop focused on improving predictive biogeochemical models through single cell-based analyses of marine plankton. These experiences provided me with opportunities to network with researchers—including scientists whose work I cited in my dissertation and had specifically hoped to meet—as well as the chance to watch collaborations form and new research areas emerge. 
The Knauss Fellowship has also provided me with unique extra-curricular experiences. For example, I recently viewed Saturn through a telescope at the Naval Observatory during a special tour for Knauss Fellows set up by Justine Kimball, the fellow currently serving as policy liaison to the Oceanographer of the Navy. Earlier in the year, I went bowling with my NSF colleagues at the Truman Bowling Alley in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is near the White House. I also went on a road trip with some of the other Knauss Fellows, including IISG fellow Katherine Touzinsky, to Horn Point Laboratory on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where we completed an Integration and ApplicationNetwork (IAN) science communication course.

I am excited to see what is in store for me in the next six months and would encourage anyone interested in the intersection of science and policy to seriously consider applying to be a Knauss Fellow.
Be sure to check back here next week to hear how things are going for Katherine Touzinsky. 

**Photo A: Sara (left) and three other Knauss Fellows take a break from Capital Hill Ocean Week events to pose for a photo. 
Photo B: Sara enjoying her visit to East Boothbay, ME. 

7/23/14

Join us in welcoming our new graphic arts specialist

We are excited to announce that Joel Davenport has joined the team as IISG's graphic arts specialist. Joel helps shape the look of the program and works closely with the communication team and program specialists to produce our newsletter, flyers, displays, and other print and online outreach materials.

Joel brings seven years of experience in publication design, organizational branding, illustration, and web design. He has a Bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis on marketing.

7/22/14

Asian carp jump into new markets

A physical barrier to stop Asian carp from making their way into Lake Michigan won't be happening any time soon, but there are other ways to reduce the risks of these fish becoming established in the Great Lakes. From the latest issue of IISG's The HELM: 

The men behind a new fish processing plant in Illinois aren’t veterans of the fishing industry. They are a lawyer, alloy company owner, and restaurant builder who saw Asian carp jumping in the Mississippi River and thought, “There must be something we can do with these things.” 

That thought became a reality this April when American Heartland Fish Products opened its doors in Grafton, IL, a small town near the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The plant uses a unique production process to turn Asian carp into fish and bone meal and Omega 3 oils. The high-protein meals are primarily sold to animal feed producers. Their biggest seller, Omega 3 oil, is used for everything from cosmetics to dietary supplements.

“There is a demand for these products that never quits,” said Ben Allen, who co-owns American Heartland Fish Products with Gray Magee and Bryan Lebeau. “I have been involved in a lot of businesses, but never one where there is such a demand for the product.” Read more.

7/18/14

Latest climate report details the lasting effects of this past winter's weather

It probably comes as no surprise to those living in the Great Lakes region to hear that this spring was one of the coldest on record. Since 1948, there have been only four years with lower spring temperatures. And these unusually cold temperatures—and the snow that came with them—had significant impacts on Great Lakes ecosystems, communities, and economies. 

These impacts are the focus of the latest edition of the Great Lakes Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook report. Released in June, the report details how the long winter helped lake levels rebound from record lows, forced cities to invest more in winter operational expenses and infrastructure maintenance, and has left some farmers concerned about this year’s crop. It also provides a look at expected temperatures and precipitation levels for the coming months. 

The Great Lakes Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlooks is developed by NOAA and Environment Canada. Past editions, as well as reports for other regions, are available at the U.S. Drought Portal.

7/17/14

From industry to rebirth: Student video presents history of Buffalo River

Interested in the comeback of the Buffalo River? You're in luck. AP biology students at the Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, NY have created a video PSA explaining cleanup efforts and their importance in one of the nation's most industrialized rivers. 
Their teacher, Amanda Jasper, has put local environmental issues center stage in her AP course for several years. Last year, students explored Lake Erie aboard the Spirit of Buffalo and researched everything from algal blooms to zebra mussels. She got the idea for the video after attending a workshop hosted by the New York and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant programs introducing a new curriculum that connects students in living near the Buffalo River to environmental projects in their community. “The students took this project very seriously and told me they really enjoyed learning about something they are so close to,” said Jasper. “I am very proud of them.” 
 
Remediation projects have been underway in the Buffalo River since 2011. The latest phase of the project is expected to get rid of approximately 500,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, bringing the total to around a million. The Great Lakes Legacy Act project also includes planting native species to help restore underwater habitats.

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