Environment

Detroit Zoo

There’s a lot to see at the Detroit Zoo: polar bears, giraffes, and crocodiles. But there’s also a lot that you don’t see, like all the poop from those animals. So, what happens to the animal waste from those lions and tigers and bears? At the Detroit Zoo, it could soon be turned into electricity.

Flickr - Don Faulkner

All sorts of migratory birds that winter in the southern United States are returning to their northern breeding grounds. Many birds that live in Canada and Alaska are passing through Michigan. Bird watchers are keeping a close eye out for one particular subspecies whose numbers have plummeted over a period of decades.

Wolong Nature Preserve

Pandas, with their distinctive markings and decidedly cuddly appearance, are an international symbol for conservation. But because wild pandas are incredibly elusive, little research has been done on their behaviors in the wild. For a long time, the Chinese government outlawed using radio collars to track pandas. Now, a team of MSU researchers are among the first to be allowed to use GPS to track wild pandas in China, and they found out some surprising things about these elusive creatures.

Flickr - Public Affairs

A new study out of MSU finds that some additives that supposedly help plastic bags biodegrade really aren’t effective. Issues of biodegradation and recycling are a lot more complicated than “good plastic vs. bad plastic".

Satellite image of Great Lakes
Flickr - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

At the end of each month, Current State checks in with Great Lakes commentator and journalist Gary Wilson for updates on environmental stories from around the basin. For today’s Great Lakes Month in Review, we look at the latest developments in Flint’s drinking water problems, hear about a conference on toxic algae blooms, and look at what the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case could mean for Michigan’s energy policy.

Kevin Lavery/WKAR

For decades, first time visitors to the Natural Resources building on the MSU campus have been startled by the guard keeping watch by the north doors. Standing nine feet tall and weighing 300 pounds, a huge polar bear stands frozen in time, in a menacing pose. Polar bears have been on the Endangered Species list since 2008, and though long dead, the MSU bear is once again in danger. The bear was killed in Barrow, Alaska in 1957. It’s showing some wear and needs to be repaired soon.

Courtesy - Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

Scientists are noting increased numbers of a zooplankton in some inland lakes that are just plain slimy. Holopedium glacialis is a mucus-coated microorganism that, in groups, makes a ball of slime something like clear tapioca pudding. The slime can clog water pipes and disrupt the food web.

Flickr - Dr. Farnsworth

Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder announced the creation of a new state entity: the Michigan Agency for Energy. The action comes less than a week after the governor called on the state to increase its reliance on  clean energy. Snyder has set a goal for the state to draw up to 40-percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. He also wants to see the state become more energy efficient and reduce waste.

WKAR file photo

Nitrogen plays an essential role in plant growth, but it’s a scarce resource in nature. Farmers used to have to use beans or legumes to fix the nutrient into their fields. But with the advent of artificial fertilizers, agriculture has been able to bypass that step and put the nitrogen directly into the soil. While this has allowed farmers to increase production of nutrient intensive crops like corn, it’s had some other, not so great, side effects.

In the natural world, it’s fair to say that if amphibians aren’t happy, then nobody’s happy. Frogs and toads are incredibly sensitive to water quality, and an upcoming volunteer survey in Michigan aims to check on amphibian well-being in the state.

Kevin Lavery/WKAR

Anyone who’s ever bought or lived in an older home knows there is always something to fix. In an ideal situation, it’s a patch here, some paint there, but older homes are sometimes plagued with environmental problems that can threaten the health of their occupants. These issues run the gamut from lead paint chips to mold to leaky stoves and furnaces. A new program in Lansing is now training assessors to not only document those defects, but to help improve residents’ health.

http://www-personal.umich.edu/

Take a look in your medicine cabinet or your shower and you’re likely to find microbeads. Those are the small plastic spheres used as exfoliants in products like face wash or toothpaste. The tiny beads have been big news since scientists found them showing up in the Great Lakes several years ago. Last week, Michigan became the latest state to introduce legislation that would ban products containing microbeads.

WKAR File Photo

At the end of each month, we check in with Great Lakes commentator and journalist Gary Wilson for updates on environmental stories from around the basin.  

For today’s Great Lakes Month in Review, we hear about progress on pet coke in Chicago, what’s next for fracking in Michigan, and how budget cuts could impact the fight against Asian carp in the basin.

http://aoss.engin.umich.edu/

Machines that suck carbon out of the air. Fertilizing the ocean with iron to stimulate phytoplankton. Spraying sulfate particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun and cool the earth. These scenarios might sound like science fiction, but they are increasingly being considered by scientists as a potentially necessary tool in the fight against climate change.

Kevin Lavery/WKAR

Back in October, we told you on this program about a team of students at Stockbridge High School in rural Ingham County who build robots. The Stockbridge students build underwater robots that search for downed World War Two aircraft in the South Pacific. Now, some of the kids are off on another expedition where it’s considerably warmer than it is here.

courtesy MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences

For generations, National Geographic magazine has brought images of the world, both stunning and subtle, to millions of people. It’s parent organization, the National Geographic Society, was founded in 1888 by 33 men whose ranks included John Wesley Powell, the explorer who led a famous expedition to the Grand Canyon in 1869. Today, National Geographic continues its scientific and educational mission in the digital age. Susan Goldberg is the magazine’s editor in chief.

http://www.midmeac.org/

Have you ever been strolling along the Red Cedar River and noticed a group of people in waders hunting for bugs? If you have, there’s a good chance they were volunteers with the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council. The grassroots group has been around for over 20 years and focuses on environmental issues in the mid-Michigan area, including river protection, green transportation, land use and sustainability. The organization recently hired a new executive director. Jeremy Orr is a Spartan alum and is returning to Lansing to take the reins of MMEAC.

http://msutoday.msu.edu/

If you discovered a new species that no one had ever seen before, what would you name it? For most of us, that’s a hypothetical question. But not for Dr. Pam Rasmussen, an assistant professor in the department of Integrative Biology at MSU, and assistant curator at the MSU Museum. She has named and described nine species of birds that were new to science and was part of a team that recently described a new bird species in Indonesia.

Flickr - Jeff Kubina

Barriers have developed that are standing in the way of advanced energy use in Michigan. That’s according to a report released recently by Michigan’s Institute for Energy Innovation. The institute says its report is the first serious effort to identify those barriers.

http://www.pedsresearch.org/

In 1973, a chemical plant in the small town of St. Louis, Michigan made a catastrophic mistake. Batches of polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB, were mis-labeled as a nutritional supplement. The chemical was then shipped to farms around the state to be mixed into animal feed. When the mix up was discovered a year later, hundreds of farms were quarantined. Thousands of animals were slaughtered.

http://lbwl.com/

Some downtown Lansing residents are being watched intently for signs of courtship. The saga of the peregrine falcons who live at the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s Eckert Power Station continues with some new twists.

Satellite image of Great Lakes
Flickr - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

At the end of each month, we check in with Great Lakes commentator and journalist Gary Wilson for updates on environmental stories from around the basin. For today’s Great Lakes Month in Review, we look at how a lawsuit in Iowa could have implications for the Great Lakes, the latest in Flint’s water woes, and the problems that microfibers are causing for Great Lakes fish.

Mark Bashore/WKAR

The Detroit Auto show is in full swing in downtown Detroit. Two very different automakers are grabbing a lot of the electric vehicle attention at the Cobo Center this week. Current State's Peter Whorf has the latest on the electric cars on display at the North American International Auto Show through Sunday.

http://webuser.bus.umich.edu/

Companies sometimes try to look more environmentally friendly than they are, but a new study indicates they might also downplay their “green” achievements, depending on who’s listening to their message.

http://home.freshwater.uwm.edu/

Lots of things end up in Great Lakes that shouldn’t be there. Plastic bottles and microbeads, fertilizer runoff from farm fields, and invasive species are only a few. Now, add to that list prescription drugs. Researchers are increasingly worried about how chemicals from prescription medication could be impacting aquatic wildlife.

Kevin Lavery/WKAR

Take a moment now, and think back to your childhood, and your elementary school music class.  You might remember listening to Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 classic “Peter and the Wolf.”  The wolf is an enigmatic figure in our imagination, but the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing is helping us learn more about wolves with the arrival of two male gray wolves. The brothers are each eight months old.

Michigan’s new state legislators have been sworn in and are already laying out their priorities for 2015. But there remains some unfinished business from last year’s lame duck legislative session. Among the bills still awaiting Governor Rick Snyder’s signature is one that’s drawing criticism from scientists and environmental groups. Senate Bill 78 would restrict the state’s Department of Natural Resources from considering biodiversity when managing state land.

WKAR Photo

After a mild Christmas, the new year is bringing more wintry conditions to mid-Michigan. The arctic chill makes heating our homes and offices a high priority in our lives. This month, an East Lansing non-profit is launching a pilot program to help dozens of people stay warm this winter and cool next summer.

http://www.wilx.com/

Much of the Midwest is finally caught in the grip of Old Man Winter. This week brings the lowest Mid-Michigan temperatures since last year’s infamous “polar vortex”. What do the next weeks have in store?

Flickr - UCL Engineering

For years, environmentalists have been calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate coal ash. That’s the byproduct of coal that’s produced when it’s burned for electricity. In December, the agency did just that, issuing the first ever federal guidelines about its storage and disposal.

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