August 24, 2012
New research by Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) finds that native vegetation supports native bird species better than popular grass lawns. The research published in PLOS ONE highlights work done by CAP LTER graduate students, visiting professors, and field assistants.
Hilary Gan and Eyal Shochat of ASU and Paige Warren and Susannah Lerman of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied the relationship between bird foraging behavior and residential yard types. The study found that desert-like yards, not exotic and moist yards, provides native birds mini-refuges and helps offset biodiversity loss in cities.
“With this study, we’re starting to look at how different yards function–whether birds behave differently by yard type,” says Lerman, a CAP LTER graduate student. ”We’re doing that by using behavioral indicators, especially foraging, as a way of assessing birds’ perceptions of habitat quality between differing yard designs.”
August 23, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded 12 winners for their 2012 Environmental Heroes in the Pacific Southwest. Among the winners, ASU’s Sustainable Cities Network (SCN) received acknowledgement in the Green Government category.
The SCN works with local government agencies, communities, individuals, and organizations to explore sustainable solutions to local issues. ASU, city, county, and tribal leaders established the SCN to ensure sustainability across the region, share knowledge, and collaborate on sustainability efforts.
The annual award recognizes organizations, companies, individuals, and others for making significant contributions to protecting the environment.
“The winners, green heroes all, prove there are many ways to protect our air, water, and land,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Each one has taken up the challenge to improve our environment, and we all stand to benefit.”
August 21, 2012
A new analysis of complex interactions between humans and the environment preceding the 9th century collapse and abandonment of the Central Maya Lowlands in the Yucatán Peninsula points to a series of events – some natural, like climate change; some human-made, including large-scale landscape alterations and shifts in trade routes – that have lessons for contemporary decision-makers and sustainability scientists.
In their revised model of the collapse of the ancient Maya, social scientists B.L. “Billie” Turner and Jeremy “Jerry” A. Sabloff provide an up-to-date, human-environment systems theory in which they put together the degree of environmental and economic stress in the area that served as a trigger or tipping point for the Central Maya Lowlands.
“The theory acknowledges the role of climate change and anthropogenic environmental change, while also recognizing the role of commerce and choice,” says Turner.
August 21, 2012
“The Science of Water Art: A Citizen Science Project”—a collaborative research project that brings together professionals, community members, college students, and children to think about the role that water plays in each of our lives—will be on display Sept. 1-30 at ASU’s Deer Valley Rock Art Center.
The project is part of a larger global ethnohydrology study led by three Sustainability Scientists—Amber Wutich, Alexandra Brewis Slade, and Paul Westerhoff—along with two researchers outside the university. The study is starting its fifth year with a look at the role of water, climate change, and health in several communities worldwide. The study is sponsored by ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change (SHESC).
The art facet of this study allows for a look into how climate change and water insecurity are viewed by younger generations, and gives a voice to children so that they may share their outlooks on this vital resource.
August 20, 2012
A new effort at Arizona State University to educate and train students in renewable and solar energy is receiving backing by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Through its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, the NSF is providing $3 million to ASU to help develop a doctoral program in energy and to equip students with the skills needed to find solutions to the energy challenges of the future by establishing the IGERT Solar Utilization Network (SUN) program.
“At ASU, we are strong in three important areas: biological energy conversion, photovoltaics and solar thermal energy conversion,” says Willem Vermaas, the lead scientist in the program, Foundation Professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, and Senior Sustainability Scientist. “Because we have those three, we are in a unique position to say, ‘Now let’s train students so they are not only experts in those areas, but also so they can understand the pros and cons of the various ways of creating alternative energy.’ We also need to teach them about the social, environmental and economic contexts of emerging solar technologies so societal transformation can happen,” he says.
The IGERT Solar Utilization Network program begins this fall semester.
August 16, 2012
Sustainability is a human decision — a responsibility that relies on good information and how we choose to use it — according to George Basile, a senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University, who made that point in this month’s cover story in Sustainability: The Journal of Record.
Reframing sustainability as a human decision challenge, rather than “some version of people, planet and profit coming together,” was one of the subjects discussed by Basile in the “On the Record” feature with journal editor Jamie Devereaux.
“Sustainability is something that humans want. We want a future that is sustainable for us, so it is a human construct…. Therefore, humans to a certain extent are in charge of making that happen, or not,” said Basile, a professor of practice at ASU’s School of Sustainability.
August 14, 2012
As the use of nanoscale materials in consumer goods increases – including in food, personal care products and medicine – researchers are exploring the possible health and environmental impacts of exposure to nanoparticles.
More and more products contain titanium, silver or zinc that is nano-sized by being burned or crushed into an extremely fine dust and then used as ingredients in products or as a coating.
Among those leading research on the effects of nanoparticles is Paul Westerhoff, associate dean of research in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, senior sustainability scientist, and a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.
August 13, 2012
An interview by Tom Curry with Nicholas Hild, Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability and Emeritus Professor in the College of Technology and Innovation, was featured in the Journal of Environmental Management Arizona, February/March 2012 issue.
Dr. Hild reflects on his move into retirement and the changes he has witnessed in Arizona’s environmental regulations. Dr. Hild observes that Arizona’s stance on the environment seems to match with who gets elected to the State legislature. Local businesses understand that environment regulation compliance is a positive step towards sustainability. Dr. Hild advises that university sustainability programs must have technical requirements that are combined with policy education, so that while entering the workforce, students can properly advise their employers with truly sustainable solutions.
August 13, 2012
A private children’s residential care home in Mesa, Ariz., that has been serving its local community for almost 60 years will be better prepared to expand, thanks in part to the expertise of a recent Arizona State University engineering graduate.
During his final semester of study this past spring to earn a professional science master’s degree in the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization program, Sage Lopez helped the Sunshine Acres Children’s Home take steps to develop a cost-saving renewable-energy system.
Working with Milt Laflen, a member of a volunteer committee charged with ensuring the home’s future energy needs can be met, Lopez assisted in devising a solar-energy master plan designed to help control energy costs as Sunshine Acres grows.
August 13, 2012
According to the United Nations’ 2011 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, global urban population is expected to gain more than 2.5 billion new inhabitants through 2050. Such sharp increases in the number of urban dwellers will require considerable conversion of natural to urban landscapes, resulting in newly developing and expanding megapolitan areas.
Could climate impacts arising from built environment growth pose additional concerns for urban residents also expected to deal with impacts resulting from global climate change?
In the first study of its kind, attempting to quantify the impact of rapidly expanding megapolitan areas on regional climate, a team of researchers from Arizona State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research has showed that local maximum summertime warming resulting from projected expansion of the urban Sun Corridor could approach 4 degrees Celsius.
August 7, 2012
In a BBC Nature article, entomologist and sustainability scientist Quentin Wheeler talks about the possibility of a new species of swimming cave cricket recently discovered in a remote Venezuelan tepui, a type of table-top mountain.
“Places like small islands and mountain tops and caves are really new exciting laboratories of genetic experimentation,” Wheeler says.
It was a BBC film crew that spotted the new species of cricket.
“You can’t really as a biologist, put into words how it feels to see something, to film something that’s never been named,” says Dr. George McGavin, biologist and film presenter.
Conservation biologists call places like this hotspots – areas inhabited by a high number of endemic species that cannot be found anywhere else.
The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University collates information about newly discovered species, in part because of its value in the study of evolutionary history but also out of a concern for bio-diversity and conservation.
They record around 18,000 new species a year but Professor Wheeler said that they are not about to run out of discoveries.
August 6, 2012
In an Arizona Republic article, sustainability scientist Harvey Bryan and Energize Phoenix project manager Mick Dalrymple comment on energy conservation recently reported from state agencies.
“Only two areas can be measured: water and energy consumption. Energy is the one you can take to the bank,” Bryan says.
New Energy Star buildings for Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Administration, and Department of Health Services reduced energy use by 22.5 percent, exceeding each building’s 2011 goal of 15 percent. The Governor’s Office of Energy Policy hopes to increase the number of Energy Star building certifications after investing $3.5 million in federal stimulus funds into increasing the energy efficiency of state buildings over the past 18 months. The investments included retrofitting 10 of the 12 large state buildings with a more efficient compact fluorescent lighting.
“Lighting is by far the single most cost-effective retrofit that someone can do,” says Dalrymple.
The article stresses the importance of individual actions towards more sustainable behavior.
August 2, 2012
When ordering seafood, the options are many and so are some of the things you might consider in what you order. Is your fish healthy? Is it safe? Is it harvested responsibly?
While there are many services and rankings offered to help you decide – there’s even an iPhone app – a group of researchers have found a simple rule of thumb applies.
“If the fish is sustainable, then it is likely to be healthy to eat too,” says Leah Gerber, an associate professor and senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University.
Gerber and colleagues ran an analysis of existing literature on fish to see which choices are consistently healthier and which are high in mercury or overfished. Their findings are published in today’s early online version of the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a publication of the Ecological Society of America.
July 31, 2012
By Greg Stanton
Note: ASU and Phoenix have collaborated on numerous big projects through the years, including development of the ASU campus in the heart of downtown. More recently, ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Phoenix teamed up to win a $25 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to launch Energize Phoenix, a sustainable energy efficiency program that creates green jobs and reduces carbon emissions while transforming energy use in diverse neighborhoods along a 10-mile stretch of the Metro light rail.
Sustainability is what turns big cities into great cities. It’s a transformation that starts with good leadership and collaboration, then takes off with visionary thinking and long-term planning. Great cities thrive when sustainability permeates decisions, strategies, and operations.
Phoenix has long benefited from visionary leaders with long-term outlooks. These leaders provided the ideas and groundwork that made it possible to create a major city in a vast desert. They secured a multidimensional water supply that is one of the most reliable in the country. They established strong economic foundations for us in information technology, biotechnology, and other high-value industries that are at the core of a sustainable economy. And they set aside vast natural wonders as preserves for future generations.
Thus, Phoenix has paved the way and has become the sixth most populous city in the nation with 1.4 million people across almost 520square miles. More than that, Phoenix is the beating heart of a vibrant metropolitan region that encompasses more than 4 million people. It is also the capital of a huge and diverse state that is home to 6 million residents.
July 26, 2012
California has reason to be optimistic that the state’s proposed high-speed rail project, due to begin construction next year, can prove to be a viable transportation alternative from environmental and sustainability standpoints.
New research by Mikhail Chester, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment and Arpad Horvath, a University of California, Berkeley engineer compared the future sustainability of a high-speed rail with that of competing modes of transportation, namely automobiles and air travel.
They determined that in terms of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, a mature high-speed rail system wins out when it deploys state-of-the-art trains powered by greener electricity. This was true even after accounting for the emergence of more fuel-efficient airplanes and automobiles.
July 20, 2012
ASU team FlashFood is developing a mobile-phone application to help establish networks that would connect restaurants, hotels, catering and banquet services with teams of people who would collect leftover food and transport it to community centers, churches, and other neighborhood gathering places where it would be distributed to people in need.
The app is designed to send out a text message to subscribers to the service in local communities to inform them where and when food will be delivered. “This is a huge component of our service that makes us stand out from similar types of services,” says team member Jake Irvin, a recent marketing and sustainability graduate.
The FlashFood idea brought the team a first-place finish last spring at the MicroSoft Imagine Cup U.S. Finals and earned them a spot in the Imagine Cup World Finals.
July 19, 2012
Though much progress has been made in monitoring droughts and understanding their causes, there is still a strong need for better precision in both the monitoring and forecasting of droughts. A team lead by Arizona State University researchers seeks to enable the move from a reactive to a more proactive approach to droughts by developing new capabilities to conduct global drought monitoring using satellite detection of water stress and hydrologic models applied at regional scales.
Under the direction of ASU hydrologist and Sustainability Scientist Enrique Vivoni, a contingent of ASU researchers is leading a group from NASA Ames, California State University at Monterey Bay and a non-profit research and development organization known as Planetary Skin Institute (PSI) in integrating multi-resolution, remote sensing-based drought indices into an online, cloud computing-based visualization platform.
Vivoni intends to expand this drought effort into a hydrological risk monitoring platform that also deals with floods, landslides, erosion potential, etc. to provide a more complete picture of global water excess and water limitations.
“Eventually, the drought monitor will also help our undergraduate and graduate students interact, query and explore real-time remote sensing data that describe changes in the hydrological cycle over their regions of interest. By bringing research products into classroom activities, our student learning experiences will be enriched,” adds Vivoni.
July 17, 2012
Nicole Darnall, a senior sustainability scholar with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, spoke with a writer for National Geographic Daily News about some of the findings in the 2012 Greendex survey, which was released this month.
Greendex, a worldwide tracking survey produced by National Geographic and GlobeScan, measured consumer behavior in 65 areas related to housing, transportation, food and consumer goods in 17 countries.
In the story “Americans Least Green – And Feel Least Guilt, Survey Suggests,” writer Ker Than noted that the survey showed “when asked what proportion of their fellow citizens were green, most people responded 20 to 40 percent. Yet when asked if they themselves were green, more than half said they are.”
July 17, 2012
Arizona State University, in coordination with Leuphana University in Germany, has launched an educational pilot project that will lay the groundwork for an intensive institutional collaboration in undergraduate education. Sustainability Scientist Manfred Laubichler will lead the project with input from numerous other sustainability scientists from across ASU.
Funded by a $900,000 award from the Mercator Foundation, the ASU-Leuphana program will focus on the topic “Sustainable Cities: Contradiction of Terms?” The program will utilize virtual conferencing using the technology of Vidyo, a revolutionary video conferencing platform; intensive writing assignments and student writing workshops; online exhibits; peer-to-peer mentoring and in-person international exchange.
“We asked, ‘what if as we teach about sustainability, conservation biology, science, humanities and culture, we have students from Europe, South America, China, and the U.S. all talking together?’” said ASU vice provost Robert Page. “There would be differing views and the sharing of those views might allow students to develop solutions to challenges that none could have conceived of individually. And so was born the concept of a global classroom.”
July 12, 2012
Arizona State University professor James Elser has received the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award, the most prestigious global award in the aquatic sciences, at the July 2012 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) meeting on the shores of ancient Lake Biwa, Otsu, Shiga, Japan. The Hutchinson Award is presented annually to recognize a scientist’s previous five to 10 years of excellence in limnology (the study of inland waters) or oceanography.
In addition, the organization has elected Elser as its next president. The largest international freshwater and ocean science professional society in the world, ASLO serves more than 4,000 members, including practicing scientists, engineers, and educators. Elser will serve a six-year term, beginning with two years as president-elect. He will spend the following two years as president, and two more years as past-president.