THE WASATCH FRONT: A LIVING LAB

Originally posted on @theU on September 17, 2018

By Paul Gabrielsen, science writer, University of Utah Communications

University of Utah scientists know how to turn a challenge into an opportunity. Repeatedly, researchers at the U have developed innovative research solutions to some of the Salt Lake Valley’s most serious environmental issues. Light rail trains sample the air as they dart around the valley. Camera traps keep their eyes on the wildlife in mountain canyons. Climate and hydrological observations track rain, snow, plant stress, groundwater and streamflow from the mountain crest to the valley floor.

All of these environmental factors—earth, air, water and life—are interconnected, though. A change in one has the potential to impact any or all of the others. So how do U researchers respond to this extraordinary complexity? By banding together. This fall, the U launches a new university-wide collaboration called the Wasatch Environmental Observatory.

“We’ve talked about campus as a living lab, and faculty have gotten grants to develop research infrastructure throughout the Wasatch Front,” says Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC). “We have all this infrastructure and we thought: ‘How can we pull this together in a new way to not just study campus as a living lab, but our home, the whole Wasatch Front?’”

This observatory isn’t a single facility like, say, an astronomical observatory. It’s a network of sensors and instruments, stretched all across the Wasatch Front, that collectively monitor multiple environmental metrics. “We’re pulling together all of the systems that were initially funded by individual researchers or large multi-researcher grants to make it into something more than the sum of its parts,” Bowen says.

Part of the observatory is relatively stationary, providing consistent, long-term data. But part is portable and deployable, Bowen says. “As events occur, we can deploy infrastructure into a certain area by pulling together hydrologic, atmospheric and ecological research facilities into a distributed observatory or field station.”

Paul Brooks, professor of geology and geophysics, says that the observatory is a framework for future projects and infrastructure to be added in. State, federal and local agencies, he says, have already expressed interest in tying their instrumentation into the WEO network. The measurements and results from WEO can then be used by those stakeholder agencies. “That’s one of the exciting areas of WEO,” Brooks says. “It takes the new knowledge generated by students and faculty and ports it through as quickly as possible to people on the ground who use that knowledge to make better decisions.”

For Bowen and the GCSC, which brings together faculty from across campus to study environmental issues, WEO is a fulfillment of the center’s mission. “It’s realizing what GCSC strives to be,” Bowen says. “WEO will help integrate everything we’re doing to advance sustainability in our own backyard.” 

WEO will be led by a committee of six faculty members (including Bowen and Brooks) hailing from the departments of Geology & Geophysics, Atmospheric Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the School of Biological Sciences. Beyond that, nearly 40 researchers from 13 different departments and eight colleges already have research or outreach projects associated with WEO.

According to a project summary from GCSC, current facilities to be linked together through WEO include:

  • Distributed hydroclimate, meteorological, biological and hydrological observations in seven catchments spanning the Wasatch Crest through the Great Salt Lake including six closely spaced stations spanning an elevation gradient from the top of Red Butte Creek down through campus and on to the Jordan River
  • Experimental stormwater, landscape, transportation, and architectural design infrastructure on campus
  • Long-term ecological, geological, and snow study sites
  • Seven atmospheric trace gas and climate stations from Hidden Peak (Snowbird) to the Salt Lake Valley floor
  • Light rail-based atmospheric observations distributed across land use and elevational gradients in the Salt Lake Valley (TRAX)
  • Deployable and relocatable high-precision atmospheric and hydrologic observation equipment
  • Co-Located, long-term, and spatially extensive databases from multiple disciplines

All of that equipment requires service, repair and maintenance. So WEO provides for two full-time research technical specialists, Dave Eiriksson and Ryan Bares, to keep the sensors running.

Brooks says the interconnectedness of the WEO sensor systems allows researchers to study the impacts on one environmental system, say, urban development, on others, such as the quality of water in urban streams.

“The idea is that each individual solution we have exists in a broader context,” Brooks says. “We want to be as comprehensive as possible so that the solution to one issue doesn’t then create a new problem down the line that perhaps we didn’t think of.”

Brooks adds that the U is uniquely positioned, with researchers and facilities, to study environmental issues common throughout the West.

“WEO brings those researchers and resources together,” he says, “so instead of addressing these issues piecemeal we have the ability to address them in concert.”

Want to join in?

If you’re considering or conducting environmental research along the Wasatch Front, come to a think tank mixer presented by GCSC on Sept. 26, from 5-7 p.m. at the College of Law, sixth floor, Flynn Faculty Workshop.

Learn more and register here.

 

The Intersection of Greenhouse Gases and Air Quality

By: Nicholas Apodaca, Graduate Assistant, Sustainability Office.

As Utah residents know well, air quality can have a serious effect on our daily lives. Wildfires, inversions, dust, and pollution colliding with the complex geography of the Salt Lake region all contribute to the thick haze that can settle over the valley. However, the exact conditions and effects of these issues are not yet completely understood.

John Lin, professor of atmospheric sciences here at the University of Utah, will shine some light on these regional air quality problems in his lecture on Tuesday, September 11 in 210 ASB as part of the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s annual seminar series. Lin will lay out some of the complex conditions that affect air quality, and show just how interconnected they are to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change across the West.

He’ll explain how air quality can be indicative of many diverse conditions converging.

Of major concern in Lin’s research on Salt Lake City is dust blown off the Great Salt Lake. As the climate warms and water levels lower more frequently, dust is increasingly exposed to the air and carried into the atmosphere. Salt Lake City’s proximity to the lake leaves it particularly susceptible to the ill effects. This lake dust also effects snow, as it settles on the snowpack and causes it to melt faster.

Wildfires also play a big part in introducing particles to the atmosphere. Smoke from across the West can move hundreds of miles in the atmosphere to Utah. As climate change makes fires more frequent and intense, the relationship between global processes and regional air quality becomes more evident.

This relationship is visible in our daily lives.

“When we drive, the stuff that comes out of our tailpipes includes greenhouse gases but also NOx [Nitrogen Oxide] and PM2.5 which cause air quality problems,.” Lin said.

Often the source of local pollution is the source of emissions that drive climate change. Each contributes to a feedback loop that exacerbates their combined effect.

Lin’s research at the U has begun to uncover and understand the sources of these problems. Through two research groups, LAIR and U-ATAQ, Lin has used extensive data from a complex network of air quality monitoring systems throughout the region. The TRAX Air Quality monitoring system installed four years ago has been a major player in this network. The system has allowed Lin and his colleagues to closely monitor the valley’s air in its most densely-populated areas. Working together with city government, this research is directly informing new air quality initiatives in Salt Lake City. Collaborative work with the University of Utah Medical School is also applying this data to public health research.

The possibilities emerging from an understanding of how air quality and climate change intersect may have positive consequences outside of Utah.

“There’s a fair bit of interest from cities around the West who want to reduce emissions,” said Lin. “The cities are at the forefront, and hopefully the scientists can help in some way. What we hope to do is use our research to help assess if, with new measures in place, the reduction in emissions are actually happening.”

Come to Lin’s seminar, ” “The greenhouse gas-air quality nexus: experiences from the Western U.S.” at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB on Tuesday, September 11 to learn more about this cutting-edge research of the intersection of air quality and climate change, and how it affects us here in Salt Lake City and the West.  

PEDESTRIAN SAFETY

By Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager, University of Utah

The University of Utah is committed to reducing carbon emissions, as well as improving local air quality by reducing impacts from university operations and daily commute trips. Consequently, using sustainable modes of transportation to, from and around campus is supported and encouraged.

The university prioritizes the safety of pedestrians and those riding wheeled devices such as bicycles, skateboards, rollerskates and scooters while traveling on university premises.

To ensure the safety of all on pathways and sidewalks, please remember the following:

  • Every person riding any device must yield the right of way to pedestrians at all times. Report any unsafe behavior or conditions to Campus Police at 801-585-COPS.
  • The campus speed limit for wheeled devices is 10 mph. Always wear a helmet, be aware of your surroundings and ride your device responsibly.
  • Shared mobility devices like bike share and e-scooters are managed by private operators and are used to access the university campus. When renting any shared device, please remember:

The university is working to further define regulations for shared mobility devices on university premises. Shared mobility is an evolving area of transportation services and regulations will change according to Utah state code, Salt Lake City ordinance and direction of university administration.

For emergencies or to report violations of university policy, call 801-585-COPS (2677).

BIKING TO THE U: NO SWEAT

Originally posted in @theU on March 26, 2017 by Liz Ivkovich, communications and relationship manager, University of Utah Sustainability Office.

Want to ride to campus like it’s downhill both ways? 

Check out U Bike Electric, an electric bicycle (e-bike) purchase program intended to help more people improve air quality by cutting personal transportation emissions. The program offers U community members the opportunity to purchase a variety of makes and models of e-bikes at discounted prices starting now through May 26, 2018.

With almost fifty percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, U Bike Electric is a creative solution to improve air quality and community health. With no emissions, e-bikes offer the U community an easy way to not only get around the U’s hilly terrain, but all across the Wasatch front with the backup power of an electric bike.

“If you have not been on an e-bike, it is time to try one!” said Amy Wildermuth, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “They are great fun and, even better, they will get you where you need to go quickly. We invite everyone to join in to get some exercise and have fun while we clean up Utah’s air.”

To offer the program, the University of Utah Sustainability Office is partnering with local clean energy advocacy group Utah Clean Energy. The U and Utah Clean Energy have pioneered multiple successful community purchasing programs including U Community Solar and U Drive Electric, two nationally recognized programs that spurred local markets and contributed to a more sustainable future. Using the same model as these past programs, U Bike Electric will help consumers find the best option for their commuting needs by offering discounts on various e-bikes during a specified timeframe.

Five local bike shops were chosen through a competitive screening process and will be participating in the program including Bingham Cyclery, Contender Bicycles, Guthrie Bicycle Company, eSpokes Electric Bicycles, Trek Bicycle Salt Lake City Downtown.

Participating community members can sign up for the program at electric.utah.edu. Once registered, participants will receive a discount code to take to participating dealers to purchase the e-bike of their choice.

Discounts for electric bicycles vary by make and model, and range between ten and twenty-five percent off of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Selected dealers are certified to maintain electric bikes after purchase, ensuring continued customer support long after purchasing.

“Utah Clean Energy is delighted to once again partner with the University of Utah to help accelerate air quality solutions,” said Kate Bowman, Utah Clean Energy’s project coordinator. “This is an exciting new program to help get more people on electric bikes by harnessing the power of community bulk-purchase and education to make choosing an electric bike affordable and easy.”

Members of the U community, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and even those who have attended U events, can take advantage of this great program.

There is an additional program coming to enable interested departments to purchase shared e-bikes for use around campus. More information on that program will be available in May – contact the Sustainability Office if you are interested to learn more.

 

About Sustainability at the University of Utah

The University of Utah is committed to integrating sustainability across all areas of the institution, including academics, operations and administration and to serving as a model for what is possible in sustainability. The Sustainability Office supports sustainability efforts of all kinds and works to better streamline initiatives and collaboration across campus.

About Utah Clean Energy
Utah Clean Energy is Utah’s leading expert public interest organization working to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency in a way that is beneficial not only for Utah’s environment and health, but also our economy and long-term energy security. Utah Clean Energy is committed to creating a future that ensures healthy, thriving communities for all, empowered and sustained by clean energies such as solar, wind and energy efficiency.

Community members are invited to test ride various makes and models during Earth Fest on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Marriott Library Plaza. Additional test ride opportunities will be offered throughout Salt Lake City in April and May. For more information on all test ride opportunities, visit electric.utah.edu.

U takes Top Spot

Thank You for Your Commitment

The University of Utah team led throughout the Clear the Air Challenge, and thanks to your dedication, we took the top spot. The University of Utah team logged 12,785 non-single-occupant vehicle trips—we beat the runner-up by more than 4,000 trips. We also bested the results of last year’s February challenge, increasing trips saved by 20 percent and participation by 36 percent. Thank you, and keep walking, biking, riding transit, and carpooling! 

Top 5 teams from the U by trips saved

  1. Sustainability Office
  2. Facilities Management
  3. Eccles Library
  4. College of Law
  5. Huntsman Cancer Institute

Top 5 individuals from the U by trips saved

  1. Rob Kent de Grey
  2. Billi Tsuya
  3. Jasmine McQuerry
  4. Sara Lotemplio
  5. Elias Flores
A special thanks to our prize sponsors:

USING NATURE AS OUR GUIDE: FIVE PLANTS THAT IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY

Katie Stevens, Sustainable Utah Blog Writing Intern.

Living in Salt Lake City, we are no strangers to air pollution and its harmful effects.  Breathing in toxic air can cause a range of health concerns including increased asthmatic symptoms, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and more.

It is no surprise that we often retreat into our homes to catch a breath of fresh air; however, sometimes our indoor air quality could be improved. Common indoor air pollutants include benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia. There are certain plants that can combat these indoor air pollutants, according to a study done by NASA.

Here are five plants that can improve your indoor air quality: 

  1. FLORIST’S CHRYSANTHEMUM (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
  • Helps to rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Keep the plant in cooler temperatures and keep the soil moist at all times. Requires bright light.
  • Toxic? Chrysanthemum leaves are toxic so keep this in a safe spot away from any furry friends and youngsters.
  1. PEACE LILY (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Average room temperature is good for this plant. Keep the soil evenly moist and be sure to have a pot with a drainage hole. Bright light is recommended, but not direct sunlight.
  • Toxic? Yes
  1. ENGLISH IVY (Hedera helix)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene.
  • Care: Keep under bright light, preferably fluorescent. Soil should be kept moist spring through fall and a bit drier in winter. Ivy likes cool to average room temperatures.
  • Toxic? English Ivy leaves are toxic if eaten and can irritate the skin; it is always a good idea to wear gloves while handling this plant.
  1. BARBERTON DAISY (Gerbera jamesonii)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, and xylene.
  • Care: This plant requires bright light to full sun and thorough watering. Prefers cool to average temperatures.
  • Toxic? Non-toxic.
  1. BROADLEAF LADY PALM (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Helps rid the air of: Formaldehyde, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Keep this plant in bright, but indirect light. Soil should be kept evenly moist in the spring and summer and should be dried out between watering in the winter.
  • Toxic? Non-toxic.

I invite you to create your indoor air sanctuary with these plants and test out your green thumb this winter!

 

Cover Photo Via Pixabay CC0

 

TAKING THE LEED

Origninally posted in @theU on Oct. 23, 2017.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

The University of Utah announces its first Athletics building to be LEED Gold certified. The Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility, home to both men’s and women’s basketball, is officially a leader in sustainable design and energy efficiency. This is the eighth building on campus to be certified Gold or higher, and represents a commitment to a sustainable future through design.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a building rating system created by the United States Green Building Council to evaluate quality and achievement based on: sustainable design; green practices during construction; and environmental performance over a year after construction is complete.

“We are thrilled that Athletics shares our vision to create a more sustainable campus,” said Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson. “They understand that our environments not only impact the ecosystems around us, but also the health and wellness of the student athletes and staff that occupy the facility every day.”

Sustainable building materials

The 102,000-square-foot facility was manufactured using over 23 percent of recycled materials and resources strategically selected from the Utah region to support local businesses and to reduce the environmental impacts associated with transportation. Over 12.5 percent of the total building materials include products that were manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the site. During construction, the project diverted nearly 85 percent of the on-site generated construction waste away from landfills.

Eco-friendly site design

The design implements a stormwater management plan that results in a 25 percent decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from intense rain events. In addition, the hardscape and roof surfaces, including a rooftop terrace and garden, which offers a 360-degree view of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, the university campus, downtown Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake, were designed to mitigate urban heat island — heat buildup around the facility — with lighter materials to in order to minimize the impacts of the reflected sun on surrounding wildlife habitats. The training facility is near U shuttle stops and UTA bus and TRAX routes. It also features on-site bicycle storage conveniently located near the campus bicycle masterplan’s desired routes.

Energy efficiency

The practice facility exceeds the LEED baseline energy performance rating by 38 percent thanks to numerous strategies to make the building more efficient. For example, all interior and exterior light fixtures are LED’s, the HVAC systems, building insulation and windows were selected to minimize energy waste. Exterior fixtures were positioned to minimize light pollution, improve nighttime visibility, and reduce impacts on surrounding environments. An Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) standard was also set so a system could monitor outdoor air delivery, increase ventilation, and enhance thermal comfort of occupants.

The U is also a proud member of the Green Sports Alliance. As a member, U Athletics programs commit to energy-efficient and sustainable practices for new buildings; prevent recyclable items from entering landfills after games; and other sustainable improvements. The U was the first in the state, either collegiate or professional, to join the alliance.

Project designer Jeremy Krug, senior associate at Populous, also worked on the Sorenson High Performance Center, a building adjacent to the basketball training facility. Together these buildings, connected to the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Complex, serve 17 of the U’s sports programs and accommodate the needs of each program while serving as a model for what is possible in sustainable design.

“The Jon M. and Karen Basketball Facility was designed to integrate the University’s mission of sustainability as a core principle. The whole design team is honored to have worked with this great University to deliver a facility that aligns with those initiatives. It’s arguably one of the most high-impact facilities in the Pac-12. The building embodies athletic and academic excellence, and can now proudly add sustainability to that list,” said Krug.

CLEAN ENERGY FOR ALL

Originally posted in @theU on Oct. 10, 2017

By Liz Ivkovich, University of Utah Sustainability Office

Medical equipment that helps treat and cure hospital patients, big data computer servers critical to research, hundreds of classrooms lit and climate-controlled – carrying out the mission of University of Utah requires a lot of electricity.

Soon, 50 percent of that electricity will come from carbon-free solar and geothermal energy sources, reducing the university’s total carbon emissions by 25 percent. This means that the U will have the largest long-term green power contract of any U.S. university. With this project, the University of Utah rises to the top of universities in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.

In 2008, the university joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, dedicating the campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. This is an aggressive goal that requires a multi-layered strategy, including this off-site power purchasing agreement, as well as energy efficiency measures and on-campus energy.

The agreement between the university, Cyrq Energy, a Utah company based in Salt Lake City, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables, will provide 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and 10 megawatts of solar energy to the university for the next 25 years.

“This project connects the university to a diverse array of energy resources that are important to the economic health of our state,” said U President David W. Pershing. “Both our Energy and Geoscience Institute and our Department of Geology and Geophysics are known for their work on geothermal resources. We are pleased to be part of a project that so closely aligns with our research strengths and allows the university to take a dramatic step forward on its climate commitment and toward improving air quality.”

The project began last summer when, as a result of partners in the Energy and Geoscience Institute, the university became aware of geothermal projects that were coming online. Geothermal power plants access energy from the earth through drilling water or steam wells to provide a steady resource with less fluctuation in energy production than an intermittent resource like solar or wind.

The university then engaged in a series of technical reviews of renewable energy options that might work for the university’s needs. Following these reviews, the planning team drafted a request for proposals calling for 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and up to 10 megawatts of complementary solar. The final proposal accepted was a joint proposal from Cyrq and Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

“Cyrq is honored to partner with Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Rocky Mountain Power and the U on this exceptional project, and we look forward to supporting the university’s renewable energy goals,” said Nick Goodman, Cyrq CEO.

In order to be finalized, the university must enter into an agreement with Rocky Mountain Power under Schedule 32 for the transmission of the renewable power along Rocky Mountain Power’s network. All agreements are subject to review by the Public Service Commission.

With this contract and the power generated by existing on-campus solar PV projects, the university’s annual green power purchase rises to 173,328,700 kilowatt hours (kWh). This is the largest long-term contract kWh for any university on the EPA’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.

“This is a big move forward for the University of Utah, and we have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many terrific partners, including the Sustainability and Energy Management Team in Facilities.,” Wildermuth said. “Their hard work to improve our energy efficiency and systems is what made an arrangement like this possible. But we are not done. There is still more we can do to reduce our energy use, our air emissions and our carbon footprint.”

The university is committed to a multi-layered carbon-neutrality strategy, including energy efficiency measures and on-site energy creation like rooftop solar and solar parking canopies. A study is underway to determine what additional percentage of the university’s energy demand could be produced on campus and where those projects might be located. In addition to working on university emissions, the U has also helped to spur the local renewable energy market through U Community Solar, an innovative group purchasing program.

Carbon-neutrality by 2050? We’re one big step closer.

CLEAN AIR FOR YOU

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt and Nate Bramhall, Sustainability Office. Originally posted on Jan. 23 2017.

Drive less to help clean the air. Mobile sources, including personal vehicles, are responsible for nearly half of the emissions that cause elevated PM 2.5 levels — emissions so small that they easily embed in our bodies, creating lung and heart issues. Walk, bike, take TRAX, carpool, ride buses and shuttles — do whatever you can to not drive alone to improve the quality of the air we breathe here in Salt Lake City.

Collectively, we can make a difference, so sign up for February’s 2nd Annual Clean Air for U: A TravelWise Challenge and log your non-single-occupant-vehicle trips. Consider this: Up to 65,000 people travel to the University of Utah during a given week when counting students, faculty and full- and part-time staff. By not driving alone, we can make a huge difference in our air quality. Plus, Clean Air for U participants are eligible for prizes, including memberships for GREENbike and Enterprise CarShare and day-use state park passes. Additionally, the top five individuals will dine with Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth and Senior Vice President Ruth Watkins. Learn more about the Clean Air for U Challenge and other air quality solutions at the U Clean Air Expo on Tuesday, Jan. 24 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Union Lobby near the services desk.

While we at the Sustainability Office think air quality is the most important reason to get out of your car, here are five more benefits:

  1. Skip the Slip ‘N Slide. Living among the mountains is breathtaking (when you can see the mountains), but it also means we occupy a hilly and potentially icy community. Why risk your own personal property? Hop on a UTA bus or TRAX, which you can ride for free with your UCard.
  2. Avoid road rage. Anyone who’s done the morning commute to the University of Utah knows that there’s nothing more infuriating than shuffling through stop-and-go traffic. We know road congestion causes elevated stress, but research also suggests it is negatively impacting your heart health. Spare yourself the drama: Ride UTA and enjoy your coffee.
  3. Save time by not digging out your car. Here’s something you never hear: “Hey, would you mind using this flimsy piece of plastic to clear all the ice and snow off this bus?” That’s because UTA takes care of its fleet, so even on snowy days, the buses are ice-free and warm when we board. UTA’s got your back when the icy mornings don’t.
  4. Make a bus or train buddy. It’s a familiar scene: You hop on the train, find an open seat, steal a glance upwards to find that everyone else is staring intently at their smartphone. Contrary to expectations, conversing with strangers on public transit actually affects your mood positively. So, curb the stuffy silence and strike up a friendly conversation with your neighbor.
  5. Keep your money. Because your UCard doubles as a UTA pass, it doesn’t cost you anything extra to take public transportation. Plus, athletics tickets also serve as fare when traveling to and from games, so use UTA to travel to sporting events with your family and friends.