SAVING BIRDS

Funded by SCIF

The Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, created through an ASUU initiative in 2008, collects about $180,000 yearly from a $2.50 per student fee. Since 2009, it has awarded more than $900,000 to projects aimed at enhancing sustainability on the U campus.

The fund receives about 30 to 45 proposals each year and approves grants for 20 to 25 requests, which typically range from $200 to $40,000, according to Emerson Andrews, SCIF coordinator.

Projects funded have included the edible campus gardens, a beekeeping initiative, installation of screech owl habitat boxes, Bike to the U Day, several solar energy initiatives, and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Learn more by clicking here.

Originally posted on @theU on November 19, 2018

By Brooke Adams, senior writer, University of Utah Communications

Last November Professor Barbara Brown and some colleagues were in the middle of interviewing a candidate for a position in the Department of Family & Consumer Studies when there was a smack on the window — a noise so loud and violent it startled and instantly silenced the candidate.

A bird in full flight had flown into the second-story window on the northeast side of the Alfred Emory Building.

Forty minutes later, interview over, Brown ventured outside and there on the ground was the still-stunned bird — a Cedar Waxwing.

Years earlier she had found a dead Bohemian Waxwing near the building, but thought it was an isolated incident. But now, as Brown surveyed the area, she found seven more carcasses under the mirrored glass entryway that perfectly reflects the sky and trees on Presidents Circle.

“It was discouraging to realize I may have been working here for years and not known I needed to take action to prevent these bird strikes,” said Brown, an environmental psychologist who studies links between physical environments and human behavior. She considers herself a “sort of birder” but Cedar Waxwings “have always been one of my favorite birds. They are the finest, cutest birds you’ve ever seen.”

Between November 2017 and March 2018, Brown counted a total of 20 dead birds near her building; most were Cedar Waxwings.

“The birds think they are flying right into an open area, smack the mirrored glass and die,” said Brown, who deduced that the birds are attracted to the fruiting crabapples on the lawn at Presidents Circle.

Brown enlisted three students to work on the project: Angelo Antonopoulos, a senior from Greece majoring in environmental and sustainability studies; Sarah Siddoway, a senior from Farmington majoring in biology; and Erika Kusakabe, a senior from West Jordan also majoring in environmental and sustainability studies.

Left to right: Angelo Antonopoulos, Erika Kusakabe, Sarah Siddoway and Barbara Brown. PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

The team also connected with Sarah Bush, an associate professor of biology who is collecting the bird carcasses to use in a parasite research project, and Lisa Thompson, exhibit developer and interpretive planner at the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU). Some birds, if in good structural condition, may also be prepared to use as museum specimens.

The team researched Cedar Waxwings; bird deaths; bird strikes and contributing building design factors; bird migration patterns; and mitigation measures.

They concluded that the 20 dead birds at AEB appeared significant. In comparison, the 2017 Salt Lake Avian Collision Survey of downtown Salt Lake City found only 44 dead birds in a 20-block area. In addition, the birds found downtown represented a variety of species.

They also determined that unique features of the northeast end of AEB — tunnel-like openings to multiple reflective windows that make it appear to be a passageway — were contributing to the problem.

The only way to deal with this “hotspot of death” was to mitigate the danger by somehow altering the windows, the team concluded.

The best solution was something called “Feather Friendly Bird Deterrent” — a film that is placed on windows and then removed, leaving behind little dots even spaced over the surface. Birds see the dots and recognize an obstacle, while people are still able to see through the window.

“The problem is that the site is three stories tall and to get to the upper windows you need a lift or scaffolding, which is expensive,” she said. The team learned the cost of doing all the north-end windows would be about $27,000.

The concrete structure and mirrored glass at the northeast entrance to the Alfred Emery Building make it appear to be a passageway. PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

Doing something, they decided, was better than nothing, so in September they applied for a $10,000 SCIF grant from the U’s Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) — enough money to cover a third of the windows.

“Our goals are to mitigate an existing hotspot of bird deaths from window strikes, to evaluate the effectiveness of the mitigation, and to develop a citizen science outreach component to raise awareness and identify whether other hotspots exist,” the team wrote in its grant proposal. “In this way, we are consistent with the SCIF mission statement that funds projects that ‘reduce the University of Utah’s negative impact on the environment.’”

The AEB Bird Strike Mitigation proposal received approval in October. Last week, Blake Parrish of Scottish Window Tinting installed the protective coating on a section of reflective windows.

The fact that funding allowed only a portion of the windows to be covered has created a controlled research design to test the effectiveness of the film. If additional dead birds are found, the team will be able to determine which section they struck.

The team’s grant proposal also included an educational outreach component aimed at raising awareness of the diversity of birds on campus and cataloguing other hot spots in need of mitigation.

“We hope that students start to appreciate the connections between bird life and campus life and realize it’s not like birds are ‘over there somewhere’ but that birds are all around us,” Brown said.

Siddoway worked with the NHMU’s Thompson to develop the “University of Utah Bird Window Collision Project,” a site on iNaturalist that encourages citizen engagement in science. People can upload photos of dead birds and information about the site and circumstances where the bird was found. Posters around campus advertise and encourage participation in the project.

“I am really interested in conservation,” Siddoway said. “I graduate in December and want to pursue a career in conservation and research, so this seemed up my alley. We had ups and downs and there were points we didn’t know if we would get any bird mitigation windows, but I am glad we got at least part of them.

“It is amazing, actually, that things are happening,” she said.

Bird friendly buildings

Several other buildings at the U — the S.J. Quinney College of Law and Gardner Commons — have bird-friendly windows; the features are primarily intended to reduce heat, but that also deter bird strikes. Feather Friendly films such as that used in this project are a good option for older buildings.

If you’d like to contribute to or track the University of Utah Bird Window Collision Project, click here or email the team at UUbirdstrike@gmail.com. You also can text your sightings and photos to 385-200-0813.

U PEDALS TO GOLD

The university created this GIS tool to track improvements to our bicycle infrastructure.

Follow @commUTEr_servs and @GingerCannonU on Twitter for updates on campus mobility.

Orginally posted on @theU on November 19, 2018.

By Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager

The League of American Bicyclists has honored the University of Utah with a Gold Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) designation in recognition of the institution’s achievements to promote safe, accessible bicycling on campus. The standards for attaining any of the four levels of BFU awards—bronze, silver, gold and platinum—are very high and require deliberate, determined efforts to meet them. The U is one of only 24 universities in the nation to receive the Gold BFU award, which is valid through the year 2021.

“More than 3.8 million students now attend Bicycle Friendly Universities in 46 states and Washington, DC,” says BFU Director Amelia Neptune. “From large to small, urban to rural, these educational institutions are creating a powerful community of college campuses that model and support the use of bicycles for improving health, sustainability and transportation options.”

The university advanced from silver to gold designation by demonstrating progress in categories known as the 5 E’s—Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation. The University Bicycle Master Plan provides recommendations for improvements in each category. The Active Transportation Manager works with a leadership advisory group to set priorities and implement plan recommendations.

Significant capital funding has been committed to the addition of bikeways – whether on surrounding roadways or campus pathways – to provide safe and direct routes for bicyclists. Currently the U area supports 8 miles of signed bike routes, with the majority of interior pathways shared for bicycle travel.

“We’ve moved the dial in achieving Gold BFU designation and know that there is still more to be done to accommodate and grow our campus bicycling community.  We are committed to following the vision of our bicycle master plan and incorporating more high quality routes to the campus network,” says Robin Burr, Chief Design and Construction Officer. “In order to encourage alternative modes of transportation, we need to add facilities like secure parking, showers and lockers for our daily commuters.”

Bicycles are zero emissions vehicles that help the university reach its carbon neutral and sustainability goals. Active transportation represents 13 percent of all commute trips to the U, and the highest percentage of people using a bicycle for transportation are students. A majority of commuters are just 8 miles or less from their campus destination – a reasonable biking distance no matter your skill level.

When universities invest in bicycling, great things happen: people adopt healthy habits, save money on healthcare and transportation costs, decrease the university’s greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a fun and vibrant campus culture.

Longing for A New Direction

The universe is mysterious, beautiful, and unknown. The world around us and the space beyond is a cosmic soup of particles, atoms and energy, yet mixed together these things make up our bodies, our friends and family, the trees and water, the sky and the earth. While science seeks to unravel these mysteries of the universe in the lab, poetry seeks to do the same in our hearts and minds. Yet both ultimately pursue the same fundamental questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What do we do?

Kealoha, the internationally-known slam poet and poet laureate of Hawai’i has a unique understanding of the relationship between science and poetry and their potential to change our perception of the world. Trained as a nuclear engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he left a lucrative career in corporate consulting to return to his native Hawai’i to find answers in poetry. He’ll share some of his unique insights on Tuesday, November 13 as part of the GCSC seminar series, and then again on Friday, November 16, with his highly acclaimed “The Story of Everything,” hosted by UtahPresents and supported by the Sustainability Office.

For his GCSC seminar, “So many different crossroads, but the paths look the same,” Kealoha will explore the threat posed by climate change by pulling questions from science and the arts. Similar themes will come up on Friday in “The Story of Everything,” an ambitious performance combining poetry, dance, music, art and science. Drawing on everything from the Big Bang Theory to Michael Jackson, Kealoha will show how interconnected our world really is.

These questions have always been a part of Kealoha’s life. Growing up, Kealoha kept his academic interest hidden and pursued arts and sports. But his incredible aptitude for science and mathematics -including a perfect SAT math score – led him to study Nuclear Engineering at MIT. During his education he worked as an intern at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center as well as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Yet he realized quickly that nuclear energy was more plagued by political funding issues than any other obstacle and changed his course, working with the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) in Washington, D.C. where he published work on national security and climate change.

After graduating with honors and a minor in writing, he changed his direction yet again and began a career in management consulting in San Francisco. Yet the long hours and focus on building wealth left him feeling unfulfilled, and after a fortuitous encounter with slam poetry he immersed himself in writing. Back in his native Hawai’I, he dove into the local slam poetry scene, and went on to establish Youth Speaks Hawai’i, which holds poetry workshops for Hawaiian youth with internationally renowned poets. With poetry rooted in community and education, Kealoha regularly performs at schools and towns not just around Hawai’i but across the world.

With his scientific training and poetic genius, Kealoha may just provide the inspiration we need for rethinking how we live and who we are. Come to his GCSC seminar today, Tuesday, Nov. 13, in ASB 210 from 4 – 5 PM  and his performance of “The Story of Everything” in Kingsbury Hall on Friday Nov. 16 at 7:30 PM to get inspired.

 

WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE CAN HURT YOU

 

 

Originally published on @theU on October 15, 2018.
 
By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering
 

What if you could see nasty microscopic air pollutants in your home?

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering
University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese (left) and computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. They provided participants with air pollution sensors, a Google Home speaker and a tablet to measure and chart the air quality in their homes.

Engineers from the University of Utah’s School of Computing conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. It turns out, their behavior changes a lot.

Their study was published this month in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. The paper was also presented Oct. 9 in Singapore during the “ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing.” The paper can be viewed and downloaded here.

“The idea behind this study was to help people understand something about this invisible air quality in their home,” says University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese, who was a lead author of the paper along with U School of Computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore and School of Computing associate professor Miriah Meyer.

During the day, the air pollution inside your home can be worse than outside due to activities such as vacuuming, cooking, dusting or running the clothes dryer. The results can cause health problems, especially for the young and elderly with asthma.

University of Utah engineers from both the School of Computing and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering built a series of portable air quality monitors with Wi-Fi and connected them to a university server. Three sensors were placed in each of six homes in Salt Lake and Utah counties from four to 11 months in 2017 and 2018. Two were placed in different, high-traffic areas of the house such as the kitchen or a bedroom and one outside on or near the porch. Each minute, each sensor automatically measured the air for PM 2.5 (a measurement of tiny particles or droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width) and sent the data to the server. The data could then be viewed by the homeowner on an Amazon tablet that displayed the air pollution measurements in each room as a line graph over a 24-hour period. Participants in the study could see up to 30 days of air pollution data. To help identify when there might be spikes in the air pollution, homeowners were given a voice-activated Google Home speaker so they could tell the server to label a particular moment in time when the air quality was being measured, such as when a person was cooking or vacuuming. Participants also were sent an SMS text message warning them whenever the indoor air quality changed rapidly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Wiese
Participants were given an Amazon table that displayed the air pollution data in an easy-to-understand line chart so they could see when and why the air quality worsened. Homeowners also could label points in time when the pollution would spike, such as when they were cooking or vacuuming.

During the study, researchers discovered some interesting trends from their system of sensors, which they called MAAV (Measure Air quality, Annotate data streams and Visualize real-time PM2.5 levels). One homeowner discovered that the air pollution in her home spiked when she cooked with olive oil. So that motivated her to find other oils that produced less smoke at the same cooking temperature.

Another homeowner would vacuum and clean the house just before a friend with allergies dropped by, to try to clean the air of dust. But what she found out through the MAAV system is that she actually made the air much worse because she kicked up more pollutants with her vacuuming and dusting. Realizing this, she started cleaning the house much earlier before the friend would visit.

Participants would open windows more when the air was bad or compare measurements between rooms and avoid those rooms with more pollution.

“Without this kind of system, you have no idea about how bad the air is in your home,” Wiese says. “There are a whole range of things you can’t see and can’t detect. That means you have to collect the data with the sensor and show it to the individual in an accessible, useful way.”

Researchers also learned that circumstances that made the air pollution worse differed in each home. Vacuuming in the home, for example, would have different effects on the air quality. They also learned that if homeowners could visualize the air quality in their home, they always stayed on top of labeling and looking at the data.

Wiese says no known manufacturers make air quality systems for the home that allow residents to visualize and label the air quality in this way, but he hopes their research can spur more innovation.

The study involved engineering in collaboration with other University of Utah scientists, including biomedical informatics and clinical asthma researchers. It was funded as part of a larger National Institutes of Health program known as Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), launched in 2015 to develop sensor-based health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological and behavioral factors in pediatric studies of asthma and other chronic diseases.

Research reported in this publication was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54EB021973. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

 

 

Green to Red Tailgate Challenge

By Abby Ghent

Ah, football. The smell of barbecued foods, the sound of cheering fans, and the excitement of watching your home team playing their hearts out. The only thing missing is a little bit of sustainability thrown in. But you can change that: Join in the 1st Annual Green to Red Tailgate Challenge!

At the Oct. 12 home game vs. Arizona, join your fellow fans in a little friendly competition to bring some green into your red-out tailgating. The Green to Red Tailgating Challenge offers a contest to make your tailgate as sustainable as possible. Wear red and be green during the U’s first Green to Red Tailgate Challenge. All tailgates are automatically entered. Winners will be chosen by student sustainability leaders based on how sustainable their tailgate team can be in the areas of waste and recycling, transportation, energy, food purchases, and innovation. Here are some ideas:

  1. Ditch the disposables. Bring reusable cups, dishes, and cutlery. Stay hydrated with reusable jugs of water.
  2. Don’t go Solo! Those iconic red cups are a low-quality plastic. If you need plastic cups, look for clear cups that are plastic #1.
  3. Separate your recyclables. Keep two bins—one for trash and one for recycling. Make sure to avoid food and liquid in the recycling bin.
  4. Go local. You can get all your tailgating needs—including BBQ, brats, grass-fed beef, and of course, beer! (21+)—from Utah companies.
  5. More than cars. Points for people in the group that biked, carpooled, or used public transportation.
  6. Reuse your U decor. You wouldn’t throw out your favorite University of Utah t-shirt! Show your team spirit with U decorations you can use game after game.

And the prizes, you ask?

1st Place: On-field experience at your choice of 2018 football game and dinner in the Tower for four people; recognition of your tailgate team on the video board at the chosen game

2nd Place: Tour of Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center and lunch in the cafeteria for four people

3rd Place: Four tickets to any 2018/19 U sports event of fans’ choosing

 

The competition is part of a larger effort by the Pac-12 Conference to be leaders in both championships and sustainability. The Pac-12 Team Green, a first-of-its-kind in collegiate athletics, promotes sustainability initiatives taking place around the Pac-12 Conference and all 12 of its member universities. Learn more at www.pac-12.com/team-green.

Clear The Air

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering

Air conditioning and heating systems are not only great for keeping a home cool or warm, but they also help clean the air of harmful pollutants.

While home thermostats control HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems based on temperature, engineers from the University of Utah have studied the effects of controlling them based on a home’s indoor air quality. They have discovered that programming your air conditioner and furnace to turn on and off based on the indoor air quality as well as the temperature doesn’t waste a lot of additional energy but keeps the air much cleaner.

Their findings, published in a paper titled Smart Home Air Filtering System: A Randomized Controlled Trial for Performance Evaluation, were presented on Sept. 26 at this year’s “IEEE/ACM Conference on Connected Health: Applications, Systems and Engineering Technologies” in Washington D.C. The lead authors of the paper are University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Neal Patwari and U electrical and computer engineering doctoral graduate, Kyeong T. Min.

PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah Professor Neal Patwari
This graph shows that when a home heating and air conditioning system turns on and off based on temperature alone (normal), the air quality in the home can result in the dirtiest air based on 2.5 particulate matter. Meanwhile leaving the heating and air conditioning on all the time (On) results in the cleanest air at the expense of using the most energy. The SmartAir plot shows that a system that turns on and off based on both temperature and air quality can result in a home with much cleaner air but without a much higher cost in energy.

The researchers, led by Patwari, purchased a series of off-the-shelf portable air pollution sensors and connected them wirelessly to Raspberry Pis, small and inexpensive computers for hobbyists. With specialized software developed by the engineers, the computers were programmed to automatically turn on the air conditioning system whenever the particulate matter in the air reached a certain point and turn off the system when the particulate matter dipped below a certain measurement.

For the study, 12 sensors were deployed in four homes in 2017. In each house, two of the sensors were inside rooms, and one was placed outside under a covered porch. Starting at midnight each night, each home would randomly operate the sensors under one of three conditions: “Normal,” in which the HVAC systems turned on and off normally based on temperature only; “Always On,” in which the air system operated continuously all day, and; “SmartAir,” in which the system turned on and off the HVAC fan based on the pollution measurement in the house as well as the thermostat’s temperature setting.

Based on five months of data, the study revealed that operating with the “SmartAir” setting in which it turned on and off based on temperature and air quality cleaned the air almost as well as if the HVAC fan was operating all day, but it used 58 percent less energy. Meanwhile, when the heating and cooling system operates normally without regards to the air quality, the air was 31 percent dirtier than with the “SmartAir” setting.

“For someone with asthma, an exacerbation can be triggered by poor air in the home, particularly for children,” Patwari says. “This kind of monitoring system could allow them to live more comfortably and with fewer asthma symptoms and fewer trips to the emergency room.”

Because of ordinary activities in the home such as cooking, vacuuming and running the clothes dryer, air quality inside a home can at certain times of the day be much worse than outside. Constant exposure to indoor air pollutants can lead to short-term health effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Long-term exposure could also lead to respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer and could be fatal for some. Yet there are no known home or commercial HVAC systems that are controlled by air quality sensors.

Patwari’s study involves engineering in collaboration with other University of Utah scientists, including biomedical informatics and clinical asthma researchers. It was funded as part a larger National Institutes of Health program known as Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), launched in 2015 to develop sensor-based health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological and behavioral factors in pediatric studies of asthma and other chronic diseases.

Research reported in this publication was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54EB021973. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Projecting Nature

By: Nicholas Apodaca, Graduate Assistant, Sustainability Office.

Driving into Salt Lake City from the west, the shady streets and verdant gardens can feel like an oasis at the edge of the desert. Yet the Salt Lake Valley was not always so green. As people settled the valley, they brought new plants to the landscape. Whether for agriculture, aesthetics, or utility, human hands dramatically changed the ecology of the Salt Lake Valley.

For ecologists, the urban environment presents a compelling and pressing issue, as scientific knowledge is complicated by considerations of human values and decision-making. Diane Pataki, professor of Biology and associate dean of research for the College of Science, will explore the complexities of urban ecology in her lecture from 4-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25 as part of the GCSC Seminar Series.

Pataki’s faculty appointment is in the School of Biological Sciences, but she also teaches in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning. Her work is necessarily interdisciplinary—her Urban Ecology Research Lab examines the many ecological factors at play in urban spaces. Through research on climate, water, pollution, aesthetics and other factors affecting the ecology of urban spaces, Pataki’s research provides valuable data that can better inform how and what we plant.

As climate change and resource scarcity become more important issues in our daily lives, many seek to make more informed decisions in their garden. “Most of the vegetation in Salt Lake City is planted by people, so people are always making decisions: what should they plant, and what should they remove?” Pataki says.

However, most research in ecology doesn’t fully account for how human decision-making affects the environment. Pataki notes that we have extensive scientific knowledge about how plants interact with climatic and biological forces but less about the human element. Yet, in studying urban spaces, the decisions humans make are significant, and often have little relevance to the native ecology of the region.

“People plant things for certain reasons and many of those reasons are aesthetic, and not scientific,” explains Pataki, “and that’s perfectly valid. So how do you bring in things like aesthetics into a decision-making framework?”

The picture is further complicated by the fundamental objectivity of scientific research, Pataki explains, because “traditionally, scientists are not supposed to tell people what to do. Science is supposed to be objective, and we’re not supposed to lobby for certain outcomes.” Science seeks to be objective and not prescriptive, and yet studying urban ecology means ultimately making decisions about what is necessary to a place. To different people, different things are important. “We project things onto urban spaces and not all of those things are scientific. We project cultural meaning onto spaces, we project values onto spaces, we want spaces to have a certain interaction with people, and that interaction can be highly subjective.”

As a result of these philosophical questions, Pataki has collaborated with researchers in the Philosophy department. Ultimately, she explains, they are seeking to understand, “How do you do science in a normative context?”

How can research on urban ecology navigate this dissonance between objective research and subjective decision-making? Come to ASB 210 on Tuesday, Sept. 25 to hear Pataki explore this fascinating intersection of urban space, science and philosophy.

 

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.

 

HUMANS OF THE U: CLAIRE TAYLOR

Originally posted on @theU on August 10, 2018

“My artwork is focused on wildlife and ecology. I am inspired by my encounters with wildlife—how I react, what biases come up.

Friends of Red Butte Creek and the Global Change & Sustainability Center awarded me a grant to create art of the wildlife in the Red Butte Creek area and I was able to combine that with my master’s degree project. I spent a year working in the Research Natural Area above Red Butte Garden, and the creek below it.

I wanted to know what the wildlife I encountered thought of me, but there wasn’t a way to do that. So, I paid attention to the emotions and feelings I had and worked to capture that.

One day I came across a snake. I’ve always been afraid of snakes, even non-venomous snakes. This snake’s eyes reminded me of my cat’s eyes. Given this familiarity, I felt affection toward the snake. I considered why I feel differently about a cat versus a snake. Is it the way it looks? The way it moves? It shifted the way I view snakes.

Another time I was working along the edge of the creek in Research Park. To avoid poison ivy, I ended up walking in the creek. I was photographing an insect egg structure when two fawns came down behind me to drink water. They were surprised, very curious and aggressive for fawns. I wondered if I was the first human they had seen, which was bizarre and exciting, and may have informed their odd behavior.

Through this project I considered what it would be like to be another species and challenged my biases toward particular species.”

— Claire Taylor, BFA ’07, M.S. ’16. Claire’s artwork will be featured on the U’s 2018-19 sustainability events calendar.

WATERSHED PROTECTION

Originally posted in @theU on August 27th, 2018

By Cecily Sakrison, U Water Center

Some come to the Natural History Museum of Utah for the world-class dinosaur exhibit, others are drawn to the vast collection of gems and minerals. But if you’re interested in sustainable engineering and infrastructure, you’ve arrived at your destination the moment you park your car.

 

It could be argued that the museum’s newest exhibit is its “50-year parking lot”—an engineering feat that’s “almost unheard of in Utah,” said David B. Alter, vice president of Ensign Engineering and project manager for the lot upgrade. With the pressures of ice, snow, salt and plows it’s rare that any parking lot in the Beehive state lasts anywhere near the half-century mark. But, this is no ordinary parking lot.

Michael Martin, NHMU Facilities Manager shows the 80mm depth of the pavers which are designed to withstand an exceptional amount of pressure. PHOTO CREDIT: Cecily Sakrison

The LEED-certified NHMU building opened in 2011 with a bevy of site-specific, environmentally sensitive design solutions including planted roofs, solar panels, water-catchment cisterns and a pervious concrete parking lot surface designed to let stormwater runoff percolate back into the soil. The original lot’s high porosity was very effective but, over time, the lot started requiring increasingly numerous repairs and additional maintenance expenses due to uneven surfaces.

At the urging of the museum board, NHMU elected to upgrade to highly durable, permeable concrete interlocking pavers. A coarse sand-filled expansion joint around each paver allows water to percolate deep into the soil below, naturally filtering and recharging groundwater and eliminating the need to transport water off-site through additional infrastructure.

“The base layer had already been established,” noted Alter. “To lose that would have been a real shame.” Alter referred to the 2-3 feet of crushed rock that was reverse-slope graded back into the hillside and had been laid for the museum’s original lot. It’s the most important element of a permeable parking lot yet sometimes overlooked. “It’s so important that the whole system is properly engineered,” said Abby Curran, NHMU’s  Chief Operating Officer.

Project managers were able to design the installation plan to keep the museum’s lot open throughout construction with the exception of 3 days when crews worked to pave the entrance. PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Martin

“When we pave a surface we increase stormwater runoff and that can lead to problems.” said Civil Engineering Professor Christine Pomeroy.  “Excess runoff can cause erosion in urban waterways. It can flush out fish and insects that live in our streams. But it’s not only about bugs, bunnies, and treehugger stuff—erosion from high volumes of runoff can damage infrastructure, creating financial impacts.”

Many Wasatch Front residents don’t realize that, unlike water that’s funneled through the sanitary sewer system, anything that’s flushed down a storm drain goes straight to the valley’s creeks, rivers, ponds and canals. A General Public Stormwater Telephone Survey Report conducted in December 2017 for Salt Lake County found that “only 10 percent of respondents were correct when they said that ‘none’ of the county’s stormwater goes to a treatment plant.”

“Our streams can better maintain a healthy ecosystem if they’re not inundated with excess water,” notes Pomeroy.

Michael Brehm, U environmental compliance manager added “Nearly 10 years ago, the U adopted design standards and initiated policy and programs to accelerate the adoption of best management practices for stormwater. As we develop more of campus, the potential to interrupt the natural infiltration of rain becomes greater.  We’re aware of this and, in response, we’ve updated design standards to replicate natural recharge of water as closely as possible.”

The museum’s respect for and sense of place guided both the re-paving decision and process. Old concrete went to a reuse facility, new pavers were machine-layed for time and cost efficiency and half-pavers that were originally “waste product” of the machine-laying process were repurposed as borders.  “The exterior of the museum is just as important as the interior,” said Curran. “We have many programs that take advantage of our natural, native environment. Being mindful of that space and its natural systems enriches what we can offer our visitors.”


Watershed Stories is a series exploring water work across the University of Utah campus. The stories are curated by the U Water Center, the Sustainability Office and the Global Change & Sustainability Center.