HUMANS OF THE U: NAIMA DAHIR

Originally post on @theU on March 9, 2019.

“I grew up in a family that never discussed environmental issues or sustainability. That was not something known to us. My parents have been through a lot—war and things like that—so sustainability and environmental justice hasn’t been a focus. We weren’t privileged enough to know about those issues or to have the resources or knowledge to know how our actions related to climate change.

When I first started college and learned about environmental racism, such as the water crisis in Flint, MI., I was taken aback at how these environmental injustices are happening in communities of color that don’t have the resources to fight back against things that are affecting them. It became personal to me as a person of color, who comes from a community that has a large refugee community with a low socioeconomic status.

I’m a big believer that we need to make sure we take care of our environment and our world. The earth has resources that are finite and can’t sustain us the way we have been using them.

When I found out the U offered free bus and TRAX passes I was excited. I use TRAX to get to and from school every day. I also use the bus sometimes as well when I need to get to places outside of campus. It’s easier than driving and I’m able to do homework, read and get things done.

But more important, I am reducing my carbon footprint and that was important to me. It makes me feel empowered just to be able to do something as easy as taking TRAX to help the planet. It’s the little things we do in our communities that really add up at the end of the day.”

— Naima Dahir, junior, International Studies and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

The Future of White Pines in the West

By Nicolas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

For many Utahns, white pines are a fact of life. Different species of white pine fill the mountainous landscapes of the Intermountain West, and their distinctive cones dot the forest floors. Yet compounding threats caused by changes in climate and forest management are putting these trees at risk.

That’s where Dr. Diana Tomback, professor and associate chair in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Colorado Denver, comes in. Her innovative research on different species of white pine throughout the West is building hope for their survival. On Tuesday, April 2nd, she will discuss this pressing issue in her lecture, “Biodiversity catastrophe in real time: Loss of five-needle white pine communities and cascading consequences” as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Professor Tomback received her Ph.D from the University of California Santa Barbara, where she researched the role of Clark’s nutcracker in the dispersion of whitebark pine seeds. She has spent much of her career at the University of Colorado Denver, studying white pine populations throughout the Rocky Mountains.

In 2001, Tomback was a founding member the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, which brought together federal officials and scientists to discuss and address threats to the Whitebark Pine alongside grassroots-level organizers and activists. She served as the Founding Volunteer Director for 16 years and now coordinates policy and outreach at the foundation. She is also Lead Scientist in the National Whitebark Pine Restoration Strategy, a federal initiative to restore white pine ecosystems.

Tomback’s work today focuses on a group of five pines, known as five-needle white pines. As she emphasizes, “forest health is now a major concern in North America.” White pines play an essential part in the forest ecologies of the American West and are among the tallest and oldest living trees in the world. They have also long been economically important as a historical source of lumber. “We have changes in fire regime driven by climate change, climate change itself, and on top of that, globalization has brought about an exchange of pests and pathogens from around the world for which our species [of white pines] have little natural resistance,” says Tomback.

There are many challenges facing the white pines in the 21st century. “Warming climate has supported the outbreak of the mountain pine beetle,” explains Tomback. They are also threatened by imported tree diseases such as white pine blister rust, which was unintentionally imported to North America from Asia. Blister rust is particularly dangerous because it spreads rapidly through spores carried by the wind, and because there is little natural resistance.

Yet despite these threats, Tomback has hope. The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, the Fire Sciences Lab in Missoula, her own lab at the University of Colorado Denver, not to mention many other concerned organizations, are contributing to the development of restoration and prevention strategies. Her hope is that new strategies will take advantage of declining beetle numbers and innovative research to preserve these important trees.

If you’re interested in learning more about Professor Diana Tomback’s innovative research on white pines and the future of the West’s forests, come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, April 2, from 4 – 5 PM for her GCSC seminar series lecture, “Biodiversity catastrophe in real time: Loss of five-needle white pine communities and cascading consequences.”

 

HUMANS OF THE U: MARTIN CUMA

Originally posted on @theU on February 8, 2019.

“I’ve enjoyed bicycling since I was a kid, back in the Czech Republic. It provided the freedom to move around without depending on either public transit or my parents. When I moved to Salt Lake in 1998 for my postdoc it felt natural to continue riding. I save on a parking pass and car costs and it forces me to get up on my bike every morning and ride to work.

Our older daughter is 5, and she goes to the Child and Family Development Center here on Presidents Circle. We have been commuting together for about 3 years. We ride my old road bike and a used $200 Chariot trailer. When it is warmer, we switch to the Weehoo. It takes us about 25 minutes to get up here, about three miles.

Weather doesn’t impact our commute much. It’s all in the equipment. In the winter, I dress our daughter in snow pants and a warm jacket. I wear what you see in the picture with an extra sweater for the downhill ride home.

I consider myself a fearless bicyclist but riding with a kid, I’m much more aware of my surroundings. I am very sensitive to people giving us space, so please don’t pass us too close on 1500 East or Guardsman Road or block the bike lane or crosswalk.

It is a commitment to commute by bike. Sometimes I think that it would be much easier to sit in a car and drive. Still, the benefits outweigh the troubles. My exercise is that 30-40 minutes a day ride. Our daughter will grow up used to car-less transport. And I feel like I’m doing something for the common good. I see the lines of cars every morning and I wish at least a few of them would hop on a bike. That would help our air and make the streets less busy and more livable.”

—Martin Cuma, computational scientist, Center for High Performance Computing. Cuma is part of the majority of U commuters that live within a reasonable walking or biking distance to campus. Active transportation, such as biking, represents 13 percent of commuting trips. Source: U. Office of Sustainability

HUMANS OF THE U: DEBOLINA BANERJEE

Originally posted on @theU on March 1, 2019.

“Having lived in India, Hong Kong and now Utah, public transportation has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve seen the difference infrastructure makes from country to country and the impacts it has on people’s travel behaviors. Coming from a highly dense megalopolis where the sheer number of people heightens traffic congestion so much so, it’s almost a relief to access public transportation. Utah’s a welcome change with its TRAX lines, protected bike lanes and other numerous public and active transit systems.

Coming from India, I cannot help but compare the poor driving conditions coupled with high fuel prices and other affordability issues, forces people to take the public transit. While here in the U.S. improved roadways, affordable car loans and low fuel prices encourage higher vehicle ownership and driving behaviors.

The two main reasons to take public transport in India are extreme traffic congestion and a huge percentage of daily workers who cannot afford their own vehicles. Public transport is a necessity not a choice. This high demand coupled with the government’s inability to supply cheap public transit also highlights the reality, the public transportation fleet needs upgrading and is not always an enjoyable ride. Whereas, in Utah, the bus and train fleet are modernized which guarantees a comfortable ride.

Being a user of public transit all my life, I see the numerous potentials here in Utah. What’s lacking here is the ‘necessity’ factor. People feel more in control of their schedule with driving. Ways to make mass transit more convenient could be; increasing the frequency of bus and TRAX, expanded routes to cover more neighborhoods, installing all-weather bus stop shelters and better integrating active transportation facilities with existing public transit, like bike racks at TRAX stops and building ‘floating’ bus stops.

While not my field of study in City and Metropolitan Planning, I know my colleagues are working on long-lasting solutions. They are thinking of unique ways to make the system so convenient that people want to ride a bus or train.

I’ve never owned a car. And I don’t think I’ll need to while I’m part of the U community. Thanks in large part to the TRAX and UTA benefit, my daily commute is taken care of.”

—Debolina Banerjee, doctoral student, Department of City and Metropolitan Planning and research assistant, Center for Ecological Planning + Design, LEED AP

Banerjee is just one member of the U whose commuting behavior is complex. Transportation mode choices depend on multiple factors, including weather, time of day, cost, proximity and convenience. Many commute trips involve more than one mode of transportation. Source: U. Office of Sustainability

HUMANS OF THE U: LISA MCMURTREY

Originally posted on @theU on Feb. 22, 2019.

“I started taking public transit around the time of the Olympics—so since 2002. It’s a 60-minute commute and then I have a five-minute walk to the Burn Center at University of Utah Hospital.

I care about the environment. I want to be a better steward of what we have been given. I started taking public transit because I wanted to do my part and save money on gasoline. I personally don’t like to drive. I enjoy being chauffeured and taking public transit can be relaxing and is cost effective. I don’t have to deal with traffic, inclement weather or other transportation difficulties.

I encourage people to use public transportation, knowing that it does take a certain mindset. If you can find a route that is fairly efficient and you’re using the time effectively, then it can work for anyone. I’m fortunate because it does work for me. I probably only drive to work two-to-three times a year. I don’t even have a parking pass.

I work sometimes on my commute, but in actuality, I use that time for self-care. I’m reading, listening to music, podcasts, a meditation app, taking a nap or just clearing my head during that time.

I think the type of work that I do requires self-care, but in general, I like to build in a balance of work and relaxation into my daily life. Using public transportation helps me achieve that balance.”

—Lisa McMurtrey, Clinical Nurse Coordinator, University of Utah Hospital Burn Outpatient Clinic

COMMIT TO BETTER AIR YEAR-ROUND

Originally posted on @theU on February 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

It’s the final week of the Clear the Air Challenge. As we approach the end of the competition, the University of Utah is a contender to take the top spot. That means you should log your trips now so we can triumph over both Fidelity Investments and UTA. If you walked to get lunch, log that walking trip. If you drove to a movie with a friend, log your carpool activity. If you worked from home on a snow day or brought lunch, enter a skipped trip. You can log trips all the way back to Feb. 1.

But in all seriousness, with cleaner air, we all win. The efforts of participants in the Clear the Air Challenge contribute to better air for all. Transportation choices do matter, particularly when considering the type of pollutants that collect here in the Salt Lake Valley: wintertime fine particulate matter and summer ozone. Our cars contribute to both.

We need cleaner air all year—not just in the month of February. Consider making alternative transportation part of your everyday life. Here are some ideas for all transportation methods:

Use your commute to stay in shape

Your daily commute can improve your health. Getting exercise by biking or walking can help to increase blood flow, release endorphins and reduce overall stress. Even logging 30 minutes of walking a day can help to improve mental health and energy. Join the STRAVA University of Utah Commuters club and challenge others to the longest ride, the biggest climb and more.

Make use of your UCard transit pass

Our UCards can be used to ride UTA buses, TRAX and FrontRunner. This generous benefit, managed by our Commuter Services department, is an incredible deal. Consider this: A monthly UTA pass costs $83.75 and that doesn’t even include access to FrontRunner. Use our transit access to commute to campus, go out on the town, or ride to Salt Lake’s sports venues, many of which are located within about half a mile of a TRAX line.

Ride Campus Shuttles

Our university has approximately 30 shuttle buses, 15 of which run on natural gas. According to Commuter Services, the campus shuttles help reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles driving around campus. These shuttles service thousands of members of the U community every week, so join them for the ride.

Drive smarter

Using our own vehicles can be convenient and there are some parts of our metro area that are public transit deserts. However, even those that need access to their vehicles can reduce their contribution to air pollution. Drivers can carpool, combine trips to reduce miles traveled and avoid idling while waiting in parking lots or at stoplights. Those looking to purchase a new car can also look into electric vehicles as a way to cut emissions.

Throughout February, take action on air quality by tracking your commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah.

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.

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.

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.