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Cleaning up wastewater through algae

LightWorks News

November 5, 2015

PeteLammers-310x372It’s easy to associate algae as being a nuisance. Noticing slimy green algae building up on the sides of your crystal blue pool might have you rushing to remove it. But before you prepare to scrub it away, let’s take a moment to consider how algae could actually benefit our water, particularly in wastewater treatment.

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DCDC details decade of water research in Phoenix

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News DCDC News

November 4, 2015

Dam in desert locationA paper authored by Decision Center for a Desert City researchers, published today in the journal Sustainability, synthesizes a decade of water research in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Titled "Decision-Making under Uncertainty for Water Sustainability and Urban Climate Change Adaptation," the paper explores human–environment dynamics, gaps in knowledge and practice, social learning and the evolution of an interdisciplinary research and boundary organization, which has enhanced adaptive and sustainable governance in the face of complex system dynamics.

"This research exemplifies the transdisciplinary approach advanced by ASU," says DCDC Director Dave White. "The knowledge generated here was developed by a team of social, behavioral, economic and sustainability scientists collaborating with biophysical scientists, engineers, a network of stakeholders and an internationally-recognized group of scientists and practitioners on our advisory committee."

In addition to White, the paper was authored by sustainability scientists Kelli Larson, Pat Gober and Amber Wutich.


ASU LightWorks to engage military in energy-related research

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News LightWorks News

October 29, 2015

Wind turbines in a fieldASU LightWorks recently received funding through the Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence (NEPTUNE), a pilot program of the Office of Naval Research. The $1.5 million in seed grants over seven years will support six energy-related research projects at Arizona State University that will engage veterans or active-duty military.

Recognizing that energy challenges pertain to both technology and people, the projects will invite participation from the ASU veteran community through the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, as well as from local bases with active-duty military personnel. The projects aim to provide military members with experience, training and resume-building that is beneficial in post-military careers.


Scientist weighs in on future habitability of Persian Gulf

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

October 29, 2015

Aerial image of shrinking body of waterAccording to a study recently published in Nature Climate Change, areas of the Persian Gulf could become uninhabitable by the end of this century, 100 years sooner than previous studies suggested. This is because waves of heat and humidity may become so intense that being outside for several hours could be fatal.

In response to these findings, David Hondula - a senior sustainability scientist and climatologist - said, "We have a lot of evidence and confidence that heat is going to be a major game-changer for certain locations, populations, lifestyles and activities. I would say that this is a different lens to look at an ongoing theme in sustainability and public health literature. I appreciate that the paper illustrates a large-scale outdoor activity that occurs in this part of the world that is one of those particularly high-interest and high-impact cases. But in no way is this ritual 'likely to become hazardous to human health' — it already is."


ASU center takes pragmatic approach to extinction

ASU Wrigley Institute News Biodiversity News

October 27, 2015

Frog in waterASU's Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, directed by Senior Sustainability Scientist Leah Gerberwas created a year ago to pragmatically stem the tide of loss in what has been called the Sixth Extinction. Its mission is to make discoveries and create solutions to conserve, where possible, and to manage biodiversity for the long term as the world rapidly changes. In doing so, tough decisions must be made.

“We can’t save everything,” says Anita Hagy Ferguson, program coordinator for the center. “We’re not operating in that la-la land. It’s heartbreaking, but we are operating with real data, with real reality, and you cannot save everything. You have to make choices in what to save and how to save it, so that we can move quickly.”

The center’s research focuses on five areas: biodiversity assessment and decision tools, governance and biodiversity, advancing corporate sustainability, public health and biodiversity, and engagement of underserved youth. To learn more about the center, watch this interview with Gerber on Arizona Horizon.


Species adapt to natural climate change better than human activity

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

October 22, 2015

Two parrots on tree limbA study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explores the relative impacts of natural climate change and direct human activity on animal-species extinction.

The study is co-authored by Janet Franklin, a distinguished sustainability scientist and Regents’ Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Franklin and her team examined the remains of 95 species of ice-age vertebrates from Sawmill Sink, a flooded sinkhole cave on Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Thirty-nine of those species no longer exist on the island.

The team concluded that the increasing warmth and wetness of Abaco's climate, coupled with rising sea levels that occurred from 15,000 to 9,000 years ago during the transition from the last ice age to the present climate, probably led to the disappearance of at least 17 of the species. The other 22, however, disappeared within the past 1,000 years - signaling a relationship to humans' appearance on the island and rapid subsequent changes to which these species could not adapt.


Hawaii to host IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2016

ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 20, 2015

The International Union for Conservation of Nature Council has selected Hawaii as the host of the September 1-10, 2016, IUCN World Conservation Congress – the world’s largest conservation event. Held every four years, the congress brings together leaders from government, the public sector, non-governmental organizations, business, U.N. agencies, and indigenous and grass-roots organizations to discuss and decide on solutions to the world’s most pressing environment and development challenges. This is the first time the congress has been held in the U.S.

Conservation efforts help the ‘i‘iwi, a honeycreeper native to Hawaii, to someday thrive in the wild. Photo courtesy of Kamehameha Schools.

Former IUCN Director General and board member of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability Julia Marton-Lefèvre, said, “I have every confidence that Hawaii - with its outstanding facilities, rich biological diversity, vibrant indigenous culture, ‘aloha spirit’ and strong commitment to conservation and sustainable development - will provide an outstanding setting for our 2016 congress.”

More information can be found here.

UH-Hilo and ASU partner on sustainability energy certificate

ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 20, 2015

Hawai'i Green Growth aims for 70 percent clean energy (40 percent from renewables & 30 percent from efficiency) by 2030. Photo Courtesy of John DeFries.

Affordable energy is vital for a community to thrive, and the proposed merger of NextEra Energy Inc. and Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. is on everyone’s mind in Hawai’i. Kris Mayes, founding faculty director of the Program on Law and Sustainability at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, is providing support to the County of Hawai'i in research and analysis related to the proposed acquisition. Filings have been submitted with the Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission, where NextEra has agreed to accelerate the state’s goal of getting all of its power from renewable resources.

Mayes was the chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission (equivalent to the Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission) from 2003-2010. She and Senior Sustainability Scholar Paul Hirt will deliver classes as part of UH-Hilo’s new energy certificate in summer 2016. The 15-credit interdisciplinary certificate examines the current affairs of energy and sustainability, including: how energy affects peoples’ lives, energy policy options, the science of energy and energy generation for today’s society. More information can be found here.

Hawai'i teachers participate in national sustainability academy

ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 20, 2015

First National Sustainability Teachers' Academy cohort convene at Arizona State University.
Teachers across the U.S. participate in the first National Sustainability Teachers' Academy at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.

Kamehameha Schools teachers Rod Floro and Brendan Courtot hope to empower Hawai’i’s youth through culture and sustainability. Floro, a sixth-grade science teacher, and Courtot, a vocational technology and applied math teacher, were selected through a competitive application process to participate in the first ever National Sustainability Teachers’ Academy in June 2015 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. The Teachers’ Academy was established through the generosity of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives.

Rod Floro, sixth grade science teacher for Kamehameha Schools , presents ideas for a sustainability curriculum.
Rod Floro, sixth-grade science teacher for Kamehameha Schools , presents ideas for a sustainability curriculum.

The National Sustainability Teachers’ Academy equips passionate kindergarten through 12th-grade educators like Floro and Courtot with the knowledge and skills to inspire and motivate future leaders to create and implement solutions for the economic, social and environmental challenges of our world. The solutions-based curriculum emphasizes real-world learning by integrating knowledge with practice and capitalizing on the cutting-edge research made available to the Teachers’ Academy by ASU.

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ASU Wrigley Institute leaders define sustainability

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 20, 2015

chicago-skyline-2Most experts agree that sustainability's primary aim is to accommodate a growing number of people on a planet with finite resources. The precise definition of sustainability, however, garners numerous interpretations. In a recent ASU News article, the members of the ASU Wrigley Institute's directorate provide their personal definitions.

“It’s looking after the Earth as a system, people as a system, and trying to find ways we can both survive and thrive in the future,” says School of Sustainability Dean Christopher Boone. “That’s one definition. I don’t always use that definition. I use something more formal.”

According to Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Rob Melnick, “Both the Brundtland definition and Gifford Pinchot’s encompass a rapidly growing, relatively new expression of ‘sustainability. That is, ‘intergenerational well-being.’ This works for me."

Gary Dirks, director of the ASU Wrigley Institute, simply defines sustainability as “universal, intergenerational human well-being.”


CAP LTER partners to bring big data to high school girls

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 19, 2015

High school work together an assignmentASU’s Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program was a partner on a recent week-long workshop that presented big data to high school girls.

More than a dozen 11th- and 12th-graders spent their fall break learning a statistical computing program and gathering skills that will be valuable to them in future STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. The workshop was taught by Jessica Guo, a graduate student in the School of Life Sciences.

“Programs like this one are narrowing the gap in girls’ participation and success in math and science,” said Monica Elser, education manager for the ASU Wrigley Institute. "The workshop capitalized on a broad range of data and ASU resources to create something really special for these students.”


ASU Wrigley Institute launches climate change story video contest

ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 19, 2015

Tell us your climate storyIn recognition of Global Climate Change Week during Campus Sustainability Month, the ASU Wrigley Institute has launched the Climate Story Video Contest. The contest invites ASU students to examine how the changing climate has affected their lives and how they feel about it in a video of three minutes or less.

Contest winners will be determined through both a popular vote - or the number of likes a story gets on the ASU Wrigley Institute’s YouTube Channel - and a judges vote. The winning videos will be featured on the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives and Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative websites in addition to the ASU Wrigley Institute's, as well as shown during the Sustainability Festival in February 2016.

Submissions are due by October 31, 2015. For information on how to submit your climate story, click here.

Arizona State University joins Climate Leadership Network

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

October 15, 2015

Aerial view of ASU Tempe CampusSecond Nature, a nonprofit organization based in Boston, has created a network of more than 650 colleges and universities that are committed to neutralizing their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to accelerating research and educational efforts to raise awareness of the need for a more sustainable future on Earth. It established the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (AUCPCC), of which Arizona State University was one of the founding signatories.

Recently, Second Nature launched a new set of commitments for higher education institutions: the Carbon Commitment (formerly the AUCPCC), the Resilience Commitment (formerly the Alliance for Resilient Campuses) and the Climate Leadership Commitment, which is a combination of the Carbon and Resilience Commitments. Together, these commitments make signatories part of the Climate Leadership Network.

ASU President Michael Crow signed the full Climate Leadership Commitment in October.


Sustainability student poses climate question during CNN debate

Board Letter School of Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 14, 2015

Anna Bettis appears on CNN debateAnna Bettis, a student in the School of Sustainability's Master of Sustainable Solutions program, recorded a question for Democratic presidential candidates via a CNN video booth at ASU's Tempe campus.

“As a young person, I’m very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As a presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?” she asked.

Bettis says she did not expect her question to be aired during the Democratic presidential debate several weeks later, and was thrilled when she saw her face appear on the big screen of downtown's Desoto Market where she was watching.

Bettis credits a high school marine biology lesson, which exposed her to the natural resource challenges we face, for her sustainability passion. She received her bachelor's from the School of Sustainability in 2014.


Climatologist recognized for fundamental contributions to field

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

October 9, 2015

Brazel holding two Luke Howard volumesIn recognition of his fundamental research on urban heat islands and desert environments, Senior Sustainability Scientist Tony Brazel has been named the 2015 winner of the International Association for Urban Climate’s Luke Howard Award.

Brazel, who retired in 2011 after 37 years at ASU, is an expert on urban climatology, specializing in arid environments like the greater Phoenix area. He was awarded the American Meteorological Society’s Helmut E. Landsberg Award in 2013, and his research has an enduring influence on his field.

"From the very beginning, Tony Brazel had a tremendous impact on CAP LTER and DCDC, two of our largest urban sustainability research grants of the past two decades,” says Charles Redman, founding director of ASU’s School of Sustainability. “He rightly pointed to the recent and huge impact humans were having on local climate. He introduced us all to the concept of an urban heat island, which has been a central focus of both projects from that day forward."


Nat Geo spotlights company co-founded by sustainability grad

School of Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 6, 2015

Bin of green charcoal in HaitiCarbon Roots International - a company co-founded by School of Sustainability graduate and Founders’ Day Award recipient, Ryan Delaney - was highlighted in the October issue of National Geographic magazine with the headline "Bright Ideas can Change the World."

Launched in 2010, CRI uses sustainability principles to help rural farmers in Haiti develop more efficient agricultural practices. It trains farmers on the production of a renewable fuel known as “green charcoal,” which allows them to convert crop waste into a fuel source that can be used in cooking and to improve soil fertility.

CRI is one of 29 projects to receive a grant from the "Great Energy Challenge," an initiative of National Geographic in partnership with Shell that recognizes innovative energy solutions.


Leah Sunna: Connecting people to sustainability

School of Sustainability News Alumni News Alumni and Student Spotlights

October 5, 2015

Leah-Sunna-smilingLeah Sunna is a Tempe native, School of Sustainability alum and a true advocate for helping people find connections to the environment and world around them.

Sunna recalls, at a young age, opening Sierra Magazines on her mother’s coffee table and being interested in the environment. From then on, she always identified as a “nature-lover” with a passion for community involvement.

Though interested in the environment, the “feel-good” aspect of sustainability also appealed to Sunna. At the end of the day, she wanted to do something that mattered – something that made her feel like she was making a difference.

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Sustainability scientist honored for energy contributions

ASU Sustainability News

September 29, 2015

Mike Pasqualetti speaking about energyMartin “Mike” Pasqualetti — an ASU sustainability scientist, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning professor and energy expert — will be awarded the 2015 Alexander and Ilse Melamid Memorial Medal by the American Geographical Society at its annual fall symposium. The medal is conferred on scholars who have done outstanding work on the dynamic relationship between human culture and natural resources.

Pasqualetti has conducted research concerned with energy education, the nexus of energy and society, energy security, the social acceptance of renewable energy, and the recognition and remediation of energy landscapes for more than 40 years. According to AGS Honors and Awards Committee Chairperson Douglas Sherman, Pasqualetti was cited for substantial and sustained contributions to our understanding of the geography of energy.

"While the medal may be in recognition of my individual contributions to the geographical study of energy," says Pasqualetti, "much of my work would have been impossible — and certainly not as pleasant — without the enthusiasm of my students, the camaraderie of my colleagues or the leadership of Gary Dirks, director of GIOS®, and ASU President Michael Crow. I am therefore particularly pleased to be able to say that I am associated with ASU, my academic home since 1977.”


Weather extremes could hinder human food production

ASU Sustainability News

September 28, 2015

Scientist studies effects of extreme weather on grasslandsToday's online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences featured the findings of a six-year study conducted by ASU researchers. The study, which measured the effects of climatic variability like droughts and floods on desert grassland, revealed that  overall ecosystem productivity declines. This is because grasses - an important component of the human food system - tend to diminish while shrubs flourish.

“We found that not all species could respond effectively to extreme weather events including both dry and wet conditions,” said Osvaldo Sala, a distinguished sustainability scientist and professor in ASU's School of Life Sciences. “Grasses don’t fare as well as shrubs, which is really important to know because cattle ranchers depend on grasslands to graze their herds. Humans could see a reduction in the production of food — mostly cattle for meat — as the provision of ecosystem services like this one change.”


Next City article on WaterSim


September 25, 2015

As uncertainty about water access in the West increases, the Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University is connecting policymakers with research to make better resource management decisions for the future.

The DCDC has been conducting climate and water research in the Phoenix metropolitan area since 2004. Now, thanks to a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation — the third made to DCDC by the NSF since its founding — the DCDC will expand its work beyond Arizona to other cities dependent on the Colorado River Basin in Colorado, Nevada and California.


The funding comes from the NSF’s Decision Making Under Uncertainty program. The DCDC and other groups receiving this funding aim to increase information available to decision-makers by developing analytic tools, facilitating interaction with researchers and bringing decision-makers together.

“We’re a boundary organization,” says Ray Quay, director of stakeholder relations at DCDC. “We try to bring science into public policy.” In Phoenix, the DCDC does this in part through collaborative research. Using satellite imagery, DCDC helped the city better understand how changes in water demand over time are related to changes in land use. The DCDC will now work to identify similar opportunities in Las Vegas and Denver, the first cities that will benefit from the expansion.

The DCDC also hosts “neutral convenings” in the Phoenix area where policymakers come together to discuss environmental concerns and solutions — topics that can ignite heated arguments in some places — and learn from one another in an uncharged space. For one such meeting, the DCDC brought together water managers from across the region with different viewpoints to discuss research and decision-making strategies about a potentially divisive issue: How should cities respond if an extended drought requires them to shift from using surface water to groundwater, what DCDC calls the “All Straws Sucking Scenario”?

“Arizona water is highly regulated, and water utilities are uncomfortable being open in discussion when an agency that regulates them is part of the discussion,” says Quay. DCDC was perceived to be an unbiased host.

Expanding into Denver and Las Vegas, the DCDC will conduct surveys of the general public and water managers to identify problems, areas where agencies feel they have answers to share and topics requiring regional discussion.

One of the organization’s primary research and education tools is WaterSim 5.0, which estimates water supply and demand for Phoenix and the 32 cities in its metropolitan area. Users can control as many as 53 inputs, including river runoff, percentage of wastewater reclaimed, population growth, and per capita water use, and then see the impacts of these decisions on water supply, water demand, and a variety of sustainability indicators.

David Sampson, WaterSim’s lead developer, says the tool was originally intended to help water providers with planning, but that the program isn’t yet perfectly suited for their needs. “The nice thing about WaterSim is that it’s an aggregate of all the cities,” says Sampson, “but the cities of course only work within their own [boundaries].” One goal with this round of NSF funding is to allow finer spatial parsing of WaterSim’s region, allowing water providers and managers to make finer-grain decisions. Sampson is also working to integrate a groundwater model that is based on supply rather than credits.

At present, WaterSim is primarily a tool for education and outreach, and the DCDC has also created a less complex educational model, an online version that has just five inputs. WaterSim can be used “to tell stories,” says Quay, by leading members of the public and elected officials in a guided discussion using the interface. “One story might be that there is no silver bullet.” As people better understand the complexity of the system, supplies and management, they see that “there really is no one solution under the uncertainty of climate change and drought,” says Quay.

Another story is that “it’s not just the system that’s complicated, but how people use the system and benefit from the system that’s complicated as well,” says Quay. Farmers value water differently than manufacturers, who value water differently than homeowners or environmentalists. “They all have different perspectives on what sustainability means,” says Quay. “Using this tool we can show how to maximize sustainability from all of these viewpoints, but that there’s no way to maximize sustainability for all of these viewpoints.”

Quay says it’s unclear how the DCDC will extend its modeling capacity to include other Colorado River Basin cities. It will depend on whether different regions will see a benefit, he says, and what types of modeling systems they already use.

The DCDC is working to create more educational modeling tools, though. Sampson is developing a scaled-down water supply and demand simulation for a traveling Smithsonian exhibition that will visit all 50 states in the next five years. Sampson and the DCDC will create a model for every state, with elements that look at climate change and human use.

“People can learn a little more about water decisions and water use and how that relates to climate change,” says Sampson. “Every state has a different challenge.”


By Jen Kinney

September 24, 2015

New City - The Works

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