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Sustainability News

How ASU went to space and keeps pushing boundaries

ASU Now | July 1, 2020

It’s a far cry from the '60s, when engineers fought scientists. Now they are in the same building, unseparated by distance or bureaucratic walls.

This is the story of how ASU's tiny geology program grew to become one of only seven U.S. institutions that can build interplanetary spacecraft. It's a story sure to instill Sun Devil pride.

It begins with the purchase of a meteorite collection, shoots to the moon with some Navy pilots who learned geology basics from an ASU professor, then turns to the hiring of sustainability scientist Phil Christensen, a self-described "accidental engineer."

The story includes interdisciplinary research and student experiences, investments in research facilities, years of hard work, hundreds of students, and an exceptional group of scientists including Christensen, Jim Bell, Craig Hardgrove, and sustainability scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton, among many others.

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Vanos, Middel say shade is a solution to scorching playgrounds

ASU Now | June 26, 2020

Children playing outside during Arizona summers can face 100 days or more of temperatures north of 100°F. Too often playgrounds use heat-retaining, unnatural surfaces in the middle of parks with no shade, especially in Phoenix. These unshaded playgrounds can act as mini heat islands, which can disincentivize physically active play or even lead to burns.

ASU urban climate researchers Jennifer Vanos and Ariane Middel believe proper shading of playgrounds may be a solution.

Cerveny certifies world-record lightning flashes

ASU Now | June 26, 2020

lightning over mountains with purple skyTwo new world records of lightning — the horizontal distance a bolt travels and the time duration of the flash — have been recorded by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The new records for "megaflashes," verified with new satellite lightning imagery technology, more than double the previous records measured in the U.S. and France, according to the WMO.

“This will provide valuable information for establishing limits to the scale of lightning — including megaflashes — for engineering, safety and scientific concerns,” said Randy Cerveny, an Arizona State University professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the “chief rapporteur” of weather and climate extremes for WMO.

“It is likely that even greater extremes exist, and that we will be able to observe them as lightning-detection technology improves,” Cerveny said.

New mapping tool shows holistic view of water in Arizona

ASU Now | June 25, 2020

Water is a critical issue in Arizona, and a new water-mapping tool created by the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University has collected a vast array of maps and data sets to show a wide-ranging view of water in the state.

The Arizona Water Blueprint visualizes information on groundwater, rivers, agricultural irrigation, dams, ocean desalination, critical species and other concepts that are important not only to policymakers but also to any Arizonan concerned about water.

The first-of-its-kind map creates a holistic view of water in Arizona that was missing, according to Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy.

Westerhoff, Herckes combine for COVID decontamination solution

ASU Now | June 15, 2020

As the novel coronavirus created urgent demand for personal protective equipment, a major hospital chain in Phoenix was seeking a solution that would allow hospital staff to sanitize masks themselves, rather than sending their masks off site for disinfection and possibly getting other people’s masks in return.

According to sustainability scientist Paul Westerhoff, “It’s potentially a life-and-death issue in the context of viruses because once an N95 mask is fit to someone’s face, it may not form a proper seal on anyone else’s face.”

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Philosophers of science and sustainability scientists unite!

June 9, 2020

An international group of philosophers of science (Michiru Nagatsu, University of Helsinki; Taylor Davis, Purdue University; C. Tyler DesRoches*, Arizona State University; Inkeri Koskinen, Tampere University; Miles MacLeod, University of Twente; Milutin Stojanovic, University of Helsinki; Henrik Thorén; University of Helsinki) recently wrote an article entitled “Philosophy of Science for Sustainability Science" on the nature and significance of sustainability science. This article is forthcoming in the journal Sustainability Science.

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Societies in conflict

Medium | June 5, 2020

In the latest thought leader piece from the Global Futures Laboratory, "Societies in Conflict," Craig Calhoun — University Professor of Social Sciences in the School of Sustainability — draws parallels between recent racial justice protests in the United States and 1989 protests for democratic freedoms in Tiananmen Square, China.

You can read the piece on Medium. To ensure you don’t miss any Global Futures Laboratory Medium posts, follow our Medium channel directly, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn where we announce all new posts.

Vegetation shifts can outweigh climate change in desert rangelands

ASU Now | May 18, 2020

Grasslands across the globe, which support the majority of the world’s grazing animals, have been transitioning to shrub lands in a process that scientists call “woody plant encroachment.”

Managed grazing of drylands is the most extensive form of land use on the planet, which has led to widespread efforts to reverse this trend and restore grass cover.

Until now, researchers have thought that because woody plants like trees and shrubs have deeper roots than grass, woody plant encroachment resulted in less water entering streams and groundwater aquifers. This was because scientists typically studied the effect the grassland shift toward shrubs has on water resources on flat ground.

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Byck documentary series Carbon Cowboys hits the web

May 15, 2020

In many parts of the U.S., the farming industry has been forced to waste food due to supply chain interruptions from COVID-19. But the Carbon Cowboys featured in Peter Byck's 10-part documentary series say sales are soaring.

In his series, Byck details the farming technique known as regenerative grazing, which involves quickly rotating cattle from pasture to pasture, before they can damage the land — similar to how bison herds move across The Great Plains. The practice, which does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, builds soils that are richer in carbon, which in turn boosts crop and livestock yields.

The series, directed by Peter Byck, was filmed over six years in various rural communities across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. View it online at CarbonCowboys.org.

Street smarts required in heat mitigation

ASU Now | May 12, 2020

Anyone that’s ever been out walking on a hot summer day has probably experienced an uncomfortable phenomenon: sometimes, the heat radiated from the pavement below is just as hot as that coming from the sunlight above. In a quest to cool city streets, the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Surfaces has pioneered the use of solar reflective coatings with the idea that coating streets with a lighter color will lower the surrounding temperatures. It’s an interesting theory, and one that has attracted the attention of researcher and urban climatologist Ariane Middel.

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Societal planetary boundaries: When global society endangers the future of our planet

Medium | May 8, 2020

people walking in crowdIn the latest thought leader piece from the Global Futures Laboratory, "Societal Planetary Boundaries: When Global Society Endangers the Future of Our Planet," Sander van der Leeuw, Manfred Laubichler and Peter Schlosser discuss the unstable state of our global societal systems and how we can change. "We are challenged to find and establish a completely new structure for current societal dynamics, and to do so within the Environmental and Societal Planetary Boundaries," the authors write.

You can read the piece on Medium. To ensure you don’t miss any Global Futures Laboratory Medium posts, follow our Medium channel directly, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn where we announce all new posts.

Human activities kickstarted the decline in Caribbean coral reefs

ASU Now | April 25, 2020

Fish swimming in coral reefAccording to researchers, about half of Caribbean coral reefs have died since the 1970s, with the iconic elkhorn and staghorn corals being the hardest hit. However, climate change does not completely explain the loss of the reefs. So, in order to get a better picture of the drastic coral loss, Arizona State University researcher Katie Cramer has published a new paper in Science Advances.

"I am interested in going back to the scene of the crime when humans first began to significantly impact coral reefs centuries ago, to understand when, why and how much reefs have been altered by humans,” said Cramer, an assistant research professor at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and an Ocean Science Fellow at the Center for Oceans at Conservation International.

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ASU expert proposes a biodiversity-focused solution to prevent zoonotic diseases

ASU Now | April 24, 2020

Barbary ApeCOVID-19 may have jumped from a wild animal market in Wuhan, China, to people. If so, it’s not the first deadly disease to spring from nature. Middle East respiratory syndrome is said to have a source at a camel market in Saudi Arabia. In the United States, the H1N1 swine flu originated in factory farms where animals are held in extreme confinement. And Ebola likely had its start in a chimpanzee habitat in West Africa.

A rising chorus is calling for wildlife markets to be shut down across the globe.

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ASU Environmental Humanities Initiative is partner in Global Humanities Institute grant

ASU Now | April 23, 2020

The Environmental Humanities Initiative of the Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University is collaborating with the University of Texas Humanities Institute in a grant awarded by the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), located at the University of Wisconsin System. The grant, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is for the purpose of conducting a Global Humanities Institute (GHI) in summer 2021 on the theme “Climate Justice and Problems of Scale.” This will be the fifth GHI funded through the CHCI-Mellon partnership.

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New KEDtalk: Swimming in plastic

April 23, 2020

An unfathomable amount of plastic has made its way into our oceans, but Charlie Rolsky believes we can make small changes in our lives to turn the tide of plastic pollution for a cleaner world and healthier ecosystems. Rolsky is a PhD candidate in the Biodesign Institute's Center for Environmental Health Engineering.

Rolsky's talk is part of the ASU KEDtalks series. Short for Knowledge Enterprise Development talks, KEDtalks aim to spark ideas, indulge curiosity and inspire action by highlighting ASU scientists, humanists, social scientists and artists who are driven to find solutions to the universe’s grandest challenges. Tune in to research.asu.edu/kedtalks to discover more.

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ASU ranked top in US, 5th in world pursuit of UN sustainability goals

ASU Now | April 22, 2020

Arizona State University ranks top in the U.S. and fifth in the world out of 766 institutions in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The global ranking is a jump from last year’s 35th place.

In the annual rankings published by Times Higher Education magazine, ASU scored 96.3 out of 100 points. It was the top American university in the rankings. Only three American universities placed in the top 100. ASU beat the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Penn State.

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Zero greenhouse gas emissions earns ASU the AASHE Platinum rating

ASU Now | April 22, 2020

Thirteen years ago, Arizona State University made the pioneering promise to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from its campus operations by the year 2025. But on June 30, 2019, the university accomplished that goal, six years ahead of schedule. This remarkable achievement—completed even as ASU’s student population ballooned—was one of many initiatives that earned the university the prestigious STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) Platinum sustainability rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

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After 50 years of Earth Day, ASU environmental experts see shift to grassroots activism

ASU Now | April 21, 2020

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, attitudes in the United States concerning environmentalism have gradually evolved from a focus on addressing pollution to a focus on protecting and nurturing our ecosystems. And as that transformation has taken place over the decades, two Arizona State University professors have been there to witness it all.

Joni Adamson, the President's Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Department of English and director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and Paul Hirt, a professor of history specializing in the American West, environmental history and policy and sustainability studies, shared their thoughts on how the country’s attitude toward saving the planet changed in an interview with ASU Now. Both Adamson and Hirt acknowledged that there’s been a shift in focus each decade, including in Arizona:

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Celebrate ASU Earth Month while social distancing

April 12, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic may have upended life as we know it, but there are a few things that haven’t changed, like the fact that it’s currently Earth Month at Arizona State University. To mark the occasion, Siobhan Lyon and Emmery Ledin, two members on the sustainability committee of the ASU staff council created the Earth Month Learning Series, a sequence of online discussions that are a part of ASU’s recognition of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

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