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April 25, 2017

Mystery of the Missing Mercury at the Great Salt Lake

Westminster College and iUTAH researcher Frank Black has been in the news for his contributions to research on the changes in the toxic methylmercury levels in deep waters of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, between 2010 and 2015. The story, conducted in collaboration with a team of 10 scientists from the University of Utah, Westminster College, and Utah Department of Natural Resources, came out in a paper published April 12 in Environmental Science & Technology.

 

A media release provided by the University of Utah’s science writer Paul Gabrielsen said the “disappearance of the mercury was not due to aggressive environmental policies or a wide-ranging cleanup effort. Instead, it’s part of a story involving a large-scale unplanned chemistry experiment, a sometimes-stinky lake, and ducks – in which the mercury did not disappear…. A Union Pacific railway line crosses the lake, dividing it into a smaller north arm and a larger south arm, with the line drawn right at the base of the bunny-ear-like northern extensions of the lake. Because the north arm has no major river inflow, it’s much saltier than the south arm. Two culverts in the railroad line allowed briny north arm water to flow into the south arm and, because of its higher density, sink to the bottom of the south arm.”

 

“The difference in density between the deep and shallow waters prevented mixing, says (University of Utah) geology and geophysics professor William Johnson, and kept fresh oxygen from infiltrating into the deeper water layers. Decaying organic matter on the lake floor sucked all the oxygen out of the briny layer, forcing microorganisms to find something else to “breathe.” Without oxygen, some bacteria turn to nitrate to fuel the chemical processes of life. When the nitrate is gone, they turn to iron, manganese, and finally sulfate. Residents of the Salt Lake Valley may have noticed a byproduct of the sulfate-breathing bacteria – sulfide, a stinky rotten egg smell emanating from the lake. In another side effect, the bacteria turn elemental mercury into toxic methylmercury.”

 

Research on this study was funded by iUTAH through two Research Catalyst Grants in 2014 and 2017. Black’s current funding award builds upon his earlier work on the Great Salt Lake by examining wildfire ash and GSL dust as sources of heavy metals to Utah’s aquatic ecosystems. RCG funding supports a collaborative culture of multi-institutional research, encouraging primarily undergraduate institutions such as Westminster College, to involve themselves and their students in current science research. Chris Mansfield, a recent graduate of Westminster College and one of Black’s students, was involved in the team that published the study.

 

The study can be found in its entirety here.

 

Press: UNews | Phys.org | Science Newsline

 

The Union Pacific causeway separates the blue south arm (left) and the purple north arm (right) of the Great Salt Lake. Credit UNews.

 

 

April 24, 2017

Former iFellow Kari Norman receives prestigious NSF fellowship

Kari Norman was one of eight Utah State University scholars selected for a 2017 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. In 2013, Norman participated in iUTAH’s iFellows program, which places undergraduate students in the laboratories of iUTAH project scientists to gain first-hand research experience. She worked directly with iUTAH mentor Sarah Null, of USU, during her 11-week with the program.

 

While at USU, Norman also worked on biodiversity maps of bird species in North America with the Undergraduate Research Fellow program in USU’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies. She said of her experience working on the biodiversity data that maps “inform both research and governmental organizations about where the most important areas are to conserve. We want to conserve the areas with the highest number of species.”

 

Norman, a 2016 graduate in mathematics, statistics and wildland resources, studied the effects of climate change on Uinta ground squirrels with USU Wildland Resources faculty mentor Lise Aubry. She is currently a doctoral student at University of California, Berkeley in the Environmental Science, Policy and Management department, and is interested in how people make conservation decisions; specifically the metrics used to determine places most important to conserve and how those metrics change over space and time.

 

Press: Utah State Today | Deseret News

 

Kari Norman, 2017 NSF GRF recipient, USU graduate at 2013 iUTAH iFellow. Credit USU Office of Research and Graduate Studies

 

 

April 24, 2017

Student Reports on Water for UPR Radio

Julie Kelso, Utah State University PhD candidate and iUTAH Graduate Research Assistant, can be found on the airwaves these days, talking science and specifically water issues with area experts. Kelso is one of two students who received an internship, funded by USU’s Ecology Center to gain hands-on experience in science communications by working with Utah Public Radio. As a researcher, Kelso studies the effects of human development on nutrient and carbon cycling in rivers of northeast Utah with faculty mentor Michelle Baker. She has been working with the iUTAH project for over four years, helping to further research and understanding of Utah’s water systems physically, biologically, and as a social system. Kelso says that she “got started in radio because I wanted to get a better idea of how science in translated to the general public.”

 

“I also wanted to experience immediate feedback from the public on scientific stories,” said Kelso. “That is what I like most about science journalism. Also, I get to talk to all kinds of people about all kinds of science and natural resources management decisions.”

 

Kelso’s first story as a science reporter for UPR involved interviewing Brian McInerny from the National Weather Service about snow hydrology and predicting spring runoff from melting snow. She has also produced stories on spring flooding in northern Utah and iUTAH researcher Jeff Horsburgh’s metering and water conservation efforts in Utah. She also plans to explore Rocky Mountain Power’s plans for alterations to the Bear River. This series is an excellent example of science communications in action and engagement of the general public in the water-related science happening around the state. We look forward to hearing more stories from Julie in the future as she continues to produce science stories on UPR for Utah listeners.

 

Press: Utah Public Radio: Snow Hydrology | Flooding in Northern Utah | Water Data and Conservation

 

  

 
Left: Julie Kelso, science reporter at Utah Public Radio. Right: Kelso studying nutrient and carbon cycling in the rivers of northeast Utah. Credit Julie Kelso

 

 

April 14, 2017

iUTAH Donates 235 Water Books to Area Libraries

Award winning author Nancy Bo Flood will be in Utah May 1 – 12 for the 2017 Utah Water Week’s celebration of books on water. Credit Nancy Bo Flood.

Each year in early May, Utah dedicates a week to public awareness and involvement in water issues, both locally and globally. This year, iUTAH is partnering with the Intermountain Section of the American Water Works Association (IMS-AWWA) in celebration of 2017 Utah Water Week (UWW) on May 7-13. Among the events and activities taking place, UWW brings water-related books, and occasionally their authors, to local libraries and schools across the state. This year, the award-winning Water Runs Through This Book is one of two UWW Library Books that have been chosen to educate people on the importance and scarcity of water. The production of Water Runs Through This Book by Nancy Bo Flood was supported by iUTAH to strengthen and promote an inclusive, diverse, water-wise community in Utah. Copies of the book are being donated to 210 libraries in Utah, and 25 libraries in southern Idaho.

 

Ellen Eiriksson, iUTAH Education, Outreach and Diversity Coordinator, said “iUTAH is thrilled to bring author Nancy Bo Flood back to Utah to help celebrate Utah Water Week and to be partnering with a variety of community, institutional, and education partners across the state, to share the book's view of water.” A partial list of the libraries and schools Bo Flood will visit throughout Utah include:

 

  • Emery and Grand County, UT– May 2 - 5
  • Weber County Libraries – May 9 - 10
  • North Logan Library, North Logan UT– May 10, 7 p.m.
  • Edith Bowen Laboratory School – May 11
  • Logan Library, Logan UT– May 12, 3 p.m.

 

“This book captures the spirit of our connection to water, while also addressing and celebrating the different ways people worldwide interact with this resource,” said Eiriksson. “Nancy will be bringing this discussion to audiences state-wide, asking people to reflect on and celebrate their connection to water, while also examining on how we can be better stewards of it.” Bo Flood will also speak at the Water Education Awards Banquet honoring the winners of the Utah Division of Water Resources Young Artists Poster Contest, an event attended by 4th grade students from around the state, and their families, and teachers.

 

"I have been a professional in environmental education since 1972 and have seen many water education books,” said Barbara Middleton, Friends of the North Logan Library board member. “What I like about this book is the international focus, the images and the succinct clarity of how water runs through our lives."

 

iUTAH’s partner, Utah Water Watch, will present various citizen science opportunities for water quality monitoring throughout the state during Water Week. Please check out the 2017 Utah Water Week website for a complete list of activities and events.

 

 

 

An earlier visit to Utah by Nancy Bo Flood with the Taking Learning Outdoors program for educators, coordinated through the Natural History Museum of Utah and supported by iUTAH. Credit: Natural History Museum of Utah

 

 

April 14, 2017

Broader Impacts Forum Brings Attendees Together from across the State

iUTAH held its Spring All-Hands Meeting as part of a larger Broader Impacts forum and workshops on March 31 in Salt Lake City UT. The event was hosted in partnership with Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Utah, and included over 100 attendees from 9 institutions across the state involved in conversation to expand broader impacts work in Utah.

 

The forum began with opening remarks from Cynthia Furse, associate vice president for research at University of Utah, and Michelle Baker, project director at iUTAH. The morning session continued with keynotes and panel discussions. Speaker Susan Renoe, National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI) chair, summarized the event by saying that “Broader Impacts is a vital part of the NSF review process, and high-quality broader impacts plans can make the difference between receiving funding or not.” Other keynote speakers, panelists, and workshop facilitators who shared their expertise, include Chinweike Eseonu, Yusuf Jameel, Nalini M. Nadkarni, Michael D. Shapiro, Louisa A. Stark, Cynthia M. Furse, Nancy J. Huntly, Mark W. Brunson, and Andreas Leidolf.

 

“iUTAH’s educational programming is a model for others to follow,” said Renoe. “I was completely impressed by the depth and breadth of educational programming offered. iUTAH has programs that engage teachers, students, adult learners, public radio, and more.”

 

When asked about his impressions of the forum, keynote speaker, Chinweike Eseonu, assistant professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University said “the event was a very candid discussion of the personal and institutional challenges researchers face in identifying and communicating how our work potentially or actually benefits folks within and outside our institutions.”

 

“I was impressed by the depth and range of work through iUTAH and by how centers on campus translate abstract research concepts to tangible and accessible material for school children or non-subject matter expert adults,” said Eseonu. “I left feeling energized and look forward to applying lessons learned in my work.”

 

The iUTAH community will reconvene on July 13 – 14 in Logan for the iUTAH Summer Symposium, a celebration of five years of research, training, education, and outreach for Utah’s Water Future. For those of you that attended this forum, we ask you to fill out a short, 3-minute survey.

 

 

  
  

Broader Impacts forum and workshops on March 31 in Salt Lake City UT. Credit: UU Office of Undergraduate Research

 

 

April 5, 2017

What Climate Change Means for Leaf Litter

University of Utah and iUTAH researcher Jennifer J. Follstad Shah has been in the news for her contributions to research on leaf litter breakdown in streams and rivers, conducted in collaboration with a team of 15 scientists in the U.S. and Europe. The study “Global synthesis of the temperature sensitivity of leaf litter breakdown in streams and rivers” was published Feb. 28 in Global Change Biology.

 

An excerpt from the Phy.org story said “carbon dioxide coming from some of Earth's tiniest residents may not be increasing as quickly as some believed in the face of global climate change. Streams and rivers are home to insects, bacteria and fungi that consume plant litter, including fallen leaves, and break it into smaller pieces. This type of litter is good for streams and rivers because it helps remove toxins. As leaf litter is consumed, insects and microbes get oxygen, convert nutrients into energy and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This process is what scientists call leaf litter decay.”

 

“The process is not as obvious as the melting of ice caps and impacts on a charismatic creature like the polar bear, but it is an important indicator of global climate change,“ Follstad Shah said, and one that has implications for values used in climate change models. “There is still a lot about the carbon cycle we don’t understand,” she said. “Understanding the temperature sensitivity of ecosystem processes that govern carbon cycling is imperative as global temperatures rise.”

 

Jennifer is currently working with data samples from seven iUTAH GAMUT sites along the Logan, Red Butte, and Provo rivers. While the data in this study does not come from the GAMUT sites, she says that it does relate since the results from both studies can be used towards developing indicators of stream health. Data and analysis from her GAMUT site studies will be available later this year.

 

Led by the Follstad Shah, the full study is available here.

 

Press: PHYS.ORG | Science Daily | UU News | Youth Health Magazine

 

 

Leaf skeleton with invertebrates, location unknown. Credit: Walter Dodds