News and Highlights
May 4, 2017
iUTAH researchers Scott Jones and Simon Wang were asked how much recent snowfalls might contribute to raising the Great Salt Lake. Here’s what they had to say to reporter Leia Larsen, in an excerpt from the April 21 article in the Standard Examiner:
“Snowpack levels in the river basins feeding Utah’s largest terminal lake hit between 157 percent and 172 percent of normal by March. The snowy winter followed four years of drought. Water levels in the Great Salt Lake dropped to near-record lows while raising concerns about impacts on air quality, migrating birds and the future of lake-based businesses. As of last week, the Great Salt Lake’s south arm sat at nearly 4,195 feet, nearly a foot higher than the same time last year. Meanwhile, the top of Logan Canyon — part of the Bear River Basin — had 9.5 feet of snow and the equivalent of around five feet of water, a positive sign that the lake could continue to rise.
‘What does the Great Salt Lake mean? It’s kind of an indicator of what’s going on around it,’ said Scott Jones, a professor of environmental soil physics at Utah State University, during a recent snow survey. ‘We have wet years and dry years, and the Great Salt Lake shows to some degree when those happen.’
USU’s Utah Climate Center has taken historical data of the lake levels along with tree-ring data to model the lake’s fluctuating levels going back hundreds of years. Combing that with historical coral data from the Pacific, they’re able to make predictions on when the lake will rise and fall. That helps water managers prepare for future years of drought and surplus. ‘By predicting lake level, you’re predicting climate,’ said Simon Wang with the Utah Climate Center.”
The article also included Great Salt Lake water level and predictions for the future, and even a photo of iUTAH’s ‘Gradients Along Mountain to Urban Transitions’ GAMUT climate station located in the T.W. Daniel Experimental Forest above Logan Canyon.
May 3, 2017
iUTAH researcher Dan Bedford was featured in a recent news story titled “Weber State professors respond to climate misinformation spun by recent book.” The article appeared in the April 24 edition of the Standard Examiner. Bedford was one of three faculty members asked to respond to a book questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. Here’s a short excerpt below:
“The book, titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” was published by the Heartland Institute. It claims what its title suggests, despite the fact that 90 to 100 percent of climate scientists agree climate change is real, human-caused and warming the planet at an alarming rate. The Heartland Institute is a nonprofit think tank with funding ties to fossil fuel industries…. The book attempts to debunk studies finding consensus among scientists about human-caused climate change and discredit findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
Dan Bedford, a geography professor at Weber State, also received a copy of the Heartland Institute book. ‘My reaction to seeing this book is rather mixed,’ he said. ‘On the one hand, the whole idea of disseminating misinformation on a large scale about any scientific topic … that’s fundamentally problematic. I was upset about that.’ ”
May 2, 2017
iUTAH data manager Amber Jones gave a presentation at the biannual Bear River Commission Water Quality Committee meeting held in Salt Lake City on April 10. In attendance were leadership and personnel from water quality agencies in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, including state and federal offices, private interest groups, and public utilities, focused on the Bear River Basin. The committee was interested in learning about iUTAH’s water quality monitoring and research.
The iUTAH project was invited to the meeting because of the committee’s interest in the water quality data collected as part of the ‘Gradients Along Mountain to Urban Transitions’ GAMUT network. Jones discussed GAMUT and the tools, infrastructure, and processes used for data management and quality control. Participants included “scientists, regulators, and interested citizens interested in exchanging information and expertise,” said Jones. “It was an excellent opportunity to interact with water quality professionals and interested parties and to apprise state agencies about the work being done as part of iUTAH. “
Bear River Commission Water Quality Committee meets twice annually as part of its efforts to inform and educate its members on technical and policy expertise regionally in connection with water quality. They also host the Bear River Watershed Information System website.
April 25, 2017
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.
April 24, 2017
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.
April 24, 2017
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.