Sustainability

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Casey Huckins, Biological Sciences
Colin Brooks, MTRI

Science, Systems, and Solutions

Helping communities eliminate invasive species means we get into the weeds. Casey Huckins and Colin Brooks work together in the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw Waterway, inland lakes of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and Les Cheneaux Islands within the Straits of Mackinac, where Eurasian Watermilfoil has spread. The invader alters ecosystems, chokes local waterways, and has stymied tourism that drives the area's economy.

Brooks has a solution up in the air—he flies a modified hexacopter to do Eurasian Watermilfoil surveys.

His hexacopter is an efficient and reliable tool for field mapping an 800-acre area. The nuance of drone footage feeds back into the satellite data, and Brooks is developing methods to see milfoil from space. Specifically, he is using spectrometer data to discern different signatures of plants from reflected light that returns from earth to the atmosphere. Milfoil has a distinct—and very green—fingerprint in reflectance data.

Huckins is the lead researcher for several milfoil projects funded by the EPA and Michigan Department of Natural Resources that focus more generally on the northern Great Lakes.

He thinks of Eurasian Watermilfoil as a potential disturbance to the native ecosystem—knowing that “controlling it like a weed” is a common management technique. However, aquatic plants and especially native ones can be vital to aquatic ecosystems.

Understanding the physical and ecological needs and impacts of milfoil is important and will help determine the best treatments and predict where invasive milfoil might spread next.

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Nancy Langston, Social Sciences
Richelle Winkler, Social Sciences

Who We Are and Where We Go

All that remains of the ancient Sicilian city Kamarina is an allegory. Once bordered by a swamp that was drained because of a plague, their enemies invaded over the dry former swamp and ravaged the city.

Nancy Langston sees how allegories like Kamarina inform how we understand nature and the environment—how degradation and damage can be turned into restoration with the wisdom we have gained and the environmental policy we subsequently develop.

Her most recent book project asks: What can we learn from the recoveries around Lake Superior over the past century, as we face new interconnected challenges from climate change, synthetic chemicals, and forest change? Yale University Press will publish Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World this fall.

While Langston looks as our surroundings, Richelle Winkler observes how we uproot ourselves from those surroundings and what that means for society and culture. Armed with a wealth of data, Winkler and her team have produced a website—netmigration.wisc.edu—where anyone can generate a map of migration by US county, sorted by race, gender, age, or Hispanic origin.

These two researchers work to bring knowledge together, from lessons learned in the past and present to data for decisions on the future. Their work ensures stories like Kamarina remain cautionary rather than a prediction for the future.

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Tim Scarlett, Social Sciences

It wasn't a door to anything in particular anymore. Rusted, warped, with cracks repaired some time in the distant past, the old iron stove door was dug from the ground near the old settlement of Clifton on the Keweenaw Peninsula. For Tim Scarlett, behind this door is a story, one that connects physical objects to their environment. More than anything, however, objects like the stove door tell a uniquely human story. From this door Scarlett is able to pull details like the stove's expense, where it was probably installed, and how it came to have parts of it in a field.

The past they study physically and philosophically connects people with each other and their surroundings. Ultimately, that means the industrial archaeologist has to be a bit of an intellectual dilettante, bringing together knowledge from a variety of fields to build wisdom, but it also requires being aware of what there is to know, what knowledge there can be.

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