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Items filtered by date: March 2011
Take advantage of these new resources by registering for the 2011 Summer Institute!

Last week, Education Program Manager, Kristen Poppleton, Media Development Director, Jerry Stenger and I spent the day conducting interviews with 3 University of Minnesota professors, which will be included in the online classroom portion of our Minnesota’s Changing Climate project funded through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Our goal is to provide students with examples of current research being conducted to study climate change throughout Minnesota’s biomes. It was incredibly interesting to speak with these experts and hear firsthand about their current projects and what they have already learned.

Our first interview was with Dr. Jennifer Powers, Assistant Professor in the Plant Biology and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior MNbiomesdepartments. Her current research in Minnesota examines the prairie’s responses to predicted climate warming. This is the first study in which the vegetation is being directly manipulated, through infrared heat lamps directly over the study plots, at 2 levels of warming. The plots also contain different combinations and types of prairie plant species in order to evaluate whether the effects of warming depend on the types of species present. This research will help evaluate how different global change drivers will affect the prairie biome in order to determine how to best manage the existing prairie fragments. Near the conclusion of her interview, Dr. Powers stated that learning how ecosystems respond to climate change is one of the greatest challenges that 21st century scientists face.

Our next interview was with Dr. Lee Frelich, Director of the Center for Forest Ecology, who spoke to us about his research in Minnesota’s boreal forest, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. His research focuses on climate change, disturbances and invasive species. Dr. Frelich emphasized that climate has an important impact on the frequency of forest fires and wind storms as well as the presence of invasive species, so it is important to study these 3 elements together. One of Dr. Frelich’s current studies involves a plot at Hegman Lake in the BWCA where every tree was mapped 10 years ago, which allows him to follow the composition and growth of the forest over time. One observation is that red maple, a deciduous forest species, has been invading the area and increasing in abundance. This means that the coniferous species will have to compete with these new species for a place in the forest in the future. Minnesota’s boreal forest is the biome that will probably leave Minnesota in a warmer climate and bring the plant and animal species found there with it.

Lastly, we interviewed Dr. Sue Galatowitsch, Professor of Restoration Ecology. She began studying climate change in Minnesota because she was interested to find out what would occur in this highly fragmented landscape, where much of the land has become farms or cities, in the middle of a continent. She also wanted to determine what conditions ecosystems in Minnesota would face in the future. Thus, she became involved with the first climate change projections for the state of Minnesota, which predicted a 3°C rise in temperature over the next 30 years. An overall drier climate was also predicted, which would be a climate similar to that of southern Iowa, near the Nebraska border. Based on these projections, it is very likely that the current deciduous forest biome in Minnesota will become prairie in the future. Dr. Galatowitsch stated that it is important for ecosystems to have as many species as possible to make them more resilient in the face of coming changes.

This is just a preview of what was discussed in these extremely informative and engaging interviews. All the information will be integrated into our new online classroom that we are excited to introduce along with our new curriculum resources at the 2011 Summer Institute.  Find more information and apply today on our website!


Published in Climate Lessons
Thursday, 14 April 2011 14:56

What's your favorite carbon calculator?

Helping students to understand how the choices they make have an impact on the planet can be difficult, but in recent years online "carbon calculators" have been developed to help make this concept easier to grasp. There are many different options out there and which one is best really depends on the age of your students and how much work you want them to put into the activity. I have done a short summary of some of the calculators I have come across or have been recommended to me. In general I have stayed away from calculators that only measure things that are out of young people's control, such as airplane flight or knowing the cost of a utility bill. The calculators below give a nice overview of different directions you could take with your class depending on the age of your students or your intended outcomes. If you have a favorite calculator you have used, please share in the comments section below!

EPA Carbon Calculator


This is my favorite calculator, especially for upper elementary through middle school students that don't drive cars,but can make other decisions like turning off the lights, the water, etc.

Carbon Emissions Calculator

This is a simple calculator I really liked because it breaks down your impact into household, transportation and food and then provides a very nice analysis comparing your carbon footprint to the average US citizen and the world. I especially like the food section because it really makes it clear what an impact certain food choices can make.

Tree Benefits Calculator

This calculator allows you to estimate the benefits street side trees provide. You need to input your zip code and information about the tree you have. The outcomes include the benefits of your tree for stormwater, property values, energy, air quality and CO2 mitigation. This one is great because students can measure and identify trees in their schoolyard or at home and input the information to get a general sense of the value of trees from both an economic and ecological standpoint.

Flux calculator

A more comprehensive assessment of how carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus flow through your household.

CO2 Emissions Calculator

This is interactive,and allows you to play around with what things would most offset CO2 emissions, but mostly includes things only adults would be able to change.

Campus Carbon Calculator

Institutional based and for older high school and college students interested in doing a full inventory of their campus.

Zero footprint

Give you the option of offsetting your footprint through a cash donation and explains what they will do and how it will offset. Offset project examples include funding a tire recycling program, landfill gas recovery and forest restoration. Most of the items are applicable for adults, not kids.

Additional Info

  • Topic Changing Behavior
  • Expert Kristen Poppleton, WSF Director of Education
  • Resource Type Blog
Published in Climate Lessons
Tuesday, 05 April 2011 19:11

The Parks Climate Challenge

"One of the most precious values of the national parks is their ability to teach us about ourselves and how we relate to the natural world. This important role may prove invaluable in the near future as we strive to understand and adapt to a changing climate."

NPS Director Jon Jarvis

The above quote headlines the main page of the National Park Service's (NPS) website dedicated to NPS's response to climate change.  A recent collaboration led by the National Park Foundation between five national parks around the country and associated educational institutes, including the Will Steger Foundation, is striving to embody these words.  The collaboration, called the Parks Climate Challenge, invites local teachers to attend professional development opportunities at teacher institutes situated in or close to a national park.  In March 2011 those involved with the Challenge came together at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute to discuss mutual outcomes, how to evaluate our programs, share resources, and lay the groundwork for a shared online resource for teachers.  Although all of the teacher institutes vary in length and specific content due to their local focus, the following outcomes are consistent across.Parks Climate Challenge in the Smoky Mountains

Each teacher institue will:

1) Connect teachers and their students to the national park in their area, and help them understand why parks are important places to learn in and about.

2) Provide teachers with the skills, tools and confidence to implement climate change education in their classrooms and in their local parks.

3) Ask participating teachers to work with their students to develop action plans and projects focused on climate change mitigation that may benefit their national park.

At the Will Steger Foundation, we are working with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and the Mississippi River Fund to provide a cohort of middle school teachers attending our Summer Institute with additional training and grant opportunities.  For more information visit:

For those in other parts of the country please visit:

Headlands Institute (Bay Area, California)

Santa Monica Mountains Institute (Southern California)

North Cascades Institute (Washington State)

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont

Additional Info

  • Topic Minnesota
Published in Climate Lessons