Public Affairs

Comer Conference scientists show global impacts of climate change

By Chris McConaghey
Medill Reports

The glaciers are melting faster, accelerating sea level rise. Ocean currents are changing, altering weather and rainfall that millions of people rely on. And wind patterns are shifting as the climate heats up. These are among the global climate challenges deliberated at the annual Comer Climate Conference in southwestern Wisconsin this fall.

Veteran researchers with some of the most decorated backgrounds in climate science as well as the next generation of researchers gathered to present their findings from Nepal, the North Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the glacial mountains of Uganda, Mongolia and Europe. They came to present findings that can help tackle the troublesome state of our planet with the urgent need to address climate change.

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Northwestern University researchers offer innovative solutions for Chicago’s growing climate challenge

By Selah Holland
Medill Reports

The American Lung Association declared Chicago the 18th most polluted U.S. city, with an ‘F’ rating for ozone pollution on the organization’s annual “State of the Air” report this year. Ozone levels rise with the heat index in summer and Chicago, like many cities, is seeing more heat waves.

This is one indicator that Chicago is facing serious climate change implications, said Northwestern University environmental researchers who are determined to do something about it.

Northwestern’s Climate Change Research Group (CCRG) leader  Daniel Horton and researcher Irene Crisologo presented a climate action plan — Systems Approaches for Vulnerable Evaluation and Urban Resilience (SAVEUR) — to area residents in Evanston recently. An audience of more than 75 people learned about their plan and why it’s critically urgent. Continue reading

Khumbu Glacier in Nepal offers clues to rapid glacial retreat

By Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

University of Maine research suggests that the Khumbu Glacier in the Himalayas retreated rapidly in the past, offering clues to how the glacier will behave in the future.

Laura Mattas, a master’s student at the University of Maine, conducted field research this summer on the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal. She presented her research this fall at the Comer Climate Conference, an annual meeting in Wisconsin of climate scientists from across the country.

According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, glaciers globally are retreating at “unprecedented rates.” A glacier can retreat by shortening in length or by thinning. In the Khumbu Valley, Mattas and her colleagues found moraines, which are rock and other sediment that were inside, on top of or below a glacier and that were altered by the glacier. The location of the moraines indicated that the glacier retreated quickly at some point since the last ice age. Mattas said that the glacier is able to undergo a “large and rapid change,” which means that it may also change rapidly in the future.

“If that’s the case, that’s a lot of meltwater that’s flowing down valley,,” she said. “Who knows if there’s the infrastructure to deal with” the surge. Continue reading

Scott Travis: On call for farm, foundation and science

By Chris McConaghey
Medill Reports

Scott Travis didn’t know what to expect when he put in an application to work for Lands’ End clothing company in 1987. He was 32 years old then and got the position.

During that time, he had several opportunities to meet and talk with the late Gary Comer – founder and owner of Lands’ Ends – and was promoted from the sales and packaging department to eventually becoming a safety manager of the plant in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

Comer never forgot those conversations. Six years later, Travis got a call from the boss asking if he wanted to help build and manage a new corporate retreat to host meetings and conferences for business leaders across the globe in southwestern Wisconsin.

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Greenland ‘ice tongue’ at risk of melting away — again

By Zack Fishman
Medill Reports

A 30-mile-long strip of sea ice in northwest Greenland, once thought to be a permanent structure, didn’t exist until 2,000 years ago, according to newly published research from researchers at Oregon State University. The findings suggest that some of the Arctic may melt more quickly in today’s warming climate than previously expected.

The sea ice, known as the Petermann ice tongue, stretches across a narrow valley where the large Petermann Glacier meets the Arctic Ocean. The ice tongue captured media attention in 2010 and 2012 when enormous icebergs, each many times larger than Manhattan Island, broke off into the ocean. New fractures spotted this year threaten to shrink the ice tongue to its smallest size in modern history. Continue reading

Jeff Sessions prompts protests as he speaks at Northwestern

By Nicole Stock
Medill Reports

Huddled outside a performance hall on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus Nov. 5, a group of students banged on the glass panes of the wooden door at Lutkin Hall.

“F…k Jeff Sessions!” they chanted, pounding their fists. Many students and community members gathered to protest the invitee of the campus’ college Republicans group, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Sessions, 72, spoke at 7 p.m. on “The Real Meaning of the Trump Agenda,” according to the Northwestern University College Republican’s advertisement for the event. 

Trump fired Sessions a year after the attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation of the President that Trump hoped Sessions would oversee.   
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Recent vaping perceptions are more than just smoke and mirrors

By Annie Krall
Medill Reports

llinois now holds the title for the highest number of patients with vaping related illnesses in the country, according to a recent report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Over 900 cases of vaping induced lung disease have been reported in the United States as of Sept. 20. Illinois was home to 82 of those cases—mostly among teenagers.

The use of e-cigarettes to smoke nicotine or THC inspired conversation in Chicago, and recent research released may reveal what people really think about vaping and the danger it can cause.

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The ancient art of henna: Immigrant women create couture designs for a new generation of customers

By Madhurita Goswami
Medill Reports

Twenty-four-year-old Juna Syakya can draw intricate flowers or butterflies on your hands with her henna cone in less than 20 minutes. Mehndi, or henna, is a form of body art that uses a plant-based dye and Syakya brings the ancient art form to the Deeba Beauty Salon on Devon Avenue where she works.

The plant, Lawsonia inermis, grows in hot climates. Its leaves, flowers and twigs contain tannins, which are natural dyes used across the ages to create the intricate lace-like designs of henna.
“Henna is best for people who don’t want permanent tattoos. Also, it doesn’t cause infections and is way cheaper,” said Syakya’s colleague, Farzana Mirza, who is from Pakistan.

Heeba Khan draws a floral pattern for a customer. (Madhurita Goswami)

Traditionally, henna artists have been women and only women would get henna on their hands and feet. Costs range from $10-$40 depending on the area covered. Usually, henna gets washed away in less than 10 days. The dye doesn’t penetrate the skin and is safe.

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Open House Chicago brings visitors inside Chicago’s skyline icons

By Nicole Stock
Medill Reports

Tourists and locals alike enjoy the vista of Chicago’s skyline,  often lauded as one of the most beautiful in the country.

But for one weekend in fall, Open House Chicago let’s people see the skyline from the inside out. This annual tradition benefits both visitors and the building owners, as it shows people the interiors  of the buildings in and around the city that they so often just bustle past.  

Susan Bedard, assistant chair of House and Grounds for the Women’s Center in Evanston, one of the places participating in the weekends event, said that the open house gives the community a chance to look inside the buildings they often wonder about, but don’t get a chance to stop in.

The Women’s Club of Evanston at Chicago Avenue and Church Street. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

“It’s very gratifying to see so many people who are interested in seeing inside this really lovely building,” Bedard said. “They’re curious – it’s an unusual building type that you don’t see so much anymore” 

Bedard explained that volunteers greet every visitor, give a short tour, and then invite them to explore the building. Though many only stay inside for 10 minutes or so, some visitors walk away with plans to use the space as a wedding venue, or even leave inquiring about membership, Bedard said.  

Just a few blocks down the street, at the gin and whiskey distillery Few Spirits, 918 Chicago Ave, Evanston, Katherine Loftus greeted guests at the business for the fourth time.  

Loftus, who describes herself as “the girl of all things at Few,” became  involved with the collaboration between the distillery and Open House Chicago once the event  started including Evanston locations. Every year, this building draws in about 1,000 visitors, she said. 

”it’s interesting to see how people plot out their plans for Open House Chicago, doing it mostly, from what we hear, is area of the city by area of the city,” Loftus said.

It’s not just Chicagoland residents stopping by, she added, noting that tourists  from neighboring cities such as Minneapolis and Milwaukee often make the trek. And sometimes, visitors come from even farther away. 

“We had a couple from Switzerland that comes to Chicago for every Open House Chicago weekend because they just want that to be part of their tourism experience,” Loftus said. 

Katherine Loftus speaks in the tasting room at Few Distillery. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

Open House Chicago is organized by the Chicago Architecture Center. The event launched in 2011 and has featured over 650 unique sites since.

“The most salient impacts are that about 60% of our audience tell us that, each year in OHC, they visit a neighborhood they’ve never been to before,” said Eric Rogers, manager of Open House Chicago and Community Outreach,

Citing a survey following last years’ event, Rogers added that “93% of attendees who identify as Chicagoans tell us that the event makes them proud to be Chicagoans.” 

Above all, Bedard said the event is a way to foster awareness of the architecture and organizations in the Chicago area. 

“We’re trying to be involved with the community and one of the things about Open House Chicago that I think is great is it’s a chance for us to just say ‘come in,’ see who we are, see what we’re about, hear about us,” Bedard said. “That’s what we’re here for, for the community.” 

Although the next Chicago Open House won’t happen until October 2020, the Chicago Architecture Center hosts events and architectural tours throughout the year, including a gingerbread making festivity on Dec. 7. More information can be found here.

Photo at top: A sign for Open House Chicago directs visitors at the Women’s Club of Evanston. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

Rapid glacial melt near Mount Everest peaks threatens Nepali communities

By Elena Bruess
Medill Reports

Near the peaks of Mount Everest – towering some 5.6 miles above sea level – the ancient Khumbu Glacier is melting.

Never before in the last 70 years has the massive ice rock melted more quickly than it is now. It is losing thickness at an unprecedented rate – about 131 feet in the last 10 to 15 years, to be exact. And the Nepali communities surrounding the Khumbu are feeling the consequences.

The impact of the depleted glacier could eventually reduce access to freshwater for these areas and could hinder Nepali guides who are dependent on the tourism from Mount Everest.

Rapidly melting glaciers result in floods or, as geoscientist Jeff Severinghaus calls it “a glacial lake outburst flood” – a gradual accumulation of meltwater from a receding glacier which often forms a lake in the space previously occupied by the glacier.

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