Muskegon Lake Cleanup & When Science Meets Art

  • Watershed Monotype 05 / Leslie Sobel

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Muskegon Lake is on a list of polluted hot spots around the Great Lakes called Areas of Concern. It made that list because of decades of industrial pollution.

Richard Rediske is a professor of water resources at Grand Valley State University. He says the last phase of cleanup is underway. The next step will be to improve habitat for fish and wildlife.

Rediske is working on projects to restore wetlands and remove debris at an old sawmill site. He says he expects it’ll take another five years to get Muskegon Lake off the Areas of Concern list. It was listed in 1985… so, getting the lake cleaned up and restored will end up taking more than three decades.

“That’s pretty much typical. White Lake to the north of us is actually going to be delisted this year so they’re a little ahead of us. It takes a long time to assess the problems and then fix them.”

Michigan has 14 Areas of Concern.

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This is the Environment Report.

At a lot of universities, the sciences are housed on one part of campus, the arts on another. But the two sides will have a chance to intersect this week, when the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan opens its first art gallery. Jennifer Guerra has more:

I have in my hand a beautiful survey map of the Mississippi River from the 1940s. The map is made up of these endless spaghetti swirls of pink and green and blue lines.

Now, what do you get when you combine this colorful survey maps with recent satellite images of the River from when it flooded last spring?

Well, for artist Leslie Sobel – you get a little thing called inspiration:

“I got fascinated by these images. And then I started trying to paint my emotion, capturing what was physically happening, but also trying to be more of a painter about it; more brushy.”

The paintings in what she calls her WATERSHED series will be on display at the new Art and Environment Gallery.

The images evoke water and movement, but like all good works of art, interpretation is up to the viewer. Like this deep, dark red, river-shaped S that dominates one of Sobel paintings. She describes it as “this giant swath of red becoming almost a monster.”

And here’s how ecologist Sara Adlerstein sees the deep, dark red S:

“I see the veins in the red, and I see the danger. I know how threatened these environments are because they’re closer to humans than the large ocean.”

Most of us live closer to rivers than to other bodies of water, so Adlerstein says we have more opportunities to harm them.

Adlerstein – who’s not only a research scientist, but also an artist – is the one curating the new gallery. When it comes to environmental issues, she says scientists need to be able to communicate with people outside of their field:

“If you’re not able to communicate to the general public, then your work is not all that relevant. So I’ve been exploring to do that through art; I think art speaks to the heart. With an image you can communicate directly to the heart and make people think about how to educate themselves if they’re interested in the issues.”

She hopes the new gallery will show scientists and students that charts and pie graphs aren’t the only way to share their research. Sometimes, a deep, dark red river-shaped S can say volumes.

For the Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Guerra.

The Art and Environment gallery opens in the School of Natural Resources and Environment building on Thursday, February 16th at 4 p.m.