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It's winter, and as I write this my son Finn's school is closed because the roads are too icy. However, it has been a mild winter with very little snow, and while the roads are icy today, there is only a smattering of snow on the ground. So, I have spent the day at home listening to him putter around our house and reflecting on how winters are changing.


Our group had the opportunity to collaborate on a paper this year exploring how changing winters are impacting water quality. It turns out that as winters warm in snow-covered areas, there are more rain-on-snow events. Rain on snow moves nutrients that are important for plant growth from forests and fields to streams and rivers at a time when aquatic plants and animals are not active and thus cannot absorb them. This means that these nutrients continue to flow downriver and may cause algal blooms and/or dead zones in the Mississippi Delta, which is bad for the environment and human health. Furthermore, the loss of these nutrients from our forests and fields could reduce how much plants can grow in future years and thus impact the productivity of our forests, meadows, streams, and rivers. Changing winters are a problem, and field stations like UMBS can help us better understand and solve it.


While winter is clearly an important season in northern Michigan, UMBS scientists' and students' ability to monitor and measure Michigan winters has been limited because we have very limited winter housing and research capability. Luckily, the University of Michigan Regents and LSA have agreed to help fund new cabins and infrastructure to support winter education and scientific discovery at UMBS. The timing couldn't be better for our research and educational enterprise.


First, we are working to build a top-notch winter research group. We just hired a new scientist, Dr. John Lenters, who has a long-term interest in understanding changing lake temperatures and ice cover. He will be working as part of our terrestrial carbon program and will be able to help us take a deep dive into changing winters in Michigan. Furthermore, the engineering program at UM recently recruited a top-notch Assistant Professor, Dr. Claire Pettersen, who will work at UMBS on atmospheric rivers and snow. Another newcomer, Dr. Carol Adair, who is a Professor at the University of Vermont, has been writing grants to work at UMBS and compare how rain-on-snow events impact aquatic-terrestrial nutrient flow across the US. Each of these groups needs winter housing and facilities to house their teams and conduct their work. I am excited to see us support this work and recruit new scientists — quality year-round facilities will only increase the amount of winter work, and thus science, we can support.


As I have mentioned before, and many of you have experienced, we have an incredible educational program. We know that a field experience can transform a student's life, but our ability to have undergraduate and graduate students interact with UMBS programming has been limited to the spring and summer. 


As you will see in the accompanying newsletter, new year-round cabins will enable us to expand our programming and engage more students and researchers. We are already exploring a future winter ecology short-course and a suite of graduate courses that could leverage UMBS field sites, facilities such as the chem lab, and data.


New, year-round facilities will help us continue to ask the most pressing scientific questions as well as educate students to be the future problem solvers we need them to be. I hope that you are all staying warm wherever you may be.



Dr. Aimée Classen

UMBS Director