Go Ahead, Bring on the Apocalypse: New Virtual Windows Make Fake Nature

Photo: rachellynnae

Photo: rachellynnae

This blog normally focuses on the lakes and a related Environment Report radio show heard in the Saginaw Bay, Michigan, area on Q-90.1 FM.

However, in honor of Dec. 21, 2012, here’s a rant on fake nature. Consider it a little present from me to you. About the present:

This isn’t my idea of natural. It’s a product from Sky Factory: virtual windows and skylights that show computer-generated nature scenes.

I know what they were going for, yes. And these are made with low-energy LEDs, and recycled aluminum for the frames. Great. But creating the outdoors … from inside?!

Here’s my commercial: “Who care’s what’s out there? Dirty skies? Concrete jungles? Zombies? No biggie, just look at your virtual window and skylight and relax.”

Sure, this may make you feel better, like one of those lights for people with the winter blues (aka seasonal affective disorder). Maybe it’s OK for a hospital room.

Still, it’s just creating a false feeling of hope. It’s like watching a news channel that only tells you what you want to hear. Sound familiar?

What’s worse: This idea was recently showcased at Greenbuild 2012, the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building.

Don’t get me wrong. The U.S. Green Building Council, which puts on the expo, has saved tons of coal-fired energy and carbon pollution, and is making buildings better these days.

This is not an example of an improvement in my eyes — ones that would rather look out on a real landscape than a computer-generated one. Geez.

The technology is called eScape, and is advertised as “the new virtual window that displays eight hours of real-time, high-definition nature sequences.” There’s also a skylight version “that creates a sense of openness in otherwise confined spaces.”

Is this kind of fakery actually good for us? Don’t we spend enough time staring into our cell phones? Even books can be electronic. I love you (paper-saving) Kindle, especially reading you in the real outside.

Maybe your feeling on these “windows” depends on where you live, be it the big city or the country?

Now the company claims that this technology uses biophilic design elements, feeding the instinctive need of humans to affiliate with nature.

The company says research by Texas Tech University’s Neuroimaging Institute has shown that “the Sky Factory sky compositions activate areas of the brain not activated by other positive images,” which trigger a relaxation response.

Here’s a better way to stimulate your skull: Get outdoors. Take a walk or bike ride. Bring your significant other, kids, and/or dog.

Has winter got you down? Suit up and take a hike in the woods. Take the kids sledding. Try skiing.

What’s your favorite way to leave the house behind?

Happy End of the World.


Fighting Phragmites by Satellite, Exotic Earthworms, and State of the Great Lake Huron

As heard Dec. 21, 2012, 9 a.m. Eastern on Delta Q-90.1 FM, unless the world ends. 

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

1- A project that used satellites to map Great Lakes wetland may go a long way to help control phragmites.

Towering, invasive plants known as phragmites have sprouted up along shorelines throughout the lakes, including in Saginaw Bay.

The map, created over a three years, shows the locations of large stands of phragmites located within about six miles of the water’s edge throughout the five Great Lakes, according to officials from Michigan Technological University.

Lakes Huron and Erie had the greatest amount of phragmites.

The map is the first of its kind. The lead author, with the Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, says the data will allow resource managers to visualize the extent of the phragmites invasion in the Great Lakes, and strategically plan efforts to manage existing populations and minimize new ones.

What’s more, the map can be used to create models that predict future invasion areas, and target control efforts.

(For more, see the Journal of Great Lakes Research.)

2 – A new State of the Great Lakes report is out, offering a look at water quality and quantity, recovery efforts, and other issues.

The annual report comes from the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, and covers the year 2012.

This year’s State of the Great Lakes report (pdf) focuses on Michigan efforts to improve water quality, best use water resources, fight aquatic invasive species, and restore degraded areas.

Sections detail efforts to protect and restore coastal areas. Experts are featured from estate and federal resource agencies, Michigan Sea Grant, universities, and environmental organizations.

For Lake Huron, the report notes several items:

  • The highest phosphorus concentrations in Lake Huron are in Saginaw Bay, where shoreline beach muck problems have persisted.
  • The lake’s food web has “changed dramatically” in the past decade, and the most productive zones have shifted from offshore to nearshore areas, affecting which fish species dominate the lake.
  • The Nature Conservancy is working to identify watershed-based priorities to help conserve migratory river-spawning fish in the basin.

3 – Earthworms introduced from Europe may be adversely affecting the forested ecosystems of Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County.

That’s according to a study published in the most recent Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management.

The Journal article is on a study involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The study showed that the Shiawassee Refuge had the second-largest mean biomass of exotic earthworms of six Upper Midwestern refuges surveyed.

According to an abstract, the invasion of exotic earthworms into forest of the Upper Midwest region is a concern, because the worms act as ecosystem engineers and can modify existing systems.

Those modifications can degrade habitat used by some migratory birds.

– – – 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Big Phragmites, Lots of Trees, and Great Lakes Gift Ideas

As heard Dec. 7, 2012, @ 9 a.m. Eastern, on Friday Edition, Delta College, Q-90.1 FM

photo phragmites fire

Photos by S. Reynolds and M. Venn



Do you loathe phragmites, the invasive, towering plant that covers shorelines throughout the Great Lakes region?

Well, you might be interested in a new resource from the Great Lakes Commission and U.S. Geological Survey.

It’s a digital hub for phragmites information by the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative (greatlakesphragmites.net).

At the website, there’s an interactive forum where people can share ideas, showcase success stories, and discuss common problems.

Phragmites has become increasingly widespread throughout the Great Lakes region, including Saginaw Bay. The plant “spreads rapidly and can negatively affect biodiversity, impair recreational use, decrease property values and increase fire risk,” officials say.

The site is part of a larger project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is working to develop sustainable phragmites management strategies throughout the Great Lakes basin.

Webinars on phragmites will be archived on the site, along with videos, presentations, management documents and the most up-to-date science and research.


The Au Sable tree drop was a success.

Officials from U.S. Forest Service say an Au Sable River Large Wood Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was completed this fall on a section of the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

A total of 126 trees were placed in the Au Sable River, below the Alcona Dam, using a heavy lift S-61 helicopter.

In total, more than 1,200 trees have been placed along a 10-mile stretch of the river in the past decade. This last round marked the completion of the large-scale restoration effort.

The project was funded by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Huron Pines, a conservation organization in Gaylord, was the primary contractor.

The Au Sable River watershed drains almost 2,000 square miles, flowing into Lake Huron.

The Au Sable channel has been altered in the past by logging and dam construction, officials say.

The trees were placed by helicopter to help restore function and structure to the river’s aquatic habitat.


If you’re looking for gift this holiday season, how about the gift of Great Lakes environmental knowledge?

There’s a Great Lakes Gift Giving Guide that might help.

The guide was developed by the folks at Michigan Sea Grant, a joint program by the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

Some suggestions include a cookbook for local eaters, on selecting and preparing Great Lakes whitefish.

There’s also a tome on the Great Lakes fishery, “examining the management, ecology, history, present and future of the lakes from a regional perspective.”

Another “Guide to Great Lakes Fishes” is waterproof, and describes 62 of the region’s most commonly found species.

There’s a “Lake Huron Rock Picker’s Guide,” too, “for anyone who has walked along a Great Lakes beach, picked up a rock and wondered what it was.”

You can find more ideas online at the Michigan Sea Grant website.


%d bloggers like this: