Monika Lawrence's Portfolio
climate chamber, peat, Marcell Experimental Forest, SPRUCE, spruce, climate change, research, experiment,  environment

Ten futuristic looking climate chambers rise from a five thousand year old peatland in the Marcell Experimental Forest north of Grand Rapids. They are built around fifty-year old spruces and a ground cover mat of Labrador tea and blueberry shrubs. With five levels of imitated climate change, with warming (from 0 to +9 °C, in 2.25 °C increments) and two levels of CO2 (ambient, ≈400 ppm; elevated, ≈900 ppm), the experiment tries to anticipate possible effects on the environment exposed to a changing climate. Numerous instruments above and underground measure alterations in the vegetation over a period of 10 years. First studies indicate that peatland vegetation responds to higher temperatures with an earlier and longer growth period which can lead to an effect where pollinators are out-of-sync with their host plants. The Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) study is a unique ecosystem-scale experiment operated by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

wildfires, drought, smoke, air pollution, health hazard, air quality, Minnesota

The eerie beauty of smoke and fog: during the summer of 2021, large portions of Minnesota experienced dangerously bad air quality over unusually long times. The pollution came from large wildfires in western states of the US, in Canada, and in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. While the wildfires were fueled by extremely hot weather and exceptional ongoing droughts, unusual weather and wind patterns as well as a lack of rain in Minnesota contributed to conditions posing a health hazard to more than typically vulnerable populations. Usual outdoor summer activities have become suddenly risky as climate change begins to affect everyday life.

bore hole, test tubes, test drilling, oil spill, crude oil, Minnesota, contamination, water table

Well documented. Near Bemidji, MN. Test boreholes reach down to the water table to monitor the flow of contamination by petroleum hydrocarbons after a pipeline rupture northwest of Bemidji in 1978 released 10,000 barrels of crude oil. Each year, hundreds of scientists from across the US and the world study the effects of the accident at the now formally-named National Crude Oil Spill Research Site. Even today, almost no vegetation grows in the immediate spray zone because the oil- contaminated surface repels water.

wagons, grafitti, sky, Minnesota, Bemidji, George Floyd, Hardell Sherrell

Heavy load: The death of George Floyd lead to protests against racism across the world. While the names of many victims of police violence are known, even more are not. Hardell Sherrell was a young black man who died while in police custody in Bemidji in 2018. Jail guards and even medical providers believed the 27-year-old inmate was faking paralysis despite his pleas for help. Only after his mother Del Shea Perry waged a long fight with the justice system, the investigation into his death was re-opened in 2020. A pathologist found that Sherrell died from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a treatable condition that attacks the nervous system causing paralysis. Perry filed a federal law suit for the death of her son. Bemidji, Minn. July 5, 2020

Sugar Point, Sugar Point Powwow Ground, powwow, Indian War, Chippewa, Pillager, Ojibwe, Bag-O-Nay-Ge-Shig, Minnesota

Still dancing. Sugar Point, MN. Two steamships loaded with soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry, US Marshalls, and local reporters left Walker, MN on October 5, 1898, and headed over Leech Lake towards Sugar Point, home of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians, to apprehend Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig. The Pillager elder had protested unfair logging practices on tribal land. Companies often underestimated the value of dead-and-down timber harvested or even set fire to forests to declare them dead wood. He also experienced the ‘bootlegging’ scheme where Native Americans were arrested for minor reasons (or none at all), sent to court several hundred miles away, and then released for insufficient evidence without any help to get back home. This time, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig called for help from his village and escaped. Wanted notices were issued and about 80 soldiers from Fort Snelling (today’s Minneapolis) soon followed, leading to what is considered the last Indian War. The one-day standoff ended with six dead soldiers and no losses on the Pillagers’ side. Based on false reporting, rumors of an ‘Indian Uprising’ soon caused a panic in the region’s towns. President McKinley fully pardoned all Chippewa people involved in the events surrounding the battle after a hearing of the Pillagers’ grievances and investigations into the logging companies’ corruption. A reform of the reservation’s forest management led to the establishment of a state forest reserve in 1902, eventually becoming the Chippewa National Forest in 1928.

Bemidji, Minnesota, Mississippi river, bridge, Ojibwe, Ojibwe language, historical site, burial ground, sacred place

Anishinaabe Ikwe – Ojibwe woman. Bemidji, MN. The young Mississippi River in northern Minnesota flows from Lake Irving into Lake Bemidji, still heading north before it turns south on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The shoreline in this area had been sacred burial ground for Lakota and later also Ojibwe people for several centuries before Europeans began to settle there in the late 19th century. Despite the uncovering of skeletal remains of 22 people during construction work for a shop in 1988, today most of the site is paved over for parking lots, commercial buildings, and several bridges. Nothing indicates a burial site.

Lost Forty, forest, old growth forest, Minnesota, Chippewa National Forest, pines

Roughly 61% of Minnesota was covered in forests before European settlement. Today, forested areas represent about 34%. After fueling the economy through cutting down the oldest and largest trees by the 1930s, only a very small fraction of about 2% of all forested areas today are still old growth woods. These forests have developed mostly undisturbed over hundreds of years and are protected now for their ecological, scientific, educational, and recreational values. The Lost Forty, an area of about 144 acres (0.58km²) in northern Minnesota, was mistakenly mapped as part of a lake in an 1882 survey and consequently never logged. Dominated by 300 to 400-year-old Red and White Pines, it is now part of the Chippewa National Forest.

plantation, timber, timber forest, mono-culture, Minnesota, carbon sequestration

By the 1920s, most of virgin forests in the US had been cut down, including those in Minnesota. Today, tree cover occupies about one-third of the state, with large forested areas especially common in northern Minnesota. But these are mostly production forests, biomass feeding the demands of the timber industry. Only a small percentage of old-growth forests is left in isolated, unconnected fragments. Timber forests provide thousands of jobs and generate income. They even provide income for landowners willing to maintain their trees for carbon sequestration. But timber plantations are empty. The dense rows of trees are not suitable to serve as wildlife corridors, and they suppress the growth of an understory which could provide needed habitat for biodiverse populations. The mono-culture makes these wooded areas prone to diseases and wildfires can quickly consume a plantation.

Big Bog Recreational Area, bog, Minnesota

The scar. Big Bog Recreational Area, MN. The Big Bog in northern Minnesota is a small remnant of the gigantic glacial Lake Agassiz. It’s a peat and moss swamp in a harsh climatic environment where rare plants are found but trees are growing very slowly due to a lack of nutrients. In the early 1900s, farmers cut a straight-line drainage ditch through the bog in the hope of farming the land. The project failed, and the bog’s slow recovery makes the cutline still visible several generations later.

Mississippi, headwaters, Itasca State Park, history, Minnesota

And here it officially begins. Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, MN. The Mississippi River emerges from several lakes and underground water flows that are fed mostly by precipitation. Yet Lake Itasca was declared to be the official headwaters and a channel bulldozed open in the 1930s. Surrounding swamps were drained and the ‘iconic’ rock rapids installed for easy access to attract tourists to the area to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression in northern Minnesota. Nomadic tribes hunted in the area for more than a thousand years and Woodland people settled there for centuries, leaving burial mounds behind. Even when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft supposedly ‘discovered’ the true headwaters in 1832 (and gave it a made-up name), he couldn’t manage without the help of Ozaawindib, a local Ojibwe leader and guide. The logging barons soon set their eyes on the old-growth pines, ceasing cutting trees only in 1920, almost three decades after a bill on creating a park to protect the headwaters area was signed into law.

Paul and Babe, Minnesota, Bemidji, rally, climate change, people

Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox Babe. Bemidji, MN. The legend about the giant lumberjack originated in northern logging camps in the late 19th century, where Paul Bunyan (who never really existed) was considered a hero for cutting down trees in huge numbers. By the 1930s, most of northern Minnesota’s old growth pine forests had been felled. When most of the numerus lumber mills disappeared soon after, it was felt that a roadside attraction was needed to bring in motorized tourists. While the cement ensemble is still one of the most photographed tourist sites in Minnesota, the plaza on the Lake Bemidji shoreline has become a rallying point in recent years for protests against crude oil pipelines crossing sensitive waterbodies, as well as for demonstrations for women’s rights, the need for action concerning climate change, and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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