Category: Prairie Research Institute

Cicadas are waking up in Eastern Illinois but many more arrive in 2024

Read the full story at Illinois Newsroom.

After lying dormant for 17 years, billions of Cicadas – big insects with big wings are awakening in far eastern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and other states.

Illinois Newsroom’s Reginald Hardwick talked with Katie Dana, the scientific specialist in entomology at the Illinois Natural History Survey. She says this year’s insect invasion is just a warmup for 2024.

ADM announces successful completion of one million metric ton carbon capture and storage project

Read the company news release.

 ADM and the University of Illinois announced today the successful completion of the Illinois Basin – Decatur Project (IBDP), a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project designed to evaluate and test the technology at commercial scale. This is one of two CCS projects located adjacent to ADM’s corn processing plant in Decatur, Illinois.

The first-of-its-kind project was primarily funded through the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium (MGSC) by the U.S. Department of Energy – National Energy Technology Laboratory with the goal to confirm the ability of the Mt. Simon Sandstone to accept and store one million metric tons of carbon dioxide over a period of three years, the equivalent of annual emissions from about 1.2 million passenger cars according to EPA calculations. Working together through the MGSC, the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois designed, implemented, and monitored the project and ADM was the host and operator.

Scientists study regional benefits of limiting climate warming

This post originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute blog. Read the original article.

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

Limiting the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial conditions compared with 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), as predicted for the future, will avoid more intense and more frequent heavy precipitation and extreme heat waves, according to a recent study at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) that explored global warming’s effects on specific U.S. regions.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested that societies and the environment will benefit by limiting global warming by 0.5 degrees C (0.9 degrees F). If warming continues at the current rate, it will reach 1.5 degrees C worldwide as soon as 2030, with a 0.2 degree C increase per decade beyond that from past and current greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have already almost bridged the 1.5 degree C point,” said ISWS scientist and study principal investigator Liang Chen. “In our study we wanted to see how much extreme weather events can be avoided if we can make efforts to limit global warming by 0.5 degrees C.”

This study was one of a few that has examined global warming at the regional rather than the global scale using U.S. data and regional computer modeling.

“The regional focus is somewhat unique for the U.S. and hopefully provides some value added to the national-scale reports like the National Climate Assessment,” said Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford, co-investigator on the study. “This is particularly valuable for planning and adaptation, where regional-to-local scale information on historical and future climate change is vital for decision making.”

Findings showed that the 0.5 degree C less global warming would avoid intensified climate extremes by 32 to 46 percent for the severity and frequency of heat extremes across the country and by 23 to 41 percent for heavy precipitation in the U.S. North, South, and Southeast. Some regions of the Southwest would experience reduced dry spell and drought frequencies.

Across the U.S., fewer hot extreme events would indicate nearly 11 fewer days annually with maximum temperatures above the 90th percentile.

In the Midwest, findings showed a significant decrease in heavy precipitation events and heat intensity by keeping the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees C. Less intense and frequent precipitation reduces flood risk, even given no changes in floodplain management or policy.

“The study findings are aligned with similar studies in other parts of the world, essentially that reducing overall global warming between now and mid-century will likely reduce the intensity of hazards across the U.S., and in particular here in the Midwest,” Ford said. 

The study was published in Climate Dynamics.

Media contacts: Liang Chen,; Trent Ford,

Catching bats for conservation

This Behind the Scenes story from the University of Illinois News Bureau features a first-person account of how bat researchers do their field work. It was written by Jordyn Chace, a graduate student who works for the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Working with scientists better informs managers’ decisions on bird conservation

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

Scientists studying birds have the data, and conservation managers make the decisions in the field, but if the two groups collaborate, together they can form the best outcomes on real-world bird conservation issues, according to an Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) ecologist.

Translational ecology is a technique in which those who conduct the science and those who use the information partner to ensure that management decisions are scientifically based. The approach is especially applicable to issues such as conflicts between wind turbines and birds and predator management in which there are several opposing viewpoints, said Auriel Fournier, director of the INHS Forbes Biological Station.

“Often, what we see in traditional research is that scientists try to answer the scientific questions and then tie the information back to management of bird populations, but there is no discussion about the issues managers need to have addressed,” said Fournier. “As a result, there is a mismatch between the data and the issue that managers are dealing with. The conversation needs to start on day one with scientists soliciting feedback from folks on the ground.”

Translational ecology offers six principles, including collaboration, engagement, commitment, communication, process, and decision framing. In this process, other entities may become involved, including non-profits, organizations, government agencies, and university Extension.

All parties share their knowledge and commit to a long-term collaboration. Relationship-building gives individuals a sense of ownership in solving challenges and a decision framework that helps to achieve outcomes based on the managers’ needs, values, and timeframes.

In one example of how translational ecology works, the authors applied the technique to a conflict about free-roaming cats in Ontario, Canada. Wildlife enthusiasts recognize cats at threats to birds and small mammals, while others feel that cats benefit from having free range outdoors.

In the early 2010s, a group convened in Guelph, Ontario with representatives from humane societies, veterinary clinics, community science initiatives, government wildlife services, and ornithologists to form the Guelph Cat Population Task Force. The group co-authored a white paper compiling research related to birds and cats.

From this early work, Nature Canada created the coalition Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives to foster an understanding of stakeholders’ values, goals, and diverse perspectives and emphasize their commonalities. Committee members promoted building relationships and buy-in of the shared goals. As a result, they identified needed research, developed policy recommendations, and promoted education.

“There are never easy answers to some issues related to bird conservation, particularly because these are not strictly scientific problems, but may also be social, political, and legal problems as well,” Fournier said. “By building partnerships through the translation ecology approach, data and information that managers will use can be exchanged.”

If the process is effective, policy makers’ and conservation managers’ decisions will be better informed and the science will be more applicable to real-world situations. Ideally, managers will be more open to considering different decisions than they might have made without the collaboration. In other cases, they may make the same decisions but have the knowledge needed to justify their choices.

Fournier is co-author of an article in the journal Ornithological Applications, which is available through certain university networks.


Media contact: Auriel Fournier, 217-300-8698,

This post originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute blog. Read the original post here.

Illinois sees influx of black bears passing through

Read the full story at The Center Square.

Illinois residents may be surprised to see some large, furry visitors over the next couple of months as black bears are making their way down from Wisconsin and passing through Illinois in increasing numbers.

Eric Schauber, Illinois State biologist and director of the Illinois Natural History Survey, said Illinois usually sees an influx during springtime. Young male bears are likely the kind to be seen passing through in Illinois, he adds.

ISGS project will seek valuable elements, minerals from coal and coal waste

Read the full story from the Prairie Research Institute.

The Office of Fossil Energy within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected to award nearly $1.5 million to the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) for a project that will evaluate the availability of valuable rare earth elements and critical minerals in coal and coal waste streams in Illinois and nearby states. 

New DOE-funded projects set to design energy storage systems for power plants

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

It is challenging to integrate renewable resources into the distribution grid of fossil-fueled power plants when energy is most needed. The results are often intermittent and unpredictable, which makes it difficult to match energy demand with supply.

In three new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-funded projects, scientists in the Prairie Research Institute will design systems and explore the feasibility of combining the use of renewable and fossil energy sources to ensure both short and long-term reliability in electric power delivery.

A natural gas energy storage system

In a three-year project, scientists at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) will design a 10 MWh compressed natural gas energy storage (CNGES) system at the University of Illinois’ Abbott Power Plant, which uses oil and coal to power campus.

Electrically powered compressors are used in CNGES to raise the pressure of natural gas during off-peak hours. Natural gas is then stored in cylinders or in an underground pipeline.

During peak-demand hours, the stored gas is discharged through an expander-generator to partially recover the electricity used in the compression step. The chemical energy stored in the natural gas is integrated with fossil fuels to provide peak power using existing compressors and pipelines.

“The project, which will demonstrate the benefits to the power plant, energy grid, and the environment, will advance the CNGES technology towards commercial use. Some of the benefits include reduced fuel costs, carbon emissions, and maintenance. It also increases plant efficiency.

Kevin OBrien, Director, Illinois sustainable Technology Center and Project Principal Investigator

The CNGES technology has not yet been tested with fossil fuels. Once the project is complete, findings will aid in understanding the advantages and challenges of integrating energy storage with coal and natural gas fired power plants.

DOE awarded $200,000 for the $250,000 project. The co-principal investigator is Mohamed Attalla, executive director of the U of I Facilities and Services.

Compressed air storage

A team of geologists at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), along with engineers and power plant specialists, are designing a compressed air energy storage system that will increase the reliability of renewable energy from solar and wind farms and integrate the system with the Abbott fossil fuel power plant. DOE awarded $200,000 for the project, with a total budget of more than $250,000.

Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is a technology used to store compressed air in the subsurface sedimentary strata so that when the high-pressure air is returned to the surface it powers turbines to produce additional electricity as needed during power interruptions from severe weather or fossil fuel disruptions. The team plans to design an integrated system to store compressed air and thermal heat generated by compression underground.

Part of the project will involve evaluating the capability of sandstone aquifers to quickly release air to run turbine generators and determining the equipment needed to remove residual saline water to avoid corrosion in the system. The team will also quantify the storage capacity and evaluate this method for storing air and heat in the subsurface.

Heat dissipation during air compression has been considered an important factor in CAES energy capture efficiency, so researchers will evaluate the captured heat that is stored in the porous reservoirs with the compressed air, while determining other factors such as air speeds and the volume of formation water. The project team will also determine how much of the injected air remains in the formation during the recovery period.

“CAES has been geographically limited to areas with caverns created from subsurface salt deposits. However, the Illinois CAES project will evaluate using subsurface porous reservoirs without the need for caverns by injecting compressed air into subsurface porous strata. This is the first ever subsurface porous reservoir CAES system that is being attempted.”

Hannes Leetaru, Geologist, Illinois State Geological Survey and principal investigator of the project

Underground and above-ground hydrogen storage

Scientists at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) will team with several companies on a $200,000 DOE-funded project to study the feasibility of storing hydrogen underground in sedimentary rock, by determining baseline subsurface requirements and conditions for hydrogen storage. An above-ground compressed hydrogen storage system will also be used for a combined storage of more than 250 megawatt hours.

The hydrogen will be produced from natural gas by the Gas Technology Institute’s novel compact hydrogen generator. This process also produces carbon dioxide that will be captured and sequestered geologically.

Some of the hydrogen will be stored on the surface for immediate demand use and some will be stored underground separately from the carbon dioxide for longer duration energy storage. The combination of generating hydrogen for energy coupled with storage of carbon dioxide is considered “blue hydrogen” and results in a very low carbon emission energy source.

“The integrated energy system will also provide the means to further test and perfect the technological components to store energy underground and reduce carbon emissions. Successful integration of this approach will significantly increase opportunities for hydrogen storage across the U.S. as well as transform energy sustainability options by the tandem sequestration of CO2.”

Steve Whittaker, Geologist, Illinois State Geological Survey

Partners on the project include the Gas Technology Institute, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Hexagon Purus, and Ameren. DOE provided $200,000 in funding for the $316,000 project.


Media contacts: Kevin OBrien,; Hannes Leetaru,; Steve Whittaker,

This post originally appeared at Prairie Research Institute News. Read the original post.

The wild world of Illinois’ state biologist: Marsh rice mice to swamp rabbits to white-tailed deer

Read the full story in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Eric Schauber brings a wide-ranging experience in the wild world and academia to his dual role as Illinois’ state biologist.

New evidence shows deforestation didn’t cause Cahokia’s collapse

Read the full story from St. Louis Public Radio.

What caused residents to abandon the ancient settlement that made the area near Cahokia, Illinois, home to the biggest city in the Western world? At its peak approximately 1,000 years ago, the settlement was bigger than London. But by A.D. 1400, it was virtually deserted.

Cahokia’s collapse has long been a subject of speculation. For several decades, one of the most persistent theories has blamed self-inflicted ecological disaster. First suggested by researchers at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in 1993, the theory held that the Mississippians who inhabited the city cut down forests in the nearby uplands, leading to erosion and flooding.

But the evidence underlying the theory was negligible, said geoarchaeologist Caitlin Rankin. The researchers knew that the people living in the area used wood, and that “there was increasing use of upland trees, happening more towards the end of Cahokia’s occupation,” she explained on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

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