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The Green Observer FALL 2019

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Table of Contents Page 1

Letter from the Editor

Page 2

Staff Introductions

Page 3-4

Red by Deepak Moparthi

Page 5-8

Shawnee National Forest’s Snake Migration by Michelle Johnson

Page 9-10

Yellowstone at a Glance by Ana Mendoza

Page 11-14

Past, Present, Future. by Catherine Bixler

Page 15-18

Blinded by the Light by James Sullivan

Letter from the Editor

Hello Green Observers! With fall in full swing, I am delighted to present to you our first issue of the 2019-2020 academic year. The Green Observer family is pleased to welcome our new members, as well as celebrate all of our wonderful returning authors, artists, and readers! In this issue, we highlight the effects of light pollution, take a look at the incredible snake migration in Southern Illinois, and briefly tour Yellowstone National Park. We also feature several of our members’ artwork, including a poem about fall and unique paintings that depict cities and their natural features. Keep reading to experience each of these articles and pieces in their entirety. This issue not only observes the environment from both a state and national level, but also looks at our own members’ perception of the environment and how they interpret their surroundings. The diverse makeup of the Green Observer team, readers, and U of I students is what makes the Green Observer special, and we hope you enjoy our Fall 2019 issue. Before we begin this issue, I would like to thank our brilliant new members for bringing fresh ideas, and our returning members and executive board—the backbone of this magazine. Lastly, thank you to our readers—we dedicate this issue to each and every one of you. Sincerely, Ana Isabel


Staff Introductions Editor in Chief

Web Chair

Ana Mendoza

Ayda Asadnejad

Layout Chair


Catherine Bixler

Noah Simon

Copy Editor

Art Chair

Sayani Majumdar

Sowmiya Raju


Red Deepak Moparthi

Rolling meadows, Screeching to a halt. Where’d they go? It wasn’t my fault A phone ringing, Nature’s call Sorry I have to take this And I won’t give it back The sun rises, As does a pile of trash, Except the sun also sets And the trash doesn’t (GROWTH MINDSET) Green! The color of life And recycling, And a traffic light, And that one square in Microsoft’s logo? But we’ve turned red, With anger, long nights, Embarrassment, Time for fall!



Shawnee National Forest’s Snake Migration Michelle Johnson

Most of us have heard of geese heading South for the winter, but did you know that snakes also migrate? The 2.5-milelong LaRue Pine Hills Snake Road found within Shawnee National Forest, located in Southern Illinois, is well-known for its annual snake migration that happens twice a year. In the spring, snakes migrate out of the forest’s limestone bluff and into LaRue Swamp. In the fall, the migration is reversed as the snakes come out of the LaRue Swamp to spend their winter in brumation, a form of hibernation, at the dry base of the limestone cliffs. It’s not just snakes, though. Common reptiles and amphibians occurring at this site, some of which are threatened and endangered, include the American Toad, Central Newt, Common Snapping Turtle, Fence Lizard, Green Tree Frog, Spotted Salamander, Red Milk Snake, and many more.1


In order to move from one location to the other, the snakes must travel across LaRue Road, which lies between the swamp and the bluff. This is very dangerous because when the black asphalt is relatively warm, the creatures crossing the road like to stop and bathe in the sun, which usually causes them to become roadkill. Therefore, in 1972 the Forest Service made the decision to close LaRue Road for three weeks in both

Southern Black Racer and Blue Racer Snake Hybrid Outdoor Adventure Club at UIUC

Timber Rattlesnake - Outdoor Adventure Club at UIUC

the spring and fall to allow these snakes to cross safely, but this still was not enough time. Scott Ballard, a District biologist and herpetologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, found in his studies that the snake migration took much longer than expected. Based on his research, the Forest Service extended the road closure to March 15th - May 15th and September 1st - October 30th.2 Although there was a lot of resistance from the locals at first, many people are now supportive of the road closure. Cars are prohibited during this time, but pedestrians and snake enthusiasts alike are welcome to walk this aptly dubbed Snake Road. Contrary to popular belief, the road is not swamped with snakes and one would be lucky to see 20 in a day.2 For the second year in a row, the Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC) at the University of Illinois, UrbanaChampaign, went to Snake Road to observe this natural event. They were led along the road by Scott Ballard, who caught various animals along the way and the group saw close to 11 species. Eric Boyer, a member of the club, said, “This trip has quickly become one of my favorite trips that OAC does in the fall. Snakes are often thought of as pests,

or as something to be feared. For me, this trip highlighted exactly how misunderstood snakes truly are.” In addition to educating the public, this event also serves to advocate for the biannual closure of Snake Road to all motor vehicles during the migratory periods, which is incredibly important to reduce human caused snake mortality. Boyer said, “Scott asked that we all write to the Forest Service ranger station in Jonesboro, IL to ask for the government to continue to close this road for migrations to come, and [OAC] will certainly be doing so.” Nevertheless, there are three venomous snakes that people should be cautious of: the cottonmouth, which is the most common, the copperhead, and the timber rattlesnake. These snakes eat small animals and will only bite people if they are provoked or disturbed. Visitors should also be aware that LaRue Pine Hills is a federally designated Research Natural Area and unauthorized collecting and handling of any of these species is prohibited under the federal and state law.2 6

References Cacho, A. (2018, August 27). Last Snake Road Migration Closure for the Year. Retrieved from https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/shawnee/ news-events/?cid=FSEPRD593622. 1

Schons, M. (2019, June 25). Snake Migration. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/news/ snake-migration/. 2

Eastern Box Turtle - Eric Boyer

Southern Black Racer and Blue Racer Snake Hybrid Outdoor Adventure Club at UIUC


Rough Green Snake - Eric Boyer


Yellowstone at a Glance Ana Mendoza

Although Yellowstone is a famous American national park—even well known internationally—often times it does not receive the same attention as other hit locations such as Disney World or Las Vegas. Yellowstone goes beyond ‘cool animals’ or ‘pretty plants’. The location is an entire ecosystem in and of itself, supporting impressive flora, fauna, and natural phenomena worthy of praise.


Flora Yellowstone National Park is home to 1,500 different plant species, with the only factor limiting some species’ survival being the area’s incredible altitude of up to 13,000 feet. There are numerous plant species found in the area’s dry valley beds, lush meadows, and riverbeds, with some thriving in thermal areas, alpine areas, and cirques near glaciers. Furthermore, the park has several growing zones, each providing for different types of flora. At altitudes above 10,000 feet in the alpine zone, plants adapt to the wind, snow, and lack of soil by growing close to the ground and flowering soon after the snows melt. At 7,000 to 10,000 feet, the area is known for conifer forests and open meadows, with the increase in elevation resulting in wildflowers and stunted trees. At 6,400 to 7,000 feet, the porous soil supports plants that tolerate hot and dry summertime conditions, housing sagebrush, some wildflowers, and grasses. Through plant fossil analysis, researchers have found that all of these areas date back to the Eocene epoch, approximately 55 million years ago. Fauna One of the most impactful aspects of the Yellowstone journey is the park’s wide range of wildlife, including bears, bighorn sheep, bison, elk, bald eagles, river otters, and moose. Unlike the animals enclosed in zoos, the animals in the Yellowstone ecosystem

are truly wild and free-wandering. It is breathtaking to witness some of nature’s best creations, with the national park hosting the largest selection of free-roaming animals in the top 48 states. Geology Lastly, Yellowstone is home to one of the most seismically dynamic areas in the country. Today, Yellowstone National Park is re-filling itself with magma, with geological studies showing that for the past 2 million years, the Yellowstone plateau has erupted every 600,000 years or so. The last explosion was about 640,000 years ago, meaning the next explosion could be larger than anything else in recorded history. This explosion could happen any century now, give or take thousands of years, with the good news being that the big explosion is not imminent just yet. Geologists say things underground need to heat up considerably first, but for now tourists can enjoy the slight heat emanating from Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs is a prime example of subsurface volcanic activity, where molten rock rises to 2 miles below the Earth’s surface and heats the water in nature’s own version of a plumbing system that still mystifies scientists. The area itself smells distinctly of sulfur, and the color of the springs is nothing short of impressive. Other areas include geysers and other hot springs, scattered throughout the park.


Past, Present, Future. Catherine Bixler


This painting series is an ode to maps of cities and the streets I’ve frequented and hold dear to my heart. They’re painted in a leaf-like style of the seasons in which I commonly associate them in (starting from summer on the left and ending on the next summer at the other end). Minor spots, mold, bugs, or aging areas bring up the conversation and underlying ef-

fect of environmental changes, and how soon they can turn from a little problem into a big one. In this way, it effects the nostalgia of my memories. There are certain layered spots for emphasis and dynamism, such as using cotton on the molded spots on the lightest green map of NYC. Each piece is painted with acrylic on a 16x20 inch canvas.




Blinded by the Light James Sullivan

Almost one year ago today the Middle Fork Forest Preserve was officially named the first International Dark Sky Park in Illinois, and one of only three in the entire Midwest. Located just outside of Champaign-Urbana, the Middle Fork Forest Preserve joins the ranks of such celebrated natural areas as Bryce Canyon National Park, AnzaBorrego Desert State Park, and Dinosaur National Monument. Such illustrious company puts Champaign County on the map as more than just corn-country, but as a legitimate destination for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as demonstrating a commitment to developing and highlighting the natural beauty of the Prairie State. The accreditation, based on smart lighting strategy commitments and an average night sky brightness of at least 21.2 magnitudes per square arcsecond, continues to shed light on a growing concern amongst the scientific community and nature lovers over our disappearing night.


Light pollution may be the most observable, yet least considered form of environmental degradation since Sir Humphrey Davey (yep, not Edison nor Tesla) switched on the first electric lamp in 1802. Since the first flip of the switch, human beings have obsessed over illuminating the dark places of our world. Indeed, artificial lighting vastly

improved not only quality of life, but also accelerated the pace of human ingenuity and discovery. Artificial lighting allowed workers to be more productive in the evening and nighttime hours. Academics could stay up all night pouring over scientific journals and conducting experiments to further human progress. It enabled man to delve into previously unknown depths and explore the far reaches of our physical and theoretical universe. It also allowed you to avoid stepping on your roommates dishes he so thoughtfully left on the ground as you make your way to the fridge for some Kraft singles at 3 am. That being said, society has been straddling the line of diminishing returns for many years and may have actually reached the tipping point when it comes to artificial lighting. Not only do we not benefit from an increase in artificial lighting, but a growing amount of research is finding hazardous consequences for ourselves and the environment. Studies, such as those conducted by Harvard Medical, show strong correlations (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.36 to 0.97) between the amount melatonin in our bodies and the risk of developing breast cancer. Artificial lighting suppresses the method with which the human body produces melatonin. The body believes

that it is daytime when in the presence of artificial lighting, especially white LEDs. This deception inhibits melatonin production, but as a result, also inhibits sleep. Health hazards associated with lack of sleep are well documented. Weight gain, depression, and immune system degradation serve as just a few examples of how light pollution and its effect on our circadian rhythm can pose serious health risks. The risks associated with disruptions in melatonin production cross species lines and pose similar hazards to other organisms. “Melatonin is the chronobiotic hormonal regulator of neoplastic cell growth, meaning that it is just the hormonal signal of our biological clock, is used for such functions in animals worldwide” (Vanderhoot, FAU). This means the biological function of species besides ourselves fall victim to the disruption of light pollution. Light pollution poses just as salient risks to the environment, as it does to our bodies. Since the dawn of time, life on earth has been evolving with a relatively stable and dependable luminance schedule. Day and night have come and gone in regular intervals for billions of years. This regularity has shaped the development of biological activity up and down the evolutionary tree. Indeed, it is written into our DNA. “Natural light entrains or regularizes basic and fundamental biological activities across species from plants to us humans” (Vandherhoot, FAU). For species that are crepuscular or nocturnal, light pollution is the difference between life and death. Light pollution seriously constrains such species from finding food, mates, and shelter leading to consistent die-offs, such as those seen among Loggerhead turtle hatchlings or Newell's shearwater fledglings. The Florida Marine Research Institute could not figure out why so many Loggerhead

turtle hatchlings were dying off. All they had to go on were mysterious circular and random tracks in the sand around nests. Then, after a nighttime visit to a nesting location, the picture began to come into focus. The hatchlings evolved to use the light of the moon as a guide to return to the ocean after hatching. However, nearby street and building lights were overpowering the moonlight, and confusing the hatchlings. Instead of returning to the sea, they would make their way towards busy streets, or welllit areas that would make them easy prey. The mysterious tracks were that of confused hatchlings, having no idea which direction to head in the presence of artificial lighting. The story of the Newell’s shearwater fledglings unfolds in a depressingly similar manner. Under normal luminance schedules, the fledglings use the light of stars and the moon as guides to navigate. Now, lights from a nearby town, particularly the football stadium, crosses the fledgling’s navigational wires. As they fly around, looking for guiding lights, they become confused due to the mass amount of stimulus and different light sources. This leads to them becoming disoriented and fly around in circles until they collapse from exhaustion. At that point, they are either hit by motorists, or easily picked off by predators like wild cats. These stories are becoming all too common, and we need to begin understanding our local conditions to try and mitigate further environmental impacts. Champaign County currently ranks 2569th out of 3142 counties nationally in terms of artificial light pollution. With a mean radiance of 368 μcd/m2 (SI Unit of Luminance) and 84.7% of the population in an area between 87-688 μcd/m2, Champaign County does not suffer significantly from light pollution despite its low national


Best practices for avoiding environmental impacts based on light-pollution include:

Orient lights downward or towards the target (to minimize wasted light). Use light-timing and smart technology (motion detectors, light-temperature) to keep lights on when needed, off when not, and limit disrupting cold blue light. This strategy not only reduces light pollution but can also save communities considerable sums of money through energy reductions. Use light-guards to focus light and reduce external pollution (i.e. block the back of streetlamps to avoid polluting behind the streetlamp). Avoid high intensity blue emission sources, like white LEDs - these sources produce the most disruptive spectra of light to organisms.


ranking. For reference, Cook County averages 7025 μcd/m2 at its darkest, and 90.0% of the population in an area with <3000 μcd/m2. The vast majority of light pollution comes from city centers (street lights, businesses, vehicles, etc.), so more populated areas will experience more light pollution. While Champaign County performs better relative to the most light-polluted county in the state, certain mitigation strategies should be implemented as a means of best practice and avoidance of environmental impacts.

Light pollution disrupts patterns of eating, sleeping, hunting, migration, and reproduction in all forms of life, including our own. Recognizing these hazards comes as the first step in a long process of transitioning away from unnecessary light pollution and putting this issue into proper context amongst the general public, academics, and lawmakers alike. The new levels of discovery and understanding afforded to us by artificial lighting must be employed to help solve the environmental and human health risks that it has created.

References Falchi, F., Furgoni, R., Gallaway, T., Rybnikova, N., Portnov, B., Baugh, K., … Elvidge, C. (2019). Light pollution in USA and Europe: The good, the bad and the ugly. Journal of Environmental Management, 248. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.06.128 First International Dark Sky Park In U.S. State Of Illinois Designated November 25, 2018. (2018, November 26). Retrieved from https://www.darksky.org/first-idsp-in-llinoisdesignated/. How To Become An International Dark Sky Place. (2019, October 24). Retrieved from https://www.darksky.org/our-work/ conservation/idsp/become-a-dark-sky-place/.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. How Can You Help Curb Light Pollution? (2018, November 1). Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/newsdisplay.cfm?News_ID=745 Schernhammer, E. S., & Hankinson, S. E. (2005). Urinary Melatonin Levels and Breast Cancer Risk. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 97(14), 1084–1087. doi: 10.1093/jnci/dji190 Vandernoot, E. (n.d.). Light Pollution Harms the Environment. Florida Atlantic University, Department of Physics. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from http://cescos.fau. edu/observatory/lightpol-environ.html.

McFadden, C. (2019, April 25). Was Thomas Edison Really The Inventor of the Light Bulb? Retrieved from https:// interestingengineering.com/who-actuallyinvented-the-incandescent-light-bulb. 18

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