Iowa Environmental Focus

UI to hold Media Workshop and Forum on post-truth culture this Friday

media Friday, March 24, 2017
11:30am – 2:00pm
UI Main Library
TILE Classroom 1140 This Friday, POROI (Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry) will host “A Moment of (Post) Truth: a Media Workshop and Forum.” The event will focus on new challenges that audiences and journalists are facing in a moment when the legitimacy of the press, science and facts themselves are vigorously  opposed. The forum will open up a dynamic space for students, researchers, journalists, faculty, scientists and politicians to reflect together on the stakes of post-factualism in a democracy, along with issues of dissent, authority and authoritarianism. During the event will be a panel with three speakers from the University of Iowa. First, will be Jiyeon Kang’s speech titled, “Desires Gone Viral: Reading Fake News, Rumors and Internet Bubbles as Political Symptoms.”  Second John S. Nelson will give a presentation titled, “Truth as Common Sense and Fervent Feeling in American Populism, Left and Right.” Lastly will be a presentation by Jerry Schnoor titled, “Climate Change: The Truth and Post-Truth from the Trump Administration, and How the Press Should Report It.” The event is free and open to the public. Click here to register for the event. Participants
  • Jeff Charis-Carlson, reporter, Iowa City Press-Citizen
  • Jiyeon Kang, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, University of Iowa
  • Frank Durham, Associate Professor of Journalism and Director, Masters Program in Strategic Communication, University of Iowa
  • Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Professor of Journalism and Associate Dean of CLAS, University of Iowa
  • John S. Nelson, Professor of Political Science and founder of POROI, University of Iowa
  • Jerald Schnoor, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Iowa
SCHEDULE

11:30 – Interactive Media Workshop
12:15 – Drinks & snacks
12:20 – Panel: Truth & Consequences
1:10 – snacks & drinks
1:15 – Roundtable & Group Discussion
1:50 – Collective Reflections


Study finds majority of Americans want action on climate change

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.38.43 AMPart of a recent Yale University study, this map indicates the percentage of Americans that support regulating carbon dioxide emissions. (Climate Change Communication/Yale University) Jenna Ladd | March 21, 2017

Researchers at Yale University have provided the most comprehensive look yet at U.S. public opinion and beliefs on climate change.

The study revealed that 70 percent of Americans agree that climate change is happening. Interestingly, while it is widely accepted in the scientific community that humans have caused climate change, only 53 percent of Americans believe this to be true, although 71 percent of the same individuals studied said that they trust what climate scientists say about climate change.

An overwhelming 82 percent of U.S. adults support the funding of renewable energy research projects. Despite this desire, former head of the Trump Department of Energy transition team, Mike McKenna, has publicly stated that the president’s administration is likely to cut funding for renewable energy and redirect funds to fossil fuel development.

Additionally, the Trump administration plans to eliminate President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emission from the nation’s power plants by 30 percent before 2030. Meanwhile, the majority of citizens in every congressional district- that’s about 70 percent nationwide- support setting strict limits for carbon dioxide emission from power plants.

So why aren’t more Americans taking direct action on climate policy? Some say this has to do with the way humans prioritize risk. A report in the New York Times pointed out that we are only programmed to respond to threats that trigger our flight or fight response, that is, immediate threats. The safety risks and health effects of climate change often occur slowly over time, so we pay them less attention. For example, more than half of the study’s respondents believe that climate change is currently harming people in the U.S. In contrast, only 40 percent of citizens believe that climate change will ever harm them personally.

For more information and to access the interactive public opinion maps, click here.

 


On The Radio – UI announces it will be coal-free by 2025

zero-coal-timelineInfographic of the University of Iowa’s path to zero coal. (Josh Brdicko, Marketing & Design, BFA ’18) Jake Slobe | March 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the university’s recent announcement to get rid of coal by 2025.

https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/coalfree_70sec.mp3

Transcript: University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld announced late last month that the university will be coal-free by 2025.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The UI has taken steps to reduce its dependence on coal. In 2008, the university established seven “sustainability targets” to be achieved by 2020.

Since 2008, the UI has managed to reduce its use of coal by 60 percent.

The university’s current energy portfolio includes oat hulls, miscanthus grass, wood chips and green energy pellets.

UI partnered with Iowa State University in 2013 to develop a miscanthus grass energy crop. Working with farmers within 50 miles of Iowa City, the university has planted 550 acres of the miscanthus and will plant an additional 250 to 350 acres this spring. The goal is to establish up to 2,500 acres locally by 2020.

To learn more about the university’s plan to go coal free, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.


President Trump’s budget plan slashes EPA budget

SG On route to IlulissatQuickly melting ice sheets in Illulissat, Greenland are evidence of Earth’s warming climate. (United Nations/flickr) Jenna Ladd | March 17, 2017

President Donald Trump plans to cut U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding by 31 percent according to his budget plan released Thursday.

In all, the proposed plan would cut $2.6 billion dollars from the agency and eliminate some 3,200 EPA jobs. Gina McCarthy was EPA administrator during the Obama administration. She said, “Literally and figuratively, this is a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land.”

While funding will be slashed for climate change research and Superfund site reclamation, some EPA programs will be eliminated all together. Among them are urban air quality improvement efforts, infrastructure projects on Native American reservations, energy efficiency improvement programs and water quality improvement work in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said, “Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward. We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.’ So that is a specific tie to his campaign.” More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming over the last century are due to human activity, according to NASA.

In line with a recent report written by over 400 medical doctors, Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies said, “If such cuts are realized, many more people will die prematurely and get sick unnecessarily due to air, water and waste pollution.”

Other environmental activists and scientists were also quick to speak out against the proposed cuts. Fred Krupp is the director of the Environmental Defense Fund, he said, “This is an all-out assault on the health of our planet and the health and safety of the American people.” Krupp continued, “Cleaning up our air and protecting our waters are core American values. The ‘skinny budget’ threatens those values — and puts us all at risk.”

President Trump’s budget outline still must be approved by Congress and is expected to change. The Administration’s final budget will be released in May.


Top doctors say climate change harms human health

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 10.59.44 AMThe Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health details how climate change will affect human health in specific regions of the U.S. (Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health) Jenna Ladd | March 16, 2017

The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health released a report on Wednesday explaining the ways in which climate change harms the physical and mental health of people in the U.S.

The report, titled “Medical Alert! Climate Change is Impacting our Health” was written by medical doctors, including allergists, pediatricians, infectious-disease doctors, OB/GYNs and gerontologists from eleven health organizations.

Very few Americans, less than 32 percent, can name a specific way in which climate change harms human health. “Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker,” said Dr. Mona Sarfaty, the director of the new consortium.

The authors broke down the specific health effects of climate change in each region of the U.S. The doctors explain that three by-products of climate change will directly impact human health: air pollution, extreme heat and extreme weather events. Increased temperatures associated with climate change intensify smog, wildfires and pollen production, leading to poor air quality, the report said. “Poor air quality increases asthma and allergy attacks, and can lead to other illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths,” the authors wrote.

Rising global temperatures cause more frequent, longer, and more extreme heat waves in many parts of the U.S. Excessive heat leads to heat-related illness, exacerbates some medical conditions, and can cause death due to heat-stroke and dehydration. The report read, “Anyone can be harmed by extreme heat, but some people face greater risk. For example, outdoor workers, student athletes, city dwellers, and people who lack air conditioning (or who lose it during an extended power outage) face greater risk because they are more exposed to extreme heat.”

The physicians pointed out that extreme weather events are also taking a toll on their patients. The increased frequency and severity of major storms, floods, and droughts can cause injury, displacement and death, the report read. These events often prevent residents from receiving proper medical care due to blocked roads, destroyed bridges and the like. Gastrointestinal illness and disease often follow the power outages associated with extreme weather events as well, according to the doctors.

Beyond these direct impacts, climate change also speeds up the spread of infectious diseases and has an insidious impact on humans’ mental health. With temperatures rising around the world, infectious disease vectors like ticks, mosquitoes and fleas can now survive in regions that were previously too cold for them. For example, “Ticks that carry Lyme disease have become more numerous in many areas and have expanded their range northward and westward,” the report said.

U.S. residents that have experienced increasingly common extreme weather events like foods, major storms, and droughts are likely to suffer mental health consequences including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Anyone could experience these effects, but women, pregnant women, the elderly, children, and those with a preexisting mental health condition are most at risk.

The report concluded with a call to government leaders, asking them to address climate change in the name of human health. It read, “Doctors agree with climate scientists: the sooner we take action, the more harm we can prevent, and the more we can protect the health of all Americans.”


The Weather Channel gives a forecast from the year 2050

wether 2050 Jake Slobe | March 15, 2017

Mega-droughts. Long-lasting heat waves. Flooded coastal cities. These are the weather scenarios for 2050 from a series of imaginary, yet realistic, reports from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that predict a future of warmer, wetter and more extreme weather.

WMO released four series of future weather reports in 2014 and 2015 to highlight the need for action to minimize the risks of extreme weather and climate events. Series 4 was launched in advance of the Paris conference on the Climate Change Convention in November 2015, Series 3 supported the Third World Conference on Disaster risk Reduction held in Sendai, Series 2 was launched in December 2014 during the Lima conference on the Climate Change Convention, and Series 1 was launched in September 2014 to support the UN Secretary-General’s call for action at the UN Climate Summit.

Three of the station’s best-known personalities—Sam Champion, Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams—each contribute to segments that imagine a world besieged by the kind of extreme weather scientists expect to see a lot more of by midcentury.

Climate reporter Andrew Freedman said about the video forecast:

“This Weather Channel video of a weather forecast in 2050 may be the most compelling climate advocacy vid I’ve seen. It represents an aggressive, almost advocacy-oriented, move on the part of The Weather Channel, which began covering climate change more routinely during the past two years after virtually ignoring it entirely for several years.”

What they created are only possible scenarios and not true forecasts. Nevertheless, they are based on the most up-to-date climate science, and they paint a compelling picture of what life could look like on a warmer planet. The events dramatized in both pieces are entirely in keeping with what climate scientists expect to see as human-spewed carbon continues to saturate the atmosphere.

You can watch all the videos here.

 

 


Iowa Department of Agriculture provides funding for urban water quality projects

16248097563_6c5408bc3c_oClive, Iowa is one of the cities that has received funding from the state to implement a water quality improvement demonstration project. (Kim/flickr) Jenna Ladd | March 14, 2017

The Iowa Department of Agriculture’s Iowa Water Quality Initiative awarded grants for 12 new urban water quality demonstration projects.

The funds, totaling $820,840, will be met with $1.18 million dollars in matching funds and other in-kind donations. Gov. Terry Brandstand founded the Iowa Water Quality Initiative in 2013. Since then, 45 water quality demonstration sites have been established in addition to this year’s twelve new urban sites.

Gov. Brandstand said, “We know this is a long-term problem that we need to address, and by having a growing source of funding, we think we can speed up the progress that’s being made.”

The water quality demonstration projects will include improved stormwater management, permeable pavement systems, native seeding, lake restoration, and the installation of bioretention cells, among other measures. The cities selected include: Slater, Windsor Heights, Readlyn, Urbandale, Clive, Des Moines, Emmetsburg, Denison, Spencer, Cedar Rapids, Burlington, Waterloo and Ankeny. Upwards of 150 organizations from participating cities have also contributed funds to support the projects. In the last year, $340 million dollars have been spent to improve water quality in Iowa, including both state and federal money.

Meanwhile, a bi-partisan water quality improvement bill is making its way through the Iowa legislature. The plan, called “Water, Infrastructure, Soil for our Economy,” proposes a sales tax increase of three-eighths of a percent over the next three years while also “zeroing out the lowest [income] tax bracket” to offset the sales tax increase. The bill would finally provide funding for the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Fund, which was supported overwhelmingly by Iowa voters in 2010.

Representative Bobby Kaufmann is a Republican supporter of the bill. Kaufman said, “This is a sensible, balanced approach to finally combat Iowa’s pervasive water quality issues while not raising the overall tax pie for Iowans.” A minimum of 60 percent of the trust fund dollars would support proven water quality measures as provided by Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Kaufmann said, “The need is there. The desire to fix water quality exists. This provides the funding to get the job done.”

 


Statewide monarch butterfly conservation strategy released

BBGMonarchButterflyWingsMonarch Butterfly picture taken at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Jake Slobe | March 13, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the recently released monarch butterfly conservation strategy.

https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/monarch-butterflies.mp3

Transcript: A statewide strategy for the conservation and advancement of monarch butterflies was released last month in response to declining monarch populations.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The strategy was prepared by the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, a group of more than thirty organizations including agricultural and conservation groups, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies. It includes scientifically-based conservation practices such as using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying potentially toxic pesticides.

Monarch butterflies provide many vital ecosystem services like the pollination of agricultural and native plants. They have seen a population decline of 80 percent in the last two decades due primarily to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list monarch butterflies as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.


Dr. Steve Hendrix speaks up for the wild bee

DSC_0353Dr. Steve Hendrix was the keynote speaker at this week’s 34th Bur Oak Land Trust Prairie Preview. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER) Jenna Ladd | March 10, 2017

When the general public thinks about bees, one image comes to mind: the honeybee.

If UI Professor Emeritus Steve Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” had a central message, it was that nearly 20,000 other bee species exist and provide often under-recognized ecosystem services.

Hendrix gave the presentation at 34th Bur Oak Land Trust Prairie Preview on Thursday night to a crowd of nearly 300. He said, “All plants need pollinators some of the time, and at least some plants need pollinators all of the time.” Indeed, pollinators provide 225 billion dollars in pollination services. While honeybees receive the majority of public praise, wild bees, which are often small, solitary creatures with short life spans, do 90 percent of the pollinating on U.S. farms. Additionally, according to Hendrix’s research findings, honeybees are less effective pollinators than wild bees.

While the number of bees in the U.S. is declining, one of Hendrix’s studies provided a glimmer of hope for bees in North America. Hendrix and his colleagues compared populations of bees on large prairies with those in smaller, urban gardens and parks. Surprisingly, regardless of the area of land the bees had to roam, there was no difference in bee diversity, species richness, or abundance. The main predictor for healthy bee populations was the presence of a extremely diverse plant life.

Hendrix rounded out his presentation with a look to the future for wild bees. He emphasized once more the importance of the insects, which are largely credited with providing food security for humans. He said, “There’s going to be changes in the distribution of bees.” Due to global warming, many bee species that were previously found in southern states are making their way to Iowa. Hendrix added, “The big bees are going to be the losers in this climate change world we’re living in…it’s going to be the rare bees that are affected most.” Hendrix said that there has been limited research about what this will mean for ecosystems and human health, but encouraged all those in the audience to continue fighting to conserve habitat for bees in Iowa.

 


Dr. Charles Stanier provides Lake Michigan Ozone Study update

great_lakes_ozone_valuesRed dots indicate areas where mean ozone levels were above 70 parts per billion, which is the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard. (Rob Kaleel/LADCO) Jenna Ladd | March 9, 2017

The Lake Michigan Ozone Study 2017, a collaborative research campaign designed to better understand ozone levels around the lake, will begin this May.

The communities around Lake Michigan frequently experience an overabundance of surface-level ozone, which can cause respiratory problems for humans and harm plant life. Through the study, scientists are working to generate new information about how ozone in the area is formed and transported above the lake.

Brad Pierce is NOAA Advanced Satellite Products Branch scientist stationed at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said, “There are these sites along the lake… that are in violation, and they’re not really areas that have a whole lot of industry.” Pierce added, “The sense is that a lot of this has to do with lake breeze circulations. We want to go out and measure the lake breeze circulation and the transport of ozone precursors – the emissions that end up producing ozone – in the springtime when this lake breeze is most dominant.”

Since the study was commissioned last year, it has received additional support from the scientific community. Dr. Charles Stanier is a CGRER member and UI professor of chemical and biochemical engineering. He said, “We’ve expanded from one aircraft and two [air quality monitoring] ground sites to two aircrafts and seven ground sites. We’ve got extensive measurements that will start in May and continue into June and then extensive computer simulations that will help make sense of what we see.”

The collaborative field campaign consists of scientists from several universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa, and many more as well as professionals from the agencies like the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO) and NASA.

Dr. Stanier provides more information about the study’s goals and primary research questions below.


More than half of world’s food calories produced by small farms

pic1Map of mean agricultural area by farm size in three global regions. (Environmental Research Letters) Jake Slobe | March 8, 2017

A new study published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL) estimates that more than half the food calories produced worldwide come from regions where the average farm size is less than five hectares.

Despite the importance of this farming activity in providing food security to millions – particularly in South and East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America – information on the subnational distribution of smallholdings can be hard to find. To address this, researchers based in the US, Canada and Australia joined forces to generate a map of the mean amount of land per farming household.

The team showed that the combined output of developing world regions dependent on small-scale farming (with an average farm size of less than 5 hectares) contributes more than 80% of global rice production and 75% of the world’s output of groundnuts and palm oil. Small-scale farming regions also provide a large proportion of the world’s millet (60%), cassava (60%), cotton (40%) and sugarcane (40%) found to the study.

The study drew on household micro-data and satellite images of landcover to classify agricultural activity in a way that highlights smallholder contributions to the global food picture. The data cover 2412 subnational units in 83 countries across South and East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.

To evaluate the prevalence of smaller or larger farms, the scientists use a metric dubbed “mean agricultural area” (MAA), which is defined as hectares of agricultural land divided by the number of farming households.

Units with an MAA of less than five hectares play a dominant role in Asia, the researchers found. In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion drops slightly with smallholder units producing half of the food calories in the region – supported by places with a medium-density of farm households, which account for another 26%. The situation changes again in Latin America, with 70% of food calories produced in regions with large and very large MAAs.

The team hopes that its results will help not just policy makers, but also technology developers in tackling issues such as food security, poverty reduction and conservation. One of the next steps in the project is to identify factors that lead smallholder regions to be successful.


34th Prairie Preview takes place this Thursday

6292326393_27c41cbb4d_oDr. Steve Hendrix, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Iowa, will be the featured speaker at this year’s Prairie Preview. His lecture is titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation.” (John Flannery/flickr) Jenna Ladd | March 7, 2017

The 34th Prairie Preview will take place this Thursday evening in Iowa City.

The event is hosted by the Bur Oak Land Trust, an Iowa City organization that accepts land donations from residents seeking to place natural areas into public conservation trusts. The Prairie Preview XXXIV will feature a presentation from University of Iowa professor emeritus Dr. Steve Hendrix. Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” will discuss the economics and biology of pollinators, declines in honey bees and wild bee populations, the value of restoration for wild bees and the future of wild bees, among other topics. Hendrix will also provide basic information about wild bees that live in Iowa. His presentation will be based on his original research along with the work of others in the field.

Hendrix said his presentation “is important from the perspective of ecological services that wild bees provide. They are responsible for the successful reproduction of prairies and they provide the pollination needed for fruits and vegetables that keep us healthy.”

More than 40 environmental organizations and agencies will also be present at the Prairie Preview XXXIV sharing information and providing resources to attendees. The event is free, open to the public and will take place at the Clarion Highlander Hotel and Conference Center at 2525 N Dodge St, Iowa City, Iowa 52245 on March 9th, 2017. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the event begins at 7:30 p.m. 

This Prairie Preview, which usually attracts crowds of over 200 people, is sponsored by the Iowa Living Roadway Trust, Iowa Native Plant Society, City of Coralville, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Fiddlehead Gardens LLC, Forever Green, Friends of Hickory Hill Park, HBK Engineering, Legacy GreenBuilders, Project GREEN, Veenstra & Kimm, Inc., and Lon and Barbara Drake.

More information can be found here.


On The Radio – Hy-Vee supermarkets tackle food waste

3676426738_934d0d5fc3_bHy-Vee is an employee-owned chain of more than 240 supermarkets located throughout the Midwestern United States. (Flickr / Picture Des Moines) Jake Slobe | March 6, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses Hy-Vee’s recent strategy to reduce food waste within their stores. 

https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/hyveeinitiative_78sec.mp3

Transcript: Iowa’s Hy-Vee supermarket chain recently announced an initiative to reduce food waste.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The employee-owned corporation began its “Misfits” program in mid-January, and now offers “ugly” produce in nearly all of its 242 stores. “Ugly” produce are those vegetables and fruits that typically are not sold at market due to industry size and shape preferences. The program’s produce offerings include peppers, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and apples, among other fruits and vegetables. On average, consumers can expect to pay 30 percent less for the “ugly” items.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply goes to waste. Food waste makes up the vast majority of waste found in municipal landfills and quickly generates methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than CO2 during its first two decades in the atmosphere.

Hy-Vee’s Misfit program supports the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effort to achieve a 50 percent food waste reduction nationwide by 2030.

For more information about Hy-Vee’s food waste reduction efforts, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.


Intense summer heat to become more likely due to climate change

DCF 1.0Sydney, Australia saw record heat this summer, with mean temperatures 37 degrees Fahrenheit above average. (Bernard Spragg/Flickr) Jenna Ladd | March 3, 2017

Southern Australia just endured its hottest summer ever recorded, and recent research found that the likelihood of more extreme summer weather is on the rise.

Following summer months where Sydney’s mean temperature remained 37 degrees Fahrenheit above average, Dr. Perkins-Kirkpatrick at the University of New South Wales in Sydney began to study the relationship between human-induced climate change and summer heat waves.

Along with other researchers at the World Weather Attribution, Perkins-Kirkpatrick concluded that climate change has made it 50 times more likely that New South Wales will experience another similarly scorching summer. Simply put, before 1910 extreme weather like that experienced this summer was likely to occur once every 500 years, now it is likely to occur every 50 years on average. If climate change remains unabated, researchers say that likelihood could increase even more.

The report said, “In the future, a summer as hot as this past summer in New South Wales is likely to happen roughly once every five years.”

Energy companies in New South Wales had trouble supplying enough electricity to meet the demand for air conditioning units during the heatwave’s most intense days from February 9th through the 11th. Meanwhile, according to report by The Guardian, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull criticized renewable energy efforts, calling renewable energy goals in the country “completely unrealistic.”

Dr. Andrew King of Melbourne University was another one of the report’s authors. He said, “Yes, people would have experienced 40C [104 degrees Fahrenheit] days several decades ago around different parts of Australia and in Sydney but we know that these incidences of very hot days are getting more frequent and we are setting more records for heat.”

King added, “The purpose of the analysis in this report is to raise awareness that climate change is already impacting on weather in Australia. Hopefully it motivates action on climate change, because we know what the solution to climate change is.”


Winter tornados move through Midwest

West of Tuscaloosa, Alabama(Frank/flickr) Jenna Ladd | March 2, 2017

More than 20 tornados ripped through parts of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee on Tuesday.

The severe thunderstorms and tornadoes killed at least three people and left thousands of residents in the Midwest and Southeastern U.S. without electricity. While tornados during winter months are rare, they seem to be happening with increasing frequency.

Typically wintertime tornados form when a forceful jet stream moves across the Southern U.S. and meets colder, retreating air fronts. According to The Weather Channel, usually these tornados crop up in the Deep South, however, in February 2016 severe tornados touched down in Pennsylvania and Virginia, ultimately killing seven people.

On average, February is second-least tornadic month of the year, but recently averages for that month are increasing. February 2008 had 146 total tornados, making it the most tornadic February since the 1950s, and February 2016 came close behind with 138 total twisters.

While an abundance of scientific evidence links climate change with the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like heat waves and coastal flooding, the relationship between climate change and tornado frequency remains unclear.

Due to particularly strong jet-stream level energy characteristic of the winter months, winter tornados can occur at any time of the day or night, unlike more predictable spring and summer tornados that almost always form during the late afternoon and evening. The Weather Channel also points out that it is common for winter twisters to be wrapped in rain, making them more difficult to spot.

Experts remind Midwestern and Southeastern U.S. residents that severe weather in the winter months can be deadly and to create or review their severe weather plans.

tornadoes-by-month(The Weather Channel)

New study identifies spill risk of hydraulically fractured wells

hydrofracwellsThe amount of natural gas from hydraulically fractured wells has exploded over the last 15 years. (U.S. EIA) Jake Slobe | March 1, 2017

Each year, 2 to 16 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemical-laden water, hydraulic fracturing fluids and other substances, according to a new study.

The analysis, published Environmental Science & Technology, identified 6,648 spills reported across Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania over a 10-year period.

Researchers examined state-level spill data to characterize spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 wells hydraulically fractured or fracked in the four states between 2005 and 2014.

Lauren Patterson, policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the study’s lead author.

“State spill data holds great promise for risk identification and mitigation. However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis.”

North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents, followed by Pennsylvania at 1,293, Colorado at 476 and New Mexico at 426. The number of spills reported is partly a reflection of the reporting requirements set by each state. For example, North Dakota required reporting smaller spills (42 gallons or more) than Colorado and New Mexico (210 gallons or more).

The results of the study exceed the 457 spills calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for eight states between 2006 and 2012 because the EPA’s analysis only considered the hydraulic fracturing stage, rather than the full life cycle of unconventional oil and gas production.

Fifty percent of spills identified in the Environmental Science & Technology article were related to storage and moving fluids via pipelines, although it was not always possible to determine the cause of the spill because some states explicitly required this data to be reported while others relied on narrative descriptions.

Across all states, the first three years of a well’s life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest, had the greatest risk of a spill. The study found that a significant portion of spills (from 26 percent in Colorado to 53 percent in North Dakota) occur at wells that experienced more than one spill, which suggests that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.

 


Statewide monarch butterfly conservation strategy released

monarchsThe Cerro Pelón Reserve near Macheros is the second most populous monarch butterfly roosting site in Mexico during the winter months. (Dylan Hillyer/personal collection) Jenna Ladd | February 28, 2017

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium released its statewide strategy for the conservation and advancement of the monarch butterfly on Monday.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy aims to recover monarch butterfly populations in Iowa and North America. Developed by the consortium-a group of more than thirty organizations including agricultural and conservation groups, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies-the strategy provides necessary resources and information to advance the well-being of monarch butterflies in Iowa and across the continent.

A recent report found that the population of monarch butterflies that spend the winter months in Mexico decreased by 27 percent in 2016, primarily due to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. Milkweed is the only plant in which female monarchs will lay their eggs as well as the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. According to the consortium, about 40 percent of monarchs that overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and its neighboring states. In the last two decades, the total monarch population has declined by 80 percent.

Monarch butterflies provide vital ecosystem services including pollination and natural pest management. They also serve as a food source to larger animals such birds and bats.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said, “We didn’t get to this point overnight, and we aren’t going to improve the population overnight. But we have a really strong group across many different areas of expertise working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond.”

The strategy provides scientifically-based conservation practices that include using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying pesticides that may be toxic to the butterfly.

In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Wendy Wintersteen is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. She said, “This strategy is critical to rally Iowa agriculture, landowners and citizens to continue to make progress in restoring monarch habitat.”


New UI study looks at age of groundwater in the Jordan Aquifer

a026The Jordan Aquifer touches seven states and covers most of Iowa. Experts say the aquifer needs to recharge in many places where the water is being drawn from the aquifer faster than it can be recharged. (USGS) Jake Slobe | February 26, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a new study focused on finding the age of groundwater in the Jordan Aquifer.

https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/ground-water-study.mp3

Transcript: A University of Iowa study has found that groundwater in Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer is much older than previously thought.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Researchers from the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa have partnered with the UI Geology Department, Grinnell College, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in a study that uses isotopic age dating to estimate the age of groundwater in the Jordan Aquifer.

The study found that groundwater in central and northern Iowa is somewhere between 69,000 and 178,000 years old. To assess the age of groundwater in the aquifer, the study sampled eight municipal wells located across the state.

The study also examined the use of aquifer water for ethanol production. From 2004 to 2013, annual use of groundwater from the aquifer for ethanol production increased approximately 7.4 billion liters per year. The study recommended that ethanol production should be based on the accessibility of sustainable groundwater resources, rather than locations where deep groundwater reserves are needed for production.

Although not a focus of this study, similar studies have found that increased pumping from the aquifer has potential to induce detrimental water quality changes, including an increase in radium and salinity levels.

To learn more about the aquifer study, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.


Rising temperatures deplete Colorado River

4628619026_029af6ec66_oThe Colorado River provides drinking water for 40 million people. (Katie Rompala/flickr) Jenna Ladd | February 24, 2017

The volume of the Colorado River has decreased by 19 percent since 2000, and recent research shows that climate change is partly to blame.

Two researchers from Colorado State University and University of Arizona compared temperature, precipitation and water volume in the Colorado River basin from 2000-2014 to historical records dating back to 1896. Since 2000, precipitation in region has decreased by 4.6 percent while temperatures have risen 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above historical averages. Utilizing existing climate models, the scientists found that the river’s flow should have only decreased by roughly 11.6 percent since the drought began in the area in 2000. Instead, the river’s flow decreased by 19.3 percent due to the effects of global warming, they said.

Published last week in the journal Water Resources, the study read,

“Fifteen years into the 21st century, the emerging reality is that climate change is already depleting the Colorado River water supplies at the upper end of the range suggested by previously published projections. Record-setting temperatures are an important and under-appreciated component of the flow reductions now being observed.”

The Colorado River provides drinking water for 40 million people and irrigates 6,300 square miles of agricultural land. Moving forward, the study’s authors said precipitation in the river’s basin would have to increase by 14 percent by the end of the century in order to mitigate the rising temperature’s effects.

Brad Udall of Colorado State University is one of the study’s co-authors. He said, “We can’t say with any certainty that precipitation is going to increase and come to our rescue.”


Warming ponds could speed up climate change

warmingpondsSmall ponds used by researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University. (University of Exeter) Jenna Ladd | February 23, 2017

A recent study shows that when freshwater ponds warm, they release more methane and are able to store less carbon dioxide.

Researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London warmed a collection of man-made ponds by four to five degrees Celsius over the course of seven years. The first of its kind, the study found that the amount of methane released by the ponds increased by double while the amount of carbon dioxide the ponds could store decreased by half.

Professor Gabriel Yvon-Durocher was the study’s lead investigator. He said, “Given the substantial contribution small ponds make to the emission of greenhouse gases, it is vital to understand how they might respond to global warming.”

While ponds and lakes only account for about 0.008 percent of the total volume of water on Earth, they are major contributors of carbon dioxide and methane. Greenhouse gases from freshwater sources are mostly the byproduct of organic matter breaking down in low-oxygen environments.

Yvon-Durocher continued, “Our findings show that warming can fundamentally alter the carbon balance of small ponds over a number of years, reducing their capacity to absorb and increasing emissions of methane. This could ultimately accelerate climate change.”

The scientist noted that these findings are different than those normally observed on land, where the effect of rising temperatures lessen over time. In contrast, when ponds warm and release methane, a gas that is known to be 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, they actually exacerbate warming.

Ponds of less than one meter, such as those used in the study, are responsible for the release of 40 percent of all inland methane emissions.

 

The professor noted, “This accelerating effect in ponds, which could have serious impacts on climate change, is not currently accounted for in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models.”

The complete study can be found in the journal Nature Climate Change.


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