Flood sensor expansion continues


A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)
A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | October 22, 2014

The Iowa Flood Center is dramatically expanding the scope of its river and stream sensor network across the state this fall.

The Flood Center, which has installed 200 river and stream gauges since 2010, will add an additional 50 sensors in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. These gauges monitor water levels in real time and send the data back to the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), which can be viewed by the public. Citizens, landowners and governments can then use this web-based tool to look for flood warnings, monitor water levels upstream from their location, and see exactly how far flood waters will reach in a given situation.

The sensors, which are usually installed on bridges, measure the distance to the water by sending an electronic pulse every 15 minutes. The availability of such precise measurements has already had a significant impact on local businesses, especially those located in floodplains. The sensors, which cost around $3,500 each, can save businesses thousands more by preventing losses in production and labor during flood season.

Iowa Flood Center staff and students will install the new sensors over the coming weeks. Watch the video below to learn more about how these sensors are installed across the state.

Study: Vitamin B12 may be key to removing PCBs, other toxins released into environment


Researchers at the University of Manchester may have found a way to remove PCBs and other toxins from the environment (Flickr/Seth Anderson)
Researchers at the University of Manchester may have found a way to remove PCBs and other toxins from the environment (Flickr/Seth Anderson)

Nick Fetty | October 21, 2014

A 15-year study by researchers at the University of Manchester finds that vitimin B12 could be the key to removing PCBs and other harmful pollutants already released into the environment.

“We already know that some of the most toxic pollutants contain halogen atoms and that most biological systems simply don’t know how to deal with these molecules,” University of Manchester professor David Leys said in a press release. “However, there are some organisms that can remove these halogen atoms using vitamin B12. Our research has identified that they use vitamin B12 in a very different way to how we currently understand it.”

The team from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology used x-ray crystallography to study 3D models of how halogen atoms are removed from organisms. These particular organisms are “microscopic deep sea creatures” which are also found in rivers and ponds.

While humans use vitamin B12 to maintain a functioning brain and nervous system, certain micro-organisms and bacterium are able to use it as a detoxifying agent. The rapid reproduction rate of these bacterium means they can remove “a huge quantity of chemical in a few weeks.”

Often times these toxins pollute the air and the water through direct disposal onto land and waterways as well as through burning household waste.

The study was published this month in the journal Nature. The project was made possible with funding from the European Research Council.

On the Radio: Iowa scientists connect state water quality issues to climate change


Morning fog rises off of Lake MacBride near Solon, IA. The lake reported a massive fish kill due in part to blue-green algae earlier this year. (KC McGinnis / for CGRER)
Morning fog rises off of Lake MacBride near Solon, IA. The lake reported a massive fish kill due in part to blue-green algae earlier this year. (KC McGinnis / for CGRER)
October 20, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at highlights from the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released Friday, October 10. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Climate Statement 2

Climate change causes extreme weather, increased flooding and resulting water pollution, which is threatening the health of Iowans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released in October, examined how repeated heavy rains and the resulting flooding have led to increased exposure to toxic chemicals and raw sewage, which can have negative effects on health for humans and animals.

The fourth annual statement was signed by 180 scientists and researchers from 38 colleges and universities across Iowa.

Heavy rains in agricultural areas causes phosphorus and nitrates to run off fields and into waterways. These polluted waterways coupled with increased water temperature have spurred algal blooms on still bodies of water during peak summer heats. These algal blooms make the water unsafe for human or animal consumption or recreation.

For more information about the Iowa Climate Statement 2014, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

 

UI alumnus returns to alma mater to talk climate change, energy alternatives


Approximately 150 attendees listened to Dr. James Hansen discuss climate change and alternative energy in the Iowa Memorial Union Main Ballroom on Thursday October 16, 2014. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Approximately 150 attendees listened to Dr. James Hansen discuss climate change and alternative energy as part of the “Meeting the Renewable Energy Challenge” symposium at the Iowa Memorial Union Main Ballroom on Thursday October 16, 2014. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | October 17, 2014

Former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and University of Iowa alumnus James Hansen returned to his alma mater Thursday night to discuss climate change and energy alternatives.

Hansen started his lecture by talking about his upbringing in rural western Iowa and being in high school during the time of Sputnik, a satellite launched into outer space by the Soviet Union in 1957. He went on to study at the University of Iowa where he earned his B.A. in physics and mathematics in 1963, an M.S. in astronomy in 1965, and finally a PhD in physics in 1967. This was at a time when world-renowned physicist James Van Allen was part of the UI faculty though Hansen said he was too nervous to study under Van Allen as an undergraduate.

“I was too shy and unconfident [that] I actually avoided specifically taking any courses under professor Van Allen,” Hansen said. “That’s a very bad strategy for students. You’re much better off sitting in the front row than in the back row.”

He eventually overcame his fears and worked closely with Van Allen during his graduate studies. Perhaps one of the biggest moments in Hansen’s career was when he gave an address to congress about the implications associated with climate change in 1988. This along with his broader field of work earned him the nickname “the Grandfather of Climate Change.” During his lecture Thursday night he emphasized that climate change is something that will most directly impact younger generations and as a grandfather himself he said this is a major concern.

“We’re putting young people in a situation where they have to look out for themselves because we’re [the older generations] not doing it,” he said.

Hansen also discussed the degradation and “irreversible effects” that climate change has caused on organic lifeforms such as monarch butterflies and coral reefs. Part of this can be attributed to carbon emissions which are disproportionately high in the United States compared to other countries.

“There’s also a moral issue here because the United States is responsible for more than a quarter of the excess of the human-made CO2 in the atmosphere even though our population is like 5 percent,” he said.

Hansen proposed implementing a fee to fossil fuel companies as a means to decrease carbon emissions.

“There are climate effects [and] those are paid by the victims, and the taxpayers, the government. Not by the fossil fuel companies,” he said. “So the solution is to add a price to fossil fuels. To collect a fee from the fossil fuel companies.”

Hansen also touched on the potential of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

“We have technology now that a nuclear reactor can shut down if there’s an anomaly like an earthquake so you can avoid the kind of problem that Fukushima had,” he said. “You can have a design that does not require power to keep the reactor cool in case of a shut down.”

The presentation was followed up by a question and answer session and the entire event was about two hours in length. Roughly 150 students, adults, and UI faculty attended the lecture which was the final part of the UI Public Policy Center’s “Meeting the Renewable Energy Challenge” series of events.

 

EPA approves use of Dow’s ‘Enlist Duo’ herbicide in Iowa


Corn_field_ohio
Farmers lauded the EPA’s decision to approve the new weed-resistant herbicide while environmentalists are leery of the potential health effects. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | October 16, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday approved a controversial herbicide for use in Iowa and five other states.

The agency gave the green light to Dow’s Enlist Duo weed killer which will be used in conjunction with the company’s corn and soy bean seeds that were approved by the Department of Agriculture in September. The herbicide is engineered to combat resistant and other resilient weeds. To avoid pesticide drift and other potential hazards, the EPA has implemented a 30-foot no spray buffer zone around application areas, forbids application when winds speeds exceed 15 miles per hour, and disallows the use of aircrafts to apply the pesticide to fields.

Critics fear that the weedkiller could have detrimental effects for humans as well as the environment. Within hours of EPA’s decision, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to disallow use of the herbicide citing the potential health effects for humans as well as monarch butterfly populations.

“The agency evaluated the risks to all age groups, from infants to the elderly, and took into account exposures through food, water, pesticide drift, and as a result of use around homes,” the EPA said in a press release. “The decision meets the rigorous Food Quality Protection Act standard of ‘reasonable certainty of no harm’ to human health.”

The herbicide has been approved for use in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The EPA is considering approving use of the herbicide in 10 other states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Dakota.

The EPA has released the full report (EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0195-2418) as well as frequently asked questions about the new herbicide.

Respected climate scientist and UI alum to visit Iowa City Thursday


Climate scientist and UI alumnus Dr. James Hansen (Contributed photo)
Climate scientist and UI alumnus Dr. James Hansen (Contributed photo)
KC McGinnis | October 15, 2014

Longtime climate scientist and University of Iowa alumnus James Hansen will visit Iowa City for a lecture on Thursday, October 16.

Hansen, who currently serves at Columbia University’s Earth Institute as director of its Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program, earned his doctorate in physics from the UI in 1967. He is regarded as one of the first to raise awareness of global warming as a man-made threat, laid out in his 1988 hearing before Congress in which he said he was “99 percent certain” that global warming could be attributed to greenhouse gases.

His lecture, titled “Speaking Truth to Power: Lessons from Iowa and Relevance to Global Climate Policies” will be held in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday. The lecture is free and open to both students and the general public.

Hansen, who formerly served as Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has spent decades studying human-induced climate change. He also specializes in identifying “greenwash,” deceptive marketing and PR strategies which give the appearance of eco-friendliness while in fact being merely aesthetic. His lecture, which is part of the UI Public Policy Center’s “Meeting the Renewable Energy Challenge” symposium, can also be streamed here.

National Weather Service Director to visit Iowa City


Dr. Louis W. Uccellini  earned his PhD in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has served as Director of the National Weather Service since 2013. (NOAA)
Dr. Louis W. Uccellini holds a PhD in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has served as Director of the National Weather Service since 2013. (NOAA)

Nick Fetty | October 14, 2014

National Weather Service (NWS) Director Louis W. Uccellini is will give a public seminar about how communities can better handle severe weather during his stop in Iowa City this week.

The presentation – “Building a Weather-Ready Nation: Advancing the NWS Hydrology Program” – will examine ways the NWS is building a network to better prepare communities for a range of natural disasters from drought and flooding to winter storms and hurricanes.

This will be followed up by a presentation from Don Cline, acting director of NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, entitled “Environmental Intelligence: Water 1.0 – The National Water Center and the Transformation of NOAA’s Water Prediction Services.” Cline will focus on how the NWS along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working with the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Sciences, Inc. – which includes the University of Iowa as well as Iowa State University – to develop a water prediction network.

This two-part presentation is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. on October 15 in the Lehman Ballroom at Hotel Vitro and is open to the public. The two presentations will be followed up by a question and answer session with Dr. Uccellini and Dr. Cline.

Uccellini, Cline, and other members of the NWS will also visit the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) while on campus. NWS representatives will meet with staff from the IFC to discuss ways the two organizations can work together to better serve Iowa and the rest of the country.

Seminar Details

What: “Building a Weather-Ready Nation: Advancing the NWS Hydrology Program” presented by Louis W.Uccellini.

“Environmental Intelligence: Water 1.0 — The National Water Center and the Transformation of NOAA’s Water Prediction Services” presented by Don Cline.

When: Wednesday, Oct. 15, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Where: Hotel Vetro, Lehman Ballroom, 201 South Linn St., Iowa City.