Cooler temps offer needed relief for RAGBRAI bikers


Cyclists ride through rural Iowa during RAGBRAI (Dave Herholz/Flickr)

Cyclists ride through rural Iowa during RAGBRAI (Dave Herholz/Flickr)

After enduring two days of high temperatures and gusting winds, RAGBRAI cyclists will get a much-needed reprieve from the heat during Wednesday’s leg of the ride.

Today’s RAGBRAI route takes bikers from Forest City to Mason City, a distance of 38.5 miles. Conditions in both cities are dry and mild, with comfortable temperatures and low wind. Cyclists were greeted in Forest City yesterday by above-average temperatures and wind gusts at up to 30 miles per hour. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for western Iowa Monday and Tuesday which was lifted Tuesday night.

With average summer temperatures in Iowa expected to increase over the next few decades, RAGBRAI will become even more challenging for bikers who make the trek across the state. Extreme heat combined with exercise can cause elevated heart rate, and increased sweating can lead to dehydration and electrolyte depletion, putting even more strain on the heart. A respected cyclist suffered a fatal heart attack during Monday’s RAGBRAI route, the first cyclist to die during RAGBRAI since 2010.

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Australian engineering students aim to set world record for fastest solar-powered vehicle


Engineering students at the University of New South Wales have recently designed a solar-powered car that they hope will set the Guinness World Record for “highest average speed over a 500 km (310 mi) distance.”

Members of Sunswift, the team responsible for designing the car, are confident that its newest model – the eVe – will be able to beat the current record of 45 mph (73 km/h) set in 1988. The eVe has a top speed of 87 mph (140 km/h) and is capable of covering nearly 500 miles (800 km) on a single charge. The eVe is the fifth car the Sunswift team has built and raced since the group’s founding in 1996.

The record-breaking attempt will take place on Wednesday, July 23 at the Australian Automotive Research Centre in Anglesea, Victoria. The event is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time. Follow Sunswift on Twitter for the latest information.

The American Solar Challenge will travel through Iowa later this week and will feature a solar-powered car built by students at Iowa State University.

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American Ethanol team participating in RAGBRAI XLII


Members of the American Ethanol RAGBRAI team. Photo via GrowthEnergy.org

Members of the American Ethanol RAGBRAI team.
Photo via GrowthEnergy.org

The 42nd (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – better known as RAGBRAI – kicked off on Sunday and this year’s event features a nearly 200-person team representing American Ethanol.

This year’s route passes through “the heart of Iowa’s ethanol producing regions” and ethanol plants along the route will host various events throughout the week. The Biofuels Mobile Education Center - a 45-foot trailer with touch screen computers and other interactive equipment – is making stops in Emmetsburg, Charles City and Mason City. The No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet SS - driven by 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillion of Richard Childress Racing - will also make stops in Emmetsburg and Mason City as well as Sheldon.

Since 2011, American Ethanol has been a key partner in implementing green efforts for NASCAR. As of September 2012, more than 3 million miles have been fueled by Sunoco Green E15 – “a highly oxygenated unleaded race fuel that contains 15 volume percent ethanol.” Growth Energy, POET, Green Plains Inc., Monsanto and New Holland have also teamed with American Ethanol to sponsor the RAGBRAI team.

For updates from the American Ethanol team throughout RAGBRAI, follow the group on Facebook and Twitter.

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Report: Voluntary conservation practices won’t clean up Iowa’s waterways


A stream near Lisbon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)

A stream near Lisbon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)

A recent report casts doubt on the effectiveness of Iowa’s current strategy for reducing pollutants in Iowa’s waterways.

The report, released last week by the Iowa Policy Project (IPP), looks at the effects of Iowa’s current strategy for reducing the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous being released into waterways. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires states with waterways that drain into the Gulf of Mexico to develop nutrient reduction strategies that will reduce the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous being released by 45 percent. Iowa’s current Nutrient Reduction Strategy includes mandates for wastewater treatment plants and other point sources, but takes a voluntary approach toward agricultural producers and other nonpoint sources.

The IPP study pointed out that runoff from nonpoint sources like farms contributes to 79 percent of the phosphorous and 93 percent of the nitrogen being released into Iowa waterways. Yet a survey of Iowa farmers found that just over half who were aware of the conservation programs in place chose not to participate, while around one third of farmers were unfamiliar with the programs altogether.

After pointing out that most Iowa farmers agree that they should be required to control nutrient runoff to stay eligible for federal farm program benefits, the study offered six policy additions that could improve the current voluntary strategy. These include sufficient funding for conservation measures and nutrient criteria standards for all of Iowa’s waters, not just drinking water. The report concludes that a mainly voluntary approach could only work with these such additions

For more information about the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, see the Iowa Policy Project report.

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On the Radio: American Solar Challenge passing through Iowa this weekend


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Iowa State University’s solar car, built by students in Team PrISUm, runs a qualifying lap at the Formula Sun Gran Prix on July 18 (Team PrISUM Facebook page)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at the American Solar Challenge, a 1700-mile solar car race that’s passing through Iowa this weekend. The race includes a car built by students at Iowa State University. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: American Solar Challenge

More than 20 student-designed solar-powered vehicles, including one from Iowa State University, will be racing through Iowa this weekend on July 26.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The 2014 American Solar Challenge, an eight-day, 1700-mile solar car race from Austin, Texas to Minneapolis, Minnesota will take a pit stop in Ames Saturday before the race’s final leg to Minneapolis. The competition is the culmination of more than two years of planning and construction by teams from all around the country.

Iowa State’s solar car team, Team PrISUm, will be making its its sixth appearance in the American Solar Challenge since the group started building solar cars in 1989. Their last solar car, Hyperion, was capable of reaching speeds of 70 miles per hour.

The race allows students to explore the capabilities of solar power while gaining hands-on engineering experience.

For more information about the American Solar Challenge, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

The Team PrISUm website

Team PrISUm’s Facebook page

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First cases of chikungunya virus acquired within US


Photo by Ramón Portellano; Flickr

Photo by Ramón Portellano; Flickr

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reporting the first domestically acquired cases of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus.

Two infected individuals have been identified in Florida; neither had left the country recently enough to have contracted the virus elsewhere.

Chikungunya is not new to the United States; according to the CDC, the US sees an average of 28 cases per year. Until this point, however, these incidents have occurred exclusively in travelers returning from countries where the virus is common.

Symptoms of the Chikungunya virus include fevers and joint pain that usually cease within a week, although the latter can become chronic. Although no vaccine is available, the virus is very rarely fatal, and both US cases appear to be doing well.

 

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Iowa grocery shoppers have varied views on GMOs


 

The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)

The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)

The use of genetically modified organisms ranks low in the list of factors Iowans consider when buying groceries, according to a new survey from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

The study, conducted online by Harris Poll, surveyed around 500 Iowans who buy groceries, focusing on the factors that influence packaged food purchases. It found that while 95 percent of Iowa’s corn is genetically modified, only 18 percent of consumers said a GMO label would cause them to choose one product over another, falling well behind “Natural” (30%) and “Organic” (25%) and just ahead of “Gluten free” (13%), according to a Des Moines Register infographic. Taste and price were listed among the most important factors behind packaged food purchases.

The study found confusion around the usefulness of GMO labels on packaged products. While 36 percent of those surveyed believe a non-GMO label denotes a safer product, 32 percent think the label is meaningless. Faced with the option of paying more for food with a GMO-free label, 38 percent opted for the lower price, while 26 percent preferred the non-GMO product and 36 percent were unsure.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that genetically modified plants must meet the same safety requirements for human consumption as traditionally bred plants, the World Health Organization has highlighted some environmental concerns of the technology, like decreased crop rotation, harm to beneficial insects and the potential for new plant pathogens.

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