NASA graphic paints vivid picture of carbon dioxide’s movement through the atmosphere


Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.
Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.

A new, high-resolution computer model from NASA offers a stunning view of how carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas released through human activity, moves through Earth’s atmosphere.

The video (below) shows plumes of gas swirling from concentrated sources through the rest of the atmosphere as winds disperse them. What’s interesting to note is the visible differences in distribution between industrialized areas in the northern hemisphere and those further south. Carbon dioxide is emitted mainly through the burning of fossil fuels.

The NASA model is the first to simulate carbon dioxide measurements in such high definition. In addition to ground-based carbon-release measurements, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 in July to make even more detailed, space-based observations. While scientists have plenty of data about the levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere (the gas’s concentration exceeded 400 parts per million across most of the northern hemisphere for the first time in modern history this year), relatively little is known about the paths carbon dioxide takes as moves from source to the atmosphere and to absorption points in forests and oceans.

The visualization was produced by an advanced computer model called GEOS-5, which simulated the behavior of Earth’s atmosphere based on measurements of carbon dioxide and other gases from May 2005 to June 2007.

Snow expected in Iowa after South Dakota hit with first major snowfall of the season


Snowfall in St. Paul, Minnesota on Monday, November 11, 2014. (Grace/Instagram)
Snowfall in St. Paul, Minnesota on Monday, November 11, 2014. (Grace/Instagram)

Nick Fetty | November 11, 2014

Up to 8 inches of snow fell on parts of South Dakota Monday afternoon and the system is expected to move east into Iowa and parts the Great Lakes region today.

The system is expected to bring up 3 inches to portions of northeast Iowa throughout the day on Tuesday, according to Paul Markert, a meteorologist with MDA Weather Services. The snow is not expected to be a significant threat to farmers who are mostly done harvesting soy beans for the season and who are 82 percent done with the corn harvest. Corns crops are able to withstand cold temperatures however the snow may present some issues with harvesting.

Data released from the United States Department of Agriculture on Monday shows that this year’s corn crop is expected to produce a record harvest with 14.407 billion bushels nationally, down slightly from October’s estimate of 14.475 billion. The soy bean harvest is expected to produce a record 3.958 billion bushels nationally, up less than 1 percent compared to October’s estimate.

Monday’s snow coverage extended from Montana to Wisconsin with areas in between seeing as much as 12 inches. Regions of northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan are expected to be hit with the heaviest snowfalls today, though these are not livestock-heavy areas. In October 2013, roughly 22,000 cattle died after an unexpected blizzard blasted South Dakota with freezing rains, heavy snows, and winds gusts up to 70 miles per hour.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Des Moines recorded its snowiest November day on November 10, 1968 with 11.8 inches. This was Des Moines’s highest single-day accumulation of snowfall in November since record keeping began in 1878.

Photos + Video: Iowa Climate Statement 2014


The 4th annual Iowa Climate Statement, signed by 180 researchers and scientists from 38 colleges and universities across the state, was released last month during a press conference at the state capitol. The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans examines public health risks associated with climate change. Video from the event is now available below, along with photos (above). Please feel free to share the video using the share buttons attached.

Climate and health experts discuss effects of climate change on Iowans


Nick Fetty | November 4, 2014

The 2014 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum took place on the University of Iowa Oakdale Campus in Coralville on Friday, October 31. The 2nd annual event was attended by approximately 50 climate and health experts from across the state.

Chris Anderson – Assistant Director Climate Science Program at Iowa State University – was the first to present at Friday’s event as he discussed the impact of climate change in Iowa.

“Climate change in Iowa is different from climate change on TV,” he said.

One example of this is the frequency of spring and summer rainfall combinations. There were approximately seven instances of spring and summer rainfall combinations between 1893 and 1980 compared to five instances between 2008 and 2014.

Mary Spokec – research geologist and program coordinator for IOWATER – along with David Osterberg – Associate Clinical Professor of Environmental Policy in the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health  – took the stage next to discuss water quality issues related to climate change. They said part of the reason for toxic algal blooms which can lead to water contamination is because there are no national standards for algal cyanotoxins.

This issue can be particularly problematic in Iowa other agricultural states where nitrogen and phosphorus can runoff of fields and into waterways which exacerbates the growth of hazardous algal blooms such as blue green algae. Extreme weather associated with climate change has also affected these algal growths. According to weekly monitoring of 38 state-owned beaches, there were 46 water quality advisories during 2013 and 2014 compared to seven in 2011 and two in 2010.

Peter Thorne – head of the UI’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health – presented next about climate-induced air quality issues affecting Iowans. Molds such as Aspergillus and Penicillium can grow on damp wood in houses and other structures that sustain flood damage. This can lead to a range of pulmonary conditions including mold allergies, asthma, inflammation of mucous membranes, Katrina cough, and Alveolitis. Climate change has also been attributed to more extreme weather events such as heavy rain falls which can lead to flooding.

Increased carbon dioxide levels, hotter temperatures, and a longer growing season (each of which can at least partially be attributed to climate change) is causing poison ivy plants to be more potent. Other allergenic plants have also seen increases in potency as well as an expanded range because conditions attributed to climate change.

Yogesh Shah – Associate Dean of Global Health at Des Moines University – discussed how has climate change has effected disease-carrying insect populations.

“This is the most deadly animal around,” Shah said of mosquitoes, adding that the disease-carrying insects have killed more humans than all other animals combined.

Approximately 600,000 deaths occur each year because of mosquitoes and reported cases of malaria are the greatest they’ve been since 1971. A relatively unheard of disease known as Chikungunya is on the rise, particularly in areas of Africa, India, China, and other parts of southeast Asia. Around 750,000 cases of Chikungunya have been reported in Caribbean and some cases have moved as far north into Florida and other parts of the U.S.

Two cases of Chikungunya has been reported in Iowa by people who contracted the disease while traveling. West Nile Virus is also carried by mosquitoes and in 2002 there were cases of either human or non-human WNV reported in every county in Iowa. Warmer temperatures and a longer growing season have also led to greater numbers of longer-living mosquitoes.

Peter Thorne concluded the morning session by discussing mental health affects caused by increased heat and particularly warmer nighttime temperatures. The group then broke for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon participating in a public health tracking portal presented by  environmental epidemiologists Tim Wickam and Rob Walker from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Many of the public health and environmental issues discussed at Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum were included in the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans.

On the Radio: Bitter and snowy winter predicted


A snowy farm in rural Iowa. (Alexandra Stevenson/Flickr)
A snowy farm in rural Iowa. (Alexandra Stevenson/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at brisk temperature and precipitation predictions for the coming winter. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Iowans should brace for another “bitter and snowy” winter if predictions from the Farmer’s Almanac are correct.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Farmer’s Almanac was first published in 1792 and supplies farmers with weather predictions using its own unique formula which takes into account temperatures and precipitation levels as well as sunspot activity over the past 30 years. This year’s forecast calls for the coldest period to be between early December and about halfway through January.

Snowy periods are expected to hit mid-December, early February and again in March. Temperatures in April and May are expected to be higher than usual while precipitation levels look to be below normal.

Last winter was the coldest Iowa has seen in 35 years and ranked as the 9th coldest winter in Iowa since record keeping began in 1872.

For more information about these weather predictions, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.agriculture.state.ia.us/press/2014press/press03072014.asp
http://www.radioiowa.com/2014/08/29/mit-predicts-continued-snowy-winters-even-with-global-warming/
http://www.radioiowa.com/2014/09/04/old-farmers-almanac-predicts-bitter-snowy-winter-ahead/
http://www.weather.com/news/winter-ncdc-state-climate-report-2013-2014-20140313
http://www.kcci.com/news/new-winter-prediction-just-released-in-old-farmers-almanac/27642452

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.