Study: Mining can affect fish habitats miles downstream


XXX (Wesley Daniel, Michigan State University)
Mining occurs in all 50 states for natural resources ranging from coal to salt. (Wesley Daniel; Michigan State University)

Nick Fetty | November 25, 2014

A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University finds that mining can have adverse effects on fish habitats many miles downstream from the mine itself.

The study was published in this week’s issue of the journal Ecological Indicators with funding provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of the study’s focus was on heavy mining areas in the United States, such as the Appalachia region, but also included relatively unstudied areas such as Illinois and Iowa.

Mining occurs in every state for wide range of natural resources from coal and precious metals to sand and salt. While larger rivers are able to dilute the damage caused by mining operations, smaller streams are more susceptible to pollution. These smaller streams often feed into larger watersheds which then affects fish habitats and causes other ecological concerns.

The Northern Appalachian (NAP) ecoregion encompasses most of Illinois and Iowa as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Compared to the Southern Appalachian (SAP) and Temperate Plains (TPL) ecoregions, the NAP ecoregion has the highest density of mines with nearly 40 mines per square kilometer, including 714 mineral mines and 1,041 major coal mines.

The report concluded that “the US has the world’s largest estimated recoverable reserves of coal, and production will increase over the next two decades, suggesting that alteration of stream fish assemblages may intensify in the future.”

On the Radio: Water demand strains Jordan Aquifer


Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at recent news surrounding Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer, which is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Jordan Aquifer

Increased water demand in Iowa is straining one of the state’s largest underground aquifers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Des Moines Register reports that the Jordan Aquifer – which supplies about half a million Iowans with water – is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself.

Last year Iowa drew nearly 26 billion gallons from the aquifer which is a 72 percent increase since the 1970s. Nearly 200 businesses, municipalities, universities, and other entities tap into the Jordan Aquifer with about 345 wells across the state. Parts of southwest Iowa need to drill as deep as 2,500 feet underground to extract water from the aquifer.

This increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuels industry, which requires large quantities of purified water during the production process. Roughly 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production with some facilities using as much as 200 million gallons of water each year.

For more information about the Jordan Aquifer and water use in Iowa visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

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: Tool helps livestock farmers handle environmental challenges


A group of cattle graze in an Iowa field. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A group of cattle grazes in an Iowa field. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
November 3, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a website that’s helping Iowa farmers tackle environmental challenges on the farm. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: AM-PAT

An Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website provides livestock producers with the tools to better handle environmental challenges on the farm.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Air Management Practices Assessment Tool – or AM-PAT – aims to assist livestock farmers with mitigation practices to better deal with the odor, exhaust and dust associated with livestock and poultry operations.

Users can view and print off color-coded graphs and fact sheets to gauge pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, dust, odor, volatile organic compounds, and greenhouse gases and how they affect various aspects of livestock operations. The website also calculates the relative cost for the various practices.

AM-PAT is a collaboration between the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with funding provided by the National Pork Board.

For more information about AM-PAT and other resources, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.agronext.iastate.edu/ampat/homepage.html
http://nationalhogfarmer.com/environment/air-management-assessment-tool-helps-set-mitigation-strategies
http://vimeopro.com/isuagextension/ampat

 

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.