On The Radio- Harnessing the ocean for renewable energy

Ocean tides are the rising and falling of ocean levels caused by the sun and moon’s gravitational pull and the earth’s rotation. (Rita Jo/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 19, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a Canadian company that is trying to use ocean tides to create renewable energy. 


A Canadian company is looking to harness the tidal pull of the ocean for energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Cape Sharp Tidal is a company located in Nova Scotia by Canada’s Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy is known to have some of the highest tides in the world. The differences in water levels between high and low tide are sometimes as large as 50 feet.

Christian Richard, the company director, was inspired by the way wind turbines collect energy by using air currents to turn the turbine blades. Using the tides for energy would work in much the same way, with the sensors being placed underwater and using the changes in the pull of the tide to generate energy.

The technology is still in the early stages of testing. The development team must work on everything from the design, to the efficiency, to proving that the invention won’t harm marine life.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

Hot, drier weather poses risks to beer production


Hops, the grain that gives India Pale Ales their distinct, bitter flavor, has become more expensive as Northwestern weather grows hotter. (Josh Delp/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 16, 2018

Per tradition, many will head to a pub for a beer tomorrow to ring in St. Patrick’s Day. Few, however, are likely to think about the way our changing climate impacts beer production.

Beer is made with a fermented grain, namely barely and hops, and water. All these key ingredients become more difficult to source as weather becomes more extreme.

More than seventy percent of hops, which give some beers their bitter flavor, are produced in Washington state, specifically in the Yakima Basin. NOAA National Centers for Environment Information reports that in 2015, that area of Washington faced severe drought conditions from June through August. In fact, hop’s whole growing season in Washington that year was uncommonly warm. The state still managed to produce nearly 60 million pounds of hops, but yields for certain varieties of the grain were much lower than expected. The warmer weather in that region is expected to continue hurting hop production, specifically European varieties that are grown there.

Brewing beer also requires great quantities of water. Drought conditions in many parts of California have made beer production difficult and costly. For taste, brewers prefer to use river and lake water, but as river flows reduce and reservoirs run dry, many breweries have had to switch to groundwater. Groundwater is typically mineral-rich and can give beer a funny taste. Some brewers have likened it to “brewing with Alka-Seltzer.”

In 2015, top breweries released a statement detailing the way climate change affects production,

“Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250% over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.”

New Belgium and Sierra Nevada are among many breweries that have implemented internal energy conservation practices. Sierra Nevada uses more than 10,000 solar panels to supply energy to its California brewery and New Belgium employees started giving up their bonuses to purchase wind turbines for the company over twenty years ago.  As grains, water and energy become more costly, brewers and consumers alike may benefit from considering the ecological impact each pint of beer has this Saturday.


Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy draft released

Female monarchs lay their eggs in milkweed pods. (Charles Dawley/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 15, 2018

A draft of the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy was released on Monday, and Iowa plays an integral role in its success.

North American monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 80 percent in the last two decades, and their numbers are less than half of what is needed to guarantee a sustainable population. The black and gold pollinators spend their winter months in Mexico and southern California and travel to the northern midwest for the summer. Female monarchs lay eggs exclusively in milkweed pods.

Released by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the conservation strategy draft explains that midwestern states plan to establish 1.3 billion new milkweed stems over the next two decades. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is included within the midwestern effort. Written by Iowa State University’s Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, its aims to establish between 480,000 and 830,000 acres on monarch habitat by 2038.

Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, said, “The consortium has worked collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to expand habitat on our agricultural land, urban areas, roadsides, and other public land. We appreciate the many partners that have been involved and are encouraged by the work already underway.”

Iowa’s strategy provides evidence-based recommendations for creating monarch habitat and aims to document all voluntary efforts. 127 to 188 million new milkweed stems are estimated to be planted in Iowa in accordance with the plan.

Given that the vast majority of Iowa land is in agricultural production, the plan’s authors emphasize that agricultural lands must be a part of the solution. The strategy considers both expanding on existing conservation practices and planting milkweed stems in underutilized farm land as viable options. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will decide in June 2019 whether the monarch butterfly should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said, “Iowa falls entirely within the monarch’s northern breeding core. This means that every patch of milkweed habitat added in Iowa counts, and Iowa is perfectly situated to lead the way in conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly. The recovery cannot succeed without Iowa.”

The full draft of the Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.
The complete Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.

Commonwealth nations call for science based policy

Carbon emissions must be net zero during the second half of the century to meet current climate goals. (Unalienable/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 14, 2017

Leaders from 22 countries representing thousands of scientists released a statement Monday calling on political leaders to more aggressively combat climate change.

Representatives from national scientific academies in the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Indian, Mozambique, Nigeria and many other countries that formerly were a part of the British empire authored and endorsed the document, titled, “Commonwealth Academies of Science Consensus Statement on Climate Change.”

They point out that even if all of the 160 countries that ratified the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 met their greenhouse emission goals, global temperatures will still rise by 3 degree Celsius before 2100. Not only do the scientists call for political action on climate change, but they asked that it be informed by data.

Looking forward to 2030 climate change talks, they write, “The Commonwealth academies of science call upon Commonwealth Heads of Government to use the best possible scientific evidence to guide action on their 2030 commitments under the Paris accord, and to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases emissions during the second half of the 21st Century.”

The Commonwealth’s message is similar a move in the U.S. for more scientists to run for positions in congress. At least 60 scientists are running at the federal level during this year’s mid-terms. Non-profit organizations like 314-Action are asking more scientists to join the race. 314-Action is “committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.”

Scientist or career politician, commonwealth representative or U.S. congressperson, policy makers worldwide must find a way to achieve net-zero carbon emissions during the second half of this century in order to meet the Paris Climate Accord goal to keep temperatures 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels.


On The Radio- Phosphorus in fresh water

Salanfe Lake Dam (Soma Biswas/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 12, 2018

This week’s segment looks at the high levels of phosphorus in the world’s fresh water.



The world’s freshwater is becoming overloaded with phosphorus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Phosphorus is an essential element for plant life and is commonly found in agricultural fertilizers and sewage runoff. An excess of phosphorus in water, however, can create a process called eutrophication. This process depletes oxygen in the water which can be detrimental to aquatic life.

A recent study from Water Resources Research reported sewage and agricultural run off adding a little over one million tons of phosphorus to rivers and lakes each year. Agricultural fertilizer contributed to 38 percent of the contamination. Another large component is poorly treated sewage.

Despite international trends of increasing phosphorus levels, Iowa waterways have reported decreasing levels of phosphorus over the last few years.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

Gender disparities extend to climate resiliency

Background Coverage: Mali
Women are often responsible for gathering fuel and water for domestic purposes, task that is much more difficult and time consuming as the climate continues to change. (Flickr/United Nations Ian Steele)
Jenna Ladd | March 9, 2017

Yesterday’s International Women’s Day inspired record-setting strikes, calls for equal pay and representation as well as conversations about how climate change disproportionally affects women and girls.

A recent photo essay from the United Nation’s titled, “Climate Change is a Women’s Issue” depicts the ways climate disasters and gradually shifting weather patterns exacerbate the social inequities faced by women. Its figures state that 80 percent of the people that have been displaced by climate change worldwide are women. Increasingly frequent periods of drought mean that women and girls also spend much more time walking to retrieve water and much less time working or in school.

The United Nationa’s environment gender expert, Victor Tsang, and communication officer, Shari Nijman, wrote recently,“While environmental changes affect everyone, due to existing gender inequalities, women often bear the bulk of the burden. In patriarchal societies, cultural, legal and political restrictions often undermine women’s adaptability and resilience to climate change.” The authors later suggest that providing equal access to land, agricultural extension services, financial inclusion and education for women is key to curbing and coping with climate change.

For the first time ever, the U.N. climate talks incorporated a Gender Action Plan this year at the COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany. The plan “seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention and the work of Parties.”

Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security argued in a 2015 report that inclusion of women in high-levels of climate decision-making like the U.N. conference of the parties is necessary, but not sufficient. Among many recommendations, they ask that national governments develop disaster plans that specifically aim to lessen impacts on women and that private sector stakeholders invest in job opportunities for women that also combat the effects of climate change. Researchers point out that these steps not only lessen the burden of a warming planet for women but also recognize them as a powerful part of the solution.

As former Finnish president H.E. Tarja Halonen once said, “[Women] are powerful agents whose knowledge, skills and innovative ideas support the efforts to combat climate change.”

Record high winter temperatures in Arctic, again

The Rink Glacier in Greenland captured melting into the sea during the summer of 2012. (NASA/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 8, 2017

The data is in, and winter temperatures in the Arctic reached record highs again this year.

U.S. weather data shows that average temperatures during December, January, and February this year were 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual. There are fifteen weather monitoring stations throughout the Arctic, many of them in Alaska and Greenland. Winter temperatures in some regions soared higher than the average. Barrow, Alaska, for example, sizzled with average winter temperatures a full 14 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

Even the weather monitoring station that is located closest to the top of the world in northern Greenland recorded 60 hours of above freezing temperatures this winter. Prior to this winter, scientists say, the station had only experienced above-freezing temperatures during February a few times in history.

The rising temperatures caused sea ice to vanish in the North Pole again this year. North Pole sea ice coverage hit a record low in February 2017 and decreased again this year by a full 62,000 square miles, which is about the size of the state of Georgia.

Ruth Mottram is a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute. She said to the Associated Press, “The extended warmth really has kind of staggered all of us.”

Some scientists have pointed to melting sea ice as an explanation for the extreme and strange winter weather that has plagued the eastern United States this year. Simply put, less sea ice means that there is less of an atmospheric pressure difference between the Arctic and areas further south, which weakens the jet stream. A weak jet stream causes  storms to linger over regions in the eastern U.S. and Europe before moving along, often making them more destructive.