Record Heatwave in the United States and Links on Staying Safe From Heat and COVID-19


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Maxwell Bernstein | July 10, 2020

The United States will experience a heatwave with the National Weather Service expecting 75 or more record-high temperatures to be hit or broken from Friday to Tuesday, according to CBS News.  

Although hot temperatures are expected annually, this heatwave will bring unusually dry conditions for parts of west-central Iowa, with areas west of Des Moines experiencing a two-week absence of rain, according to the Des Moines Register. These hot conditions will lower corn, livestock, and hay yields, and will severely impact soybeans if there is a continued lack of rain.

The impacts of COVID-19 make it difficult for people to seek indoor cooling in places like government buildings and libraries because of county shutdowns that are enforced to maintain social distancing. Public swimming facilities are also closed or have limited access because of concerns about COVID-19.

Click on this link from Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management to learn about preparation for high heat.  

Click on this link from the American Red Cross to learn how to stay safe from COVID-19 in case you find yourself in a situation where you have to be near other people. 

Carbon Emissions Rise as the World Reopens


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Nicole Welle | July 9, 2020

The temporary environmental benefits from the COVID-19 pandemic are coming to an end as economies reopen worldwide.

When the pandemic started in April, businesses closed and transportation dropped as people were forced to stay indoors. This caused a 17% drop in daily carbon emissions when compared to levels recorded at the same time last year. However, by June 11, the drop was only 5%, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For climate scientists, the pandemic has made clearer the difficulty of reducing carbon emissions permanently.

“We’re getting to this by stopping all activities, not structural changes, so when people go back to work there’s no reason these emissions wouldn’t go shooting back up,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science and policy at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia.

Governments would need to encourage low-emissions technologies and encourage the continued use of daily emissions tracking in order to see lasting impacts, according to a Wall Street Journal article. While governments have put more effort into reducing carbon emissions since the 2015 Paris climate accord, emissions have continued to rise. The U.S. has also said it is withdrawing from the deal.

The pandemic has accelerated efforts to move from monthly and yearly reporting to daily monitoring of carbon emissions. Climate scientists hope that these advances will help lead to a better understanding of how governments can move forward in their efforts to reduce emissions in the future.

Environmental Impact Review of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a Victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe


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Maxwell Bernstein | July 8, 2020

Since 2016, protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline have ensued because of its less-than a mile proximity to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, which sits on the North and South Dakota borders, according to ABC News. The pipeline could potentially spill oil into the nearby Missouri River, which the Tribe relies on for fishing, clean water, and water ceremonies. 

A district court ordered for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to be emptied of oil by Aug. 5 in order to let the Army Corps of Engineers conduct an environmental impact review, which is a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation, as reported by The New York Times and Iowa Environmental Focus

The 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline is an underground pipeline that was initially rejected by the Obama administration in 2016, but has transported oil since 2017, according to The Guardian. The pipeline starts from North Dakota where it travels through South Dakota and Iowa and ends up in Illinois. 

James E. Boasberg, the federal judge of the District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the pipeline’s construction fell short of environmental standards, according to the BBC. The pipeline could potentially continue operations after the Army Corp of Engineer’s environmental impact review is completed. 

Earthjustice, the non-profit that represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, called this environmental impact review a victory for the Tribe, the organization said in a public statement

“The shutdown will remain in place pending completion of a full environmental review, which normally takes several years, and the issuance of new permits. It may be up to a new administration to make final permitting decisions,” Earthjustice said. 

This comes after the Trump administration’s attempts to ease the way for business by enacting changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that has since 1970 assessed environmental effects of public projects, according to the Associated Press

Dakota Access Pipeline Is Ordered To Shutdown Pending Environmental Impact Statement


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Thomas Robinson | July 7th, 2020

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been ordered to shutdown for additional environmental review after a Washington D.C. court ruling on Monday.

After more than three years post completion, a judge has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline be emptied within 30 days to allow for further environmental review.  The judge argued that the U.S. Corps of Engineers had failed to satisfy the provisions required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before granting an easement required for the pipeline’s construction. 

NEPA is a broad environmental law that requires environmental consideration in project planning as well as community input for federal projects.  The Trump administration has been attempting to enact changes to NEPA which would narrow the scope of the law to better assist business interests. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline crosses diagonally across Iowa and was recently approved to double the amount of oil that flows through the pipeline in Iowa.  Oil pipelines in Iowa have had issues previously, such as the spill that occurred in Worth County back in 2017. That spill is just one of 28 spills that occurred between 2000 and 2017 on pipelines owned by Magellan Midstream Partners in Iowa.

New Study Shows that Rising Water Temperatures Could Reduce Fish Populations Worldwide


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Nicole Welle | July 6, 2020

A new study conducted by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research shows that rising water temperatures caused by climate change will negatively affect many fish species’ ability to breed.

Researchers found that fish are at a much higher risk than previously assumed. The study, which included 694 species of fish, showed that both embryos and adult fish that are ready to mate have a much lower tolerance for heat that adults outside the mating season and that that rising water temperatures could impact the reproduction of up to 60 percent of all freshwater and saltwater fish species, according to a Science Daily article.

Like many organisms, fish need to take in oxygen to produce energy, and their energy needs depend on the temperature of their surroundings. When the water is warmer, their need for energy rises and they need to take in more oxygen. Fish embryos do not have the ability to take in more oxygen as temperatures rise since they don’t have gills. Additionally, adults ready to mate produce egg and sperm cells and have an increased body mass, so their cardiovascular systems are already strained and struggle to handle any increased need for oxygen. This means that both of these groups cannot survive in warmer temperatures that require them to produce more energy.

If climate change continues unchecked, many species of fish will be forced to leave their traditional spawning areas. This could be disastrous for fish that do not have the ability to find cooler areas to reproduce due to the geographical restrictions of their habitat, and many fish populations are likely to decline.

Firefighters Battle Record Breaking Fires in Arizona


Image from NASA’s ASTER instrument. Vegetation is shown in red while the burned areas appear as dark gray.

Maxwell Bernstein | July 3, 2020

Extreme weather in Arizona has contributed to record breaking wildfires, according to The Guardian

Firefighters have recently contained 58% of the Bighorn Fire, the eighth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned 118,710 acres. The fire started on June 5th by a lightning strike in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado national forest which sits outside of Tucson, Arizona.   

The Bush fire in the Tonto national forest is now 98% contained and is the fifth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned about 193,000 acres.  

Arizona has been seeing regular daily temperatures of 105-110°F for the month of June, which has contributed to the severity of the fires. A potentially historic heatwave is expected to hit the U.S. in the first few weeks of July, raising concerns about the fires, according to CNBC.

These warm temperatures coincide with rising temperatures across the planet that stem from climate change. Warmer temperatures will increase the frequency of extreme fires, according to NASA.

Saharan Dust Cloud Reaches Iowa and Affects Air Quality


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Nicole Welle | July 2, 2020

A giant plume of dust that originated in the Sahara Desert traveled across the Atlantic ocean and into the United States early this week.

The dust cloud first appeared over states in the gulf of Mexico before traveling up into the Midwest. It reached Iowa last weekend, and the EPA issued an air quality forecast for Iowa June 29 placing parts of the state in the “moderate” category. This level of pollution could pose some health risks for a small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution, according to air quality forecasts on AirNow.

The dust plume was part of the Saharan Air Layer, which is a mass of dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert in the summer and moves over the North Atlantic every few days, according to NOAA. The dust caused the air to appear hazy in parts of the Midwest, especially during sunrise and sunset.

When the wind is strong enough, the dust can reach the United States and be concentrated enough to cause air quality issues. However, the extremely dry air can also help suppress hurricane and tropical storm development over the Atlantic Ocean, and minerals in the dust can help replenish nutrients in rainforest soil when it is able to reach the Amazon River Basin.

Land-use Change Will Potentially Increase Zoonotic Disease Spread


Image from Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | July 1, 2020

Researchers from the University of the West of England and the University of Exeter identified a link between environmental exploitation and the potential for increased spreading of diverse zoonotic diseases.

Zoonotic diseases come from pathogens that spread from animals to humans. This includes many viruses such as the H1N1 swine flu virus, Ebola, West Nile, Zika, and Sars-CoV-2, the virus that is causing the current global COVID-19 pandemic.  

The researchers’ paper, published in Environmental Science & Policy, says that “…a key contributory factor in the increase in number and diversity of zoonotic diseases has been the extent to which humans are increasingly interacting with, and impacting upon, ecosystems, given the close relationships between human, animal and environmental health.” 

The researchers cited EcoHealth Alliance’s study, which showed that land-use change, the process where humans transform natural land, is linked to 31% of emerging infectious diseases including HIV, Ebola, and Zika virus. The COVID-19 pandemic likely started from a bat, according to the CDC

“The need to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing at the time of writing creates an opportunity for systemic policy change, placing scientific knowledge of the value and services of ecosystems at the heart of societal concerns as a key foundation for a more secure future,” the researchers said. 

New Flood Risk Assessment Suggests Higher Risks Than Previously Thought


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Thomas Robinson | June 30, 2020

A new report from the First Street Foundation shows that flooding risk across the country is likely under represented.

New calculations reported in “The First National Flood Risk Assessment” suggest that almost twice the number of properties have a heightened flood risk compared to the FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) 1 in 100 layer.  The SFHA identifies properties with a heightened flood risk and influences decisions made for flood insurance and housing mortgages. FEMA identifies around 8.7 million properties to be at risk from a 100 year flood while the new risk assessment estimates 14.6 million properties to be at risk. 

To estimate the 14.6 million properties, the new report included small creeks that were ignored on federal maps, rainfall and sea-level rise.  The risk assessment includes areas where flood mapping is either incomplete or out of date which contributes to the increase in the number of at risk properties. 

For Iowa, the report suggested an additional 141,300 properties were at risk in the state compared with the SFHA measure.  The report identified Council Bluffs as the city with the most properties at risk (11,000 properties), followed closely by Des Moines (9,000 properties).

Researchers Develop a New Process for Detecting and Removing Harmful Wastewater Pollutants


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Nicole Welle | June 29, 2020

A group of researchers at Swansea University came up with a new, more efficient way to detect and remove pollutants found in wastewater that come from pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

The research, published in Analytical Science Advances, outlines a one-step process for quantifying and separating a range of chemicals and pharmaceuticals commonly found in medicine and personal care products that often end up in wastewater sludge. This new method could increase our understanding of which pollutants may be released from these products and help reduce their effects on the environment, according to a Science Daily article.

Contaminated wastewater makes its way into rivers and streams or is recycled as fertilizer to be used on fields. Chemicals from certain pharmaceuticals have been found to negatively impact human health and some animal species that come into contact with them. For example, multiple species of vulture in Asia have become critically endangered after being regularly exposed to components of Diclofenac, a common non-steroidal inflammatory drug. Fish populations around the world are also decreasing after being exposed to female contreceptives that cause the feminization of male fish.

The new method will allow the detection and extraction of harmful compounds using one process where multiple where needed before. Researchers hope that this process will allow for future advances in the wastewater treatment process that will ensure these harmful pollutants are degraded or removed before they come into contact with humans and wildlife.