Exceptionally warm average annual temperatures expected to continue


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A new study shows that average annual temperatures will continue to be above normal. (NASA)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 16, 2018

A study shows that the trend of warmer-than-normal average temperatures will continue for at least the next five years.

European scientists published the study in Nature Communications, which used several different climate models to understand the factors leading to warming and anticipate future warming. They found there is a 58 percent chance that Earth’s overall temperature will be unusually warm through 2022.

“What we found is that for the next five years or so, there is a high likelihood of an anomalously warm climate compared to anomalously cold,” said Florian Sevellec, a co-author of the study, to The Washington Post.

This would follow a warming trend seen this decade. The past four years are the four warmest years on record — 2016 topping out the list.

Carbon dioxide capture using magnesite


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Magnesite is used in a variety of way, even in jewelry. (source)

Eden DeWald | August 15th, 2018

Each ton of crystalline magnesite can remove up to half a ton of  atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, the rate of formation for naturally occurring magnesite is fairly slow and needs to occur under high temperatures and pressures. Researchers at Trent University in Ontario, Canada have found a way to both speed up the process of producing magnesite and produce it at room temperature.

Polystrene microspheres were used as a catalyst to start the crystallization at room temperature. The microspheres were preserved in the process, making them potentially reusable for more magnesite production. The formation occurring at room temperature is another aspect which makes this production process more sustainable. Not having to heat and pressurize the magnesite for a long period of time makes the whole production process more energy efficient.

Magnesite can take up to thousands of years to develop naturally—this new process only takes 72 days. Research concerned with using magnesite for carbon sequestration is still in development, but the discovery of an easier production process makes it more viable.

The serious impact of forest fires


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Forest fires have devastating effects on residents and the environment (stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 14th, 2018

With forest fires being a pressing issue in California, Nevada, and Canada, recent studies have been published illustrating the effects of these wildfires on the environment, in an attempt to help people understand just how devastating they can be.

Merritt Turetsky, a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph and an ecosystem expert, explains that forest fires burn away soil and vegetation around forest areas. The fires also destroy all of the soil anchoring what’s normally left of the trees after a large fire, leaving them at risk of being blown or batted away towards resident’s homes.

The erosion of natural soil removes what is essentially a forest’s protective layer, leaving the ground open for further erosion by raindrops and water, leading to potential interference with the soil occasionally contaminating nearby rivers and streams.

While Turetsky notes that fires now seem to burn away far more vegetation than in the past, he hopes that solutions will help control the deadly flames in future.

On the Radio- An excess of parking spaces


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Fewer Americans are getting driver’s licenses. (Joey C./flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 13th, 2018

This week’s segment focuses on the amount of land the parking spaces occupy in Des Moines.

Transcript:

There are more than nineteen parking spaces for every household in the city of Des Moines, a new report shows.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The report by the Research Institute for Housing America examined the number of parking spaces in five American cities, and found that generally, the supply of parking spaces greatly exceeds the demand. In Des Moines, there are one-point-six million parking spaces, and around eighty-three thousand households.

The abundance of parking is not being widely utilized either. The report states that a spot-count of a downtown Des Moines park-and-ride was at only eight percent occupancy.

The author argues that generally, the need for parking is declining. In Seattle, for example, forty percent of households do not have a car, yet parking covers forty percent of Seattle’s land.

Fewer Americans have a driver’s license, especially in younger generations, and companies like Lyft and Uber are reducing trips made in personal vehicles.

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

From the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Iowa’s flooding connects to climate change and land use


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Iowa’s waterways are vulnerable to flooding due to climate change and developing landscapes (Billwhittaker/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 10, 2018

Climate change is manifesting itself in Iowa, most clearly in the form of rainfall and flooding.

Around 80 Des Moines residents have been left homeless by this summer’s floods. These residents are classified as “climate refugees” — people displaced by a climatic event — according to the Des Moines Register.

Thousands of homes were impacted by the June deluge in central Iowa, but these extreme rain events are becoming more common. Six of Iowa’s eight wettest years on record have been in the last 36 years, and flooding has cost businesses and farmers $18 million since 1988. Increased rainfall is connected to climate change, experts say, because the Gulf of Mexico is warming, leading to an increased volume of water carried through the atmosphere to the Midwest.

Flooding is not only exacerbated by climate change, but by the way Iowans are using their land. As cities become more and more developed, imposing sprawling buildings and asphalt parking lots on once-permeable prairie land, storm water rushes to rivers and streams much more rapidly. In fact, five inches of rain falling on a prairie landscape can have the same damage as just three inches of rain falling onto a highly developed landscape, the Register reported.

On the municipal and state level, changes are being considered to help reduce the impact of intense rain events, like increasing storm sewer capacities, creating reservoirs and dams, and restoring oxbows and wetlands. On the individual level, anyone can help reduce stormwater runoff into Iowa’s waterways by creating rain gardens and constructing rain barrels to store the water until the storm has passed.

Dead zone in Gulf of Mexico smaller this year than expected


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The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was measured at nearly half its expected size this summer (NOAA)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 9, 2018

Scientists found the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is smaller this year than in years past.

The zone of water lacking sufficient oxygen to support aquatic life at the end of the Mississippi River measured just over 2,700 square miles — about the size of the state of Delaware and the fourth-smallest the zone has been measured since 1985.

Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association expected the dead zone to be more than double this size this year. The lack of oxygen in the water is caused in part by algal blooms stimulated by nutrient runoff from farm fields in states like Iowa into the Mississippi River. Algae deplete dissolved oxygen in the water making survival nearly impossible for fish and other aquatic life.

A possible explanation given by Dr. Nancy Rabalais of Louisiana State University is that winds in the area may have mixed oxygenated water with the water lacking oxygen, reducing the zone’s size.

Scientists from Louisiana State University measure the zone’s reach annually, but the size can vary significantly throughout the year. In 2017, the zone was measured at its largest size ever recorded — over 8,700 square miles. These data help inform efforts like the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy about the progress of such initiatives to keep agricultural runoff and other nutrient loads from entering the Mississippi River.

2017 is the third warmest year on record


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The past three years have been the hottest on record. (NASA/flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 8th, 2017

According the the State of the Climate report, 2017 is the third warmest year on record. The annual State of the Climate report is published by the American Meteorological Society and is based on international data taken from land, air, and sea monitoring stations. 2016 still remains the warmest year on record, and 2015 comes in as the second warmest.

The data from 2017 also reveals that last year, atmospheric greenhouse gas levels were the highest ever recorded.  The average global carbon dioxide concentrations reached 405 parts per million. This far surpasses any carbon dioxide concentrations from previous climate data, as well as C02 concentrations found in ice cores from well over half a million years ago.

The report also contains information about continued sea level rise, ocean surface temperatures, coral bleaching, and declining polar ice cap coverage. To read the State of the Climate in 2017, or any of the past reports, click here.