RAGBRAI forced to divert around central Iowa flooding

RAGBRAI riders will have to detour around Ledges State Park due to flooding in the park. (McGhiever/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 19, 2018

RAGBRAI will experience a detour after central Iowa flooding left a portion of the route underwater.

The annual bike ride across the state, slated to begin in Onawa on Sunday and end in Davenport on July 28, was supposed to ride through Ledges State Park in Madrid, Iowa on July 24. Portions of the route through the park are under 20 feet of water as the Des Moines River and Saylorville Reservoir have swelled from recent storms.

The ride will now detour around the park on Highway 30 and Quill Avenue — a ride that is about three miles shorter. This also removes a large hill that many riders were looking forward to.

“It’s unfortunate cyclists will not get the opportunity to see the scenic beauty that Ledges has to offer,” Park Manager Andy Bartlett said in a release. “Ledges is definitely a gem within out state parks system and I would encourage those interested in exploring what it has to offer to plan a visit in the future.”

Iowa DNR warns against swimming at nine beaches

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The Iowa DNR’s map of affected beaches (/IowaDNR)

Eden DeWald | July 18th, 2018

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has advised beach goers against swimming at nine Iowa beaches across the state due to high levels of E.coli in the water. Signs have been posted to warn Iowans about the high levels of E.coli, but there is still no shortage of swimmers on the affected beaches.

E.coli, or Escherichia coli, is a bacterium that lives in the digestive tracts of humans. However, pathogenic strains of E.coli can cause infections in humans with symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting, and in some serious cases, kidney failure. Exposure to pathogenic bacteria can occur via contaminated food, water or contact with another infected person. Young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible to an E.coli infection.

The DNR recognized that it is hard to pinpoint what causes these high levels of E.coli in water. However, E.coli outbreaks in lakes and beaches have been linked to human and animal waste. A paper from the Iowa Public Policy project published earlier this year also links E.coli to waste from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, of which there are an estimated 10,000 in Iowa.

The Iowa Climate Statement comes back to haunt the state

Iowa climate change is hurting everyone, and the climate statement supports this fear (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | July 17th, 2018

Near the end of 2017, the University of Iowa, along with multiple other scientists, teachers, and faculty members from Universities across the Midwest, signed and released the Iowa Climate Statement 2017: It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity!

With a video version narrated by U of I’s Betsy Stone, the report predicts many of the weather patterns and changes that we are currently seeing in the midst of a very hot and humid 2018 summer. The climate report clearly details how humidity, coupled with heat index, makes temperatures soar, and discusses how heat can do everything from damaging physical infrastructure to heightening the chances for sunstroke and heat exhaustion.

Heat and humidity aren’t the only consequences of our mounting global crises: Floods, an all-too-familiar sight for Iowa, are hitting with a vengeance. Iowans in places like Waverly are already being evacuated from their homes because of flood risks, and the likelihood of flooding will only continue to increase unless steps are taken to reduce global warming overall.

The new Iowa Climate Statement, set to be released at the end of 2018, will predict, perhaps, a whole new year of environmental issues.

Read the 2017 report

Watch the 2017 report video


On the Radio- Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

Heavy air pollution in Tianjin, China (Rich L/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 16, 2018

This week’s segment explores a study focused on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


Scientists and engineers at Harvard believe they may have found a way to convert carbon dioxide pollution into usable fuel.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Harvard study explains the process to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a very low cost — around one-hundred to two-hundred dollars per ton of carbon dioxide. Researchers told the Atlantic magazine this would be a game-changer, because it could mitigate climate change without requiring a shift in lifestyle or a major change in the energy industry.

In a pilot device, researchers were able to turn the atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuels like gasoline. When burned, this carbon-neutral fuel would return back to the atmosphere without adding new greenhouse gases.

The researchers believe they could implement this on an industrial scale by 2021, the Atlantic reported.

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

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

Climate change visible in recent Iowa weather events

Extreme heat, humidity, and precipitation are some of the effects of climate change seen in Iowa so far this summer. (Bidgee/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 13, 2018

Recent weather events in Iowa have followed the expected effects of climate change.

Connie Mutel, a historian at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, penned an op-ed in The Gazette this week, bringing light to the effects of climate change visible in recent weather events around the state.

Between 1901 and 2016, she wrote, Iowa’s average temperature has increased about 1 degree Fahrenheit. With this, weather events in Iowa have become more extreme and unpredictable.

Among the staggering statistics are increases in:

  • Absolute humidity due to greater evaporation from lakes and rivers (23 percent increase since 1971 in Dubuque)
  • Rainfall due to the higher capacity of air to hold moisture (about 5 more inches per year compared to 100 years ago)
  • Heavy precipitation events, causing soil erosion impacting agriculture (37 percent increase between 1958 and 2012)

If humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, the predictions for the future are even more dire:

  • Extreme heat waves (one every 10 years) will be around 13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by 2050
  • Global average temperature increase of over 7 degrees Fahrenheit from 1900 levels by 2100 — compared to a 1.8 degree increased seen so far

Mutel calls for more action in Iowa and nationwide to switch to renewable energy sources, following in the footsteps of countries like China, Costa Rica, and New Zealand that are on their way toward serious reductions in fossil-fuel based energy production.

“Will we continue to allow current trends to slide us toward a less dependable globe that degrades life’s abundance, beauty, and health?” she asks. “Or will we work for a self-renewing, healthier, more stable planet fueled by the sun, wind, and other renewables? The choice remains ours.”

Iowa City pledges to climate action

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Iowa City community members listen to city officials to learn about how to live a more climate-friendly life. (Katelyn Weisbrod)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 12, 2018

At least 100 members of the Iowa City community committed to actions to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.

In an effort to increase participation in climate-friendly behaviors, Iowa City held a meeting for community members to come together to discuss solutions, both at the individual and societal level.

Five areas of action showed the diverse potential to make change:

  • Buildings in terms of energy efficiency, conversion of natural gas to electric, and on-site renewable energy
  • Transportation in terms of improvements to mass transit, and enabling walking and cycling, including a future bike share program
  • Waste in terms of increasing recycling and composting, reusing items, and reducing consumption
  • Adaptation in terms of resilience to disaster and outreach and education to vulnerable populations
  • Sustainable lifestyle in terms of diet and purchasing habits

This meeting was another step toward a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which the city decided to pursue to continue the Paris Accord, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. The Obama Administration committed to the Paris Accord in 2016, but the Trump Administration announced plans to withdraw in 2017.

Attendees learned about steps they can take in their own lives to help combat climate change. Many participants signed a climate pledge promising to take specific actions addressed by the five areas of action.

At the end of the event, Martha Norbeck, a member of the Iowa City Climate Action Steering committee, reminded everyone that changes must continue to be made to make a difference.

“Whatever you’re doing, you can do more,” she said.

Hawaii’s sunscreen ban

Coral reefs provide food and shelter to numerous marine animals. (flickr/USFWS)

Eden DeWald | July 11th, 2018

Hawaii is making a move to protect its coral reefs. A bill banning the distribution or sale of synthetic sunscreens in Hawaii was signed by Governor David Ige earlier this month. The ban will go into affect in January of 2021, and will prevent the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.

There are two main types of sunscreen found in any drugstore—chemical and physical. Physical sunscreen, or mineral sunscreen, often has active ingredients such as titanium and zinc oxide, which reflect or scatter UV rays by forming a protective layer on the skin. Synthetic sunscreens, which often contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, soak into the skin. They protect the wearer by changing the electromagnetic affect of UV rays. Physical sunscreens are not at all affected by the ban and will still be available for retail sale and distribution.

According to a 2015 study, oxybenzone has been found to cause the bleaching of coral reefs, as well as endocrine damage. There have been fewer studies done concerning octinoxate, but similar damaging effects have been associated with this chemical. Approximately 14,000 gallons are estimated to end up in the waters off the coast of Hawaii each year, consequently banning sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate has the potential to remove thousands gallons of coral reef damaging chemicals from the environment each year.