Climate change associated with antibiotic resistance


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E. coli bacteria is a common cause of urinary tract infections and has shown resistance to antibiotics. (National Institute of Health/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 25, 2018

The human health impacts of climate change are myriad and include heat-related illnesses and vector borne diseases like Lyme disease. However, a new public health consequence of global warming has recently come to light: antibiotic resistance.

Earlier this week, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change reported finding that higher local temperatures and population densities are associated with increased antibiotic resistance of common pathogens. Researchers looked at 1.6 million bacterial specimens which showed resistance to antibiotics from 2013 through 2015 in various geographic locations in the U.S. These specimens included three common and deadly pathogens: Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Staphylococcus aureus. 

They found that a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius increased the bacterias’ resistance to antibiotics by four percent (E. coli), two percent (K. pneumoniae), and three percent (S. aureus). John Brownstein is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the study’s authors. He said to the Scientific American, “Places in the South [of the U.S.] tend to show more resistance than places in the North, and a good chunk of that variability can be explained by temperature.”

Researchers also explored how population density may be related to antibiotic resistance. They found that for every increase of 10,000 people per square mile, antibiotic resistance in that area increased by three to six percent. Prior to this study, most research about antibiotic resistance pointed to the overprescription of antibiotic medication as the primary reason for antibiotic resistance, but now, climate change and population density are known play a part.

The study concludes, “Our findings suggest that, in the presence of climate change and population growth, already dire predictions of the impact of antibiotic resistance on global health may be significant underestimates.”

Species loss varies significantly under different climate change scenarios


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Insects were found to be more susceptible to climate change than other land animals and plants. (Joe Hatfield/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 24, 2018

According to a recent study published in the journal Science, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels rather than 2 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce terrestrial plants and animal species loss.

The study analyzed the geographic habitat ranges of 100,000 land plant and animal species, including insects. Scientists monitored how suitable habitat ranges changed under three climate change scenarios: the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit goal set by the Paris Climate Accord, a 2 degrees Celsius increase and the 3.2 degrees Celsius increase Earth is expected to experience by 2100 if no further climate action is taken.

They found that if global warming is held at 2 degrees Celsius, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their suitable habitat range. In contrast, if global temperature increase is kept under 1.5 degrees Celsius, just 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates would experience the same fate.

Rachel Warren is an environmental biologist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and one of the study’s others. She said to the Los Angeles Times, “All the previous scientific literature looked at 2 degrees as the lower limit because that was what was being discussed at the time.” Warren continued,”The takeaway is that if you could limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the risk to biodiversity is quite small. At 2 degrees it becomes significant, and at 3 degrees almost half the insects and plants would be at risk.”

Of note, the study found that insects were more sensitive a warming climate than vertebrates and plants. For example, the typical insect under the 3 degrees Celsius warming condition would lose 43 percent of its habitat range.

Major hydrologic shifts observed by NASA


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Researchers found that drier areas, like this drought-stricken field in Texas, are getting drier in a recent study. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 18, 2018

A recent study by NASA, the first of its kind, found that significant amounts of water are shifting around Earth’s surface.

Scientists used data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), two satellites, to track gravitational changes made by hydrologic shifts in 34 regions around the world. From 2002 through 2016, they paired this information with satellite precipitation data, NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat imagery, irrigation maps, and public reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations.

In short, researchers found that wetter areas are getting wetter and drier areas are getting drier. Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is one of the study’s authors. He explains, “We see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter – those are the high latitudes and the tropics – and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

Scientists point to a couple of things to explain freshwater depletion in areas that are getting drier. In Saudi Arabia and many other parts of the world, for example, ground water has been depleted for agricultural purposes. The study also found that groundwater availability changes with periods of drought. From 2007 through 2015, southwestern California lost enough freshwater to fill 400,000 Olympic size swimming pools because the region saw less precipitation and snowpack during that time and had to rely on groundwater more heavily.

Freshwater loss in many regions was attributed to global warming that caused glaciers and ice sheets to melt away. However, Famiglietti said that much more research is needed to determine whether climate change caused the other hydrologic shifts.

GRACE Follow-On, GRACE’s successor, will continue to monitor the movement on water on Earth and is set to launch on May 22nd from Vandenberg Air Force Base California.

Pew research survey reveals U.S. climate change views


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Nearly ninety percent of respondents to a recent survey supported further development of solar energy systems. (Oregon Department of Transportation/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 17, 2018

A recent Pew Research Center survey details how U.S. residents perceive both the effects of climate change and the federal government’s response to it.

The national survey, which was administered during March and April 2018 to 2,541 adults, found that six in ten people living in the U.S. say that climate change is affecting their local community. Differences were observed by political leanings, with 76 percent of Democrats saying that climate change is affecting their local community and about 35 percent of Republicans responding in the same way. Political party was not the only differentiating factor, however. Respondents also differed in their perceptions based on distance from the coasts. People that live within 25 miles of a coast were 17 percent more likely than those that live more than 300 miles from the coast to say that climate change was affecting their local community.

Regardless of whether respondents believe that climate change is affecting their community, a majority (67%) of respondents agreed that the federal government is not doing enough to combat climate change.

So, what climate-smart policies were respondents in support of? Seventy-two percent of participants supported efforts to further protect the environment from energy use and development. Similarly, 71 percent said they would like to increase reliance on renewable energy. Solar panels (89%) and wind turbines (85%) received overwhelming support from respondents, regardless of political affiliation.

This survey’s results reflect responses from a similar Pew research survey administered in 2016.

Heavy rainfall events more common nationwide


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This map illustrates the percent increase in heaviest precipitation events from 1958 through 2016. (Climate Central)

Jenna Ladd | May 11, 2018

As the climate continues to warm, many U.S. cities are experiencing heavy rainfall more frequently.

Research and news organization, Climate Central, examined the number of days per calendar year that each of 244 sites nationwide experienced 0.25, 0.50, 1, and 2 inches of precipitation from 1950 through 2017. The report found that incidents of heavy rain events are increasing in frequency in all regions of the U.S. In Des Moines, the number of days per year where the city experienced two or more inches of precipitation has increased by about seven percent since 1950.

For each 1°F of global warming, Earth’s atmosphere becomes four percent more saturated with water. This makes more moisture available to condense and fall down as precipitation. As a result, extreme floods are more likely to happen now than they were in the past. According to NOAA, 29 flood disasters that cost more than $1 billion each have happened since 1980. In Iowa alone, floods have caused more than $18 billion in damages in the last thirty years. That puts us in fourth place nationwide for the number of floods experienced since 1988.

The northeastern United States has seen a 55 percent increase in heavy precipitation events from 1958 through 2016, the sharpest increase in the nation, according to the report. The midwest follows close behind, with a 42 percent increase in heavy precipitation events.

Users can determine whether incidents of heavy rainfall have increased in Dubuque, Mason City, Ottumwa, Sioux City, and Waterloo by using Climate Central’s interactive map.

Iowa Flood Information System predicts economic damages of flooding


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The Mississippi River in Dubuque is one of many in the state that is threatening to flood this spring. (Lesley G/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 10, 2018

Flooding has cost Iowa communities more than $18 billion in the last thirty years, and as the Mississippi and Cedar Rivers continue to swell this spring, Iowans may wonder how much they can expect to pay out on flood disasters in the future.

In recent years, scholars at the Iowa Flood Center have been working to predict just that. HAZUS, developed by the the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides predictions of the economic impact various magnitudes and types of natural disasters might have across the United States. During 2017, Research Engineer and Assistant Professor Ibrahim Demir and graduate research assistant Enes Yildirim, combined HAZUS’ information on demographics, buildings and structural content with data from the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

As a result, IFIS now offers flood loss and economic damage estimations for twelve communities in the state. These include Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls,  Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Independence, Kalona, Monticello, Ottumwa, Rock Rapids, Rock Valley, and Waterloo. HAZUS’ model makes it possible for users to not only view the overall economic damages to a community but also how much in damages individual buildings can be expected to accrue.

Iowa Flood Center researchers are working to expand this predictive model to other parts of the state. For now, users can use the following guide to learn more about the financial consequences of flooding in any of the aforementioned communities.

First, users must visit Iowa Flood Information System website, then:

  1. Hover their cursor over the “Flood Maps” tab and find their community under the “Flood Map Scenarios for Communities” button.
  2. After clicking on the “Damage Estimate” button, users can toggle the “Flood Map Controller” to model different scenarios.

Residents evacuated due to flooding in Western Montana


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The Clark Fork River runs through the center of Missoula, carrying water down from the mountains. (Frank Fujimoto/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 9, 2018

Sixty homes in Missoula, Montana were mandatorily evacuated due to flooding on Tuesday.

Heavy precipitation during early May and recent snowmelt from nearby mountains mixed to send rivers and streams in several parts of Western Montana flowing out of their banks. The Clark Fork River is a main artery running through the middle of Missoula and is the site of the most severe flooding. 1,300 homes along the river were encouraged to prepare for a possible evacuation.

Ken Parks is the Missoula County Disaster and Emergency Services deputy coordinator. He said to the Associated Press, “If you live anywhere near a stream or waterway in western Montana you need to be prepared to leave your home. This is going to come earlier than we expected. We’re trying to get out ahead of this thing and get the message out that this could be a very dangerous situation.”

From 1955 to 2016, snowpack on mountains in the Western United States declined by an average of 23 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, Western Montana has really only seen the beginning of this spring’s snowmelt, according to authorities from the National Weather Service. Some parts of the local mountain range are expected produce 55 additional inches of snowmelt through the spring and summer. The Clark Fork River is expected to reach higher levels than it has since 1981 this year.

Smog-producing air pollution declining more slowly


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Catalytic converters have decreased the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by cars dramatically since they were first introduced in the 1970s. (Chris Keating/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 1, 2018

A new study found that levels of two primary pollutants in the U.S. atmosphere have not been declining as rapidly during recent years as they once were.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studied satellite data and ground level measurements of two smog-forming pollutants: nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Levels of these air pollutants decreased dramatically following the implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Requirements of that act pushed automakers and energy-producers to develop new technology which curbed the emissions of these two pollutants.

The study found that concentration of these two pollutants in the atmosphere decreased by seven percent each year between 2005 and 2009. However, from 2011 through 2015, the pollutants’ levels only shrunk by 1.7 percent annually.

Helen Worden is a scientist at NCAR and one of the study’s authors. She said to Phys Org, “Although our air is healthier than it used to be in the 80s and 90s, air quality in the U.S. is not progressing as quickly as we thought. The gains are starting to slow down.”

The study noted that the slower decrease in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides was especially severe in the eastern part of the U.S. This finding dispels notions that the slower pace can be attributed to traveling air pollution from countries like China. The positive news is that the slower decline in carbon monoxide, which is primarily emitted by vehicles, is likely due to the fact that major strides have already been made to reduce vehicle emissions. In short, clean air technology related to cars may have reached a kind of plateau.

This study was funded by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The full journal article can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lyme disease on the rise


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Deer ticks are the most common vectors of lyme disease. (John Flannery/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 27, 2018

Incidents of lyme disease are on the rise thanks to climate change and land use change.

There are about 30,000 cases of lyme disease reported to the Center for Disease Control every year in the U.S., which is up from approximately 10,000 annual reports in the 1990s.

Deer ticks or black-legged ticks that carry lyme disease require a certain number of frost-free days to complete their life cycle. As the climate warms, these ticks are plaguing parts of North America that have not previously been home to them. In recent years, deer ticks have been found as far north as Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba, Canada. Cases of lyme disease in Canada rose from 144 cases annually in 2009 to 917 cases annually in 2015.

Land use change is also increasing the prevalence of lyme disease. As urban developments sprawl out into previously forested land, humans live in closer quarters with the lyme disease vectors.

Early symptoms of lyme disease include fever, chills, and a “bulls eye” rash around the tick bite. If the disease is caught early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics. However, as many as 30 percent of people do not develop the bulls eye rash and often mistake the other symptoms for another illness. If left untreated, lyme disease can cause heart palpitations, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and facial palsy, among other symptoms.

The Center for Disease Control is working to educate health care professionals about how to recognize lyme disease in patients and the most effective treatments for it. Scientists from Bard College and Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have also enrolled 1,000 households in Duchess County, New York in a study testing some new deer tick control methods. The five year study is using bait boxes that apply a small amount of fipronil (found in products like Frontline) to tick-carrying mammals like squirrels and chipmunks and a fungal spray that kills ticks to determine whether the methods are effective in keeping tick populations down.

Tick-borne illnesses are the most likely harmful human health effect for Iowans as a result of  climate change according to the Medical Society Consortium.

Scientists question EPA’s rollback of hazardous pollution regulation


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It is estimated that 9 of the 12 major sources of pollution in Iowa’s third congressional district will be reclassified under the EPA’s latest rollback. (Bill Dickinson/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 26, 2018

Scientists are concerned about the human and environmental health impacts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recent decision to loosen regulations on toxic air pollutants.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA) require major sources of hazardous air pollutants (HAP), or those pollutants suspected or known to cause cancer or other serious health effects, to use evidence-based pollution-control technologies to keep pollution below federal limits. These evidence-based pollution control technologies are also known as maximum achievable control technologies (MACT). Major sources are defined by the EPA as those facilities that emit more than 10 tons of any one HAP per year or more than 25 tons of a combination of HAP per year. Since then, the EPA has enforced the “once in, always in” policy, meaning that those sources that were regulated by the administration as “major sources,” would always be regulated by the administration under that classification. Until now.

In late January, Scott Pruitt’s EPA rolled back the “once in, always in” policy, thereby allowing major sources to become reclassified as “area source” polluters if they can show that they are emitting toxic air pollutants below the program’s threshold. If these sources are successfully reclassified, they will not be required to use MACT, which will likely make their emission reduction efforts less successful. To boot, hazardous air pollutants regulated by MACT measures include formaldehyde, chlorine and hydrochloric acid, none of which are safe for human inhalation, even in very small amounts.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent research organization, created an interactive map to help U.S. citizens predict which parts of the country are most likely to be adversely impacted by the policy change. Scientists estimate that a minimum of 21 states will see more hazardous air pollution following the change. Low-income areas and communities of color are likely to suffer the most as a result. Their research predicts that 35 out of 41 facilities in Chicago could increase HAP emissions. Health effects associated with HAP emissions include cancer and respiratory illness, among others.

Gretchen Goldman is research director of the Center for Science and Democracy with the Union of Concerned Scientists. She made a statement on the organization’s webpage, “The EPA’s political leadership are ditching a successful policy and exposing more Americans to hazardous pollution.”

Users can view the likelihood that this policy change will affect air quality in their region using the interactive map provided here.