On The Radio- 2017 Water Summary


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Blue in Iowa river (UI International Programs/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 19, 2018

This week’s segment summaries the report from the 2017 Iowa DNR’s Water Summary.

Transcript: 

The Iowa DNR’s Water Summary Update reported less rainfall than normal for 2017.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In 2017, Iowa received 33 inches of rainfall which is 2 inches less than the 30 year average. The beginning of the year was drought free but by August the Drought Mitigation Center recorded most of the state showing some form of drought. Most of the dryness was concentrated in South and South East Iowa.

In areas like Marion, Washington, Lee and Wayne counties, annual precipitation deficits of 10 inches or more were common. The annual precipitation levels of 2017 were the lowest since Iowa’s record 2012 drought.

In terms of streamflow, the year started off with high levels after a rainy fall season in 2016. Throughout  the rest of the year streamflow levels remained normal and are currently normal for the majority of the state.

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

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

 

On The Radio- Testing for bacteria in drinking water


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Cold Drinking Water (linda dillard/ flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 12, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a new invention from the University of Bath that tests for bacteria in drinking water. 

Transcript:

A breakthrough invention at the University of Bath could help millions stay safe from polluted drinking water.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Researchers in Bath, England have developed a device that can determine dangerous levels of bacteria in drinking water. The small invention resembles a square slip of paper, and was inspired by litmus paper— used to measure the acidity levels of water.

The new device uses a microbial fuel cell, embedded in a patch of ink on the paper, to detect bacteria in drinking water. The fuel cell emits a constant electric signal, which changes when it comes in contact with bacteria in water.

The next step for researchers is to find a way to use that small change in the electric current to inform the user about the water’s pollution levels.

According to the World Health Organization, 423 million people globally drink from unprotected wells and springs, and an estimated 159 million people drink from lakes, ponds, rivers. Many of these population have no access to analytic tools, and have no way to measure the safety of their drinking water.

The paper, once fully produced, is estimated to cost around a dollar per slip.

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

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

On The Radio- Waste Free Living


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Jars (LuAnn Snawder Photography/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 5, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a company in New York that focuses on making waste free living accessible to everyone. 

Transcript:

A recent waste free living trend has emerged and 2 NYU graduates are aiming to make the lifestyle accessible to everyone.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Lauren Singer and Daniel Silverstein started an online company to make waste-free living easier and more accessible. The average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash everyday. Singer and Silverstein believe that given an easy alternative everybody would be in favor of reducing their own waste.

Singer has kept all of her trash from the last 4 years in a 16 oz mason jar. She started by making her own vegan, and organic laundry detergent and runs a blog called Trash is for Tossers. Silverstein uses scraps from other companies and is the creator his own line of recycled clothing. Together, their company, PackageFree, sells environmentally friendly home, bathroom, clothing, and beauty products.

To start waste reduction in your own life, they recommend 5 simple steps: The first is replacing your plastic grocery bags with reusable shopping totes. Next use reusable stainless steel water bottles and reusable silverware that you take on the go. When ordering a drink at a restaurant, ask for it without a plastic straw. And finally use biodegradable toothbrushes instead of plastic ones.

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

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

On The Radio- The affects of mass producing corn


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Corn Fields (Victor Bayon/ flickr)

Kasey Dresser | January 29, 2018

This week’s segment looks at research from the University of Wisconsin regarding corn’s ability to adapt to environmental changes.

Transcript:

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin report that mass produced corn has lost its ability to adapt.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Like most plants, corn adapts to changes in the surrounding environment, including things like drought, wind, sunlight, and insects.

In order to mass produce corn, seed companies have breed the most productive corn varieties to fit local environmental conditions. However over the past 100 years, acclimating corn to a specific environment has impacted its ability to adjust to new or stressful environmental changes. The existing corn is strong and stable but not flexible.

To test this, the researchers planted 850 unique corn varieties in 20 different states and Canada. They tested 12,000 different plots and recorded  weather patterns and corn height. The corn with the most genetic selection performed the worst, producing the least amount of grain. According to University of Wisconsin Professor of Agronomy, Natalia De Leon, mass productivity is the tradeoff for flexibility. She worries the more corn is engineered to grow in a specific area, the less likely it will adapt well in other environments.

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

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

 

A scientific explanation for why your phone dies when it’s cold outside


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iPhone 5 (Philip Brookes/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | January 24, 2018

Your phone uses rechargeable batteries called lithium-ion batteries. When your phone is on, the electric current moves from the top-half of the battery, the anode, to the bottom, the cathode. When your battery is dead all of the ions are in the cathode and at full capacity, the ions are all embedded in the anode. Scientists believe that battery runs slower in the winter because the cold creates slow reactions. The ions are having trouble jumping back and forth from the cathode to the anode and the phone interprets the lack of discharge as the phone being dead. Therefore causing it to shutdown sooner.

 

Australia’s carbon emissions continuing to rise


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Australia (Mauro/flickr)
Kasey Dresser | January 12, 2018

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose for the 3rd consecutive year. According to the Environment Department, carbon rose 0.7% this year because of an increase in gas production and exports. In 2016, Australia’s levels rose 0.8% and they were warned they were off track to miss the 2030 target set by the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Australia’s government signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 which outlined a plan to reduce emissions 26-28% by 2030.

Despite the increasing carbon levels, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg claims they are still on track and, “the final decision on the timing and appropriate quantity and quality limits will be taken by 2020 following further consultation and detailed analysis.” “If you look on a yearly basis [it] is true [that emissions went up]. But if you look on the last quarter, they went down. If you look at the trend, it is improving.”

Minister Frydenberg’s statement is not congruent with the 2017 United Nations Emissions Gap Report that stated the “government projections indicate that emissions are expected to reach 592 [million tonnes] in 2030, in contrast to the targeted range of 429-440 [million tonnes]. The Environment Department‘s most recent review said that Australia is currently responsible for 1.3% of carbon emissions.

Climate Change could affect food sources for marine life


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Ocean (Alistair Cook/flickr) 
Kasey Dresser | January 10, 2018

Recent research conducted at the University of Adelaide looked at the how commercial fish stocks could be negatively impacted by rising sea temperatures.

To test their theory, PhD student, Hadayet Ullah and supervisors Professor Ivan Nagelkerken and Associate Professor Damien Fordham of the University’s Environment Institute, managed twelve 1,600 liter tanks that mimicked the predicted habitat changes in the ocean. The recreated food webs were maintained for 6 months while the researchers gathered information on survival, growth, biomass, and productivity of the animals and plants to use these measurements in a food web model.

A food web maps out the flow of energy in an ecosystem. At the bottom are algae and other food producers, then intermediate consumers like herbivores and finally predators at the tops. Shifts in the bottom of the energy transfer affects the amount of food available for predators.

“Healthy food webs are important for maintenance of species diversity and provide a source of income and food for millions of people worldwide,” said Mr Ullah. “Therefore, it is important to understand how climate change is altering marine food webs in the near future.”

At the end of the 6 months they found, “climate change increased the productivity of plants, this was mainly due to an expansion of cyanobacteria (small blue-green algae),” said Mr Ullah. “This increased primary productivity does not support food webs, however, because these cyanobacteria are largely unpalatable and they are not consumed by herbivores.” Less food for herbivores would result in a smaller population which means less food for predators.