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.

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.

Trump Administration proposes reduced fuel-efficiency standards


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The Trump Administration plans to reform fuel-efficiency standards for new cars. (Robert Jack/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 3, 2018

The Trump Administration has proposed to freeze fuel-economy standards for new vehicles produced in the United States beginning in 2020.

This would reverse the Obama Administration’s regulation which requires auto manufacturers to build vehicles with an average of 51 miles to the gallon by 2025. Under the proposal, the target would be 37 miles to the gallon.

Supporters of the proposal say reducing the standard would save consumers money by reducing the cost of cars without the fuel-saving technology. It also could encourage people to upgrade if they are driving old, unsafe cars to avoid buying an expensive, efficient vehicle.

Critics, however, say the proposal disregards the savings to consumers by spending less on gasoline. There is also the larger cost of burning more fossil fuels and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further accelerating the effects of climate change.

California governor forewarns of increasing likelihood of wildfires


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At least 16 wildfires are burning through California, displacing thousands of residents. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 2, 2018

Gov. Jerry Brown of California warned that the 16 wildfires that have burned 320,000 acres of his state’s land and displaced 32,000 people will become more common and severe as the effects of climate change begin to take hold.

At least 13,000 firefighters are battling the blazes in the 100-plus degree heat, dealing with hard-to-predict winds fueling the fires.

In a news conference Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported, Brown said the state would spend as much money as needed to contain the blaze, but as wildfires continue to plague California in the coming years, finding the resources to deal with the destruction will become difficult.

Since July 1, the state has spent $115 million — about one-fourth of it’s annual allocation for fire emergencies.

“People are doing everything they can, but nature is very powerful and we’re not on the side of nature,” Brown said. “We’re fighting nature with the amount of material we’re putting in the environment, and that material traps heat. And the heat fosters fires.”

Phoenix heat boosted by urban heat island effect


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Phoenix, Arizona reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, some say due in part to the urban heat island effect. (John Fowler/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 27, 2018

On Wednesday, the temperature in Phoenix broke a record high for the date — 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hot summer days are made worse in cities like Phoenix because of the “urban heat island effect.” When the sun beats down onto the cars, streets, and buildings covering the landscape, that heat is absorbed and held, leading to unnaturally high temperatures.

Cities can prevent the effect by increasing the urban plant life. Trees, gardens, and green roofs all help absorb less heat, and trees can provide much-needed shade to people walking around the sweltering city.

At least five people have died this year in the Phoenix area after falling sick from the heat, the Associated Press reported. Last year, the final death toll from heat-related illness was 155.

“If similar numbers of people died from any other type of weather event, it would be considered a national disaster,” Phoenix sustainability officer Mark Hartman told the AP.

Animal protection remains popular and economical


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Otters and other animals have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since the law began in 1973. (Mike Baird/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 26, 2018

Adorable otters, majestic bald eagles, and fearsome gray wolves are not the only things at stake as the Trump administration considers revisions to the Endangered Species Act.

The law, passed in 1973, aims to protect a list of species with critically low population sizes. The revision to the law proposes considering economic costs when making decisions about protection of endangered species.

Time Magazine reported this week the many economic benefits of protecting America’s wildlife. These animals contribute to a broader, delicate ecosystem that can have serious implications if altered. The National Fish and Wildlife foundation reported in 2011 that ecosystem services in the contiguous U.S. contribute to 10 percent of the country’s gross-domestic product. Activities like hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching amount to millions of dollars every year in retail sales and tax revenue, according to the same report.

Although the costs of protecting wildlife are real, Time reported, the implications hit corporations the hardest rather than the country as a whole. In 2015, four out of five Americans supported the law, PBS News Hour found.