Record Heatwave in the United States and Links on Staying Safe From Heat and COVID-19

Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | July 10, 2020

The United States will experience a heatwave with the National Weather Service expecting 75 or more record-high temperatures to be hit or broken from Friday to Tuesday, according to CBS News.  

Although hot temperatures are expected annually, this heatwave will bring unusually dry conditions for parts of west-central Iowa, with areas west of Des Moines experiencing a two-week absence of rain, according to the Des Moines Register. These hot conditions will lower corn, livestock, and hay yields, and will severely impact soybeans if there is a continued lack of rain.

The impacts of COVID-19 make it difficult for people to seek indoor cooling in places like government buildings and libraries because of county shutdowns that are enforced to maintain social distancing. Public swimming facilities are also closed or have limited access because of concerns about COVID-19.

Click on this link from Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management to learn about preparation for high heat.  

Click on this link from the American Red Cross to learn how to stay safe from COVID-19 in case you find yourself in a situation where you have to be near other people. 

Environmental Impact Review of the Dakota Access Pipeline is a Victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | July 8, 2020

Since 2016, protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline have ensued because of its less-than a mile proximity to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, which sits on the North and South Dakota borders, according to ABC News. The pipeline could potentially spill oil into the nearby Missouri River, which the Tribe relies on for fishing, clean water, and water ceremonies. 

A district court ordered for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to be emptied of oil by Aug. 5 in order to let the Army Corps of Engineers conduct an environmental impact review, which is a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation, as reported by The New York Times and Iowa Environmental Focus

The 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline is an underground pipeline that was initially rejected by the Obama administration in 2016, but has transported oil since 2017, according to The Guardian. The pipeline starts from North Dakota where it travels through South Dakota and Iowa and ends up in Illinois. 

James E. Boasberg, the federal judge of the District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the pipeline’s construction fell short of environmental standards, according to the BBC. The pipeline could potentially continue operations after the Army Corp of Engineer’s environmental impact review is completed. 

Earthjustice, the non-profit that represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, called this environmental impact review a victory for the Tribe, the organization said in a public statement

“The shutdown will remain in place pending completion of a full environmental review, which normally takes several years, and the issuance of new permits. It may be up to a new administration to make final permitting decisions,” Earthjustice said. 

This comes after the Trump administration’s attempts to ease the way for business by enacting changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that has since 1970 assessed environmental effects of public projects, according to the Associated Press

Firefighters Battle Record Breaking Fires in Arizona

Image from NASA’s ASTER instrument. Vegetation is shown in red while the burned areas appear as dark gray.

Maxwell Bernstein | July 3, 2020

Extreme weather in Arizona has contributed to record breaking wildfires, according to The Guardian

Firefighters have recently contained 58% of the Bighorn Fire, the eighth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned 118,710 acres. The fire started on June 5th by a lightning strike in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado national forest which sits outside of Tucson, Arizona.   

The Bush fire in the Tonto national forest is now 98% contained and is the fifth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned about 193,000 acres.  

Arizona has been seeing regular daily temperatures of 105-110°F for the month of June, which has contributed to the severity of the fires. A potentially historic heatwave is expected to hit the U.S. in the first few weeks of July, raising concerns about the fires, according to CNBC.

These warm temperatures coincide with rising temperatures across the planet that stem from climate change. Warmer temperatures will increase the frequency of extreme fires, according to NASA.

Land-use Change Will Potentially Increase Zoonotic Disease Spread

Image from Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | July 1, 2020

Researchers from the University of the West of England and the University of Exeter identified a link between environmental exploitation and the potential for increased spreading of diverse zoonotic diseases.

Zoonotic diseases come from pathogens that spread from animals to humans. This includes many viruses such as the H1N1 swine flu virus, Ebola, West Nile, Zika, and Sars-CoV-2, the virus that is causing the current global COVID-19 pandemic.  

The researchers’ paper, published in Environmental Science & Policy, says that “…a key contributory factor in the increase in number and diversity of zoonotic diseases has been the extent to which humans are increasingly interacting with, and impacting upon, ecosystems, given the close relationships between human, animal and environmental health.” 

The researchers cited EcoHealth Alliance’s study, which showed that land-use change, the process where humans transform natural land, is linked to 31% of emerging infectious diseases including HIV, Ebola, and Zika virus. The COVID-19 pandemic likely started from a bat, according to the CDC

“The need to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing at the time of writing creates an opportunity for systemic policy change, placing scientific knowledge of the value and services of ecosystems at the heart of societal concerns as a key foundation for a more secure future,” the researchers said. 

Minnesota Sues Oil Industry for Misinforming the Public on Climate Change

Image of Minnesota State Capitol from Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | June 26, 2020

The state of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against the American Petroleum Institute (API), Koch Industries, and Exxon Mobil Corp. on Wednesday, according to the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General. The lawsuit targets the oil industry for actively misinforming the public on the effects of climate change, despite knowing the how their products directly warm the planet. 

“Previously unknown internal documents were recently discovered that confirm that Defendants well understood the devastating effects that their products would cause to the climate, including Minnesota, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. But Defendants did not ever disclose to the public—or to Minnesotans—their actual knowledge that would confirm the very science they sought to undermine,” the state of Minnesota said in the lawsuit.

This is the first state to name the API, the United State’s main oil and natural gas lobbying group, as a defendant in a lawsuit. This lawsuit comes in a series of lawsuits from citizen groups, cities, and state governments which include New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, according to Reuters.

The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States comes from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation, according to the EPA.

Bipartisan Bill to Maintain and Protect Federal Lands Passed Through the Senate

Image from Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | June 19, 2020

The Great American Outdoors Act passed through the Senate with a bipartisan 73-25 vote on Wednesday where it is now heading to the House. 

This bill would double the current spending on The Land and Water Conservation Fund to $900 million a year along with another $1.9 Billion per year on improvements and maintenance of national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and rangelands, according to the Associated Press.  The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a federal program that protects public lands and waters, resulting in the protection of 2.37 million acres of land, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior

The Great American Outdoors Act is expected to create over 100 thousand jobs which will go toward restoring national parks and repairing forest systems and trails. Supporters of the bill are calling it, “The most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century,” according to the Associated Press.   

Fusion Energy Steps Closer to Reality

Image by ITER

Maxwell Bernstein | June 12, 2020

On Tuesday, May 26, the largest piece of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor’s (ITER) tokamak was installed on-site in southern France, making fusion energy seem more like a reality according to ITER Newsline

The ITER project is an experimental fusion energy project that hopes to produce 500 MW of fusion power, advancing our goal of creating carbon-free energy that operates under the same principles as stars, according to ITER’s about page

Fusion energy comes from the combination of hydrogen nuclei which fuse at extremely high temperatures to create helium as it’s only byproduct. By 2025, ITER will start its first plasma, making it the world’s largest operational tokamak. 

A tokamak is an experimental donut-shaped container that contains extremely hot plasmas; a state of matter where electrons are disassociated from their nuclei according to Britannica

ITER is a collaboration of 35 countries and has been in the works since 1980. The project has a price point of about $23.7 billion to construct it’s 10 million parts, according to WIRED. This the most ambitious energy project today and is crucial in advancing fusion science according to ITER. 

To combat climate change, an alternate energy source that produces zero cabon emissions is needed, which fusion energy can fulfill.

Air Pollutant Levels in China Exceed Pre-COVID-19 Levels

Source: CREA analysis of MEE real-time air quality monitoring data

Maxwell Bernstein | June 5, 2020

China’s air pollutant levels have exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels according to a report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.  

These air pollutants include PM2.5, NO2, SO2, and ozone which can harm human-health. Levels of air pollutants have decreased during China’s national lockdown in February, bottomed out in early March, and are now above levels from the same time last year. 

The graph above, which was produced by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, shows the percent change in different air pollutant levels between this year and last year in China. 

“Rebounding air pollutant levels are a demonstration of the importance of prioritizing green economy and clean energy in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. All eyes are on China, as the first major economy to return to work after a lockdown,” the report says.

New Methods for Analyzing Existing Datasets Provide Tools for Predicting Plant Performance

Image via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | May 29, 2020

A new study from Iowa State University has revealed patterns that can help predict plant performance along with providing information on plant adaptation in different environments. The significance of this study stems from the researcher’s ability to apply analysis techniques on available datasets instead of producing new data, according to a news release from Iowa State. 

The researchers at Iowa State University focused on analyzing existing data from 174 rice plants across nine different environments across Asia. The study revealed that temperatures early in growth affected the flowering time for the rice plants. Paired with genetic data, scientists were able to predict flowering times for various rice species in differing environments. 

This study can help farmers predict how other crop varieties will perform in different environments, helping growers minimize risk and gain a sense of stability. Better predictions for plant growth allow farmers to use resources more efficiently and minimize waste.