A new flood watch for Eastern Iowa

An above view of the IMU showcases the power of the 2008 flood that many Iowans still remember (/studentlife)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | March 6th, 2018

Flood warnings for Eastern Iowa were released in late February. The Dewitt area is especially susceptible, as the local river, the Wapsipinicon, is expected to rise .3 feet higher than its typical flood level. Though the area is used to flooding, the warnings are still something to heed.

Floods are often caused by a combination of heavy spring rains and melting snow, causing rivers throughout the Midwest to overfill and spill onto their banks, often irreparably damaging property in the process. The Midwest is especially vulnerable to flooding because of the generally temperate climate–snowy winters and stormy springs bring high levels of river water.

While Iowa has not seen a truly disastrous flood since 2008, the Flood Center emphasizes the importance of predictions and preparation. Recent projects around Iowa, such as the raising of Dubuque Street in Iowa City or the flood control system in Cedar Rapids, are just a few of the precautions being taken to guard against future floods. The 2008 flood damaged crops and forced citizens to evacuate their homes, affecting everything from business to college facilities.

The Iowa Flood Center hopes that, by educating people about the dangers of flooding, future flood damaged can be reduced overall.

King penguins are in growing danger of disappearing

King penguins are in danger of losing their breeding and feeding grounds (/123RF)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 27th, 2018

Global warming, shifting weather patterns, and melting ice sheets are all playing huge parts in the possible disappearance of the distinctively colorful King penguins.

In a report published by the Nature Climate Change journal, a group of researchers compiled evidence that suggests a bleak future for King penguins within the century. Co-author, Celine Le Bohec, voiced one of the scariest concerns: “70% of breeding penguins []…will be forced to relocate their breeding grounds, or face extinction before the end of the century.”

This is because King penguins breed in very specific locations–isolated islands in the Southern Ocean that are unobstructed by ice cover. Penguins living around the Antarctic are already at an increased risk of dying out, because the Antarctic polar front, a warm body of water that hosts a variety of rich marine life and serves as the feeding ground for most penguins, is being pushed further away from land, forcing penguins to swim longer distances for food and subsequently leaving their chicks behind, unattended and vulnerable.

As the ice shelf melts and the trek from breeding ground to feeding waters becomes more dangerous, more and more penguins are in danger of being wiped out by natural predators. The researchers who worked to compile their findings warn that this is perhaps the most stark reminder that global warming has very real consequences.

Scientists set off for discoveries in Antarctica


New ecosystems in Antarctica can provide valuable evidence for climate change research (stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 20th 2018

A group of British scientists are due to set off soon to explore one of the largest icebergs discovered yet in Antarctica.

Led by the British Antarctic Survey and marine biologist Dr. Katrin Linse, the exploration will take researchers and field workers to the Larson C ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula–and the findings might uncover vital new information about how the ecosystem of that region responds to climate change.

The team is racing to reach the newly formed iceberg before light changes the ecosystem underneath.

Melting ice from the Arctic and Antarctic regions are vastly speeding up the already rising sea levels. Researching the Antarctic is difficult, but when ice sheets split to form smaller icebergs, as with Larson C, biologists and other scientists are presented with a unique opportunity to explore the waters underneath the ice.

The group hopes their findings will provide more valuable information about climate change and its effects globally.

Almost 10% of the US still struggles for safe drinking water

Low-income communities are often forced to buy expensive bottled water (files)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 13th, 2018

A recent study found that around 10% of towns, neighborhoods, and residences in the United States has consistently sub-par drinking water. Most of these numbers are concentrated in the deep south, where extreme poverty can make re-rigging water pipes and plants difficult.

When particularly small communities are impoverished, aging infrastructure and a general lack of access to new techniques can make cleaning water a nearly impossible task. The concern over clean drinking water gathered speed exponentially after Flint, when the U.S. was faced with the plight of a small town suffering the compounding health effects of unsanitary water.

Being a low-income community, Flint’s residents struggled to keep up with the added extra charge of buying a constant stream of bottled water that they were forced to drink and use, and menial tasks such as showering became difficult and dangerous when residents noted the negative effects that the water had on their skin. If nothing is done to help other, similarly low-income areas, the drinking water health crises will continue to grow.

While some states are proposing programs to financially aid smaller water plants, it’s only a matter of time before the problems faced in Flint are brought to light again.

The advantages of geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is another viable–but unheard of–source of renewable power (shutterstock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu| February 6th, 2018

Jim Turner, an operating officer with Australia’s energy company Controlled Thermal Resources, wants more people to know about Geothermal Energy–an often unheard-of source of renewable energy using the Earth’s core heat as its main source.

10 feet or so beneath the Earth’s surface, the ground stays at a near-constant temperature of 50 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit. There are a few different ways to use this temperature to generate electricity; the most common method is to siphon water from just under the surface and create steam to power turbines. Some companies use the heat itself to create a “heat pump” that helps regulate the temperatures in buildings.

Most geothermal energy sites are located in the West of the United States–places with remote stretched of hot desert where the ground is easier to dig into.

The Earth at Western desert sites also satisfy three necessary conditions for ground to actually hold its heat and become a candidate for geothermal farming:it’s hot, wet rock, with enough space and fractures throughout that allow water to flow beneath the surface.

The nation’s Energy Department recently established FORGE, an effort to increase the number of geothermal sites in the United States. Geothermal energy is traditionally overlooked and underfunded, but with some combined effort this natural resource can help continue to reduce our carbon footprint.



Oceans at a record high heat for 2017


Scientists worry that rising ocean heat hints at something bigger (Falln-stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 30th, 2018

2017 has been widely regarded as one of the hottest years on record. Much of that heat can be measured and cataloged from oceans, which trap around 90% of greenhouse gas emissions, making them perfect record-keepers for climate change. Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu, researchers from China, recently released data on their measurements of ocean water temperatures. Their findings were startling: in 2017, the ocean waters measured hotter than in any other previous “record heat-wave” year.

Measurements of the global ocean heat have been fairly consistent since the 1950s, when advancements in environmental technology made detecting degree changes more plausible. Although fluctuations of temperature year-to-year are common, extreme spikes in degrees of heat are indications of dangerously rising climate temperature.

The heat trapped in the ocean waters cause lots of problems for the Earth’s environment–the gas emissions are primary causes for melting ice shelves, declining ocean oxygen, and damaged ocean ecosystems.

Scientists publish data like this in the hopes of piquing public interest in climate change.


Clean energy requires better infrastructure

Renewable energy is the way of the future, but infrastructure needs to improve (PDP)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | 1/23/2018

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released a statement that contained some encouraging news: Clean, renewable energy use is on the rise, and power plants using coal and fossil fuels are slowly but surely being shut down forever.

In 2017, around 25 gigawatts of utility-scale power was added to the overall power grid –generators capable of producing enough energy to run entire buildings or power grids in residential or business areas. Of those additions, nearly half used renewable energy sources, mostly wind and solar power.

Clean energy comes with some issues, most of them due to infrastructure. Curtailment is the practice of stopping a power plant once it’s produced its fair demand of energy to save on fuel. But this method works better with fossil fuels and consumables. Natural resources, such as wind and solar rays, are often wasted because of curtailment. There is currently no practical way to store excess renewable energy, and any potentially useful clean energy is “wasted” as a result.

Current predictions place wind energy use at around 5.5% nationally.