On The Radio – New science curriculum being developed for students in Iowa

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Teachers work in small groups to develop curriculum plans that align with Iowa’s new science standards. (Left to right: Taylor Schlicher, Southeast Junior High; Zach Miller, University of Iowa MAT Science Education; Susanna Ziemer, University of Iowa MAT Science Education; Ted Neal, Clinical Instructor, University of Iowa; Courtney Van Wyk, Pella Christian Grade School; Stacey DeCoster; Grinnell Middle School)
Jake Slobe| July 17, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the new science curriculum currently being developed for students in Iowa.

Transcript: Science teachers from around the state gathered at the University of Iowa Lindquist Center late last month to develop new curriculum for eighth grade students.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The working group was hosted by the Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative, a combined effort of the UI College of Education and the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.

The initiative seeks to implement Next Generation Science Standards which were approved by the Iowa Board of Education in 2015. Many of the new standards require students to explore how the Earth’s climate system works. University of Iowa faculty will make some science data available for Iowa students to explore and better understand their local environment.

The seven teachers in attendance worked to develop lesson plans that meet the criteria laid out by the Next Generation Science Standards.

For more information visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org. From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Nitrate in Iowa: Episode one

Jake Slobe | July 12, 2017

In this first episode of Nitrate in Iowa, Dr. Chris Jones, an IIHR Research Engineer and Associate Professor at the University of Iowa, explains the science behind nitrate, how it gets into our waterways, and the effects it can have on our environment.

Nitrogen is a nutrient that is natural within aquatic ecosystems, but when too much nitrogen and phosphorus enter the environment – usually from a wide range of human activities – the air and water can become polluted. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues.

Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Significant increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Large growths of algae are called algal blooms and they can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in the water, leading to illnesses in fish and the death of large numbers of fish. Some algal blooms are harmful to humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth that can make people sick if they come into contact with polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water.

On The Radio – May 2017 among hottest months in recorded history

May 2017 was the third hottest May on record. (Lima Andruška/flickr)
Jake Slobe| July 10, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the high temperatures recorded so far throughout 2017.

Transcript: Data shows that May 2017 was among the hottest months in recorded history.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

May 2017 was the third hottest May on record coming in behind May 2016 and May 2015 according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The month was also the eighteenth hottest month in NASA’s database based on deviation from average temperatures. April 2017 is tied with May for eighteenth hottest month and January, February and March all took top ten positions for hottest months in history.

This positions 2017 to possibly take the title of hottest year on record which is currently held by 2016 and was previously held by 2015 and 2014.

Rising global temperatures have grave environmental effects such as rising sea levels and more intense natural disasters like forest fires, hurricanes, floods and droughts according to NASA.

To learn more, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

On The Radio: 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll released

Jake Slobe | June 5, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the recently released results of the 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life survey.

Transcript: The 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life survey results were recently released, providing information about how Iowa farming practices are changing over time.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll, commonly called the “Farm poll,” was established in 1982 and is the longest running survey of its kind. Each year, the same 2,000 farmers are surveyed so that researchers can track changes in opinion over time. This year, 1,039 completed the survey, answering questions about their current conservation practices and who they rely on for trusted information when making farming decisions.

The poll revealed which conservation practices are most common in Iowa. More than forty percent of respondents reported using buffer strips and no-till farming, while less than twenty percent said they had converted cropland into perineal crops or utilized extended crop rotation during 2015.

The farm poll is managed by Iowa State University Extension Sociology. Information from each year’s survey is made available to local and state lawmakers, and is often used to inform policy decisions that affect rural Iowans.

To read more about the 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Trump expected to pull the United States from Paris Climate Agreement

The closing ceremony of COP21 in Paris. (United Nations/flickr)
Jake Slobe | May 31, 2017

President Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, said three officials with knowledge of the decision, making good on a campaign pledge but severely weakening the landmark 2015 climate change accord that committed nearly every nation to take action to curb the emission of greenhouse gases.

A senior White House official cautioned that the specific language of the president’s expected announcement was still in flux. The official said the withdrawal might be accompanied by legal caveats that could shape the impact of Mr. Trump’s decision.

Trump is set to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Wednesday afternoon, who has advocated that the United States remain a part of the Paris accords and could possibly continue to lobby the president to change his mind.

Advisers pressing him to remain in the accord could still make their case. In the past, such appeals have worked. In April, Trump was set to announce a withdrawal from the Nafta free trade agreement, but at the last minute changed his mind after intense discussions with advisers and calls from the leaders of Canada and Mexico.

The United States is the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas polluter. An exit by the U.S. would not dissolve the 195-nation pact, which was legally ratified last year, but could set off events that would have profound effects on the planet. Other countries that reluctantly joined the agreement could now withdraw or soften their commitments to cutting planet-warming pollution.

On The Radio – Portland pledges to 100% renewable energy


Jake Slobe| May 29, 2017

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In an announcement last month, the city announced their goal was to meet the community’s electricity needs with renewables by 2035 and to move all remaining energy sources to renewable ones by 2050.

Portland and the county join 25 other U.S. cities that have made the 100 percent pledge in recent years.

City officials will move to add five renewable projects at city facilities, such as solar projects at some police and fire headquarters.

Monday’s announcement was heavy on grand pronouncements but light on financial details. The city and county can lead the way in some respects, but much of the heavy lifting will depend on utilities and the market for electric vehicles accelerating.

To meet the electricity goals, the city and county will have to rely on utilities like Portland General Electric to more quickly turn away from coal and other fossil fuels.

To learn more about Portland’s plan, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org

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

New study finds that the pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990

Icebergs are breaking off glaciers at Cape York, Greenland. (Wikimedia)
Jake Slobe | May 24, 2017

Scientists, in a new study, have found that the Earth’s oceans are rising nearly three times as quickly as they were throughout most of the 20th century.

This new finding  is one of the strongest indications yet that a much feared trend of not just sea level rise, but its acceleration, is now underway.

Their paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t the first to find that the rate of rising seas is itself increasing — but it finds a bigger rate of increase than in past studies. The new paper concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about 1.1 millimeters per year, or just 0.43 inches per decade. From 1993 through 2012, though, it finds that they rose at 3.1 millimeters per year, or 1.22 inches per decade.

Studying the changing rate of sea level rise is complicated by the fact that scientists only have a precise satellite record of its rate going back to the early 1990s. Before that, the records rely on tide gauges spread around the world in various locations.

But sea level rise varies widely in different places, due to the rising and sinking of land, large-scale gravitational effects on the waters of the globe and other local factors. So scientists have struggled to piece together a longer record that merges together what we know from satellites with these older sources of information.

The new study takes a crack at this problem by trying to piece together a sea level record for the 20th century, before the beginning of the satellite record, by adjusting the results of local tide gauges based on an understanding of the factors affecting sea level rise in a given region, and then also weighting different regions differently in the final analysis. That’s how it came up with a relatively small rate of sea level rise from 1900 through 1990, followed by a much faster one afterward.


That 2015 study found that from 1901 to 1990, sea level rose at a rate of 1.2 millimeters per year, very close to the current study’s estimate. But other researchers have found figures more in the range of 1.6 to 1.9 millimeters.

 Overall, though, the disparities between different studies — many of which point to an acceleration, but which vary upon its size — suggests that scientists have converged on the big picture but are still debating the details.

Just how much control we are able to exert over the rate of sea level rise will critically depend on how rapidly global greenhouse gas emissions come down in coming years — making the entire outlook closely tied to whether the United States sticks with the rest of the world in honoring the Paris climate agreement.


On The Radio – A new campaign, Good Neighbor Iowa, looks to reduce lawn pesticide use in Iowa

good niegbor iowa
Jake Slobe | May 22, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses Good Neighbor Iowa, a statewide campaign attempting to reduce the use of lawn pesticides in Iowa.

Transcript: Good Neighbor Iowa, a statewide public education campaign to reduce children’s exposure to lawn pesticides was recently launched.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Good Neighbor Iowa campaign involves school districts, park managers, childcare centers, and community leaders who are demonstrating that it is possible and practical to manage large areas of turf without the use of pesticides including herbicides and insecticides.

Ultimately, their goal is to transform Iowa’s culture so that we appreciate diverse lawns as a way to protect children’s’ health, water quality, and biodiversity.

The entire initiative and the website were researched and developed by students at the University of Northern Iowa in the Interactive Digital Studies Practicum class taught by Professor Bettina Fabos.

The website contains a map that highlights schools, parks, childcare centers, and institutions in Iowa that have pledged to manage their lawns without the use of pesticides.

The website also contains tips on managing a healthy lawn and a blog discussing the effects of lawn pesticides.

For more information, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Scientists find 38 million pieces of trash on remote Pacific island

Garbage on Henderson Island in the south Pacific Ocean. The uninhabited island has been found to have the world’s highest density of waste plastic, with more than 3,500 additional pieces of litter washing ashore daily at just one of its beaches. (Jennifer Lavers, AP)
Jake Slobe | May 15, 2017

When researchers traveled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the island.

A new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that there were 17.6 tons of debris on the shores of the tiny island. The world produces that amount of plastic every 1.98 seconds, the researchers wrote.

Over 99 percent of the debris is made of plastic—most pieces are unidentifiable fragments.  The researchers say that fishing-related activities and land-based sources seem to have produced the majority of the debris.

The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island’s extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Henderson Island sits at the western side of the South Pacific Gyre, a counterclockwise current that collects floating debris from the shore of South America. Researchers found that most items on the island came from China, Japan or Chile.  (Jennifer Lavers, AP)

Dr. Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was the lead author of the report.

What’s happened on Henderland Island shows there’s no escaping the effects plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans, said Lavers in a press release discussing the study.

“It speaks to the fact that these items that we call ‘disposable’ or ‘single-use’ are neither of those things,” she said, “and that items that were constructed decades ago are still floating around there in the ocean today, and for decades to come.”

On The Radio – Iowa leads midwest in clean energy momentum

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The recently released top ten list ranks states not only by current performance but also their potential for clean energy development in the future. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Jake Slobe | May 15, 2017

This On the Radio Segment discusses the recently released list of states in the U.S. that lead in the use of clean energy.

Transcript: The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published its list of top ten states demonstrating “clean energy momentum,” and Iowa led the Midwest.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

States were ranked according to twelve metrics that were organized into three broad categories: technical progress; direct, visible effects on our daily lives; and policies to build momentum for the future. California was at the top of the list as it was a top performer in eight of the twelve metrics. Other leading states included Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, and New York.

Iowa rounded out the top ten list and was ranked first among Midwestern states. The Hawkeye state was the first to generate more than 30 percent of its energy from wind and is expected to source more than 40 percent of its total energy from wind turbines by 2020.

The publication pointed out that despite recent rollbacks of Obama-era climate policy, great strides have been made in renewable energy development. It notes that enough solar panels were added in 2016 to power two million houses.

To read the full report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, visit iowenvironmentalfocus.org.

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