This week’s segment looks at the influence of carbon dioxide on the record high-temperature levels this year.
Ocean carbon dioxide levels hit a new record early this month, as it was 84 degrees near the Arctic Ocean.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Temperatures rose to 84 degrees in the northwest of Russian near the entrance of the Arctic Ocean, a rural area in eastern Russia where the average high temperature is around 54 degrees this time of year.
Many locations around Russia set record high temperatures. This particular heat wave, a manifestation of the arrangement of weather systems and fluctuations in the jet stream, fits into what has been an unusually warm year across the Arctic and most of the mid-latitudes.
In the meantime, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere surpassed 415 parts per million for the first time in recorded history — the highest in at least 800,000 years, and possibly the highest levels in over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.
These numbers altogether serve as indicators of the damages done by modern civilization to the environment and the contributions humans have made towards climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that will exempt farms from reporting air emissions caused by animal waste.
Reporting will still be required for the release of animal waste into water. This exemption is in the form of an amendment to EPCRA section 304, where its main purpose is to alert emergency responders of dangerous emissions, like chemical leaks, so they can potentially evacuate a community or alert locals to seek shelter. In a news release, the EPA said this final rule will ensure that “emergency planners and local responders receive reports that focus on these kinds of emergencies.”
This new rule also applies to decomposing animal waste. All other hazardous emissions above a recommended threshold will still need to be reported.
Animal waste emissions into the air can increase the risk for respiratory health issues like asthma, and also contribute to climate change. A 2013 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Association said that 7.1 gigatons of CO2 emissions can be attributed to the global livestock sector annually.
Iowa is the country’s leading producer of animal and human waste. The Iowa Environmental Focus reported on research engineer Chris Jones’ March study that calculated how many people each livestock group accounted for in terms of the amount of waste it produces, and called it Iowa’s “real population.”
While Iowa has a population of just over 3 million people, this is what Jones found in his March study and lists in his blog:
This weeks segment looks at how Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years.
Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years—but have we been moving in a greener direction?
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Iowa’s population has grown from two and a half million in 1960 to just over three million now, and our methods of producing energy have grown and changed over the decades. In the 60s, Iowa was mostly run on natural gas and coal. Wind energy didn’t enter our sphere until the late 90s. Now, coal is our primary source of energy, followed by natural gas and wind.
The consumption of energy is measured in BTUs—British Thermal Units, with each unit representing the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
In the 60s, the average Iowan used about 217 million BTUs of energy per year. In 2016, that number jumped to a consumption of 488 million BTUs per Iowa every year, over double the amount of energy despite a population increase of less than a million.
New technology and an increased energy grid are partly to blame, but Iowa would benefit from cutting down energy use when possible, and relying more heavily on green energy—like solar and wind—to light our homes.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources EcoNewsWire warns that drifting smoke from fireworks this Fourth of July can cause breathing problems for some individuals, and that people should be sure to dispose of fireworks safely.
The news release said that when the air is stagnant, fine particles get trapped near the ground and can build to unhealthy levels if there is no breeze.
“If your family or friends suffer from asthma or respiratory difficulties, it’s important for them to stay upwind, a safe distance from fireworks smoke,” says Brian Hutchins, DNR air quality supervisor, in the news release. “The elderly and children are also vulnerable to higher levels of smoke.”
In 2017, the Fourth of July fire-work show in Des Moines exceeded the EPA’s national standards for fine particle levels. Black powder and metals used to create a firework’s color produce the fine particles after a firework explodes.
The Iowa DNR also warns to never put unsoaked fireworks in the garbage, as they pose a fire/explosion hazard. The DNR recommends to completely submerge fireworks in a bucket of water to soak overnight, and then to wrap the soaked fireworks in plastic wrap or two plastic bags. Dispose of the wrapped fireworks in a household trash or landfill, or contact a local fire department or landfill for additional disposal options.
Additionally, fireworks contain metals that can contaminate water. The Iowa DNR says fireworks should never be detonated near water, because it’s illegal, but also because the impact can kill fish and other surrounding aquatic life.
Betsy Stone looks at the very air she breathes every day on a microscopic level.
“Since I started my career here at the University of Iowa, I’ve been amazed at the very interesting air quality events that we’ve been able to study here locally,” the associated professor of chemistry and chemical engineering said.
Her group has researched the environmental impact of a massive tire fire at the Iowa City landfill in 2012 and the ongoing impact of biomass incineration at the University of Iowa Power Plant. Earlier this month, they embarked on a new project to study pollen fragmentation in the local atmosphere.
Listen to learn about Stone’s findings on the air quality impacts of the university’s Biomass Project.
Stone explained that pollens are fairly large particles and tend to settle out of air quickly. If humans inhale them, they immediately get stuck in the nostrils. Rain events often wash pollen out of air, but in 2013 Stone observed an unusual phenomenon; after thunderstorms, pollens fragmented into much smaller particles and their concentration in the air greatly increased.
Other researchers had observed this phenomenon elsewhere, but never in the Midwest.
“We’re able to follow up with a very heavily instrumented field campaign that we think is going to answer a lot of the burning questions that we have about this type of event,” Stone said.
She’s hoping to learn more about the conditions for fragmentation, the species of pollens present and how they fragment. To do so, the group will use a large suite of equipment—including a meteorological station, an aerosol biosensor, particulate matter monitors and particle samplers—stationed at the university’s cross country course.
Stone said this research has implications for understanding the effects of climate change.
Stone studies air quality variation across space. Hear her speak on some key differences between rural and urban areas.
“Part of the reason this research is so important to do right now is that we’re starting to observe changes in our seasons as well as increases in the intensity of thunderstorms,” she explained.
Pollen season is starting earlier, and increased storms mean fragmentation could happen more frequently. Higher temperatures increase pollen loads, too. That’s bad news for people with allergies or asthma, especially since small fragments can travel deeper into the respiratory tract.
Particulate matter can impact the temperature, too. Atmospheric particles can scatter incoming sunlight, creating a cooling effect, but can also absorb energy like greenhouse gases do. Cloud droplets form around particulates, and the quality of the particles impacts the longevity and precipitation cycles of the clouds.
Stone’s group researches more distant phenomena as well, mainly sea spray aerosol collected at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.
Chemical reactions in the atmosphere can create new particles. Hear Stone talk about Secondary Organic Aerosols.
Ocean bubbles release particles into the air when they burst, which contain both salt and organic matter. Stone’s lab seeks to understand what type of organic matter is present and how it chemically transforms in the sky. This too has implications for understanding climate.
“It’s really important to understand a natural source of particles like the ocean because we have a lot of uncertainty associated with aerosol loadings and composition in preindustrial times,” she said. Thus, our estimates of past climates are not especially accurate.
Understanding natural sources of particulate matter, like pollen and sea spray aerosols, helps provide a baseline to measure climate variation over time. Data on particulate matter can provide a baseline for measuring the success of emission reduction plans and other policies as well, she said.
***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspectives and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***
The Iowa Legislature and Governor Reynolds passed a bill this week in support of chemical recycling facilities for plastic in the state.
The bill defines gasification and pyrolysis, two chemical recycling methods, as processes that convert waste plastics into raw materials like crude oil, gasoline and other chemicals by heating and melting them in oxygen-deficient environments then processing them accordingly. Those materials can be used to make new plastic products or as “feedstock” to fuel industrial processes. Plants conducting these activities in Iowa will be regulated more like manufacturing plants than solid waste disposal facilities, according to the trade publication Plastics Recycling Update.
There are obvious benefits to recycling plastics. Transforming plastic waste into useful materials will keep it out of landfills, rivers and oceans. A National Geographic story on plastic recycling said that pyrolysis plants can handle filmy plastic bags, which most traditional recycling plants cannot. Recycling also reduces the amount of new material that must be manufactured to meet demands.
Recycling Today reported that five advanced recycling facilities could generate $309 million annually by converting 25 percent of Iowa’s plastic waste into industrial feedstocks or transportation fuel. According to National Geographic, however, it is still cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than plastic. The article said pyrolysis startups have closed in the past because they haven’t been able to make money or meet pollution control limits.
Plastics Recycling Update said the Iowa Recycling Association had been opposed to the bill but did not say why. This post will be updated if and when the Iowa Environmental Focus is able to learn more.
This weeks segment looks at BP’s place in the coming decades with rising demands for renewable energy.
BP Oil and Gas has made energy demand predictions about the future—but are they accurate?
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
After the massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast in 2010, BP became known globally in a decidedly negative light.
Almost a decade later, and with settlement payments still being paid out, the energy company has thrown its weight behind renewable energy. BP outlines in its annual energy outlook that the planet could run on mostly renewable sources by 2040.
There is a small detail that some environmentalists find troubling, however; the BP report also lists an estimated rising global demand for energy well into the 2040s, while other scientific reports estimate that global demand will taper off and even out by the 2030s.
A rising global demand for energy is a given, as underdeveloped countries begin working on their infrastructure and making improvements for their citizens. But overestimating how much energy will be needed globally in the future could allow oil companies to continue selling more fossil fuels, even as renewable energy use grows.