On The Radio- Crop enhancement at night


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Photo taken at a farm in Colorado (David Mulhern/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | October 15, 2018

This weeks segment looks at a study that tracks how nighttime airflow can affect crops.

Transcript: 

A new study in Illinois aims to improve crops by tracking how air moves at night.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

When the earth loses heat at night, sometimes cool layers of mostly still air form just above the surface. These pockets of air are called stable boundary layers, and scientists still know very little about how they flow.

They do know, however, that the subtle movements of stable boundary layers have important implications for agriculture. Understanding nighttime air flow could help farmers decide when to use anti-frost fans for example, and could minimize drift of aerosol pesticides.

Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of South Carolina will track this elusive phenomenon by releasing smoke and then using lasers to measure how it flows. They will also log atmospheric conditions like cloud cover and temperature to learn what exactly causes stable boundary layers to form.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, began mid-September and will run through November 15th.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Analysis of Iowa air quality reveals positive and negative trends


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Industrial greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and manufacturers contribute to climate change (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 4, 2018

A new analysis of federal air quality data reveals mixed trends in Iowa’s air quality. On one hand, Iowa cut industrial greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent from 2010 to 2014. On the other, Iowa ranks among the top 20 U.S. states for industrial greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions.

Analysts from the Center for Public Integrity studied EPA data from 2010 to 2014.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register that since 2014 emissions have trended downwards, according to data from their own monitoring stations and facilities.

The Center for Public Integrity found that Iowa’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions dropped  11 percent, from over 60 million metric tons in 2014 to about 54.7 metric tons in 2014. This cut is over five times greater than the 2 percent national average, according to the Register.

Iowa still ranks 19th for industrial emissions, however. Ten Iowa utility or manufacturing companies were among the nation’s top 500 sources of greenhouse gases in 2014.  Four of those were MidAmerican coal plants.  Since 2014, Iowa utilities have made major investments in renewable energy, particularly wind.

Iowa ranks even higher for toxic air emissions: 17th in the U.S.. From 2010 to 2014, toxic air emissions in Iowa actually increased. The Register found that Climax Molybdenum, a chemical plant in Fort Madison, and four others were responsible for half of Iowa’s toxic emissions in 2014. The paper said Climax Molybdenum was the 10th largest emitter of ammonia in the nation that year.

 

 

 

On The Radio- Increasing Summer Heat


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Midday heat (wexass/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | September 17, 2018

This weeks segment talks about why Iowa and other mid-latitude states are experiencing hotter summers.

Transcript:

Summers in mid-latitudes, including Iowa, are warming faster than other seasons, a recent study found.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Between forty and sixty degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, an area from the southern Iowa border to mid Canada warmed more rapidly in the summer than in the winter over a thirty-eight-year-period,

The study published in the journal Science attributed this finding to the fact that a substantial amount of Earth’s land mass is concentrated in this zone, and land tends to heat up more quickly than the ocean. This can have serious implications on agriculture, because much of this land is used to grow crops in the summer, particularly in Iowa.

This study was conducted using a fingerprint method, meaning the researchers could distinguish natural climatic warming from increased temperatures due to human activity.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dog-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

 

Pew research survey reveals U.S. climate change views


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Nearly ninety percent of respondents to a recent survey supported further development of solar energy systems. (Oregon Department of Transportation/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 17, 2018

A recent Pew Research Center survey details how U.S. residents perceive both the effects of climate change and the federal government’s response to it.

The national survey, which was administered during March and April 2018 to 2,541 adults, found that six in ten people living in the U.S. say that climate change is affecting their local community. Differences were observed by political leanings, with 76 percent of Democrats saying that climate change is affecting their local community and about 35 percent of Republicans responding in the same way. Political party was not the only differentiating factor, however. Respondents also differed in their perceptions based on distance from the coasts. People that live within 25 miles of a coast were 17 percent more likely than those that live more than 300 miles from the coast to say that climate change was affecting their local community.

Regardless of whether respondents believe that climate change is affecting their community, a majority (67%) of respondents agreed that the federal government is not doing enough to combat climate change.

So, what climate-smart policies were respondents in support of? Seventy-two percent of participants supported efforts to further protect the environment from energy use and development. Similarly, 71 percent said they would like to increase reliance on renewable energy. Solar panels (89%) and wind turbines (85%) received overwhelming support from respondents, regardless of political affiliation.

This survey’s results reflect responses from a similar Pew research survey administered in 2016.

On The Radio- Changing fuel emissions standards


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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

Kasey Dresser | May 14, 2018

This weeks segment looks at the EPA’s reevaluation of America’s fuel efficiency standards. 

Transcript: 

The EPA is reevaluating the national fuel efficiency standard for American automakers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

As a result of the Clean Air Act, auto manufacturers have been required to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. One third of states are required to operate under California’s strict emissions standards and the remaining two thirds operate under a less strict standard.

The Obama administration set a target goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025. EPA director, Scott Pruitt is currently proposing a new lesser national standard. This proposition has evoked debate from all sides. 

California officials have announced they are not ready to drop their stricter standards. Financial advisors are worried weakening fuel economy would affect the U.S.’ stature in the auto industry. Automakers are worried they may not meet the Clean Air Act’s goal. 

Other politicians are concerned that if only one third of states are required to follow the California standard that might result in less fuel efficient cars being released in the remaining states.

At this point no changes have been made but the discussion continues.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

On The Radio- Solar Energy


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Solar energy harnesses the natural energy of the sun to produce electricity. (Georgia Business/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | May 7, 2018

This weeks segment looks at activity in the solar energy industry during the first quarter of the year.

Transcript:

The worldwide solar energy industry is booming in 2018.   

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Renewable solar energy is a growing market with a 2.9 trillion dollar increase since 2004. Clean Technica, a solar energy company, recently released a report of all major changes in the solar energy industry in the first quarter of 2018. Here are some of the highlights:

India has had the biggest increase in spending. They officially broke ground on the largest solar park in the world and announced one billion dollars in assistance to solar powered projects in Africa. 

Recently, President Trump placed tariffs on Chinese solar panels. China currently has the largest solar market investing 86.5 billion dollars last year.

New York was approved for a large scale community solar plant. Community solar power creates electricity for entire neighborhoods and is currently the fast growing solar portion in the US.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

 

Smog-producing air pollution declining more slowly


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Catalytic converters have decreased the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by cars dramatically since they were first introduced in the 1970s. (Chris Keating/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 1, 2018

A new study found that levels of two primary pollutants in the U.S. atmosphere have not been declining as rapidly during recent years as they once were.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studied satellite data and ground level measurements of two smog-forming pollutants: nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Levels of these air pollutants decreased dramatically following the implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Requirements of that act pushed automakers and energy-producers to develop new technology which curbed the emissions of these two pollutants.

The study found that concentration of these two pollutants in the atmosphere decreased by seven percent each year between 2005 and 2009. However, from 2011 through 2015, the pollutants’ levels only shrunk by 1.7 percent annually.

Helen Worden is a scientist at NCAR and one of the study’s authors. She said to Phys Org, “Although our air is healthier than it used to be in the 80s and 90s, air quality in the U.S. is not progressing as quickly as we thought. The gains are starting to slow down.”

The study noted that the slower decrease in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides was especially severe in the eastern part of the U.S. This finding dispels notions that the slower pace can be attributed to traveling air pollution from countries like China. The positive news is that the slower decline in carbon monoxide, which is primarily emitted by vehicles, is likely due to the fact that major strides have already been made to reduce vehicle emissions. In short, clean air technology related to cars may have reached a kind of plateau.

This study was funded by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The full journal article can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.