Climate change clearly linked to increased wildfire severity


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | September 29th, 2020

In a review of recent climate science, researchers have demonstrated that climate change increases the risk of wildfires across the globe.

Their review makes it clear that the influence of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather is moving beyond what can be accounted for by normal climate variations. Locations around the world have seen an increase in the severity and extent of fires, such as Australia or the Amazon and fire trends are only worsening. Models suggest that the length of fire season in the higher latitudes may increase by more than 20 days per year by 2100.

An unsurprising finding from the report is that fire weather only results in fires if natural or human sources of ignition occur. One way for humans to influence the frequency of wildfires is to manage burnable areas and address potential ignition sources.

These observations come as California is facing the worst fire season in the state’s history that is currently threatening the wine country. Climate conditions have led to drier vegetation and longer periods of drought that have resulted in these severe wildfires that have burnt more than a million of acres and displaced around 200,000 people.

New Study Highlights Environmental and Financial Benefits of Diversifying Crop Rotations


Graphic of an Iowa corn field
Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | September 3, 2020

A new study from researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota found that diversifying crop rotations keep farms profitable while greatly reducing the negative environmental and health impacts of farming.

Farmers have practiced corn and soybean crop rotation for a long time. However, this new research found that adding more crops, like oat and alfalfa, to the rotation can improve soil quality and the productivity of farmland. It also benefits the environment and human health by reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

The study used data from a long-term field experiment at Iowa State University’s Marsden Farm. This experiment began in 2001 and compared performance characteristics of a two-year corn-soy rotation with a three-year corn-soy-oat rotation and a four-year corn-soy-oat-alfalfa rotation. They used this information to better understand the amount of pollution and fossil fuel use associated with each cropping system, according to a Phys.org article.

By looking at pollution from both farming and the supply chain, researchers found that the production of synthetic fertilizer requires a lot of fossil fuel. Its application also produces poor air quality by emitting greenhouse gases and pollution. Less fertilizer is required when small grains and forages are added into rotations, and the addition of just one small grain crop can reduce fossil fuel use and pollution by half, according to the study.

While it may take time for farmers to further diversify their crop rotations, this information could provide long-term success for farmers, the public and the environment.

Unhealthy Levels of Pollution Spread Across Western U.S. as California Wildfires Burn On


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | August 24, 2020

More than 600 individual fires and some of the largest wildfire complexes in California’s history are still burning after thousands of lightning strikes triggered them last week.

Unhealthy levels of pollution have been reported across the state in the last few days. The large number of individual fires and the size of the fire complexes has caused an unusually high amount of of smoke to enter the atmosphere, and the smoke has spread across parts of the western United States and the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric testing showed that Northern California had the worst air quality in the world on August 19.

Extremely hot and dry conditions in California could cause the smoke to stay in the air longer. The black carbon particulates in the air will cause health problems for humans and animals as they enter the lungs and bloodstream, and they play a role in global warming, according to an article published by NASA. The National Weather Service issued a poor air quality alert for California’s Central Valley until the fires are extinguished.

Researchers Use Honeybees to Test Environmental Contamination Levels


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | July 20, 2020

Researchers created a non-invasive tool to sample environmental contaminates in honeybee hives.

Bees are good bioindicators of environmental contamination because they get coated with everything in their surroundings, including pollutants. Because they have a wide flight range and sample from a range of spaces, they can pick up build-up from the air, water, ground and trees. They also spread the nectar they collect to other bees and throughout the hive.

Researchers have used honeybee hives to understand the environmental contamination in their area in the past, but the process was often harmful. It involved capturing bees and extracting whatever they had ingested or transported on the surface of their bodies. Sampling could also be done with pollen reserves, larvae and honey. Not only was this often very difficult and time-consuming, it also often disrupted the normal functioning of hives, according to a PHYS.ORG article.

Professor José Manuel Flores, from the Department of Zoology at the University of Cordoba, collaborated with researchers at the University of Almeria to put a new device into operation. APIStrip (Absorb Pesticide In-Hive Strip) is a non-invasive polystyrene strip that is placed in a hive and can absorb a variety of pesticides and other pollutants for testing. This device will allow researchers to continue to use honeybees as sample collectors and improve environmental health without jeopardizing the safety of honeybee colonies.

Des Moines Registers Worst Air Quality In The Country After July 4th


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | July 14th, 2020

After July 4th celebrations earlier this month Des Moines had the worst air quality in the country measured at an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 588.

Fireworks shot off overnight on July 4th triggered an air quality advisory from July 5th into the morning of July 6th.  The highest reading occurred early in the morning on the 5th with conditions returning to safer levels later on that day.  The poor air conditions were caused by a high pressure weather system with slow moving air that prevented the movement, and dissipation, of pollutants away from Des Moines.

The AQI is a national metric used to describe air quality through reporting on common air pollutants listed in the Clean Air Act.  There are six AQI levels which range from good (0-50) to hazardous (301 and above).   Local air quality can be found using AirNow, which supplies the AQI and also which pollutant is primarily responsible for any poor air quality.

When the AQI is as high as it was in Des Moines (588) pollution in the air poses a noticeable risk to human health.  Symptoms of poor air quality can include irritation of eyes or nose, shortness of breath and coughing.  When poor air quality conditions like in Des Moines persist outside activity should be avoided to limit inhalation exposure to pollution.

Saharan Dust Cloud Reaches Iowa and Affects Air Quality


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | July 2, 2020

A giant plume of dust that originated in the Sahara Desert traveled across the Atlantic ocean and into the United States early this week.

The dust cloud first appeared over states in the gulf of Mexico before traveling up into the Midwest. It reached Iowa last weekend, and the EPA issued an air quality forecast for Iowa June 29 placing parts of the state in the “moderate” category. This level of pollution could pose some health risks for a small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution, according to air quality forecasts on AirNow.

The dust plume was part of the Saharan Air Layer, which is a mass of dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert in the summer and moves over the North Atlantic every few days, according to NOAA. The dust caused the air to appear hazy in parts of the Midwest, especially during sunrise and sunset.

When the wind is strong enough, the dust can reach the United States and be concentrated enough to cause air quality issues. However, the extremely dry air can also help suppress hurricane and tropical storm development over the Atlantic Ocean, and minerals in the dust can help replenish nutrients in rainforest soil when it is able to reach the Amazon River Basin.

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.

Three Conservation Groups Intend to Sue the EPA for Failing to Enforce Pollution Rules in Poor Communities


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | June 4, 2020

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release on May 28 announcing a lawsuit against the EPA for delaying the reduction of sulfur dioxide air pollution in a number of communities.

Areas of Missouri, Louisiana, Indiana, Puerto Rico and Guam were included in the lawsuit issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health and the Sierra Club. The cities and counties listed in the lawsuit are being exposed to dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide, an air pollutant produced by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA by law to set air quality standards, determine when and where air pollution exceeds the national limit, and ensure that plans are in place to clean up that pollution by a set deadline. In the current affected areas, the EPA has missed these deadlines by anywhere from two months to over four years.

The EPA has already determined that exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution can lead to health problems in humans and trigger ecological harm. The people in the areas listed are currently at a higher risk of heart and lung disease, asthma and contracting COVID-19 due to constant exposure to the pollution. Sulfur dioxide pollution also contributes to acid rain and damages lakes, rivers and entire ecosystems.

Young children and the elderly are more vulnerable and at a higher risk, and the problem is made worse by the fact that the areas in the lawsuit include large minority and indigenous populations that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and air pollution.

A New Report Reveals a 24% Increase in the Number of Companies Asking Suppliers for Environmental Transparency


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | May 21, 2020

CDP, an environmental non-profit organization, recently announced a 24% increase in the number of companies asking for environmental data reports from their suppliers this year.

CDP helps investors, companies, cities, states and regions manage their environmental impacts by providing them with a global disclosure system that measures and interprets environmental data, according to the CDP website. 30 new purchasing systems began working with CDP to help manage their supply chains more sustainably, and over 15,000 environmental transparency requests were sent to suppliers this year, according to an Environment + Energy Leader article.

Companies are asking suppliers to disclose information regarding their impacts on deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water safety and climate change. Organizations that utilize CDP resources can use the information collected to make more sustainable, informed decisions when working with suppliers.

CDP is a global organization, but their biggest spike in participants this year came from North America. Nike, Nordstrom and The Clorox Company were three of the 17 North American companies that joined this year, adding to CPD’s list of members which already includes companies like Walmart, Microsoft and Stanley Black and Decker.

Iowa School Districts Receive $300,000 from the EPA to Replace Older School Busses and Reduce Diesel Emissions


(Image Via Flickr)

Nicole Welle | April 30th, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded $300,000 to 10 Iowa School districts April 23 to help replace old diesel buses with new, more efficient models that will decrease diesel emissions.

These funds were part of a $11.5 million plan to replace 580 buses in 48 states and Puerto Rico. The EPA hopes the new buses will reduce the emission of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both being commonly associated with aggravated asthma, lung damage and other health issues.

The EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act provides funding for the plan. Applicants receive rebates between $15,000 and $20,000 per bus when replacing engine models older than 2006. The amount awarded depends on the size of the bus. Buses made before 2006 were not required to meet certain emission standards, and the EPA hopes to phase out the use of those older buses still in operation. Newer models that meet EPA standards are up to 90% cleaner, according to the EPA’s news release.

The funds were distributed in conjunction with the 50th annual Earth Day celebration.

“Earth Day’s primary goal is to protect the environment for future generations. These rebates help to do just that by continuing to improve air quality across the country and providing children with a safe and healthy way to get to school,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement on the EPA’s website.

The DERA program has funded more than 1,000 clean diesel projects and reduced emissions in over 70,000 engines since 2008.