Heat Waves Should Be Named And Ranked Says Newly Formed Heat Resilience Group


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Thomas Robinson | August 18th, 2020

The Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance, a recently formed group of experts, is suggesting that heat waves should be named, similarly to how hurricanes are named, and ranked by severity as the first step towards increasing heat wave visibility.

Heat waves were the deadliest weather-related disaster in the US between 1986 and 2019 and were responsible for 4,257 deaths. The next deadliest weather-related disaster in the US was floods responsible for 2,907 deaths over the same time period.  The greatest challenge in making heat waves visible is that they don’t produce the same amount of physical damage that flooding or other severe weather like tornadoes do.  However, by naming and ranking the severity of heat waves the Alliance hopes that communities will be able to better prepare for extreme heat events.

Unfortunately, heat waves are expected to increase in frequency and will be affecting more than 3.5 billion people globally by 2050.  It is also expected that the urban poor and the disadvantaged will weather the worst of the effects caused by heat waves because of community vulnerability.

The Alliance’s formation is timely as just yesterday Death Valley, CA saw the hottest temperature on Earth since at least 1913 according to NPR.  As heat waves become more frequent and more intense, a failure to prepare communities for extreme heat events like the European heat wave of 2003 will result in the loss of human lives.

New Study Supports Complete Loss of Arctic Sea Ice by 2035


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Nicole Welle | August 13, 2020

A new study used evidence from a warm period around 127,000 years ago to support predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice by 2035.

An international team of researchers used the UK Net Office’s Hadley Centre climate model to compare arctic sea ice conditions from the last interglacial with present day conditions. The new model allowed researchers to better understand how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial and to more accurately create model predictions for the future.

The new climate model involves studying shallow pools of water that form on the surface of sea ice in the spring and early summer called melt ponds. Melt ponds are important because they affect how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space, according to a Science Daily article. Melt ponds facilitate further sea ice melt by creating surfaces that are less reflective and better suited to absorb sunlight.

Researchers discovered that, during the last interglacial, intense sunshine in the spring created large numbers of melt ponds. Because melt ponds heavily impact the rate at which sea ice melts, they were able to compare that model to current conditions and predict that the Arctic may be ice-free by 2035. Scientists working on the study hope that sea ice processes like melt ponds will be further incorporated into climate models in the future, and they are using their findings to emphasize the importance of achieving a low-carbon world as fast as possible.

Connie Mutel Releases Article Comparing Climate Change to the COVID-19 Pandemic


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Author Connie Mutel released “COVID-19: Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis,” earlier this month.

Connie Mutel is a retired UI Senior Science Writer and climate change activist who recently began to research the parallels between responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. In the beginning of her article, she discusses the slow response administrations in the United States had to the early warning signs of both crises. She then goes on to explain the importance of taking direct measures to combat the issues sooner rather than later and the ways COVID-19 could help solve Climate Change.

“COVID has shown us what a runaway crisis looks like and feels like. It reveals a lack of predictability,” Mutel said in a Zoom conference Tuesday.

The talk revolved around the intersection of the two issues and potential paths forward. Mutel believes the crises are heavily intertwined and COVID-19 is providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fast track efforts to combat climate change.

“One crisis magnifies the other. COVID is expressed more in areas with more air pollution.” Mutel said. “Like with COVID, we need global solidarity and collective action to solve climate change.”

Click here to read “COVID-19:Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis.”

US Reaches Ten Billion-Dollar Disaster Mark Earlier Than Any Year Prior


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Thomas Robinson | July 28th, 2020

As of July 8th, the US has already experienced ten weather and climate disasters where the losses exceed one billion dollars.

Billion-dollar disasters are weather or climate events that result in losses reaching, or exceeding, one billion dollars in damage costs.  In a concerning trend, the past five consecutive years have all had ten or more billion-dollar events averaging almost fourteen severe events per year.  There have been ten billion-dollar disasters so far in 2020 occurring earlier than any other year prior.   

Climate projections suggest that severe storms will increase in both frequency and intensity supporting the need for increased disaster relief funding to address the prevalence of expensive disaster clean-up.  Surprisingly, the storms responsible for almost half of the billion-dollar disasters since 1980 have been severe thunderstorms rather than hurricanes or floods.

Iowa has recently been involved in the billion-dollar disaster figure with the 2019 Missouri river floods which caused around $1.6 billion in damages.  As weather patterns become more severe, the likelihood storms reach the billion-dollar mark will increase making events like the 2019 floods more common events for Iowans.

Food, Justice and Environmental Groups Start #BoycottBigMeat Campaign


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Nicole Welle | July 16, 2020

The #BoycottBigMeat campaign launched Tuesday and calls for consumers to boycott meat products from large corporations.

Over 50 organizations are backing the campaign, including Iowa Sunrise Hub, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture. Those behind the effort cite a number of issues with large-scale meat producers including worker safety, animal welfare, consumer health and environmental impact, according to a Public News Service article.

While some groups involved in the campaign are focusing on holding corporations accountable for exploiting workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, others are hoping to confront longstanding issues with the negative impacts these businesses have on the environment. Feed sourcing is a leading cause of natural prairie loss in the Midwest, and the chemicals and fertilizers used to treat the fields that grow feed crops are polluting waterways, according to Clean Water Action. Large corporations are also responsible for huge carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

“We really want to push for policy that helps to transform these rural communities where these operations exist – these industrial operations, meat-packing plants, as well as the concentrated animal feeding operations – that we want to help transition to a better food system,” said Sherri Dugger, executive director at the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

The coalition hopes that consumers and policymakers will help promote local producers who sell products considered organic and regenerative that come from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals.

Carbon Emissions Rise as the World Reopens


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Nicole Welle | July 9, 2020

The temporary environmental benefits from the COVID-19 pandemic are coming to an end as economies reopen worldwide.

When the pandemic started in April, businesses closed and transportation dropped as people were forced to stay indoors. This caused a 17% drop in daily carbon emissions when compared to levels recorded at the same time last year. However, by June 11, the drop was only 5%, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For climate scientists, the pandemic has made clearer the difficulty of reducing carbon emissions permanently.

“We’re getting to this by stopping all activities, not structural changes, so when people go back to work there’s no reason these emissions wouldn’t go shooting back up,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science and policy at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia.

Governments would need to encourage low-emissions technologies and encourage the continued use of daily emissions tracking in order to see lasting impacts, according to a Wall Street Journal article. While governments have put more effort into reducing carbon emissions since the 2015 Paris climate accord, emissions have continued to rise. The U.S. has also said it is withdrawing from the deal.

The pandemic has accelerated efforts to move from monthly and yearly reporting to daily monitoring of carbon emissions. Climate scientists hope that these advances will help lead to a better understanding of how governments can move forward in their efforts to reduce emissions in the future.

New Study Shows that Rising Water Temperatures Could Reduce Fish Populations Worldwide


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Nicole Welle | July 6, 2020

A new study conducted by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research shows that rising water temperatures caused by climate change will negatively affect many fish species’ ability to breed.

Researchers found that fish are at a much higher risk than previously assumed. The study, which included 694 species of fish, showed that both embryos and adult fish that are ready to mate have a much lower tolerance for heat that adults outside the mating season and that that rising water temperatures could impact the reproduction of up to 60 percent of all freshwater and saltwater fish species, according to a Science Daily article.

Like many organisms, fish need to take in oxygen to produce energy, and their energy needs depend on the temperature of their surroundings. When the water is warmer, their need for energy rises and they need to take in more oxygen. Fish embryos do not have the ability to take in more oxygen as temperatures rise since they don’t have gills. Additionally, adults ready to mate produce egg and sperm cells and have an increased body mass, so their cardiovascular systems are already strained and struggle to handle any increased need for oxygen. This means that both of these groups cannot survive in warmer temperatures that require them to produce more energy.

If climate change continues unchecked, many species of fish will be forced to leave their traditional spawning areas. This could be disastrous for fish that do not have the ability to find cooler areas to reproduce due to the geographical restrictions of their habitat, and many fish populations are likely to decline.

Arctic Circle Experiences Record Setting Temperatures Over the Weekend


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Thomas Robinson | June 23, 2020

The Arctic Circle likely experienced a record setting temperature of 100 °F over the weekend in Siberia during a historically unusual period of high heat for the region.

The Siberian town of Verkhoyansk measured a temperature of 38 °C (100 °F) on June 20th likely setting a new temperature record for the region.  The high temperature occurs as the Arctic Circle has been experiencing a heat wave that brought temperatures up to 10 °C above average throughout the months of March to May.  Unfortunately, the Copernicus Climate Change Service reports this past May was the warmest May on record, suggesting that more high heat events are likely for the Arctic in the future.

As higher average temperatures become common in the Arctic Circle, the surface albedo, an index that describes how reflective a surface is, will decrease because of snow and ice melt.  As the snow and ice continue to melt, a positive feedback loop is created which heats the Arctic further and will likely make record setting temperatures more common.

Iowa Farmers Join Initiatives that Pay Them to Reduce Carbon Emissions


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Nicole Welle | June 22, 2020

An increasing number of Iowa Farmers have begun growing cover crops as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Carbon farming involves growing cover crops, like cereal rye, in alternating rows with crops like soybeans and refraining from tilling fields. These practices increase the level of nutrients in the soil, help prevent erosion, and can help sequester more carbon in the ground.

While carbon farming is not hugely profitable now, many farmers are getting paid to participate in these initiatives. It can help farmers who are currently struggling with low corn and soybean prices reach profitability, and it leaves them with healthier soil and a more sustainable way to farm, according to a Hawk Eye article.

Sequestering carbon in the soil also comes with a number of environmental benefits. The stored carbon in the ground is cut off from contact with the atmosphere where it would combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. By reducing erosion, it also improves the health of Iowa’s rivers, lakes, streams and wildlife.

Iowa Experts Discuss How Current Global Crises Intersect With Climate Change


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Nicole Welle | June 17, 2020

On yesterday’s episode of Iowa Public Radio’s River to River, experts in environmental health and sustainability discussed the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic, police brutality and the ongoing issue of climate change.

Eric Tate, associate professor of geographical and sustainability science at the University of Iowa, spoke on how health and climate crises can highlight disparities already impacting the country’s most vulnerable populations. Peter Thorne, another professor at UI and head of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, compared COVID-19 to climate change by speaking on how early action can cave lives and minimize harm. Finally, Ulrike Passe, associate professor of architecture and director of the Iowa State University Center for Building Energy Research, spoke on the importance of considering both climate and social factors when designing and constructing buildings.

Click here to listen to this episode of River to River.