On The Radio- The impacts of climate change on the Midwest


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A midwest sunset (Sue Varga/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| January 14, 2019

This weeks segment looks at the affects of climate change on the Midwest covered in the Fourth National Climate Assessment. 

Transcript: 

Increased heat and rain will strike Midwest agriculture from multiple directions. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in November, details the impacts of climate change for the Midwest. Productivity in the agriculture sector is a top concern.

The Midwest has long sustained an ideal climate for growing crops, but projections forecast rising temperatures and more intense rainfall in the region, far from optimal for the healthy growth of corn and soy.  

Warmer winters will also encourage survival of pests season to season, and rising temperature and humidity in spring may increase disease outbreaks in crops. 

More intense rainfall will also increase soil runoff, already a major issue in the region. When soil washes off of fields and into waterways, there are fewer nutrients for plants in the field and more in the water, which can fuel harmful algae blooms. 

Scientists project a 5 to 25 percent drop in corn productivity throughout the Midwest by mid-century. Soy yields may fall about 25 percent in the southern Midwest, but could increase in northern states. 

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

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

From humid air to clean water: new innovation in sustainability


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Cacti inspired a recent study on water condensation, with potential implications for water-stressed areas around the world (flickr).

Julia Poska | January 10, 2019

Ohio State University researchers believe clean drinking water can be harnessed from nighttime air, when water is more prone to condensing. They have been developing methods for capture with the aid of some unusual experts: desert lifeforms.

The pointy tips and sharp spines on cacti collect water from nighttime fog and funnel it town to the plants roots. Desert grasses do the same with pointed blades.  Beetles collect water on their backs, which feature water-repellant and water-attracting spots that push the water towards the bugs’ mouths. These features help the plants and insects survive in harsh, low-water conditions.

The researchers, led by Bharat Bhushan, professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State, have been experimenting with materials, shapes and textures using 3D printed models in foggy enclosures. They have already determined that conical shapes and grooved textures are efficient water collection methods and hope to test prototypes in deserts outside the lab as they continue to develop designs. They published their findings so far in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in late December.

The final products of their work could have implications for water-scarce areas, where strife over clean water will only worsen with climate change. Water captured by such devices could supplement the drinking water supplies of private homes or whole communities.

“Water supply is a critically important issue, especially for people of the most arid parts of the world,” Bhushan said in a Science Daily report. “By using bio-inspired technologies, we can help address the challenge of providing clean water to people around the globe, in as efficient a way as possible.”

On The Radio- Climate change and crop production


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This weeks segment looks at how increased temperature and precipitation will affect crop production in the Midwest. 

Transcript:

Increasing temperatures and precipitation will affect crop yields in the Midwest.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Midwest, often referred to as the breadbasket of America, is a major producer of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Rising temperatures and greater precipitation threaten farmer’s livelihoods.  

According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Midwestern states are expected to warm up more than any other region in the U.S. Currently, the Iowa average annual 5-day maximum temperature during a heat wave is in the range of ninty to ninty-five degrees Fahrenheit. 

Now U.S. climate scientists are projecting that by mid-century, five-day heat wave temperatures in Iowa will increase by about seven degrees Fahrenheit for the average year and by thirteen degrees Fahrenheit once per decade compared to heat waves in the late twentieth century.  

Higher average temperatures increase the rate of evaporation from soil and plant leaves, leaving the land dry and arid and potentially damaging crop yields. Longer spells of high heat pave the way for droughts. The newly dryer land is then unable to properly soak up water from heavy rainfall, creating more flooding scenarios.

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

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

DNR reports 3% increase in Iowa greenhouse gas emissions


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This pie chart shows 2017 greenhouse emissions in Iowa by sector (from the 2017 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report). 

Julia Poska | December 28th, 2018

Greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa rose 3 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a new report from the state Department of Natural Resources.  The report accounted for 131 million metric tons of emissions released throughout the state in various sectors including energy, agriculture and solid waste.

The largest sources of increase were waste and industrial processes. Emissions from waste rose 28.62 percent due to increased decomposition of older waste in landfills. Emissions from industrial processes rose 31.73 percent percent, largely due to increased production of ammonia, up over 180 percent from 2016. The only sector to see decrease was natural gas production and distribution, which decreased about 10 percent and accounts for only 1 percent of total emissions.

Agriculture contributes about 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,  mainly methane and nitrous oxide, which are respectively about 25 and 298 times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. These emissions largely come from animal waste and soil management.

Despite this increase, total emissions are down 6 percent from 2008.  The DNR projects that emissions will continue rising through at least 2020, and drop a bit more by 2030.

On The Radio- Ecosystem services


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Flickr/ckocur

Kasey Dresser| December 24, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how the relationship between humans and ecosystems will change with the affects of climate change.

Transcript:

Climate change will alter the relationship between humans and ecosystems. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Ecosystem services are benefits that humans gain from nature. Some of these benefits will diminish in coming years, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released in November. 

Some ecosystem services provide resources like food, water and fuel. Iowa’s economy depends heavily on one such service—agriculture. The growing season is starting earlier and becoming wetter, which will impact crop yields.

Other services protect humans from natural dangers such as disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes and ticks. As northern climates get warmer the ranges of such pests and the diseases they carry are expanding. 

Cultural services include natural provisions for recreation, tourism, aesthetics and spirituality. Climate change will impact sporting seasons and threaten cherished landscapes. 

Changes will vary among regions and ecosystems, making the future hard to predict. Some losses are inevitable, though, and may compromise human industry, livelihood and sustenance. 

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

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

MidAmerican wind expansion approved by IUB, scorned by green energy groups


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Wind power, generated by turbines like those pictured above, is on the rise in Iowa, but not everyone is happy with the circumstances under which it is growing (flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 21, 2018

MidAmerican Energy’s Wind XII project will bring the utility company’s “100 percent clean energy vision” to reality so why are groups like the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law & Policy center unhappy with it?

These groups and others opposed the project throughout court proceedings, which concluded with the Iowa Utilities Board granting approval for the projection Dec. 4. While expanding wind energy is certainly a positive in itself, environmentalists hoped the board would require MidAmerican to shut down coal plants and evaluate the cost effectiveness of coal power as a condition to the project’s approval.

“It is time for MidAmerican to make a transparent and long-term commitment to 100% clean energy that includes phasing out one of the 20 largest coal fleets in the country,” explained Environmental Law & Policy Center Senior Attorney Josh Mandelbaum in a press release.

Though MidAmerican has committed to providing “100 percent renewable” energy, in reality they have only promised to “generate renewable energy equal to 100 percent of its customers’ usage on an annual basis,” in their own words.  The Wind XII project would be the final step to completing that vision. The company is one of the nation’s top coal-burning utilities, however, and has no plans to phase out its coal production in Iowa, even as it expands wind power.

MidAmerican told the Des Moines Register in August that coal was necessary for “low wind” times, but Mandelbaum in the same article called the whole renewable energy declaration “a gimmick.” The company still derives about 30 percent of energy from coal.

More recently, the Register published an opinion piece by Elizabeth Katt Reinders, a senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Reinders shamed MidAmerican for its continued reliance on coal, and urged it towards a truer clean energy vision for the sake of our air, energy bills and climate.

On The Radio- Adapting to the inevitability of climate change


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Oil Capital in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (flickr/Wolfgang Schlegl)

Kasey Dresser| December 17, 2018

This weeks segment looks at methods to adapt to climate change laid out in the Fourth National Climate Assessment. 

Transcript:

Adaptation is crucial for dealing with climate change, but it is not always done well. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped immediately, the Earth would still face decades of warming from gases already in the air. The Fourth National Climate Assessment discusses effective strategies for adapting to inevitable climate change. Here are three key things for communities to consider. 

ONE- Proactive planning works better than reacting to issues as they arise. Projections for an area’s future, which may differ greatly from present conditions, can help inform approaches.  

TWO- Dramatic issues like sea level rise and heat waves are certainly scary, but vulnerable communities cannot focus all their resources on adapting to one hazard.  It is important to consider a breadth of potential impacts and implement a range of strategies. 

THREE- Risk communication can keep residents informed, influence the decisions they make today,  and help them prepare for the future. It is important to communicate about what is anticipated every step of the way. 

For more information about climate change adaptation, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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