Climate change visible in recent Iowa weather events


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Extreme heat, humidity, and precipitation are some of the effects of climate change seen in Iowa so far this summer. (Bidgee/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 13, 2018

Recent weather events in Iowa have followed the expected effects of climate change.

Connie Mutel, a historian at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, penned an op-ed in The Gazette this week, bringing light to the effects of climate change visible in recent weather events around the state.

Between 1901 and 2016, she wrote, Iowa’s average temperature has increased about 1 degree Fahrenheit. With this, weather events in Iowa have become more extreme and unpredictable.

Among the staggering statistics are increases in:

  • Absolute humidity due to greater evaporation from lakes and rivers (23 percent increase since 1971 in Dubuque)
  • Rainfall due to the higher capacity of air to hold moisture (about 5 more inches per year compared to 100 years ago)
  • Heavy precipitation events, causing soil erosion impacting agriculture (37 percent increase between 1958 and 2012)

If humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, the predictions for the future are even more dire:

  • Extreme heat waves (one every 10 years) will be around 13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by 2050
  • Global average temperature increase of over 7 degrees Fahrenheit from 1900 levels by 2100 — compared to a 1.8 degree increased seen so far

Mutel calls for more action in Iowa and nationwide to switch to renewable energy sources, following in the footsteps of countries like China, Costa Rica, and New Zealand that are on their way toward serious reductions in fossil-fuel based energy production.

“Will we continue to allow current trends to slide us toward a less dependable globe that degrades life’s abundance, beauty, and health?” she asks. “Or will we work for a self-renewing, healthier, more stable planet fueled by the sun, wind, and other renewables? The choice remains ours.”

Coastal homes are threatened by sea level rise


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Beautiful sea front property is being threatened by sea level rise. (flickr/sdobie)

Eden DeWald | June 20th, 2018

Coastal homes all the way from Maine to Florida are feeling the threat of sea level rise. Approximately 300,000 homes along the East and West Coast of the United States are at risk for reoccurring flooding due to sea level rise. According to National Geographic, the global mean sea level has risen four to eight inches over the past century. However, the rate at which sea level is rising has been twice as fast for the last 20 years when compared to the first 80 years of the last century.

Sea level rise is caused by three main factors, all of which are consequences of climate change. Thermal expansion, the melting of ice over Antarctica and Greenland, and the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, all contribute to the measurable rise that researchers have observed over the past century. In 2012, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea level could rise up to 38 inches by 2100.

Sea level rise has serious consequences for homeowners. By 2045, the slowly creeping disaster of chronic flooding could pose great threats to coastal housing markets. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a study on the effect that sea level will have on the East Coast and the Gulf area. Kirsten Dahl, an author of the study, stated that the loss of tax revenue from affected homes could cut the tax base of small towns by as much as 70 percent. Coastal homes are highly sought after real estate, but buying a beach house may not be the luxury it once was.

 

Antarctica is melting, and its worse than we thought


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Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tons of ice since 1992, according to a new study. (Tak/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 15, 2018

A new report found Antarctic ice is melting at an astoundingly higher rate than scientist thought.

The study published in Nature found that from 1992 to 2017, about 3 trillion tons of ice melted from Antarctica, increasing sea levels by about 7.6 millimeters around the world. Although it does not sound like much, a disproportionate amount of that rise was in the last five years. If sea level rise continues to accelerate, levels could be over three feet higher by 2100.

The Antarctic ice sheet, the study said, is an important indicator of global climate change. Rising sea levels is one of the main consequences of climate change, as it will increase flooding in coastal cities, especially during storms like hurricanes.

“This is the most authoritative and comprehensive treatment to date and should further reassure the public and policymakers that the science is solid, while perhaps making people more broadly less assured because the small warming and other climate changes to date have already triggered mass loss,” climate scientist Richard Alley of Penn State University told Axios in an email.

The impact of climate change on food yield and nutrition


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Leafy greens can provide calcium, magnesium, and potassium. (ccharmon/flickr)

Eden DeWald | June 13th, 2018

A new study, conducted by a team from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, studies the effect that consequences of climate change will have on the yield and nutritional content of vegetables and legumes. The environmental changes analyzed in the study include any change found in ambient temperature, salinity, water availability, and concentration of carbon dioxide and ozone in the atmosphere. The study complied information from 174 published papers, which utilized a total of 1,540 studies, and conclusions based on the information which encompassed data from 40 different counties.

Variations of each environmental factor analyzed changed prospective vegetable and legume yields in different ways. For example, an increase in carbon dioxide levels was found to increase the mean yields overall, whereas an increase in tropospheric ozone concentration was found to decrease mean yields overall. However, an increase in carbon dioxide was the only factor studied that would produced an increase in mean yields, and all others were found to incur a decrease in average yields. The study could not make an overall comment about a change in food nutrition, but two papers that were analyzed found that an increase in carbon dioxide and ozone resulted significantly  decreased nutrient concentrations within root vegetables.

Vegetables and legumes provide many vital nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C, folate, and dietary fiber. They are cost effective diet staples for many people around the world. A decrease in means yields could negatively affect public health, decrease agriculture revenues, and make living a healthy life style even more expensive.

 

May 2018 is the warmest on record


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NOAA details notable climate events for May 2018 (NOAA)

Eden DeWald | June 6th, 2018

May 2018 is the warmest month of May ever recorded in the United States according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It broke the long held record, which was set back in 1934, during the Dust Bowl. The average temperature recorded in May 2018 was 65.4 degrees, compared to the 64.7 degree average from May 1934.

However, temperatures didn’t just increase on the average, 8,590 daily record breaking highs were set across the United States. Including a notable 100 degree temperature spike for Minneapolis on May 28th, which is the earliest date that a triple digit temperate has been reached for Minneapolis.

Precipitation records for May 2018 also paint a curious picture. The May 2018 average precipitation of 2.97 inches is slightly above the general May average of 2.91 inches. However, more than one-fourth of the United States landmass were under drought conditions. Some areas even experienced record breaking precipitation, such as Florida and Maryland. This data aligns with recent information from NASA, which foresees wet areas getting wetter and dry areas becoming drier due to a combination of human impact, natural water cycles, and climate change.

 

 

Climate change associated with antibiotic resistance


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E. coli bacteria is a common cause of urinary tract infections and has shown resistance to antibiotics. (National Institute of Health/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 25, 2018

The human health impacts of climate change are myriad and include heat-related illnesses and vector borne diseases like Lyme disease. However, a new public health consequence of global warming has recently come to light: antibiotic resistance.

Earlier this week, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change reported finding that higher local temperatures and population densities are associated with increased antibiotic resistance of common pathogens. Researchers looked at 1.6 million bacterial specimens which showed resistance to antibiotics from 2013 through 2015 in various geographic locations in the U.S. These specimens included three common and deadly pathogens: Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Staphylococcus aureus. 

They found that a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius increased the bacterias’ resistance to antibiotics by four percent (E. coli), two percent (K. pneumoniae), and three percent (S. aureus). John Brownstein is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the study’s authors. He said to the Scientific American, “Places in the South [of the U.S.] tend to show more resistance than places in the North, and a good chunk of that variability can be explained by temperature.”

Researchers also explored how population density may be related to antibiotic resistance. They found that for every increase of 10,000 people per square mile, antibiotic resistance in that area increased by three to six percent. Prior to this study, most research about antibiotic resistance pointed to the overprescription of antibiotic medication as the primary reason for antibiotic resistance, but now, climate change and population density are known play a part.

The study concludes, “Our findings suggest that, in the presence of climate change and population growth, already dire predictions of the impact of antibiotic resistance on global health may be significant underestimates.”

Species loss varies significantly under different climate change scenarios


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Insects were found to be more susceptible to climate change than other land animals and plants. (Joe Hatfield/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 24, 2018

According to a recent study published in the journal Science, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels rather than 2 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce terrestrial plants and animal species loss.

The study analyzed the geographic habitat ranges of 100,000 land plant and animal species, including insects. Scientists monitored how suitable habitat ranges changed under three climate change scenarios: the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit goal set by the Paris Climate Accord, a 2 degrees Celsius increase and the 3.2 degrees Celsius increase Earth is expected to experience by 2100 if no further climate action is taken.

They found that if global warming is held at 2 degrees Celsius, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their suitable habitat range. In contrast, if global temperature increase is kept under 1.5 degrees Celsius, just 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates would experience the same fate.

Rachel Warren is an environmental biologist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and one of the study’s others. She said to the Los Angeles Times, “All the previous scientific literature looked at 2 degrees as the lower limit because that was what was being discussed at the time.” Warren continued,”The takeaway is that if you could limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the risk to biodiversity is quite small. At 2 degrees it becomes significant, and at 3 degrees almost half the insects and plants would be at risk.”

Of note, the study found that insects were more sensitive a warming climate than vertebrates and plants. For example, the typical insect under the 3 degrees Celsius warming condition would lose 43 percent of its habitat range.