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.

Global Heat Health Information Network Promotes New Information Series


Thomas Robinson | June 2nd, 2020

A new informational series has been released by the Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN), with input from experts around the world such as CGRER member Professor Gregory Carmichael, to inform decision makers on how to best address high heat events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series covers a diverse range of topics and highlights current issues facing healthcare workers, as well as individuals who might be facing COVID-19.  Global experts address challenges such as how best to mitigate the influence wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has on how hot workers become, and how vulnerable populations can work to protect themselves from the combined risk COVID-19 and high heat present.

Hot weather is a pressing risk during the pandemic because it can result in a worsening of COVID-19 health outcomes.  As temperatures rise over the summer, communities will need to face the challenges both high heat events and the COVID-19 pandemic introduce. The information provided by the GHHIN hopes to better inform essential decision makers, so that they will have a well researched, scientific reasoning for difficult decisions. 

Drowning of Coastal Marshland in Louisiana is Likely Inevitable


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Thomas Robinson | May 25th, 2020

Coastal marshes in the Gulf of Mexico have been shown to have tipping points in a new study.  Tipping points, are when coastal marshes are unable to keep up with the rate of sea-level rise and become submerged over time destroying the marsh ecosystem.

Sediment cores were used from the Mississippi Delta to investigate how coastal marshes reacted to changes in their environment over the past 8,500 years.  Researchers found that even a small increase in the rate of sea level rise would result in large areas of coastal marshland becoming submerged.  Researchers found that rates above 3 millimeters per year is the likely threshold for coastal marshes to survive.  Unfortunately, current rates of sea-level rise are beyond that threshold suggesting that the remaining marshes in the Delta will likely drown within the century.

Coastal wetlands, such as marshes, are one of the most valuable ecosystems in the world.  They are extremely productive regions that have significant environmental and economic benefits.  They provide homes for diverse ecosystems that can benefit species diversity which results in robust fisheries.  Coastal wetlands also provide flood protection and erosion control for coastal areas which help to reduce the effect storms have on the coastline.

As coastal wetlands in the Mississippi River Basin are stressed from sea-level rise, they are also inundated with sediment and nutrients flowing from upstream.  Iowa is a major contributor to this issue and even though efforts are underway to alleviate the stress, coastal wetlands will be negatively affected by the state’s agriculture for years to come.

Advances in Carbon Capture and Storage are on Track to Meet Global Warming Mitigation Targets


Photo by Ramsey Martin from Pexels

Nicole Welle | May 25, 2020

Researchers at Imperial College London found that the current growth of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is on track to meet climate change mitigation goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The study shows that a maximum of 2,700 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be captured and stored to keep global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The IPCC recognized that CCS will be crucial in achieving this goal when implemented alongside efforts to increase clean energy use, according to a ScienceDaily article.

CCS is a process that involves capturing CO2 emissions at their source and storing it underground to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. Researchers combined data collected over the last 20 years on the growth of CCS, information on historic growth rates in energy infrastructure, and current models that monitor the depletion of natural resources to determine the maximum storage space required.

Past estimates revealed that there is actually more that 10,000 GT of potential carbon storage space available across the globe, a number that far exceeds the amount needed to meet the goals defined in the analysis. The current rate of growth in available storage space is on track to meet demands, but it is crucial that research and efforts to maintain this growth continue.

The Imperial College research team took into consideration the possibility of multiple climate change mitigation scenarios that might occur in the future, and they determined that even the most ambitious of scenarios would require no more that 2,700 GT of CCS. However, that number could increase over time if future deployment of CCS is delayed.

Dangerous Heat Events Are Becoming More Common


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Thomas Robinson | May 19th, 2020

Extreme heat events that threaten human safety are already occurring contrary to current climate projections, says a recent study

Researchers found that high heat events where the temperature and humidity exceed safe conditions have occurred twice as often since 1979.  These dangerous heat events occur in coastal regions like the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern California but can also occur in areas with heavy irrigation and agriculture.  The most extreme heat events were both localized and short (1-2 hours) but all signs suggest that they will only become more frequent as climate change worsens. 

The key measure in the study was the “wet-bulb temperature”, which describes what the temperature feels like if a person is actively sweating.  A sustained wet-bulb temperature of 95˚F (or a heat index of 160˚F) is the point where the sustained heat becomes deadly, but even temperatures slightly below pose dangers to the elderly or those with complications. 

Iowa is heat prone itself as our state can be extremely humid even before the addition of corn.  The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement emphasized the likelihood of more frequent, and severe heat events for Iowa, and that those events will pose a threat to workers and the elderly.  As the likelihood of dangerous heat events increases, so too does the likelihood that heat becomes a frequent concern for those in Iowa and around the world.

A Study Reveals that the Missouri River Basin Was Recently the Driest It’s Been in 1,200 Years


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Nicole Welle | May 14th, 2020

Between 2000 and 2010, the Missouri River was the driest it has been in 1,200 years, according to a study published Monday.

The study showed that rising temperatures linked to climate change was the cause. The higher temperatures reduced snowfall in the rocky mountains, resulting in reduced runoff into the Missouri River basin. Researchers involved with “The Turn-Of-The-Century Drought Study” studied instrumental data on water levels collected over the last 100 years but had to rely on tree rings to give them an idea of when droughts occurred and how severe they were over previous centuries. This study concluded that the Missouri River has not been that low since a single drought event in the 13th century.

Continued droughts could be disastrous for farmers in the Midwest who rely on the Missouri River for crop irrigation and municipalities that use it as a fresh water source. Species of freshwater fish and waterfowl, tourism industries, and hydropower production along the Missouri River could also be negatively impacted, according to a Washington Post article.

This study only focussed on the years between 2000 and 2010, but data from more recent years shows that droughts in the Midwest are likely to increase in frequency and severity in coming years due to climate change.