Climate Crises Occur Around the World


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Josie Taylor | July 25, 2021

Climate crises around the world are occurring. Last week Zhengzhou, China experienced catastrophic floods that accumulated the amount of rain normally expected in a year, in just 72 hours. Already 63 people have been found dead, and irreversible damage has been made on buildings, roads and houses. These floods are being called by some- once-in-a-thousand-year floods. 

China is not the only place experiencing flooding. Europe is also seeing deathly flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. In Germany, at least 158 people are missing, and in Belgium 18 people are missing. These floods have killed at least 205 people in Europe. 

On the other end of crises, fires are rapidly destroying areas in Oregon and Canada. Oregon’s fire, which is being referred to as the Bootleg fire, is so far the third largest fire in United States history. 67 homes have been destroyed, and 2,500 people were advised to evacuate their area. 

In Canada, even more people were evacuated and entire villages have been burned. Two weeks ago, British Columbia declared a state of emergency. The wildfire smoke become so thick that many places in Canada issued air quality warnings. Those in areas not burning were still greatly affected. 

California wildfires have burned 3x more land than last year’s record setting season


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 14, 2021

Severe drought coupled with the climate crisis has culminated in a second record setting year for land burned in California’s annual wildfire season. 

Reduced snowpack and early snowmelt alongside warmer temperatures in the spring and summer have created drier seasons according to CNN.  In 2020, around 4.1 million acres were estimated to be burned according to the National Interagency Fire Center. However, 2021 is expected to cause far more damage. On Monday, fires had burned over 142,477 acres in the state, 103,588 more than during the same time period last year. 

Scientists say the interconnectedness of heat and drought are causing a vicious feedback loop which climate change makes even more difficult to break in the region. As heat increases the drought, the drought increases the heat. 

Across the country, more than 30 million people are under heat warning. The risks for underlying health issues and other dangers for those working outside are “very high” according to the National Weather Service

Water Conservation is Being Requested Despite Rain


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Josie Taylor | July 5, 2021

Recently the Des Moines area has received rain, causing a lower demand for water. Despite this good news, next week there will likely be more heat and less rain, which could cause more strain on Des Moines Water Works. Des Moines Water Works had a high demand this summer because of the dryness Iowa is experiencing.

Des Moines Water Works pumped 89 million gallons on June 9. Two days later it was closer to 90 million gallons but luckily rain came. The rain brought demand down to 86 million, which is still high. The record is 96 million gallons, which occurred in 2012. 

On June 14 Des Moines citizens were asked to conserve their water when possible. This brought demand down by about 5 million gallons a day. 

Demand for water got down to 50 million gallons a day in late June after multiple rain showers. This did not last long, and by Thursday, July 1 it was up to 73 million gallons a day.

Ted Corrigan, Des Moines Water Works CEO, told Iowa Capital Dispatch that Water Works will continue to ask their customers to try to avoid watering their lawn, and to follow a watering schedule. Their goal is to cut down lawn watering by 25 percent.

Utility workers also installed flashboards on the Raccoon River in hopes to raise the water level because the river has been running low recently. The Raccoon River is a large source of water in the Des Moines area.

Iowa Experiences Intense Weather Patterns


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Josie Taylor | June 30, 2021

Iowa crops are experiencing an intense weather pattern this summer. Despite rain over the past week, some parts of Iowa are still in need of more moisture in order to benefit crops. Some storms were so severe it ended up causing damage to crops. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said that the moisture is very needed, however there were flash floods in southeastern Iowa. 

This past week the average precipitation state-wide was 2.13 inches, when the weekly average is 1.09 inches. Prior to this week, over 90 percent of Iowa was experiencing abnormal dryness, and 44 percent of Iowa was experiencing severe drought. This is a drastic change. 

Northwest Iowa has reported to have inadequate soil moisture in over two-thirds of topsoil. In the opposite part of Iowa, the southeast, 60 percent of topsoil is adequate to surplus. 

Despite the intense changes, crop conditions have been stabilized, and 60 percent of Iowa corn is in good to excellent condition. Soybeans are also blooming earlier than past years. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has given approval for state resources to be used in order to recover from the effects of this severe weather. This can apply to qualifying individual residents who are damaged by the weather.

Des Moines Water Works Urges Customers to Conserve Amid Drought


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 15, 2021

Des Moines Water Works has asked customers to voluntarily conserve water as drought and near-record water demand strains supply. 

On Monday, the utility asked metro residents to reduce their lawn watering by 25%. The utility has a capacity of 110 million gallons a day however, when demand reaches past 90 million the system risks water pressure problems. On June 9, Water Works pumped 88.6 million gallons, now the second highest peak since 2012 when 96 million gallons were pumped. 

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, CEO Ted Corrigan noted if it doesn’t rain soon, the utility may need to ask for a 50% lawn watering reduction. This is only the second time during Corrigan’s 31 years at Water Works that the utility has asked customers to voluntarily reduce water usage. The last time a cutback was encouraged was in 2012. 

Water Works has had to lower its usage of the Des Moines River due to toxic algae issues which re-emerged a month early this year; making the river unusable. The current main source of tap water, the Raccoon River is running at 7.5% of its median flow.

Over the past decade, Iowa has spent over $40.6 million at six locations to treat and prevent algae toxin outbreaks. Nationwide, this issue has become a $1.1 billion issue according to a study by the Environmental Working Group

The request impacts Des Moines, West Des Moines, Johnston, Urbandale, Clive, Norwalk, Pleasant Hill and Ankeny city residents. 

Sea Ice is Thinning Faster than Previously Thought


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Josie Taylor | June 7, 2021

Sea ice thickness is found by measuring the height of the ice above the water, but this measurement can be thrown off by snow. In order to adjust for this, scientists have been using a map of snow depth in the Arctic that was made decades ago and does not consider climate change. 

In research published by The Cryosphere, scientists and researchers used a new computer model designed to estimate snow depth as it varies year to year, instead of the old map. They found that sea ice in key coastal regions was thinning at a rate that was 70 to 100 percent faster than had previously been thought.

Robbie Mallett, the PhD student in Earth Science at the University of London who led the study said, “The thickness of sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic. It is important as thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, stopping the ocean from warming up the atmosphere in winter, and protecting the ocean from the sunshine in summer. Thinner ice is also less likely to survive during the Arctic summer melt.”

Mallett also mentioned that one of the reasons why it is thinning quicker than they had thought is because snow is forming later and later in the year. 

Co-Author and Professor, Julienne Stroeve, said that there are still uncertainties in their model, but this is a closer look at accuracy than what was previously had. 

Another group of researchers at the University of Colorado looked at ice thinning as well with their new research model. They found that ice was thinning 70 to 110 percent faster, similar to the research group mentioned earlier. 

Drought Conditions Likely To Continue Into Crop Season


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Thomas Robinson | March 9th, 2021

Experts are concerned that the drought conditions currently affecting Iowa are likely to continue into the coming crop season.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor approximately 11% of Iowa is experiencing drought conditions and most of the affected counties are in northwestern Iowa where dry conditions have persisted for most of the year.  There is hope that spring snowmelt could address some of the moisture deficit, particularly if the snow melts slowly which would allow the soil to absorb the water.  Experts believe that reliable spring rainfall could help make up for dry conditions, however, Iowa is predicted to have less spring precipitation than normal because of persistent La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

Northwestern Iowa has recently experienced tough conditions as two years of dry soils have followed the heavy flooding in the area back in 2019.  Drought conditions can induce stress in crops which may lead to damage and reduced yields for both soybeans and corn.  After a year of uncertain crop markets, another year of drought is likely bring added difficulty for Iowan farmers.

2020 Could Top 2016 as the Hottest Year on Record


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Nicole Welle | December 28, 2020

The past year brought intense wildfires, an increase in localized heat waves and one of the hottest Novembers on record, so it comes as no surprise that 2020 could be the hottest year ever recorded.

An intense, warming El Niño event occurred four years ago and contributed to the intense heat that caused 2016 to go down as the hottest year on record. This year, a cooling La Niña event should have led to lower global temperatures, but it did not seem to have much of an impact. The first 11 months of 2020 were only 0.2 degrees cooler than 2016, and climate experts have said there is a 55% chance 2020 will beat the record by the end of the year, according to the Associated Press.

Whether 2020 beats the record is less important than what the global temperature trend has revealed over the last decade. 2020 will mark the end of the hottest five-year period since recording began in 1880, a disturbing statistic that climate scientists say will continue into the future. Greenhouse gas concentrations are still rising in the atmosphere. This will cause global temperatures to continue to rise and lead to more years with increasingly intense hurricanes, more wildfires, less sea ice and longer heat waves, according to an NPR article.

Governments and corporations will have to make major changes in prioritizing environmental action if there is any hope of reducing future climate-driven disasters like these. Climate-driven disasters can cause billions of dollars of damage, and they take a heavy toll on human health and life, often disproportionately affecting poor communities and exacerbating inequality. Governments around the world are taking steps to reduce emissions and Joe Biden has promised to aid in the effort to reduce global emissions once he takes office. However, climate scientists say that these extreme events will continue to increase in intensity, so it is important that governments and communities prepare for them as much as possible.

Areas Devastated by Wildfires Face Emerging Water Contamination Challenge


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Thomas Robinson | October 6th, 2020

Attention is being drawn to municipal water contamination in Californian towns after exposure to devastating wildfires.

After the Camp fires ravaged California in 2018, testing of municipal water systems revealed widespread contamination by volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Unfortunately, it isn’t known exactly how VOCs infiltrate the water pipes, however, it is thought that potentially melted plastics, or contaminated air and broken pipes could be the cause. Another issue for the recovering areas is that many water pipes in California are polyethylene based, which can melt during fires.  These pipes can absorb VOCs flowing through them and release them over a longer time period at lower concentrations.

One chemical measured in water tests that could be absorbed and leeched over time is Benzene, a known human carcinogen.  Benzene showed up at levels over two thousand times the federal level in drinking water samples after the Tubbs fire in 2017.  Benzene is part of a family of contaminants called BTEX which are connected to petroleum products. 

Fire damaged drinking water systems pose another challenge for struggling families returning to their homes after wildfires.  Contamination at the levels observed after wildfire events can lead to acute and chronic health outcomes, which will leave their mark on the affected communities for years to come.

Climate change clearly linked to increased wildfire severity


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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.