UN Environment calls for action regarding mining pollution


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Pollution (eltpics/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | November 17, 2017

On November 5th 2015, Germano mine, an iron-ore mine in southeast Brazil, collapsed killing 19 people and destroying 650 kilometers of fertile valley before spilling into the ocean. More than 33 cubic meters of tailing was released. This disaster was detrimental to the economy as the local fishing community was practically eliminated; meaning no fish for food and tourists became scarce as the water was no longer swimmable.

Joca Thome, a local resident who works for Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, describes how these kind of incidences are too physically and psychologically severe for the victims. They need to be eliminated.  “As well as monitoring the impact in the estuary and the ocean, I am trying to help the community and the fishermen to understand what has happened to them,” Thomé says. “They are getting compensation from the mining company to keep them going. But thousands of people have had their lives upended and they do not know what their future will be.”

Mine tailing is a sludgy- mud like material leftover from mining facilities. There have been 40 tailing failures in the last decade alone. There is no exact statistic for the number of tailing dams in the world or the volume of each but there are 30,000 industrial mines worldwide. More mining failings could lead to long-term damage to the environment while destroying the surrounding cities.

The new Rapid Response Assessment was released a few days ago by UN Environment and GRID-Arenal. It calls for international action and a “safety-first” methodin regards to management and on the ground procedure. The report states, “safety attributes should be evaluated separately from economic considerations, and cost should not be the determining factor.”  This could create a mining database to develop the best technical methods for stopping failure completely. If regulations expand this might create an independent monitoring system of waste dams that could result in financial or criminal punishment for non-compliance. The report also mentions developing cleaner processes with new technology and re-using materials to reduce waste.

December 4-6, the UN Environmental Assembly will meet to discuss more effects of pollution on the environment. The report also recommends a specific stakeholder forum to put international policy in place to regulate mining tailings dams.

 

 

UI scientists and Iowa teachers work together to create 8th grade curriculum


Kasey Dresser & Jenna Ladd | November 3, 2017

Eighth grade teachers from around the state came to the University of Iowa’s Lindquist Center for a special kind of professional development last weekend.

The twenty-one participants worked with University of Iowa faculty and graduate students to design new eighth-grade science curriculum as a part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) development. A large step away from traditional rote memorization, NGSS allows students to engage in self-guided inquiry about phenomena occurring in their local environment.

Chelsea Salba is a high school science teacher at Dike-New Hartford. She said, “I love it all because the old way of doing things was ‘know and understand.’ Well, science is not memorizing facts and figures. It never has been. NGSS challenges teachers to make science actually happen in their classrooms. What I mean by that is [the students] are investigating, reading, creating a claim, doing something, getting feedback and then doing it again.”

Ted Neal, clinical associate professor in the College of Education and project lead, explained that eighth grade NGSS curriculum requires education about the natural systems and climate science. During morning and afternoon breakout sessions, teachers were asked to provide feedback about lesson plans related to how and why Iowans have changed the land and how climate change has affected local landscapes. These lesson plans, bundles five and six, are a part of a six bundle curriculum required by NGSS for eighth grade students. CGRER researchers Scott Spak and Charles Stanier developed their content as a part of the College of Education and CGRER’s effort to connect Iowa educators with local climate science in realtime.

Approved by the Iowa Board of Education in 2015, the bulk of the 8th grade NGSS curriculum will be implemented in Iowa schools next semester. The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative team has recently developed a free and public online pressbook where Iowa teachers can access course-related climate science data from CGRER researchers, as well as lesson plans and suggestions from other Iowa teachers.

Ted Neal explained, “This whole curriculum is free. Use it how you want, where you want, how you want, we’re just trying to compile this together for school districts in a time when budgeting is so tight.”

The NGSS standards require students of all ages to understand Earth’s systems. Scott Spak, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, said, “Of the dozens of standards, there are 36 that from kindergarten through high school that are required to be able to understand how the climate system works.”

Spak and his fellow CGRER researchers will provide data that is relevant to learners specifically in the Hawkeye State.

Drew Ayrit is high school teacher from Waco that participated in last weekend’s workshop. He said, “I really believe in the standards because it’s very student-centered, students doing real science, students engaging in discussion based on evidence.”

Climate change to make storms like Harvey more frequent, intense


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A Texas National Guard member rescues a Houston resident during Hurricane Harvey. (The National Guard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 30, 2017

More than fourteen million olympic-sized swimming pools could be filled with the amount of rain that has fallen in Houston as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and scientists say that climate change added to the deluge.

To begin, sea surface temperatures near where Harvey picked up its strength were about 1 degree Celsius higher than average. The Clausius-Clapeyron equation, a law of thermodynamics, says that the warmer a body of air is, the more moisture it can hold. In this case, the atmosphere surrounding Hurricane Harvey was able to hold roughly three to five percent more moisture than usual.

“The water in the Gulf of Mexico is the heat reservoir to support these hurricanes,” said Ben Kirtman, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Miami, in a report from NPR. Kirtman added, “For a small change in temperature, you get a huge amount of evaporation.”

In the last three decades, sea levels have risen worldwide by about six inches thanks to a warming climate and, in part, to human activities like offshore oil drilling. Higher sea levels make inland floods more devastating.

Climate Central scientist Ben Strauss said, “Every storm surge today reaches higher because it starts from a higher level, because sea level is higher. A small amount of sea-level rise can lead to an unexpectedly large increase in damages to most kinds of structures.”

Scientists are careful to point out that climate change did not directly cause Harvey, but is likely to produce storms like it more often. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine revealed that category 4 hurricanes like Harvey will occur more frequently in the future due to a warming climate.

So far, fourteen casualties have been identified as the storm continues to devastate the area.

Drinking water symposium scheduled for September


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Jenna Ladd| August 23, 2017

A symposium examining issues related to drinking water in Iowa and across the U.S. is set to take place in Des Moines next month. Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest: A Symposium will feature presenters from Iowa as well as nationally-renowned speakers.

The event’s agenda includes panel discussions concerning the human health impacts of nitrate in drinking water, new and emerging drinking water threats, and communicating about water quality with the public, among other topics. The symposium is co-sponsered by the The University of Iowa Environmental Health Sciences Research Center and the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination along with Drake University.

What: Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest: A Symposium

When: September 21 from 8 am to 5 pm, September 22 from 8 am to 12 pm

Where: Drake University, Des Moines

Those interested in attending the symposium can register here.

Iowa farmers face low yields, low prices


Half of the state is in a drought, putting farmers at-risk for serious losses this harvest season. (flickr/TumblingRun)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 16, 2017

Nearly half of the state is in a drought this summer, and Iowa farmers are struggling to make ends meet.

A Des Moines Register report showed thousands of Iowa farmers are not seeing enough rain this summer, while crop prices remain low and farm income continues to trend downward. Corn and soybean prices are down 10 percent from July, and this year, farm income is expected to fall $62 billion nationwide.

“The drought isn’t widespread enough to push up prices,” Charles Brown, an Iowa State University farm management specialist said to the Register. “It’s the worst-case scenario — low prices and low yields.”

Some farmers have crop insurance to cover their losses, but often, it’s not enough. Many rely on savings to get them through after a tough year.

The drought is also drying up pastures, eliminating a dependable food source for cattle. Some farmers use hay to supplement the animals’ diets. And if a farmer’s crop has a low yield unworthy of harvesting, the farmer may choose to chop it into animal feed instead of trying to sell it.

There is still time for rainfall to improve the outlook for Iowa farmers’ crops this season, however, some are losing hope.

“People get frustrated. They throw up their hands and don’t do anything,” Brown said to the Register. “But now isn’t the time to procrastinate. [Farmers] need to get a plan together.”

Federal report says climate change is real and human-caused


The White House is reviewing a federal report regarding climate change. The report says climate change is happening, and humans are causing it, though it is uncertain what the Trump administration will do with this information. (flickr/Diego Cambiaso)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 10, 2017

A draft report under review at the White House says climate change is “extremely likely,” and over half of the world’s recent temperature rise has been caused by human activity.

The report, called the Climate Science Special Report, was authored by numerous federal employees and representatives from universities and private organizations. It highlights several climate-change-related phenomena, such as sea level rise, extreme weather events, glacial melting, and global temperature rise.

Members of the Trump administration have often claimed the cause of climate change is uncertain, and cannot be directly linked to human activity. However, this report claims with high confidence that most of the observed climate changes over the last half century have been caused by humans, and very little of the change is natural.

Even if humans were to stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately, the report says, the Earth would still warm at least another 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the additional amount of greenhouse gases emitted globally, and on the sensitivity of Earth’s climate to those emissions,” the report says.

The Washington Post says it is still unclear what the Trump administration will do with this information. The administration may choose to disregard the report completely, like the 2000 Climate Science Special Report, which was deemed flawed under the Bush Administration, and was not cited in future reports.  

 

CGRER unveils 2017 Climate Statement focused on humidity


From left to right: Gene Takle, director of the Iowa State University Climate Science Program; Betsy Stone, associate professor in the University of Iowa Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; and David Courard-Hauri, director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University, speak at a press conference for the 2017 Iowa Climate Statement. Takle, Stone, and Courard-Hauri contributed to the statement, which focuses on how increased humidity is a side effect of climate change. (CGRER/Joe Bolkcom)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 9, 2017

Iowa has experienced a serious increase in humidity since 1971, according to leading climate scientists in the state.

This increase of 8 percent to 23 percent, varying for different cities across the state, can be attributed to climate change.

“Absolute humidity, which is typically measured by dew point temperature, has increased statewide from 1971 to 2017. Measurements show Dubuque had the largest increase in humidity, a springtime increase of 23 percent,” said Gene Takle, director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University.

The 2017 Iowa Climate Statement, which was released by the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research today, describes the impact this high humidity has on people, animals, crops, and infrastructure. The statement was signed by 190 science faculty and researchers from 39 Iowa colleges and universities.

These impacts are far greater than just discomfort. High humidity leads to hazardous health conditions for workers, worsened asthma conditions, higher costs of air conditioning, more waterlogged soil, and stress on crops, livestock, and pets.

The statement calls Iowans to recognize the damaging effects of increased humidity, and to understand more must be done to mitigate the effects of climate change.