Scientists predict the 2019 Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” to be one the largest


Gulf of Mexico. Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, Flickr.

By Julia Shanahan | July 12th, 2019

The 2019 Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” will be the second-largest recorded, scientists from Louisiana State University announced this week.

The “dead zone” – an oxygen-depleted area of water in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nitrogen and phosphorus – will cover 8,717 square-miles as of this summer. Unusually high river discharge from the Mississippi River in May contributed to the growth of the dead zone. Oxygen depletion, or hypoxia, also threatens marine life, including fish, shrimp, and crabs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also predicted the dead zone to reach record-highs. In 2017, the dead zone reached about 8,776 square-feet, as reported by the NOAA.  LSU scientists predict the 2019 hypoxic area to be about the size of New Hampshire.

The NOAA also attributed the growth in the annual dead zone to the record rainfall and flooding that happened in the spring months. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated a total of 156,000 metric tons of nitrate and 25,300 metric tons of phosphorus were carried from the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico in May alone.

Iowa experienced record flooding from the Missouri River in the spring, which contributed to the nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River. Iowa remains a major contributor to the annual Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

Low oxygen levels appeared about 50 years ago when farming intensified in the Midwest, according to the press release from LSU. In the last few decades, there has not been a reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus from the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. 

On The Radio- Carbon dioxide’s effect on record high temperatures


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Sunrise (flickr/uditha wickramanayaka)

Kasey Dresser| July 8, 2019

This week’s segment looks at the influence of carbon dioxide on the record high-temperature levels this year. 

Transcript: 

Ocean carbon dioxide levels hit a new record early this month, as it was 84 degrees near the Arctic Ocean.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Temperatures rose to 84 degrees in the northwest of Russian near the entrance of the Arctic Ocean, a rural area in eastern Russia where the average high temperature is around 54 degrees this time of year. 

Many locations around Russia set record high temperatures. This particular heat wave, a manifestation of the arrangement of weather systems and fluctuations in the jet stream, fits into what has been an unusually warm year across the Arctic and most of the mid-latitudes.

In the meantime, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere surpassed 415 parts per million for the first time in recorded history — the highest in at least 800,000 years, and possibly the highest levels in over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

These numbers altogether serve as indicators of the damages done by modern civilization to the environment and the contributions humans have made towards climate change.

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

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

Iowa DNR cautions boaters this upcoming Fourth of July


Photo by Ethan Sees on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | June 27th, 2019

Due to record rainfall and Iowa waterbodies being at or above flood levels, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources advises individuals who plan to take part in Fourth of July festivities on the water to be cautious.

“Don’t overload your [boat],” said DNR boating law administrator Susan Stocker in a news release. “The U.S. Coast Guard, along with manufacturers, determines the capacity of each boat and it is visible on virtually all boats. Watch for objects at or just below the surface. The rain and runoff may have washed logs or other debris into the water or moved previous obstacles to different locations.” 

Iowa set a record for rain and snow the last 12 months, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. State weather experts say a changing climate and higher ocean temperatures from thousands of miles away contributed to Iowa’s increase in precipitation as well, according to a report from the Des Moines Register.

In May, the Mississippi River near the Quad Cities hit the highest level ever recorded – 22.7 feet.

As the hot summer months continue, Iowa can expect higher than average rainfall. Along with climate change, El Nino conditions over the Pacific Ocean is also a contributing factor. This moisture was also a factor in the major flooding that happened in southwest Iowa and Nebraska in March after snowmelt and rainfall.

For Iowans looking for more information about how to stay safe on a boat this Fourth of July, the DNR has boater education resources online.

On The Radio- Decreasing fish populations


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(flickr/nanarab)

Kasey Dresser| May 20, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how fish populations are decreasing as ocean temperatures continue to increase. 

Transcript: 

Overfishing is not the only factor decreasing fish populations.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A study published in the journal, Science, tracked the changes of 235 fish and shellfish populations from 1930 to 2010. Throughout that time, the Earth’s ocean temperatures have increased on average by half a degree Celcius.

Eight percent of the fish and shellfish in the study showed depleting populations. Four percent of the populations increased however, since fish like black sea bass thrive in warm water. As water temperatures continue to increase, those gains will not be sustained.

Christopher Free, a quantitative ecologist at the University of California Santa Barbara, referred to this trend as the fish and shellfish reaching their heat thresholds. Currently,124 species of fish and shellfish are on route to becoming an unstable food source.

3.2 billion people worldwide rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. These findings are meant to inform local fisheries of the changing populations so they can begin to take these findings into account.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

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

 

The financial cost of climate change


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Melting permafrost does more than threaten polar bears and arctic animals | Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 24th, 2019

Melting permafrost and an arctic damaged from environmental changes could cost the world a pretty penny.

Permafrost–areas of rock or sediment that are frozen for at least two consecutive years–is thawing. And it’s not doing the environment any favors.

As permafrost thaws, the sediment released previously trapped methane gas and carbon. When released into the atmosphere, these elements will only accelerate our already rapidly rising global temperature by roughly 5%, costing humans a collective $70 trillion from the extra damage. The severity of consequences from this thaw has lead scientists to label melting permafrost a “tipping point”.

Tipping points are natural events that tip us even further into environmental ruin. Like dominoes, these events can stack and trigger each other, leading to a truly unfortunate series of events.

Research into this particular tipping point was conducted by a team at the UK’s Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business in Lancaster. The report was published in Nature Communications. Scientists monitored the thaw rate of the permafrost zone and took samples of deep soil to determine the rate of carbon and methane release.

This new discovery seems dire, but if countries comply with their Paris agreements, the permafrost thaw can be slowed, reducing the additional climate damage from $70 trillion to roughly $25 trillion. Either way, it seems like we’re paying.

Plastic is damaging us–we must agree on a solution


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu

There are countless essays, articles, and news flashes warning of the environmental cost of non-biodegradable plastic. Plenty of climate scientists have warned the public about plastic particles in the ocean and in our water supply, making clear the consequences of continuing forward on the path we’re currently walking.

But these warnings can often fall on deaf ears, as many nations are too focused on managing plastic waste and not on the overall reduction of plastic.

Minimizing our reliance on single-use plastic is a major way to keep the environmental cost of this inexpensive product down.

At a recent UN environmental assembly–held in Kenya–a disagreement emerged over the best way to deal with plastic as a threat. With the conversation on plastic production derailing into plastic waste management, a derailment mainly pushed by the US.

Because of this, calls to “phase out” single-use plastic by 2030 were changed after insistence to “greatly reduce” single-use plastic by the same rough date. This vague goal has lead to some scrutiny from environmentalists of the UN, as they fear that a nebulous solution with no legally binding documentation is no solution at all.

On The Radio- Microplastic pollution affecting aquatic organisms


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Plastic washed up on a beach shore (Neil Brown/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| February 11, 2019

This weeks segment looks at developing research on the effects of microplastic pollution.

Transcript:

Scientists are still researching the dangerous effects of microplastic pollution. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

A microplastic is defined as any piece of plastic measuring five millimeters in size or smaller. Every year 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide. A significant percentage of the plastic becomes litter and can take hundreds of years to decompose. Humans and other species can absorb plastic chemicals and aquatic organisms can absorb these small pieces of plastic into their skin.

Dr. Natalia Ivleva and her team from the Technical University of Munich Institute of Hydochemistry recently wrote a summary report of the technology they are using to test the effects of micro plastic on species. 

When scientists began to notice plastic entering the environment they used optical methods to observe damage. 

More recently scientists began utilizing heat analysis paired with gas chromatography. These methods helps determine the quantity and type of plastic but struggle to determine the size of the particles. 

Using new methods researchers at the Munich Institute were able to confirm plastic in the digestive tracts of water fleas and that mussels digest small particles of plastic under their shells.

Over the next several decades, plastic pollution is predicted to increase. At the end of her report Dr Ivelva emphasized the importance of plastic recycling in the new year. 

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

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