On The Radio- Eco-friendly sunscreen


Kasey Dresser | March 26, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a new company working to create environmentally safe sunscreen. 


An eco-friendly sunscreen is currently being developed in an attempt to help the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Sunscreen is an absolute must for defending against ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays. UV rays are very damaging to the skin and repeated sun exposure can contribute to a higher probability of getting skin cancer. But many sunscreens use oxybenzone and octinoxate (oc-tin-ox-ate), two chemicals that can accumulate in the ocean and are toxic to marine life.

As people swim and enjoy the ocean waves, the sunscreen on their bodies is slowly washed away into the ocean water. An estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen pollutes coral reef areas of the ocean every year.

Scientists at the University of Florida have recently discovered a more natural, less harmful key ingredient to sunscreen—shinorine (shin-oh-rine), a UV-absorbing amino acid. Shinorine is produced from algea. Extracting a usable amount takes a long time, as algae grows very slowly.

Researcher, Yousong Ding, discovered that he could increase the production of shinorine by genetically altering algae. He hopes that his findings will persuade cosmetic companies to integrate the natural material into eco-friendly sunscreens.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

On The Radio- Harnessing the ocean for renewable energy

Ocean tides are the rising and falling of ocean levels caused by the sun and moon’s gravitational pull and the earth’s rotation. (Rita Jo/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 19, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a Canadian company that is trying to use ocean tides to create renewable energy. 


A Canadian company is looking to harness the tidal pull of the ocean for energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Cape Sharp Tidal is a company located in Nova Scotia by Canada’s Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy is known to have some of the highest tides in the world. The differences in water levels between high and low tide are sometimes as large as 50 feet.

Christian Richard, the company director, was inspired by the way wind turbines collect energy by using air currents to turn the turbine blades. Using the tides for energy would work in much the same way, with the sensors being placed underwater and using the changes in the pull of the tide to generate energy.

The technology is still in the early stages of testing. The development team must work on everything from the design, to the efficiency, to proving that the invention won’t harm marine life.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

On The Radio- Phosphorus in fresh water

Salanfe Lake Dam (Soma Biswas/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 12, 2018

This week’s segment looks at the high levels of phosphorus in the world’s fresh water.



The world’s freshwater is becoming overloaded with phosphorus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Phosphorus is an essential element for plant life and is commonly found in agricultural fertilizers and sewage runoff. An excess of phosphorus in water, however, can create a process called eutrophication. This process depletes oxygen in the water which can be detrimental to aquatic life.

A recent study from Water Resources Research reported sewage and agricultural run off adding a little over one million tons of phosphorus to rivers and lakes each year. Agricultural fertilizer contributed to 38 percent of the contamination. Another large component is poorly treated sewage.

Despite international trends of increasing phosphorus levels, Iowa waterways have reported decreasing levels of phosphorus over the last few years.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Record high winter temperatures in Arctic, again

The Rink Glacier in Greenland captured melting into the sea during the summer of 2012. (NASA/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 8, 2017

The data is in, and winter temperatures in the Arctic reached record highs again this year.

U.S. weather data shows that average temperatures during December, January, and February this year were 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual. There are fifteen weather monitoring stations throughout the Arctic, many of them in Alaska and Greenland. Winter temperatures in some regions soared higher than the average. Barrow, Alaska, for example, sizzled with average winter temperatures a full 14 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

Even the weather monitoring station that is located closest to the top of the world in northern Greenland recorded 60 hours of above freezing temperatures this winter. Prior to this winter, scientists say, the station had only experienced above-freezing temperatures during February a few times in history.

The rising temperatures caused sea ice to vanish in the North Pole again this year. North Pole sea ice coverage hit a record low in February 2017 and decreased again this year by a full 62,000 square miles, which is about the size of the state of Georgia.

Ruth Mottram is a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute. She said to the Associated Press, “The extended warmth really has kind of staggered all of us.”

Some scientists have pointed to melting sea ice as an explanation for the extreme and strange winter weather that has plagued the eastern United States this year. Simply put, less sea ice means that there is less of an atmospheric pressure difference between the Arctic and areas further south, which weakens the jet stream. A weak jet stream causes  storms to linger over regions in the eastern U.S. and Europe before moving along, often making them more destructive.

On The Radio- 793 gigagrams of mercury found in Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park (pontla/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 5, 2018

This week’s segment looks at research published in last month’s Geophysical Research Letters about the amount of mercury found in Arctic permafrost in Alaska.


New research states that Arctic permafrost in Alaska holds more mercury than expected.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Arctic permafrost is frozen soil, rock, and sediment that stays at or below freezing for at least two consecutive years. A quarter of the Northern Hemisphere’s landmass is covered by permafrost.

Recently a group of scientists drilled into 13 soil cores taken from different parts of Alaska. The findings reported that the permafrost held 793 gigagrams of mercury. This is equivalent to more than 15 million gallons or 23 Olympic size swimming pools. These numbers continue to increase if you add the current thawed layer of soil that sits above it.

By 2100 anywhere from 30 to 99 percent of the permafrost could have thawed leaving the question: Where will the mercury go?

Carl Lamborg, an assistant professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz discussed in an interview that it’s unclear what will happen to the mercury when the permafrost thaws but there is reason for concern. More research will be needed to understand the impact of mercury in the atmosphere.

These new findings were published last month in the Geophysical Research Letters.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

King penguins are in growing danger of disappearing

King penguins are in danger of losing their breeding and feeding grounds (/123RF)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 27th, 2018

Global warming, shifting weather patterns, and melting ice sheets are all playing huge parts in the possible disappearance of the distinctively colorful King penguins.

In a report published by the Nature Climate Change journal, a group of researchers compiled evidence that suggests a bleak future for King penguins within the century. Co-author, Celine Le Bohec, voiced one of the scariest concerns: “70% of breeding penguins []…will be forced to relocate their breeding grounds, or face extinction before the end of the century.”

This is because King penguins breed in very specific locations–isolated islands in the Southern Ocean that are unobstructed by ice cover. Penguins living around the Antarctic are already at an increased risk of dying out, because the Antarctic polar front, a warm body of water that hosts a variety of rich marine life and serves as the feeding ground for most penguins, is being pushed further away from land, forcing penguins to swim longer distances for food and subsequently leaving their chicks behind, unattended and vulnerable.

As the ice shelf melts and the trek from breeding ground to feeding waters becomes more dangerous, more and more penguins are in danger of being wiped out by natural predators. The researchers who worked to compile their findings warn that this is perhaps the most stark reminder that global warming has very real consequences.

On The Radio- Graphene Film

Clean water (Jay Blackmore/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 26, 2018

This week’s segment looks at research from Australia that’s working toward making clean water accessible to everyone. 


A new invention from Australian scientists could filter even the most polluted water in just one pass.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Australian researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, have found a way to engineer graphene film to filter water.

Graphene is an ultra-strong, carbon-based material that is hydrophobic— meaning it repels water. But graphene is expensive and difficult to produce. The researchers at CSIRO have found a way to use hydrophobic properties to help filter polluted water while finding a way to reduce the cost of the filter.

The scientist hope this new use of graphene will slowly become easier and cheaper to produce, potentially saving millions of people that die from contaminated water globally.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.