ISU research complicates cover crops


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Cover crops hold onto soil and carbon during the off-season (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska| November 13, 2019

Though cover cropping has proven advantageous for soil and water conservation in Iowa, the practice’s benefits to atmospheric quality may be negligible, new research from Iowa State University found.

When farm fields are left bare during the winter and spring, wind and water transport soil and nutrients off the land and into streams and rivers, degrading both the field and water quality. Exposed soil typically releases carbon into the atmosphere at increased rates compared to planted areas, contributing significantly to climate change.

Cover cropping involves planting alternative crops like rye or clover to cover and nourish the land throughout the off-season. The conservation practice holds soil in place, pulls atmospheric carbon into plant material and adds carbon back into soil upon decomposition. Sequestering carbon in plants and soil is key to combatting climate change.

That carbon may not remain in the soil for long, however. The new study, published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy,  found that the added soil carbon stimulates microbes in the soil that emit carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as they digest the organic matter.

The research — conducted by ISU assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology Steven Hall and grad student Chenglong Ye —  highlights the need for a variety of solutions for the planet’s numerous natural resource problems. While cover crops are a proven protectors against water pollution, we will need to implement other strategies to make farming carbon neutral, too.

U.S. formally withdrawals from Paris Agreement, but 26 Iowan parties are still in


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The Paris Agreement aims to limit harmful emissions (via flickr)

Julia Poska | November 6, 2019

The United States has officially notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

President Trump announced his intent to withdraw on the campaign trail and again in January 2017. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Monday that the administration had begun the formal, one-year withdrawal process that day. U.N. rules declared Nov. 4 the first day formal withdrawal was possible, according to the BBC. 

If a new president is elected in 2020, he or she may choose to reenter the agreement, which intends to minimize global temperature increase by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in participation nations.

In the meantime, over 3,000 U.S. cities, counties, states, businesses, tribes and institutions have declared intent to cut emissions in line with the agreement via the “We Are Still In”  declaration. In Iowa, 26 parties have signed on including…

  • The cities of Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque and Fairfield
  • Johnson and Linn Counties
  • Coe College, Grinnell College, Kirkwood Community College, Luther College, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa

 

 

Transportation pollution is one of the leading air pollutants


By Julia Shanahan | October 25th, 2019

According to an Oct. 10 report from the New York Times, greenhouse emissions in the Des Moines metro area have increased 85 percent since 1990 and 20 percent per capita.

In 2017, transportation was the largest source of greenhouse emissions, topping industry and agriculture. Passenger vehicles made up a large majority of the emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased in almost every metropolitan area nationwide, with New York a leading city, the report says.

Iowa is often scrutinized for its role in contributing to climate change due to Iowa farmers’ farming practices. Jerry Schnoor, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, told the Des Moines Register that along with Des Moines’ growing population, greenhouse gas emissions can also be attributed to surrounding suburbs expanding into what was once rural farmland, therefore increasing Iowa’s carbon footprint. He also called for regulations on large freight vehicles, saying there should be improved average fleet-mile efficiency.

In 2018, the total number of licensed drivers in Polk County was 347,472, an approximate 100,000-person increase since 2008. In Iowa, 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation pollution, with agriculture accounting for a majority of Iowa air pollution with 30 percent.

UI offers free lead testing kits to state residents


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Faucet from Creative Commons. 

Julia Poska | October 16, 2019

Iowa residents can improve their drinking water and support environmental research by participating in the University of Iowa’s “Get the Lead Out” initiative through Oct. 26.

The program offers free lead testing kits to Iowa residents outside of Johnson County. The UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering; and Center for Health Effects and Environmental Contamination are leading the initiative to collect information for a new database of lead levels in drinking water across Iowa.

Because lead, especially toxic to children, was once used commonly in household products, it may still be present in aging household plumbing across the state.

Interested households can email get-the-lead-out@uiowa.edu  to request and receive three bottles (and instructions) for collecting tap water samples.  After sending samples back to the university for testing, they will receive their results, an explanation and suggestions for improvement (such as adding a filter to the faucet).

Johnson County residents can contact any DNR-certified testing lab, such as the State Hygienic Laboratory, to acquire testing kits.

 

 

EPA announced a ​new proposal to update the Lead and Copper Rule


 

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Irrigation (flickr/UTDNR)

 

Kasey Dresser| October 14, 2019

After nearly 30 years of a stagnant Lead and Copper Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposal to update the regulation. The new regulations are aimed to increase lead identification, sampling, and strengthen treatment by increasing the number of hours a service provider needs to notify a customer that their water is contaminated with lead.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental activists have expressed concern that the new regulation allows communities more to time to replace the lead service lines, indicating these regulations may be weaker than the previous. The new proposal also establishes a lower “trigger level” of lead to 10 parts per billion from 15 parts per billion. The main counterargument is health experts have never established that any level of lead can be sustainable. “Even low levels of lead can cause harm to developing brains and nervous systems, fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, and elevated blood pressure. Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable,” the NRDC said in a statement.

The last major lead pipe exposure in Iowa outbreak was December 2016. More than 6,000 Iowans were exposed to contaminated water for over six months. The issue brought up major incongruency in the method to solve the problem between University of Iowa engineers or Iowa Departments of Public Health and Natural Resources.

Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe


Kasey Dresser and Tyler Chalfant | October 7, 2019

Just weeks after July 2019 became the hottest month in 140 years of recordkeeping, 216 science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities have endorsed the ninth annual Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe.

The statement, released on September 18, warns Iowans and Midwesterners of sobering extreme heat projections for the region. Based on the most up‐to‐date scientific sources, the statement makes clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in the coming decades.

Betsy Stone, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Iowa, reads this year’s statement in the video above. Access the full written statement here.

 

Monday’s U.N. Summit highlights progress and stagnation for climate urgency


Greta Thunberg
A photo of Greta Thunberg from Creative Commons. 

By Julia Poska | September 29, 2019

At the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York on Monday, international government officials, business leaders and change-makers gathered to promote efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at present and in coming decades.

The United Nations website touts achievements from this summit, including increasing participation in programs like the “Powering Past Coal Alliance.”

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his country’s launch of the new “Climate Ambition Alliance” at the conference, as well. Sixty-five countries and the European Union, as well as numerous cities, businesses and investors signed-on to achieve net‑zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Others have indicated intention to ramp up current efforts in the next year.

Several U.S. states, cities, businesses and investors were among the early signers, but the nation as a whole has not joined the alliance. New York Times reporters Somini Sengupta and

Star teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg noted her disappointment with world leadership’s overall lack of urgency during a speech to the assembly.

“How dare you? ” Thunberg said, accusatorially. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words…. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

That same day, Thunberg and 15 other youth activists filed an official complaint to the United Nations, CNN reports. The children alleged that Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey collectively violated a human rights treaty by taking inadequate steps to curb emissions.