Crop production linked to regional changes in climate


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Corn and soy plants can cool the climate on a regional level, but intensified conventional agriculture can harm water and soil quality. (Lana/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2018

A new study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College detail the way intensive agriculture has influenced precipitation and temperature patterns in the midwest.

During the second half of the 20th century, corn production in the midwest increased by 400 percent and soybean yields doubled due to more intensive agricultural practices. The study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the midwest also saw significantly more precipitation and lower temperatures during the summer months over the same period of time. They concluded that the changes were not merely correlated, but that the land use change actually caused the regional climate changes.

The authors explain that each time plants take in carbon dioxide, they release moisture into the atmosphere through pore-like structures called stoma. With more plentiful and robust plants due to intensive agriculture, the amount of moisture corn and soy crops collectively release into the atmosphere has increased in the midwest since the 1950’s. This extra moisture, the study found, has caused summer air to cool and more precipitation to fall. In the last fifty years, average summertime rainfall in the midwest has increased by 15 percent and average summer temperatures have dropped by 0.5 degrees Celsius.

Roger Pielke Sr., a senior researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder commented on the study, he said, “This is a really important, excellent study. The leadership of the climate science community has not yet accepted that human land management is at least as important on regional and local climate as the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by human activities.”

Since completing the study, the researchers have developed a formula that accounts for the causative relationship between plants and regional climate changes that can be entered into U.S. regional climate models. It correctly predicted those changes that have been observed in the midwest over the last 50 years.

The study opens the door for further research into land use changes and how they can affect local climate.

On The Radio- The affects of mass producing corn


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Corn Fields (Victor Bayon/ flickr)

Kasey Dresser | January 29, 2018

This week’s segment looks at research from the University of Wisconsin regarding corn’s ability to adapt to environmental changes.

Transcript:

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin report that mass produced corn has lost its ability to adapt.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Like most plants, corn adapts to changes in the surrounding environment, including things like drought, wind, sunlight, and insects.

In order to mass produce corn, seed companies have breed the most productive corn varieties to fit local environmental conditions. However over the past 100 years, acclimating corn to a specific environment has impacted its ability to adjust to new or stressful environmental changes. The existing corn is strong and stable but not flexible.

To test this, the researchers planted 850 unique corn varieties in 20 different states and Canada. They tested 12,000 different plots and recorded  weather patterns and corn height. The corn with the most genetic selection performed the worst, producing the least amount of grain. According to University of Wisconsin Professor of Agronomy, Natalia De Leon, mass productivity is the tradeoff for flexibility. She worries the more corn is engineered to grow in a specific area, the less likely it will adapt well in other environments.

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

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

 

California Wildfires


Kasey Dresser | January 5, 2018

Hello everybody!

I’m Kasey and I’m a student at the University of Iowa. I’m currently visiting home during winter break in beautiful San Diego, California. And as I’m sure you seen on the news I came home after an extremely destructive fire season.  Luckily I live closer to the coast so my home was not affected but my grandma and several of my friends were evacuated.  All of the local high schools, including my sisters, were closed. Last weekend, My dad and I headed inland to film the damage.

 

On The Radio – California lists glyphosate as a carcinogen


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Glyphosate is an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. (Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 18, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how some farm groups are suing California for considering glyphosate a cancer causing chemical. 

Transcript: Iowa and a dozen other state farm groups are suing California for listing glyphosate as a cancer causing chemical.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

California’s Proposition 65 law from 1986 requires the state to protect drinking water from chemicals that can cause cancer or reproductive harm. And businesses must warn their users about potential chemical danger.

Glyphosate is a herbicide used in 250 crops and a key ingredient in Monsanto’s top selling weed killer, RoundUp. Back in 2016 Monsanto sued California to block the glyphosate listing but in July of this year, California made the decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen.

This decision will cost Iowa farmers around 5 billion dollars. Crops with glyphosate will have to be separated, meaning extra time and labor costs not to mention a drastic drop in sales. Products with even trace amounts of glyphosate will be required to be labeled by 2018 in the state of California.

Glyphosate is believed to be one of the safer herbicides. It was approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s and is frequently re-tested. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined glyphosate as a potential cancer causing substance in 2015.

The debate about glyphosate and its effects on human health will likely continue following California’s actions.

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

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

November 2017 brought drought to Iowa


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A portion of the dried up East Indian Creek southeast of Nevada during the 2012 drought. (Carl Wycoff/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 5, 2017

Last month was the driest month since 2007 according to state climatologist Harry Hillaker.

Hillaker spoke with Radio Iowa this week and said, “Overall a state average of .43 of an inch of moisture for the month, which is about 20 percent of what is usual. And actually the driest of any calendar month going back to November of 2007.”

Conditions were abnormally dry at all monitoring stations, especially in northwestern Iowa, where some areas of Ida county and Cherokee county received zero precipitation last month. The whole state only saw a minuscule amount of snow for the eighth time in Iowa’s 131-year weather record.  Hillaker said, “The statewide average was just a trace of snow and typically we’d get three to four inches of snow during the month of November.”

While there were some colder days in the beginning of November, warmer than average temperatures during the second half of the month made snowfall even less likely. The climatologist pointed out that there was virtually no precipitation in the state after the 18th of November.

November wraps up the fall season of September, October and November. Although November 2016 brought record-high temperatures, Iowa Environmental Mesonet reports that temperatures for last month were near average.

Construction of 10,000 head cattle lot could ruin Bloody Run Creek


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Cattle (LHOON/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | November 24, 2017

Walz Energy is building a 10,000 head cattle feeding facility and methane digester near Highway 18 & 52 east of Monanan. The company’s goal is to capture methane from the manure and other added food waste to generate natural gas that can be used to power cars and trucks. This is a part of Iowa’s Energy Plan to support 1,000 more biogas projects. A biogas project takes raw materials like sewage, plant waste, etc. and turns it into renewable energy.

Jon Haman, Walz Energy’s chief operating officer, has openly discussed the project’s positive environmental impact. The facility will generate new and renewable energy without a carbon footprint and reduce waste in landfills. Over the last few months, the process has received a lot of backlash from nearby residents. One of the biggest concerns is contamination to Bloody Run Creek.

On October 11th, a violation was issued for inadequate stormwater protection after waste leaked into Bloody Run Creek. Bloody Run Creek is the ninth most fished creek in Iowa and known for the crystal clear water. A lot of money and resources were invested in the stream and it would be extremely harmful to the nearby community if it were polluted.

After inspection the DNR ordered Walz Energy to fix their containment basin to prevent further discharge and the company began to make changes hours later. The Iowa DNR has inspected the project several times since and Walz Energy is ensuring their cooperation. At this point, the DNR has still denied a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES) three times.

Bill Ehm, the lead on DNR’s environmental services, has asked them to improve protection from leakage but does not have authority at this time to ask them to stop construction.

According to Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, “Bloody Run will continue to be degraded with each rainfall as long as construction is allowed to continue without an effective pollution prevention plan.” On November 29th the Iowa DNR will be holding a public hearing about the stormwater construction permit from 4 to 6pm in the Clayton County Building, 600 Gunder Road in Elkader.

More information about other concerns can be found at https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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.