UI begins new sustainable water graduate program


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The University of Iowa is home to a new graduate program for sustainable water development. (Vkulikov/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 5, 2018

The University of Iowa’s new Sustainable Water Development graduate program goes beyond science and engineering to give its “trainees” a holistic understanding of food, energy, and water.

The program is in its first year with a class of 17 students from around the country with a vast array of career goals. Coursework employs several different disciplines, like entrepreneurship and health in addition to science and engineering.

“I’m excited to think that when I’m finished here, I won’t just be an engineer — I’ll be a scientist, a budget expert, and a public health expert. I’ll definitely be better prepared for whatever the world throws at me,” Amina Grant, a student in the program, said to Iowa Now.

The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship awarded a $3 million grant to the UI to start this program in 2016. Program director David Cwiertny believes the multidisciplinary proposal and the opportunities the state provides made Iowa the best choice for the grant.

“The state really does feed the world,” Cwiertny said to Iowa Now. “Iowa is also a leader in wind energy and is dealing with important water quality issues. This makes the state the perfect place for a training program for professionals who want to address water, food, and energy issues.”

Seattle bans straws


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Five hundred million straws are used everyday in the US (Jeff G/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 4th, 2018

Seattle is making a move to reduce single use plastics, by banning straws and any single use plastic utensils from restaurants and all other dining venues. Straws that are reusable or can be composted are still allowed, but the ordinance has a strong preference towards not providing any straws.  

Five hundred million plastic straws are used everyday in the United States. Because they are so lightweight, used straws find their way into the ocean quite easily. Once in the ocean, straws wreak havoc on marine life and seabirds. Approximately 70 percent of seabirds and around one third of turtles found have ingested, or gotten some kind of plastic superficially stuck on their body. There are around fourteen cities in the US that currently have straw bans, but Seattle is the largest city so far to place a ban on straws. However, New York City and the state of California have also gained momentum towards banning single use plastic utensils. 

The city of Seattle has made many other steps towards their mitigating impact on the surrounding ecosystem, including its efforts to help the salmon population. The Salmon in the Schools program allowed schoolchildren to hatch salmon and release them into, providing important environmental education to school children as well as helping to bolster the salmon populations numbers. 

 

On the Radio- The reduced carbon impact of electric buses


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An English electric bus service makes a stop (Paul R/flickr)

Eden DeWald | June 11, 2018

This week’s segment discusses the findings of a new study about the reduced carbon impact of electric buses.

Transcript:

A new study describes the health and economic benefits of electric school buses.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Environment America Research and Policy Center recently released a study that describes the advantages of swapping America’s school buses for cleaner electric ones. The center estimates that the switch could reduce pollutants by about 5.3 million tons annually, which is the equivalent of taking one million cars off of the road.

Ninety-five percent of school buses run on diesel fuel. Inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. School children that ride on school buses are especially vulnerable to inhaling in high concentrations of toxic diesel fumes.  

While replacing 480,000 school buses nationwide is a daunting task, the move would actually save states and local school districts money, as each electric bus costs roughly $6,400 less per year to operate.

The study outlines possible financial resources for states to use for the transition, including federal grants and utility investments.

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

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

Rise in toxic algal blooms


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A sign warning swimmers not to take a dip in algae infested waters (Amanda S/flickr)

Eden DeWald | May 30th, 2018

With the first day of summer well on its way, so are toxic algal blooms.

Cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, are a type of photosynthetic bacteria that produce microcystin toxins. These pose both short term exposure and a long term exposure threats to humans. Skin contact with microcystin can cause digestion issues, a sore throat and even liver damage. Whereas long term contact can create side effects as serious as cancer and liver damage. Microcystins may cause damage via ingestion or skin contact. Cyanobacteria are not only a danger to humans, and can cause large populations of fish to die off and disrupt aquatic ecosystems.

Cyanobacteria blooms have become a growing threat for waterways in the United States. The amount of blooms has grown substantially even in the past few years according to the Environmental Working Group, which saw a rise from three self reported algal blooms in 2010, to 169 reported blooms in 2017. 

The Environmental Protection Agency sites commonly used fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorus as causes for these algal blooms. When excess fertilizer runs off and finds its way into a waterway, it can create a dangerous potential home for cyanobacteria which utilizes these elements within its chemical processes.

Potential prevention methods for toxic algal blooms can include approaches such as planting vegetation buffer strips near waterways, and changing the way that fertilizers are applied to crops to prevent excess from being utilized.

 

Climate change associated with antibiotic resistance


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E. coli bacteria is a common cause of urinary tract infections and has shown resistance to antibiotics. (National Institute of Health/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 25, 2018

The human health impacts of climate change are myriad and include heat-related illnesses and vector borne diseases like Lyme disease. However, a new public health consequence of global warming has recently come to light: antibiotic resistance.

Earlier this week, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change reported finding that higher local temperatures and population densities are associated with increased antibiotic resistance of common pathogens. Researchers looked at 1.6 million bacterial specimens which showed resistance to antibiotics from 2013 through 2015 in various geographic locations in the U.S. These specimens included three common and deadly pathogens: Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Staphylococcus aureus. 

They found that a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius increased the bacterias’ resistance to antibiotics by four percent (E. coli), two percent (K. pneumoniae), and three percent (S. aureus). John Brownstein is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the study’s authors. He said to the Scientific American, “Places in the South [of the U.S.] tend to show more resistance than places in the North, and a good chunk of that variability can be explained by temperature.”

Researchers also explored how population density may be related to antibiotic resistance. They found that for every increase of 10,000 people per square mile, antibiotic resistance in that area increased by three to six percent. Prior to this study, most research about antibiotic resistance pointed to the overprescription of antibiotic medication as the primary reason for antibiotic resistance, but now, climate change and population density are known play a part.

The study concludes, “Our findings suggest that, in the presence of climate change and population growth, already dire predictions of the impact of antibiotic resistance on global health may be significant underestimates.”

Species loss varies significantly under different climate change scenarios


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Insects were found to be more susceptible to climate change than other land animals and plants. (Joe Hatfield/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 24, 2018

According to a recent study published in the journal Science, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels rather than 2 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce terrestrial plants and animal species loss.

The study analyzed the geographic habitat ranges of 100,000 land plant and animal species, including insects. Scientists monitored how suitable habitat ranges changed under three climate change scenarios: the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit goal set by the Paris Climate Accord, a 2 degrees Celsius increase and the 3.2 degrees Celsius increase Earth is expected to experience by 2100 if no further climate action is taken.

They found that if global warming is held at 2 degrees Celsius, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their suitable habitat range. In contrast, if global temperature increase is kept under 1.5 degrees Celsius, just 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates would experience the same fate.

Rachel Warren is an environmental biologist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and one of the study’s others. She said to the Los Angeles Times, “All the previous scientific literature looked at 2 degrees as the lower limit because that was what was being discussed at the time.” Warren continued,”The takeaway is that if you could limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the risk to biodiversity is quite small. At 2 degrees it becomes significant, and at 3 degrees almost half the insects and plants would be at risk.”

Of note, the study found that insects were more sensitive a warming climate than vertebrates and plants. For example, the typical insect under the 3 degrees Celsius warming condition would lose 43 percent of its habitat range.

On The Radio – Energy consumption at Google


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Google

Kasey Dresser | May 21, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how Google was able to reuse more than 100% of the energy they consumed in 2017. 

Transcript:

Google has become one of the biggest corporate buyers of renewable energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The massive company planned to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources in 2017. At the end of the year, they exceeded that goal.

Google currently holds contracts to buy 3 gigawatts of renewable energy from a wind farm specifically built to power the corporation’s offices and satellite locations globally. The purchase is the largest investment in renewable energy by a corporation to date, making Google a top customer of green energy.

For 2017, the company ended up investing in and generating more green energy than it consumed, a cycle that keeps a steady supply of energy on hand. Google’s Senior Vice President Urs Holzle explained that they were working on over 25 green energy projects around the globe.

Other large companies are following in Google’s footsteps by investing in renewable sources.

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

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