Carbon dioxide capture using magnesite

Magnesite is used in a variety of way, even in jewelry. (source)

Eden DeWald | August 15th, 2018

Each ton of crystalline magnesite can remove up to half a ton of  atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, the rate of formation for naturally occurring magnesite is fairly slow and needs to occur under high temperatures and pressures. Researchers at Trent University in Ontario, Canada have found a way to both speed up the process of producing magnesite and produce it at room temperature.

Polystrene microspheres were used as a catalyst to start the crystallization at room temperature. The microspheres were preserved in the process, making them potentially reusable for more magnesite production. The formation occurring at room temperature is another aspect which makes this production process more sustainable. Not having to heat and pressurize the magnesite for a long period of time makes the whole production process more energy efficient.

Magnesite can take up to thousands of years to develop naturally—this new process only takes 72 days. Research concerned with using magnesite for carbon sequestration is still in development, but the discovery of an easier production process makes it more viable.

The serious impact of forest fires

Forest fires have devastating effects on residents and the environment (stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 14th, 2018

With forest fires being a pressing issue in California, Nevada, and Canada, recent studies have been published illustrating the effects of these wildfires on the environment, in an attempt to help people understand just how devastating they can be.

Merritt Turetsky, a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph and an ecosystem expert, explains that forest fires burn away soil and vegetation around forest areas. The fires also destroy all of the soil anchoring what’s normally left of the trees after a large fire, leaving them at risk of being blown or batted away towards resident’s homes.

The erosion of natural soil removes what is essentially a forest’s protective layer, leaving the ground open for further erosion by raindrops and water, leading to potential interference with the soil occasionally contaminating nearby rivers and streams.

While Turetsky notes that fires now seem to burn away far more vegetation than in the past, he hopes that solutions will help control the deadly flames in future.

On the Radio- An excess of parking spaces

Fewer Americans are getting driver’s licenses. (Joey C./flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 13th, 2018

This week’s segment focuses on the amount of land the parking spaces occupy in Des Moines.


There are more than nineteen parking spaces for every household in the city of Des Moines, a new report shows.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The report by the Research Institute for Housing America examined the number of parking spaces in five American cities, and found that generally, the supply of parking spaces greatly exceeds the demand. In Des Moines, there are one-point-six million parking spaces, and around eighty-three thousand households.

The abundance of parking is not being widely utilized either. The report states that a spot-count of a downtown Des Moines park-and-ride was at only eight percent occupancy.

The author argues that generally, the need for parking is declining. In Seattle, for example, forty percent of households do not have a car, yet parking covers forty percent of Seattle’s land.

Fewer Americans have a driver’s license, especially in younger generations, and companies like Lyft and Uber are reducing trips made in personal vehicles.

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

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

2017 is the third warmest year on record

The past three years have been the hottest on record. (NASA/flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 8th, 2017

According the the State of the Climate report, 2017 is the third warmest year on record. The annual State of the Climate report is published by the American Meteorological Society and is based on international data taken from land, air, and sea monitoring stations. 2016 still remains the warmest year on record, and 2015 comes in as the second warmest.

The data from 2017 also reveals that last year, atmospheric greenhouse gas levels were the highest ever recorded.  The average global carbon dioxide concentrations reached 405 parts per million. This far surpasses any carbon dioxide concentrations from previous climate data, as well as C02 concentrations found in ice cores from well over half a million years ago.

The report also contains information about continued sea level rise, ocean surface temperatures, coral bleaching, and declining polar ice cap coverage. To read the State of the Climate in 2017, or any of the past reports, click here.

Pollution and heart issues

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Studies show a distinct link between low pollution and health risks (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 7th, 2017

A new report from the Queen Mary University in London links even low levels of pollution with heart and respiratory problems. Pollution, even in its lowest quantity, is sometimes linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

Dr. Nay Aung, an affiliate of Queen Mary, revealed some information from the study that linked people living near busy streets with an increased risk of enlarged heart ventricles.

This is not the first time that pollution has been linked to distinct health risks, either.

The World Health Organization published an updated statistic in 2018: a staggering 80% of the global urban population is exposed to higher levels of pollution than is deemed safe by the WHO. Most of those affected live in lower-income areas.




On the Radio- The coral of the future

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Coral reefs are being destroyed due to coral bleaching (USFWS/flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 6, 2018

This week’s segment explores efforts in Hawaii to grow corals resistant to bleaching.


Scientists are attempting to speed up evolution in an effort to save coral reefs.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Biologists at Gates Coral Lab at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology are working on a way to cross-breed coral species that have resisted coral bleaching or persisted in spite of it. Coral bleaching, a phenomenon that has been slowly killing reefs for years, occurs when corals are stressed by environmental factors, such as pollution or extreme temperature changes.

The Biologists at Hawaii’s Coral Lab are trying to cross-breed resistant species of coral to create something like a super-coral—a variety of coral that can withstand these environmental stressors. This plan is sometimes referred to as assisted evolution, when scientists help speed up the process of evolution to yield stronger varieties of creatures.

Dr. Ruth Gates, director at the Hawaii Institute, isn’t sure if coral reefs would survive past 2050 without some assistance.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

Tracking coal mining in Appalachia

Mountaintop removal in West Virginia (KKC/flickr)

Eden DeWald| August 1st, 2018

Researchers at Duke University are using a satellite imagery mapping tool to track mining activities in Appalachia. According to their paper, published in PLOS ONE, the experts at Duke estimate that 21,000 acres of land has been transformed each year since 1985 due to mountaintop mining. The study tracked areas in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Mountaintop mining is categorized as surface mining, unlike traditional mining strategies. Vegetation is clearing from the top of a mountain, then explosives are used to destroy the surface of the hill or mountain. This process exposes any coal underneath. Mountaintop mining poses many problems. Rubble leftover is often pushed into the existing valleys, which blocks and contaminates streams and destroys animal habitats.

Tracking landscapes that have been destroyed and transformed due to mountaintop mining is necessary to better understand the effect that this process has had on Appalachian ecosystems. The data from this study is free and open to the public. You can find downloadable files of the imagery here.