Even The Deep Sea Isn’t Free From Plastic

Garbage and debris is choking the ocean’s ecosystem
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 16, 2017

Recent studies have unearthed the unsettling fact that at this point in time even deep, supposedly remote areas of Earth are polluted with plastic.

Academics in Newcastle University studied a variety of deep-sea crustaceans from the Pacific Ocean and found traces of plastic fiber in their stomachs. The samples were gathered not just from the Mariana Trench, but from a wide swath of trenches off the coast of South Africa and East Asia. The deepest area sampled was the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep–roughly 10,890 meters below the surface of the ocean, making these samples the deepest ever found. 100% of the crustaceans from the Mariana Trench were contaminated with plastic.

The study raises concerns about the pervasiveness of pollution. Two months prior to this case, a study conducted by Orb Media gathered drinking water samples from dozens of countries. The findings revealed that around 83% of our drinking water is contaminated by small plastic particles.

Scientists at Newcastle worry that no ecosystem has been left untouched by pollution and man made waste, and the complexity of deep-sea biology makes solving this problem even more difficult. Plastics are not biodegradable; there is o current way to make the petroleum product completely harmless. Efforts to conserve the ocean with organized cleanups and an increased focus on recycling and re-purposing the harmful material are some of the first steps forward towards a cleaner environment.

Tom Vilsack to deliver lecture next month

Tom Vilsack currently leads the U.S. Dairy Export Council. (Iowa State University)
Jenna Ladd | October 25, 2017

Tom Vilsack will deliver a lecture at Iowa State University as a part of the National Affairs Series: “When American Values Are in Conflict” next month.

Vilsack served as Governor of Iowa from 1999 through 2007. His lecture, titled “Agriculture and Climate Change,” however, will center more around his work as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the Obama administration. As USDA Secretary, Vilsack helped to develop and manage programs related to rural electrification, community mental health and refinancing farm homes, to name a few. He also managed the federal school lunch program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Vilsack currently serves as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, “a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders.”

Additional details about the lecture can be found here.

What: “Agriculture and Climate Change” lecture by Tom Vilsack

Where: Iowa State University Memorial Union-Great Hall

When: Thursday, November 16 at 7:00 pm

Cost: free, open to public

People of faith in Iowa move to renewable energy

Pope Francis at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 where the Global Goals of Sustainable Development were officially accepted. (Department for International Development/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| September 6, 2017

In his environmental encyclical titled Laudato Si or “Our Common Home,” Pope Francis, called for the citizens of the world to reduce carbon emissions and become better stewards of the Earth. Now, about two years later, people of faith in Iowa are answering the call.

St. John the Apostle Catholic Church of Norwalk, Iowa has become the first church in the Diocese of Des Moines to transition to a solar energy system. The church boasts 206 energy panels, which were funded through a for-profit company. The company sells energy back to the church at a lower rates than before.

During the encyclical public address, Pope Francis said, “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.” Last May when President Trump visited Vatican City, the Pope gave him a copy of the 192 page document on climate change.

It’s not just Catholics moving to mitigate some of the effects of global warming. The Des Moines Register reports that a Soto Zen Buddist temple in Dorchester, Iowa now gets half of its energy from solar. Mennonites in Kalona have established a solar energy system, too.

Rev. Susan Hendershot Guy is executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, a group working to mobilize people of faith to combat climate change. She said to the Des Moines Register, “It’s exciting to me because I feel like they’re sort of walking the walk. I think it is getting out to all types of denominations, congregations, faith traditions really across the conservative-liberal spectrum.” She continued, “It’s a really practical way to live out that message of how we care for the world.”

On The Radio – August water summary update released

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South central Iowa remained in drought while other parts of the state soaked up rainfall in late August. (Iowa Department of Natural Resources)
Jenna Ladd| September 4, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how August rain relieved some parts of Iowa from drought conditions. 

Transcript: Rainfall during the last part of August helped to reverse drought conditions in many parts of Iowa, according to the latest Iowa Department of Natural Resources Water Summary Update.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Water Summary Update is a succinct monthly report of Iowa’s water resources and those events that affect them prepared by the technical staff at Iowa DNR in partnership with local, state and federal agencies.

The latest update revealed that while August started off very dry, high rain totals increased groundwater levels and streamflow in many parts of the state. In contrast, south central Iowa is still experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions. Extreme drought conditions persisted in Clarke county and Wapello county through August.

For more information and to read the complete summary, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

Warming climate produces more toxic algae

Bluegreen algae in Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, WI. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 31, 2017

There has been an increase in harmful algal blooms worldwide and in Iowa in recent years, and climate change is adding to the problem.

A recent analysis from Climate Central points out that warmer waters make conditions favorable for toxic algae to grow faster than other beneficial varieties. Toxic algae then accumulates, making the surface of bodies of water appear darker in color. This creates a positive feedback loop. The report explains, “water made darker by the presence of the blooms absorbs more sunlight, warming even more, and enhancing the conditions for more blooms.”

Heavy precipitation is another by-product of a changing climate and is becoming increasingly common in the U.S. and Iowa, specifically. Increased rainfall means that more agricultural fertilizers, which include nitrate and phosphorus, are washed off the land and into waterways. These nutrients feed algae and encourage its growth.

Ingesting harmful varieties of algae in water or on contaminated fish can cause gastrointestinal problems, respiratory symptoms, and skin irritation.

(Climate Central)


Iowa farmers face low yields, low prices

Half of the state is in a drought, putting farmers at-risk for serious losses this harvest season. (flickr/TumblingRun)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 16, 2017

Nearly half of the state is in a drought this summer, and Iowa farmers are struggling to make ends meet.

A Des Moines Register report showed thousands of Iowa farmers are not seeing enough rain this summer, while crop prices remain low and farm income continues to trend downward. Corn and soybean prices are down 10 percent from July, and this year, farm income is expected to fall $62 billion nationwide.

“The drought isn’t widespread enough to push up prices,” Charles Brown, an Iowa State University farm management specialist said to the Register. “It’s the worst-case scenario — low prices and low yields.”

Some farmers have crop insurance to cover their losses, but often, it’s not enough. Many rely on savings to get them through after a tough year.

The drought is also drying up pastures, eliminating a dependable food source for cattle. Some farmers use hay to supplement the animals’ diets. And if a farmer’s crop has a low yield unworthy of harvesting, the farmer may choose to chop it into animal feed instead of trying to sell it.

There is still time for rainfall to improve the outlook for Iowa farmers’ crops this season, however, some are losing hope.

“People get frustrated. They throw up their hands and don’t do anything,” Brown said to the Register. “But now isn’t the time to procrastinate. [Farmers] need to get a plan together.”

Wetland project aims to reduce nutrient flow to Des Moines

Storm Lake, Iowa constructed a wetland to help curb flooding and reduce nutrient flow into the Raccoon River. (flickr/Ravenblack7575)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 15, 2017

Storm Lake, Iowa has completed a project to improve its water quality. Eight more projects are in the works to continue this effort.

Storm Lake, in Buena Vista County, was one of several communities involved in the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit in January. The water utility attempted to sue Buena Vista county and two other northern Iowa counties for allowing nitrate pollution in the water, which flows downstream to the Des Moines area. The Iowa Supreme Court did not side with the water utility, but the lawsuit brought attention to the issue, and Storm Lake is addressing it.

In May, the community constructed a $175,000 wetland, and last week, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg joined Storm Lake leaders in celebrating the step towards healthier water.

“Storm Lake has been very active over the past several years in working with storm water to improve water quality and to slow down the flow to reduce flooding in our neighborhoods, as well as reduce the nutrient loading that’s in the water,” Jon Kruse, mayor of Storm Lake, said to KWWL.

The wetland naturally removes nutrients from the water, reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing down the Raccoon River to Des Moines, and to the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrient removal from water can be complicated, and high levels of nutrients can cause algal blooms in water bodies, leading to low oxygen levels which are dangerous for aquatic life. Storm Lake has also had issues with flooding in the past, and this wetland should help reduce that.