Climate change and our water supply


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Increased rainfall and irregular weather patterns could impact our water supply (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 12, 2018

Environmental changes have had a direct impact on the quality of our water supply. As droughts change the amount of usable water in many parts of the world, other places are dealing with water pollution that threatens to permanently impact our freshwater supply.

Increased sediment and contaminants caused by heavier rains are part of the problem, as these deposits can cloud water, encourage the growth of harmful bacteria, and make freshwater less safe to drink, overworking water treatment plants. This kind of sediment and containment clouding is referred to as “turbidity”.

Droughts and a projected decrease in precipitation is another issue, and countries at risk of water shortages are expected to increase from 10% to over 30% in 2050.

As agriculture expands, so does the demand for water; in the United States, irrigation accounts for over 80% of consumptive water usage, consumptive indicating that the water used is likely not returned to its original source.

The best way to combat water pollution and dwindling water resources is to adapt more environmentally friendly irrigation practices and utilize methods to improve the stability of ground soil, so that contaminants are not washed into bodies of water during storms.

World and industry leaders talk climate at COP24


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The opening plenary at COP24 in Katowice, Poland (flickr via UNclimatechange). 

Julia Poska| December 7th, 2018

Diplomats and industry leaders from over 200 countries gathered in Katowice, Poland this week for COP24,  a global summit on climate change and carbon reductions that will continue through next week.

The Katowice summit is meant to build on the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by most of the world’s countries at COP21 three years ago. The attendees hope to now agree on standards for reporting carbon cuts and emissions and to push agreed-upon reductions even further in light of recent scientific reports that climate change is moving faster than anticipated.

Most of these targets are still up in the air and will continue to be negotiated in coming days between exhibitions, presentations, workshops and more. Non-governmental bodies have made some declarations already, though, including one signed by over 40 global corporations and environmental groups urging delegates to make firm, clear guidelines for reporting and stating their commitment to supporting carbon reduction measures.

Another non-governmental figure, acclaimed naturalist David Attenborough, narrator and writer of BBC docu-series Life and Blue Planet, is holding the new “people’s seat” to represent the general public at the talks. He spoke Monday on the urgency of tackling climate change, calling it our “greatest threat in thousands of years.”

 

 

Bloomberg visits Iowa for politics, protests and the planet


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Michael Bloomberg in 2008 (Flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 6th, 2018

On a tour to premiere a new film on climate change, multi-billionaire and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg made three stops this week: New York, London, and Iowa.

The film, titled “Paris to Pittsburg,” is a response to President Trump’s plans to pull out of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. It features the efforts of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to fight climate change in the absence of government urgency. Iowans Dan and Faith Lutat of the Iowa Lakes Community College are featured as faces of the college’s wind turbine and energy technology program.

Bloomberg chose to visit Des Moines Tuesday in part to recognize the state’s efforts in renewable energy. He wrote in a Des Moines Register Guest column, “Iowans understand what too many leaders in Washington don’t: Fighting climate change is good for our health and our economy. ” According to him, if every state installed as much wind power as Iowa, the offset carbon emissions would almost bring the U.S. to its Paris Agreement goals for 2025.

He also visited the swing-state to test the waters for a potential run for presidency in 2020. Throughout the day he visited different parts of the state to talk renewable energy and gun control. Well aware of Bloomberg’s political motive, Left-wing protestors joined the screening audience to question the environmentalist’s stance on social issues such as stop-and-frisk  policing and his own billionaire status.

Bloomberg Philanthropies produced the film in partnership with award-winning company Radical Media, and National Geographic will officially broadcast it Dec. 12.

Changing weather could affect Iowa crops


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Corn yields could fall as the Midwestern climate becomes more extreme (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 5th, 2018

A recently released Fourth National Climate Statement touched on the various environmental threats we currently face. The Midwest, as a major producer of food for the rest of the country, faces some serious threats to its window of crop planting. Predicted for the future are summer droughts and heavy spring rain, rendering the soil in the Midwest unhealthy and significantly narrowing the planting window. Corn production could drop about 25% by mid-century, a huge concern for rural farmers whose income is inexplicably tied to their crops and yield.

Some side effects of climate change can benefit farmers, leading to warmer winters and a later frost. But the tides are gradually changing, and the slowly increasing number of storms and flooding will likely end up drowning a good amount of crops, not helping them grow.

As the pressure from these extreme weather patterns mounts, farmers in Iowa find themselves in a position of forced adaptation, using terraces, cover crops, and no-till methods to work with Mother Nature and continue growing as many crops as they can.

 

On The Radio- Benefits of passive building design


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Green roof (picture taken off the Sears Tower in Chicago, IL)

Kasey Dresser| December 3, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how implementing passive design can improve energy efficiency. 

Passive design can improve energy efficiency on a warming planet.

As climate change heats up Iowa, how will people stay cool without increasing energy demand? The answer may lie in something called passive design. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Scientists project Iowa heatwaves to become, on average, 7 degrees hotter by mid-century, according the 4th U.S. National Climate Assessment.  About once per decade, a heatwave 13 degrees hotter may occur. 

In such events, people rely heavily on cooling systems. In many cases, this means cranking up the air conditioning, and therefore increasing utility bills and our dependence on fossil fuels.

Passive design techniques include how the building is oriented, window placement, roofing material, tree shading and more. All help maintain comfortable temperatures year round by letting sunlight in and shading it out at the appropriate times.  Tightly sealed insulation minimizes the exchange of air with the outdoors.

Passively designed buildings reduce energy demand and are more comfortable environments to live and work in.

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

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

Climate Assessment predicts water stress on multiple levels for U.S.


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This graphic from the Fourth National Climate Assessment shows groundwater depletion in U.S. aquifers a decade ago. Today, these underground water supplies are even more depleted. 

Julia Poska| November 30, 2018

We already know climate change is having major impacts on rainfall. The 2018 Iowa Climate Statement said the strongest rainfall events of the year may double in intensity by 2025.  Climate change will alter the hydrologic cycle in other ways as well, majorly changing society’s relationship with water.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, controversially released Black Friday, details the forecasted changes to water supplies in the U.S.. It compiles the findings of over 300 experts and has been reviewed by 13 federal agencies, in an effort to inform top decision-makers and common citizens.

More intense rainfall will be met with more intense drought and reduced snowpack, which is bad news for communities that rely on glacial melt for their water supply. These changes are exacerbating water availability issues caused primarily by overuse of groundwater aquifers in much of the U.S..

As higher temperatures create even higher demand for water for drinking and irrigation, this problem will only get worse and worse, which will have major implications for both the food supply and the industrial sector.

The altered hydrologic cycle will impact the quality of our limited quantity of water as well. Rising water temperatures will impact the health of ecosystems, and changes  runoff patterns of pollutants into water will impact human health and pose challenges for water treatment facilities. Sea level rise could also threaten coastal drinking water supplies with the potential intrusion of saltwater flooding.

The report says the biggest water issues for the Midwest are adapting stormwater management systems and managing harmful algae blooms. Iowa is already familiar with floods produced by intense rainfall.  Algae blooms, fueled by nutrient-runoff from farm fields, will be further increased by rising temperatures.

Other water-related challenges detailed in the assessment include the deterioration of water infrastructure and managing water more strategically in the future.

 

Climate change and soil: sink or source?


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Peatlands, or bogs, are wetlands where partially decomposed vegetation accumulates saturated in water. The soil is very rich and productive and contains huge amounts of carbon (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 29, 2018

The world’s soils hold massive amounts of carbon from decomposed plants and animals. In this way the soil acts as a sink, storing carbon that could otherwise end up in the atmosphere, but soil is a source of carbon emissions.

Two studies published this month highlight just how helpful and harmful the the soil’s carbon storage capacity might be in the face of climate change.

The first, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesexamined the changing role of peatlands, also known as bogs or mires, in the carbon cycle. According to author Qianlai Zhuang of Purdue University, peatlands cover about 3 percent of the Earth’s surface but contain 30 percent of soil carbon. This major sink, though, has begun to release large amounts of carbon, too.

When peatlands are drained for human uses like agriculture or mining, they release some of that carbon into the air. The rate of carbon loss is predicted to increase with climate change, even for untouched peatlands.

Northern-hemisphere peatlands in Canada, Siberia and Southeast Asia have already begun releasing significant amounts of carbon, but Zhuang and PhD candidate Sirui Wang found that Amazonian peatlands may soon follow suit, according to a Purdue University media release. The researchers estimate that by the end of the century, peatlands in that area could release an amount of carbon equal to 5 percent of current annual emissions worldwide.

The second study, published in Nature Climate Change, found increased capacity for carbon storage deep within the soil. Much of the soils carbon is stored in a dissolved form; the carbon leaches downwards in the water and attaches to minerals over 6-feet underground.

Little is known about this method of storage, but Washington State University researcher Marc Kramer and Oliver Chadwick from the University of California Santa Barbara have looked at it closely and believe humanity could take advantage of the process to bury more atmospheric carbon deep inside the earth. Unfortunately, they believe climate change will limit this capacity in tropical rainforests, currently the best locations for dissolved carbon storage.

Check out our 2018 Iowa Climate Statement to learn more about the impacts of climate change right here at home.