Predictions show a busy hurricane, storm season in the Atlantic Ocean


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 25, 2022

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a higher number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean for the seventh year in a row.

In a forecast released Tuesday the NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad predicted between 14 and 20 storms, with six to 10 turning in to hurricanes with multiple running the risk of being Category 3 or higher. The forecast shows the severity of the storms will be similar to 2021, where four storms developed winds of higher than 110 mph and 21 were named.

Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has noticed tropical storms are developing faster and more frequently. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported any storm, hurricane or not, could cause significant damage.

“As we saw from Superstorm Sandy, it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane to cause such devastation to communities,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said.

FEMA is suggesting people across the country, not just coastal areas, prepare for emergency situations based on the forecasts from NOAA. Climate change is a part of why hurricane seasons are worsening and becoming more frequent. Criswell said FEMA is attempting to emphasize preparedness and mitigation as the climate alters and more severe weather events occur.

New study finding ocean life complicates plastic waste cleanup


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Grace Smith | May 23, 2022

Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, hypothesized that gyres consolidate plastic and living organisms similarly. Gyres are global circular currents powered by wind that can act as a whirlpool, which creates garbage patches in the ocean. Helm published the study on April 28, finding her hypothesis accurate after following French swimmer Benoit Lecomte over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Supporting evidence was also found through additional experiments in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies in the Pacific Ocean and is the world’s largest ocean garbage patch. Researchers that followed Lecomte through the patch found, in some parts of the garbage, there was almost the same number of neuston, or surface-dwelling organisms, and pieces of plastic in the patch. The finding demonstrated the accuracy of Helm’s original hypothesis. 

Although fascinating, Helm said her study could potentially complicate plastic cleanup measures as conservationists attempt to get rid of the 269,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean. Today, plastic waste make up 80% of sea pollution and kills more than 100,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds every year. Plastic in the ocean harms all sea life including small fish as well as large whales because they mistake the waste for food or get tangled in pieces of plastic. Despite the home that neuston have found, Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, told The New York Times that individuals around the world must take into account the large-scale and harmful effects of plastic in the ocean.

Iowa farmers plant half season’s corn in a week


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 18, 2022

After several delays during the typical planting season, Iowa farmers planted 43 percent of their corn crop last week.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the corn planting is still nine days behind, but it is quickly catching up to where it has been in previous years. Statewide, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the planting percentage jumped from 14 to 57 in a matter of days. The large strides are because of an improvement in the weather. Warmer temperatures have heated the soil to where it usually is during Iowa summers, allowing for more viable seeds to be planted. Corn plants need soil to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said in a press release that the progress farmers are making is significant. It is expected that the nearly 13 million acres of corn crop usually planted in Iowa will be in the ground by Friday, May 20.

“As we look ahead, weather outlooks show promise in keeping planters rolling and farmers busy in the fields,” he said.

Soybean planting was also up over the course of the week, jumping from 7 percent to nearly 33. The crop still remains roughly a week behind the five-year average in the state.

Biden administration to speed up environmental permits for infrastructure project approvals


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 16, 2022

The Biden-Harris administration vowed to speed up the construction of bridges, roads, and wind farms last week. Officials said they are looking to make permit approval easier without jeopardizing the necessary environmental standards for such projects.

The administration announced the goal during a press call on May 10. The new permitting plan officials are proposing would consolidate decision making to reduce the number of federal permits necessary to break ground. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory also said the new system would establish stronger timelines and tracking for projects while engaging in “meaningful outreach and communication” with states, tribes and local governments before a project begins. Mallory said a goal of the adaption is to use existing agencies’ resources to prioritize permit reviews and approvals.

Samantha Silverberg, White House deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator, said the switch will encourage states, tribes, cities, and private companies to work on new infrastructure projects using the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law which passed in 2021. Permitting delays tend to deter projects in various communities across the U.S.

The administration said alterations in permitting from the federal government will not sacrifice any environmental standards. Jason Miller, the deputy director for management for the Office of Management and Budget, said the plan can and will speed up permitting without costing the environment.

“This plan explicitly rejects the tired view that there’s an inherent tradeoff between permitting efficiency — doing permitting in a timely and predictable manner — with permitting effectively, ensuring the best outcomes for the community and the environment,” he said.

Iowa’s prime corn yields likely gone


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 11, 2022

Iowa State University agronomist Mark Licht says Iowa corn farmers are unlikely to see high yields this planting season.

Cold and rainy temperatures delayed planting in the spring months in 2022. As farmers look to finish up planting, Licht told Iowa Capital Dispatch the next few months are expected to be drier than normal. The two challenges present a likelihood that crop yields of Iowa corn will be low this year compared to recent seasons.

“I don’t mean that we can’t still have above-trend-line yields, I just don’t think that we’re going to see the record-breaking yields that we’ve seen in the last couple years,” he said. “I think we’ve maybe taken the top end off of it. How much is yet to be determined.”

At the beginning of the second week of May, Iowa farmers were two weeks behind the average planting schedule to the past five years. It was the slowest planting pace in nearly a decade. Only 14 percent of seed corn was in the ground on Sunday, as April weather made it particularly difficult to plant potentially successful seedlings. Research on corn yield from Iowa State University shows the most successful corn crops are planted before middle May.

Iowa farms have three weeks left in the planting season before yields get considerably lower in June.

Why Climate Change Makes It Harder to Fight Fire With Fire


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Simone Garza | May 9, 2022

The increase of climate change is causing longer wildfires, making it difficult to plan intentional fires.

As the summer season is approaching, there are extreme wildfires that have been reported in Nebraska, Arizona and New Mexico. New Mexico has recently been reported of a wildfire that passed over 165,000 acres. The extensions of wildfires are due to longer and drier summer seasons, drier soils, and warmer springs. Wildfires tend to have both pros and cons.

The pros of wildfires are that it permits nutrients to return to the soil, and has a part in plant reproduction. The cons of wildfires, is that it can release carbon dioxide in the air, as it can worsen climate change. The continuous spread of wildfires can lead to smog, creating issues for people that inhale the pollutants. Inhaling wildfire pollutants can cause inflammation, respiratory infections, and adjust the immune system.

Climate change has made it hard to schedule intentional wildfires, a method which assists the removal of dead tree limbs, leaves, and knock down invasive plants.

Last year, the United States Forest Service used controlled fire over 1.8 million acres of federal land. The agency is planning to tend to 50 million acres, both including national and federal lands, within the next decade. 

EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

Spring corn planting slowed by low soil temperatures


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 4, 2022

As farmers prepare to plant their corn crop this spring they are running into some issues because of low soil temperatures.

Following cold and wet weather in Iowa, the state’s corn planting season has been significantly delayed. The pushing back of planting shortens the optimal yield window for the year. Only 9 percent of Iowa’s corn crop has been planted according to a May 2 Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The average by this time of year is 42 percent of the crop.

State Climatologist Justin Glisan told Iowa Capital Dispatch early planting this year was first stalled in April because of low temperatures five degrees below average. He said 2022 had one of Iowa’s top 15 coldest winters.

Soil temperatures need to be at least 50 degrees to plant corn seed that is likely to sprout. Soil temps have mainly stayed in the 40s this spring. The lack of planted crops will impact supply moving forward this year.

Ocean life projected to die off in mass extinction if emissions remain high


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Simone Garza | May 2, 2022

A new study found marine animals are at risk for mass extinction if there’s a continuous lack of oxygen and warmer sea temperatures.

On April 28, the study from Science journal  reported that the more global warming, the smaller number of species can survive. 

“If we don’t act to curb emissions, that extinction is quite high. It registers on the geological scale among the major biotic collapses of diversity in the Earth’s history,” said Curtis Deutsch, an author of the paper and a professor of geosciences at Princeton University.

A new model shows if emissions continue to grow by 2300, the Earth could reach a marine extinction similar to the“Great Dying”. The “Great Dying” was a Perimian level where over two-thirds of marine life went extinct 252 million years ago.

Climate change also causes ocean stratification, which divides temperatures from surface water and underneath water. Ocean stratification in the deep and colder water blocks off nutrients, risking the growth of phytoplankton in the warmer surface water.

Greenhouse gasses have also confined energy from the sun, which causes oceans to absorb heat and heighten temperatures at both sea surface and rising sea levels.
Some sea animals that are currently endangered and are at an increased risk include the horse conch, sea turtles, and blue whales. Sea animals are crucial for developing medicinal material, like antibiotics, food security, and employment opportunities.

Large spending increase for tribal, climate programs expected from U.S. Interior secretary


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 29, 2022

The U.S. Interior Department is planning to ask the House of Representative to increase funding to a tribal programs and climate resiliency efforts this week.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will ask the spending panel to increase the fiscal 2023 budget for the department to set ambitious but achievable goals, according to written testimony for the budget request.

““Working together, we have the opportunity to invest now to strengthen our Nation for all Americans, protect our environment, and ensure our future generations continue to not only enjoy, but improve our way of life,” Haaland wrote in the testimony.

The current proposed request would increase spending on Indian Affairs programs by almost 25 percent. The sum would become $4.5 billion and would focus on sovereignty and equity opportunities for tribes across the country. The funding would also spend billions on delivering safe, clean water to tribe. The request will come in tandem with an increase in funds for the transition to renewable energy usage in the U.S. The department wants $1.4 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water projects to help with worsening droughts and $1.2 billion for wildfire management, among other spending. The administration asked for a total $61 million for tribal climate resilience programs.