Climate change and wild spring weather

The Greenland block is a high pressure atmospheric block that hangs above Greenland and affects weather moving down to lower latitudes. (flickr/Stig Nygaard)

Jenna Ladd | April 18, 2018

By-in-large, spring weather has been arriving earlier each year in the United States. For instance, the frost-free season was 10 days longer between 1991 and 2011 than it was from 1901 to 1960.

This may come as a shock to Midwesterners, who saw several inches of snow fall this Sunday, April 15th. So what’s going on?

Among some other factors, the Greenland Block has a lot to do with the snowy spring of 2018, according to Dr. David Mechem of the University of Kansas. Mechem, a professor of geography and atmospheric science, explained that there is a persistent atmospheric area of high pressure above Greenland which funnels cold air from the poles straight into the mid-latitudes of North America. He told KCUR that the block was in place throughout February and March and is finally starting to break down, which would bring long-awaited warmer temperatures to the midwest.

Further research is needed to establish exactly what kind of effect climate change has on spring weather, but scientists are noticing some changes. Winter storms (even if they happen in April) have increased in frequency and intensity in the Northern hemisphere since 1950 according to the National Climate Assessment. Nor’easter winter storms plague the eastern U.S. and are caused by the the cold air from the Arctic and warm air from the Atlantic interplaying. This year, that region of the U.S. saw several Nor’easters in very quick succession, which is unusual. A recent study in the journal Nature Communications found that as the Arctic’s climate continues to warm at an alarming rate, winter storms becoming more likely in the eastern U.S.

The good news is that as the Greenland block continues to break down, residents of the mid-latitudes can expect spring to finally arrive. The bad news is that unpredictable spring weather can be expected to continue coming years as the climate continues to change.

A brief look at the life of David Buckel

Buckel stands outside of one of his compost sites (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 17th, 2018

**The following article discusses suicide. If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, or if you or someone you know needs help, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the local Johnson County crises line at (319) 351-0140**

The nation was rocked on the morning of April 14th after learning about the death of activist and lawyer David Buckel, who committed suicide in Prospect Park, New York via self-immolation. He was 60 years old.

Self-immolation, or sacrificial suicide, is often a death of protest, as it has been historically used as an act of self-sacrifice. This type of death was famously utilized by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức in 1963.

Buckel was an accomplished lawyer and an LGBT activist who worked some very prominent cases as a marriage project director at Lambda Legal, an LGBT activism group. He was working for Lambda when the group filed a lawsuit against Iowa on behalf of same-sex couples in 2009, in a case that eventually lead to the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa. He had recently begun focusing on environmental issues, and what could be done to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

In his journey to make a dent in the planet’s fossil fuel problem, he helped establish the New York City Compost Center as the Senior Organics Recovery Coordinator.

His coworkers regarded him as a man of passion and heart–“He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died. I think it’s tragic. I wish he hadn’t done it,” said Adam Aronson of the death.

Aronson was a friend of Buckel’s who worked alongside him for five years at Lambda Legal. Buckel was known to put all of his energy in everything he did, and frequently lived his truth, making small contributions to his environmental cause in his private life by walking to work and refusing to use machines at his composting sites.

At the site of his death, Buckel left a long note explaining his actions, clarifying that he wanted his death to be viewed as a final act of protest:

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing in-habitability via air, soil, water and weather […] most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result …”

Buckel is survived by his husband, Terry Kaelber, and their daughter, Hannah.

On The Radio- 2,500 chemicals sites at risk for floods

Sites at risk for high and moderate flooding 

Kasey Dresser | April 16, 2018

This weeks segment looks at chemical sites across the U.S. that are located in flood risk areas.



Twenty five hundred toxic chemical sites in the U.S. are located in areas with high risk for flooding. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Last year the Climate Science Special report predicted a higher flood risk going into 2018. The heightened risk is from heavy rainfall and rising sea levels that lead to coastal floods and potential hurricanes. As of now, fourteen hundred toxic chemical sites are at high risk and eleven hundred are at moderate risk of flooding. 

Last year, Hurricane Harvey released hazardous pollutants at more than 40 sites. In 2012 Tropical Storm Debby destroyed a chemical plant in White Springs, Florida that produced phosphates to be used in fertilizer. Flooding from the tropical storm overflowed the Suwanee River destroying the algae and duckweed growth and caused the oxygen levels in the lakes and rivers to plummet. Record-breaking rains in May of last year overflowed storage ponds of sodium hydroxide sending the contaminant into the Alabama River.

Currently federal law and most state governments do not require a flood risk plan for toxic chemical sites. More needs to be done to protect our waterways from natural disasters.

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

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

China continues to take the lead in clean energy

Beijing has shown some of the biggest improvements with pollution reduction (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu  | April 10th, 2018

China has slowly made its way to the top in its quest to push the use of renewable energy. Solar power saw a huge increase in use during 2017, making up roughly a third of new energy added globally.

Last year, China invested roughly $126.6 billion in renewable energy, cementing them as one of the leaders in clean sources. Four years prior, in 2014, the global superpower effectively declared war on pollution, setting goals for its major cities to reduce the output of fine particles from factories and construction sites. In 2018, China is very clearly winning this battle: the country has reduced its overall urban pollution by an average of 32%.

Lots of methods were employed to meet this goal. Cars were restricted by license number; every citizen with a car has, by now, a ritual of figuring out which day of the week their vehicle is prohibited and using public transport to travel on that particular day. new coal-burning plants were prohibited in the most polluted areas and existing ones had to reduce their emissions. Although China’s overall pollution still far exceeds that of other nations, its overall pollution reduction is incredibly promising.


On The Radio- A decade since the 2008 flood

Cedar Rapids

Kasey Dresser | April 9, 2018

This week’s segment looks at statistics from 10 years ago when Iowa experienced the 6th largest FEMA disaster in the U.S. 


This year marks a decade since the historic Iowa Floods of 2008.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Most of the flooding started in early June, finally receding in July. Thousands of Iowans were left displaced and jobless from the rising waters. The banks of the Mississippi, the Cedar, the Iowa, and the Wapsipinicon Rivers all overflowed. Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and the University of Iowa were among the worst affected in Eastern Iowa. Recovery has taken nearly a decade. 

At its peak, the Cedar River was around 20 feet above flood stage. In Cedar Rapids alone, around 10,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes. The estimated financial assistance received by Iowans as a result of the 2008 floods totaled $848 million. This was the  6th largest FEMA disaster declaration in the U.S.. 

The Iowa Flood Center, established as a result of the 2008 floods, has been working diligently with many communities to make them more resilient to the impact of future flooding. The Flood Center is the only facility of its kind in the nation, dedicated to helping Iowans better prepare for more flooding.

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

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

Antarctic ice is shrinking at a concerning rate

The Antarctic is in greater danger than scientists previously thought (/coolantarctica)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 3rd, 2018

Underwater ice melt from the Antarctic is one of the largest contributors to rising sea levels.

Viewed from above, the Antarctic seems stable and safe, with the ice cap changing little in the past few years. Down near the ocean floor, however, the change is a lot more drastic. Small increases in temperature have melted away the bottom of the ice, sometimes as much as around five meters per year.

Between 2010 and 2016 specifically, around 1,463 km2 of the ice along the ocean floor has melted.

The stability of glaciers and ice formations are often measured with grounding lines–a valuable resource for scientists researching sea-level rise. Grounding lines, in short, indicate where glaciers transition from being grounded in the ocean floor to the levels at which glaciers start to free-float in the water.

The grounding line is more accurately described as a zone, and changes in the grounding line are intrinsically linked with changes in sea levels. As ocean temperatures rise, grounding lines specifically are often melted away, a change that makes icebergs increasingly unstable and susceptible to thinning and calving (when sections of ice break away from the larger mass). All of these changes contribute to sea-level rise and put the ocean and the humans living by it in further danger.

Keeping Iowans safe in flood season

Davenport, Iowa is among the many cities affected by flooding annually. (/FloodCenter)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | 3/27/2018

Many Iowans know flooding in the same way that they know cornfields and fairs. Floods happen at an alarmingly frequent rate in the Midwestern state. Between 1988 to 2015, Iowa has lost an estimated $13.5 billion in flood losses. The floods of 2008 specifically garnered national media attention.

Floods can cause life-changing damage to homes, businesses, and schools. Fortunately, Iowans have a way to track and prevent potential flooding with the Iowa Flood Information System, or IFIS.

The IFIS was created by University of Iowa’s Iowa Flood Center in an attempt to give citizens a transparent look at weather patterns that could contribute to a potential flood. This online project is used together with the Iowa Watershed Approach, where lakes and ponds are strategically built to deter flooding from streams to crops. With these systems and community-led projects in place, the Iowa Flood Center hopes to make Iowa impervious to flood damage in the near future.