Second Warmest Winter on Record


Image from NOAA

Maxwell Bernstein | March 18, 2020

Global land and ocean surface temperatures for December through February in the Northern Hemisphere were the 2nd warmest in 141 years according to NOAA’s Global Climate Report, making this Earth’s 2nd warmest winter on record.

Global land and ocean temperatures for the winter of 2019-2020 were 2.02°F warmer than the 20th century average temperature, while December through February of 2015-2016 were 2.12°F warmer than the 20thcentury average temperature. The 2015-2016 winter temperatures were raised by a periodic El Niño boost which the 2019-2020 winter lacked. 

NOAA also released their National Climate Reports for December, January, and February of 2020, making this the 6th warmest winter on record in the United States. 

Some notable statistics included December of 2019 being the 2nd wettest year on record for the United States, with 4.48 inches of precipitation more than the average. This was also the 5th warmest January for the United States with temperatures being 5.4°F warmer than the 20th century average.

The warm winter coincides with 2019 being Earth’s 2nd hottest year in the 140-year records. The global temperatures of 2019 were .07°F less than 2016’s record temperatures. These record temperatures are attributed to the release of heat trapping greenhouse gasses from human-induced climate change

Flood sensor updates to help protect Iowans this spring


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The Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System shows the location of flood sensors throughout the state.

Julia Poska | March 17, 2020

Two major updates to Iowa’s network of flood sensors will help protect citizens and property this spring, when projections predict the state will see major flooding.

The Iowa Flood Center recently received $150,000 from the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, according to KCRG.  The IFC also received $30,000 from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The network’s service provider is phasing-out the previously used technology, according to KCRG, so the funding will provide new modems and data plans to keep the sensors running.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has also installed five new flood sensors along the Iowa-Nebraska state boundary, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. Areas in both states along the Missouri River were devastated by floods last spring. With elevated flood risk forecast for this year, the sensors could help Iowa and Nebraska officials coordinate disaster response.

Mining company makes second proposal to export water from Iowa


Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Tony Webster

Tyler Chalfant | March 16th, 2020

In a letter last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources asked a mining company for “specific information” about where it plans to send 34 million gallons of water from the Jordan aquifer. Pattison Sand Company, located near Clayton, Iowa, is working with the Oregon-based company Water Train to export the water from two wells on its property to drought-stricken Western States. 

This proposal is the company’s second attempt to export water, after the state said it intended to deny its first proposal back in February, saying that sending such a large amount of water out of the state would have “a negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources.”

The company’s current permit allows it to draw 1.6 billion gallons annually from the aquifer, which is a source of water for 500,000 Iowans and considered stressed in some parts of the state. According to the state, Pattison would have to apply for a new permit for this use of the water, as well as providing more specific details about the intended use. 

How COVID-19 impacts climate change


Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China
Image from NASA

Tyler Chalfant | March 13th, 2020

As the 2019 novel coronavirus, now considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has impacted several businesses, including air travel, emissions and air pollution have fallen significantly around the globe. Satellite images of China show how air pollution has fallen drastically due to a fall in economic activity as the country responds to the outbreak. According to an analysis from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China’s carbon emissions have been reduced by 25%. 

However, environmental watchdog and activist groups have warned that these effects are temporary, and may even be harmful in the long run, as an economic slowdown replaces policy and clean energy investment as the means of reducing emissions. Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, told Wired that “the only real times we’ve seen large emission reductions globally in the past few decades is during major recessions. But even then, the effects are often smaller than you think.” In 2008, for instance, emissions fell globally by 3%, but returned to normal and continued to grow after a few years.

As COVID-19 stalls infrastructure projects, that will likely include large clean energy projects. On Thursday, analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance lowered forecasts for new solar energy projects this year by 8%, predicting that electric car sales will likely fall as well.

Another impact of the outbreak is a dramatic fall in oil prices, which can slow electric car sales and discourage people from looking for clean energy alternatives. However, travel bans and fears of the virus mean that the rise in travel that usually accompanies a drop in oil prices isn’t likely to happen. Furthermore, the sale of electric cars is being driven by regulations in places like Europe, China, and California, as well as falling battery prices, which may also mean that cheaper oil won’t have as significant an impact this time.

The social, economic, and health impacts of COVID-19 are continuing to develop on a daily basis. Be sure to follow the latest information from the CDC here.

After a dry winter, Iowa DNR says flood risk remains high


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Photo from Jo Naylor, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | March 12th, 2020

This February has been warmer and drier than usual in Iowa. As a result, streamflow conditions have generally decreased, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says that the risk for flooding on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers remains high for this spring. 

Though severe drought has impacted other areas of the country, there have not been drought conditions in Iowa. In total, December, January, and February saw about 3 inches of snow, which is 0.33 inches less than normal, improving stream levels across the state. 

Last year saw historic flooding in both river basins, with over 200 miles of compromised levees, and 81 of Iowa’s 99 counties put on flood warning last spring. This resulted from heavy rainfall accompanied by an unusually high amount of snowmelt from Minnesota. The Iowa Policy Project released a report warning that such flooding events are likely to become more frequent and severe as climate change makes weather patterns more difficult to predict. 

2019 was the third wettest year for the Missouri River Basin on record, meaning the basin is going into 2020 with wetter-than-normal soil. Runoff this year is expected to be more than 140% as much as normal, which would place this year in the top ten for the basin.

Mussels as water cleaning ‘ecosystem engineers’


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Mussels play helpful roles in river ecosystems (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | March 12, 2020

A group of citizens in Muscatine, Iowa are pushing to restore the over harvested Mississippi River mussel population. The “Mussels of Muscatine” group hopes to create learning opportunities, reverse damage to the river ecosystem and improve water quality.

The group wants to convert a dilapidated pump house into a mussel research and propagation facility, according to the Des Moines RegisterThat plan faces several logistical hurdles, but the idea that mussels could help reverse some of Iowa’s water quality degradation is valid.

CGRER member Craig Just, a University of Iowa associate professor of environmental engineering described mussel’s role as ‘ecosystem engineers’ to the Register. As the molluscs filter nutrients from the water to feed, they remove pollutants like nitrogen. Just said mussels can also remove microorganisms like algae and phytoplankton, which are harmful to ecosystems when their populations explode.

Just pointed to several challenges to restoring the Mississippi mussels as well. Iowa soil erodes into waterways at high rates, which would bury mussels and prevent them from reproducing. Mussels also must eject their larvae into fish gills, a difficult process to recreate in a lab or propagation facility.

Iowa lawmakers, advocates reach compromise on controversial solar bill


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The Solar Act would promote the viability of private solar panel ownership in Iowa (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | March 10, 2020

Iowa legislators have reached a compromise on last year’s controversial “Sunshine Tax” bill. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Friday that both legislative chambers have unanimously approved bill versions of the“Solar Act,” which are awaiting Gov. Reynolds’ approval.

According to the dispatch, the act would allow owners of home, business or farm solar arrays to continue selling excess energy to utility companies at the retail rate. Last spring, a controversial bill proposed an extra $300 annual fee for solar customers who sell excess energy, meant to cover the cost of using the electric grid. Critics said the fee would make it much harder for private owners to pay off their investment into solar, essentially killing the largely private solar industry in Iowa.

The new version also orders an independent cost-benefit analysis of solar power in Iowa, meant to make sure all parties pay their fair share. Following the study, the Iowa Utilities Board would make a recommendation for reasonable billing methods. Existing solar owners would be immune to recomended changes in billing methods.