A New Report Reveals a 24% Increase in the Number of Companies Asking Suppliers for Environmental Transparency


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | May 21, 2020

CDP, an environmental non-profit organization, recently announced a 24% increase in the number of companies asking for environmental data reports from their suppliers this year.

CDP helps investors, companies, cities, states and regions manage their environmental impacts by providing them with a global disclosure system that measures and interprets environmental data, according to the CDP website. 30 new purchasing systems began working with CDP to help manage their supply chains more sustainably, and over 15,000 environmental transparency requests were sent to suppliers this year, according to an Environment + Energy Leader article.

Companies are asking suppliers to disclose information regarding their impacts on deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water safety and climate change. Organizations that utilize CDP resources can use the information collected to make more sustainable, informed decisions when working with suppliers.

CDP is a global organization, but their biggest spike in participants this year came from North America. Nike, Nordstrom and The Clorox Company were three of the 17 North American companies that joined this year, adding to CPD’s list of members which already includes companies like Walmart, Microsoft and Stanley Black and Decker.

Dangerous Heat Events Are Becoming More Common


via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | May 19th, 2020

Extreme heat events that threaten human safety are already occurring contrary to current climate projections, says a recent study

Researchers found that high heat events where the temperature and humidity exceed safe conditions have occurred twice as often since 1979.  These dangerous heat events occur in coastal regions like the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern California but can also occur in areas with heavy irrigation and agriculture.  The most extreme heat events were both localized and short (1-2 hours) but all signs suggest that they will only become more frequent as climate change worsens. 

The key measure in the study was the “wet-bulb temperature”, which describes what the temperature feels like if a person is actively sweating.  A sustained wet-bulb temperature of 95˚F (or a heat index of 160˚F) is the point where the sustained heat becomes deadly, but even temperatures slightly below pose dangers to the elderly or those with complications. 

Iowa is heat prone itself as our state can be extremely humid even before the addition of corn.  The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement emphasized the likelihood of more frequent, and severe heat events for Iowa, and that those events will pose a threat to workers and the elderly.  As the likelihood of dangerous heat events increases, so too does the likelihood that heat becomes a frequent concern for those in Iowa and around the world.

Satellite Imagery Reveals Drops in Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations Due to COVID-19 Lockdowns


Maxwell Bernstein | May 15, 2020

The European Space Agency (ESA) released satellite imagery that shows a reduction of Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations in Europe, China and India because of lockdown measures that are intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Copernicus Sentinal-5P satellite shows Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations fall by 45-50% in major cities across Europe, China and India. 

Nitrogen Dioxide comes from the burning of fuel in vehicles and powerplants, creating smog and acid rain, which irritates airways in the human respiratory system according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  

A close up of a map

Description automatically generated

Image by ESA

A drop in Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations, which are represented by red, can be observed between March-April of 2019 and the lockdown that took place in March-April of 2020. 

Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China

Image by NASA

A reduction in Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations was also observed over China and Hong Kong showing a similar trend to Europe. 

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations over India

Image by ESA

Major cities in India such as Mumbai and Delhi saw Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations reduce by 40-50%.

A Study Reveals that the Missouri River Basin Was Recently the Driest It’s Been in 1,200 Years


Image via Flickr

Nicole Welle | May 14th, 2020

Between 2000 and 2010, the Missouri River was the driest it has been in 1,200 years, according to a study published Monday.

The study showed that rising temperatures linked to climate change was the cause. The higher temperatures reduced snowfall in the rocky mountains, resulting in reduced runoff into the Missouri River basin. Researchers involved with “The Turn-Of-The-Century Drought Study” studied instrumental data on water levels collected over the last 100 years but had to rely on tree rings to give them an idea of when droughts occurred and how severe they were over previous centuries. This study concluded that the Missouri River has not been that low since a single drought event in the 13th century.

Continued droughts could be disastrous for farmers in the Midwest who rely on the Missouri River for crop irrigation and municipalities that use it as a fresh water source. Species of freshwater fish and waterfowl, tourism industries, and hydropower production along the Missouri River could also be negatively impacted, according to a Washington Post article.

This study only focussed on the years between 2000 and 2010, but data from more recent years shows that droughts in the Midwest are likely to increase in frequency and severity in coming years due to climate change.

Climate Change Could Improve Hydropower Generation


via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | May 12, 2020

Researchers suggest that climate change will result in a larger benefit to hydropower generation if the 1.5˚C Paris climate goal is met, than if it is exceeded.

The researchers modelled how climate change would influence hydropower production for the tropical island of Sumatra and found a 40% increase in the ratio of hydropower production to demand at the 1.5˚C mark compared to 2.0˚C.  The model used by the researchers included both climate, and economic factors which were used to explore how increased temperatures would influence hydropower potential.  The study emphasized the importance of finding optimal locations for new hydropower plants considering the reality of a changing climate. 

Hydropower is an essential resource for the world’s carbon free energy supply and is expected to be an important component for improving energy systems around the world. In Iowa, wind and solar energy make up a larger fraction of Iowa’s renewable energy than hydropower.  In 2018, only 1.5% of Iowa’s electricity was generated from hydroelectric sources but it is thought that approximately 5% of the state’s electricity usage could come from hydropower if changes were made. 

Iowa officials examine options for disposal of unused hog carcasses


Image from pxfuel

Tyler Chalfant | May 11th, 2020

With many meatpacking plants in Iowa and nearby states closing or reducing operations in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks and concerns over worker safety, state officials developed plans earlier this month to dispose of hog carcasses

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ rules, carcasses can be buried by farmers on their land with restrictions, composted, sent to a rendering plant, or burned in an engineered incinerator. Some landfills won’t accept, or will limit how many they take. Although the Iowa Pork Producers Association has not yet seen reports of farmers culling their herds, according to John Foster, a leader in the Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations and administrator of the Black Hawk County Solid Waste Commission in Waterloo, there could be as many as 10,000 hogs destroyed daily in the nation’s leading hog-producing state. 

The COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa has highlighted the public health risks of large-scale agricultural facilities, but even under more “normal” circumstances, these facilities produce massive amounts of waste. Iowa’s 25 million hogs produce an amount of waste equivalent to 65 million humans, while 95% of America’s hogs are raised on farms which sell 5,000 or more hogs in a year. Their waste can flow into nearby waterways and floodplains, which become overwhelmed with such large populations, posing a risk to human health and the environment.

The University of Iowa Outlines 2030 Sustainability Goals


Maxwell Bernstein | May 8, 2020

The University of Iowa has outlined six new goals to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing sustainability literacy, and education by 2030 according to a Iowa Now. These goals are a collaboration between the 2030 UI Sustainability Task Force which includes: faculty, staff, and students. 

As provided in the press release the goals framework include:

  1. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and to pursue a renewable energy supply strategy through energy conservation and a comprehensive decarbonization plan.
  2. Embed sustainability into campus culture. 
  3. Expand sustainability research, scholarships, and create opportunities for researchers to find solutions. 
  4. Use campus as a “living laboratory” for sustainability education and exploration by increasing opportunities for students and researchers to use sustainability as a means for education. 
  5. Provide students with skills and knowledge to be sustainable in a 21st century society.
  6. Facilitate knowledge exchange among the campus community, the state of Iowa, the country, and the world by creating partnerships. 

Some achievements that the university has made since 2010, according to Iowa Now, include:

  • Total energy usage is slightly lower regardless of 15 new buildings and additional campus changes.
  • 40% of UI energy consumption comes from renewable energy sources. 
  • 75% reduction in annual coal consumption.
  • 50% of UI’s purchased power comes from wind energy. 

Corn and Soybean Production May Move out of Iowa in Coming Years Due to Warming Temperatures in the Midwest


(Image Via Flickr)

Nicole Welle |May 7th, 2020

The production of corn and soybeans makes up a huge part of Iowa’s economy, but studies show that warming in the Midwest caused by climate change may cause the ideal growing conditions for the crops to move north into Minnesota and the Dakotas in the next 50 years.

Researchers at Penn State University studied county-level crop-yield data from 18 states compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service over approximately a 30-year period. The team also studied weather patterns and the relationships between climate and corn and soybean yield over that same time period.

Their findings showed that this northward shift has already begun and is likely to continue if there is no intervention. This may be concerning to Iowans who rely on the production of these crops for their livelihood. However, the current changes are happening gradually, so farmers would have adequate time to adapt over the coming decades, according to Armen Kemanian, a researcher at Penn State.

Iowa farmers would have to begin growing a different variety of crops or switch to a system that involves growing two crops a year once corn and soybeans are no longer a viable option. The new crops would also need to have a lower sensitivity to extreme temperatures and changes in humidity to thrive in an environment with more extreme fluctuations in temperature caused by climate change.

EnvIowa Podcast: Dr. Betsy Stone talks particulate matter, COVID-19


Tyler Chalfant | May 4th, 2020

After reviving the EnvIowa podcast this year, we had to take a hiatus as COVID-19 prevented us from safely meeting in person. We’ve resumed the podcast now in video form, starting with an interview with Dr. Betsy Stone about her research and how she’s adapting to the pandemic.

Iowa Campground Closure Extends through May 14


Maxwell Bernstein | May 1, 2020

Due to COVID-19, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has extended the closures of campgrounds and state park facilities through May 14, 2020 to protect the health of visitors and staff. State parks and forests will remain open for daily use but visitors are reminded not to gather in groups and maintain social-distancing rules. 

The park facilities that will remain closed through May 14 include:

  • Campgrounds
  • Bathrooms
  • Playgrounds
  • Cabins, shelters and lodges
  • Visitor centers and museums

Social distancing requires six feet of separation between individuals in order to prevent the airborne-spread of COVID-19 according to a press release from Gov. Kim Reynolds.