WorldCanvass event to focus on climate solutions


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Jenna Ladd | April 20, 2018

It’s obvious to anyone that follows climate news that climate change is longer a far-off possibility, it is happening now. Dr. Jerry Schnoor, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, illustrated this point in a recent guest opinion piece for the Press Citizen.

Dr. Schnoor pointed out several ways in which climate change has already taken hold in Iowa. More intense storms are eroding soil into waterways, humidity is on the rise, and floods are likely to be separated by periods of drought. If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut dramatically, all of these effects will become more severe. So, what can Iowans actually do to reverse course? Dr. Schnoor had several recommendations.

He urged individuals to consider limiting their own carbon emissions. At the state level, he stated that Iowa should join the sixteen other states in The Climate Alliance, which is a “proposition that climate and energy leadership promotes good jobs and economic growth.” Iowa is a national leader in wind energy and biofuel usage; the professor argued that joining the alliance obviously aligns with the state’s clean energy accomplishments.

Private sector and industry groups can be a part of the climate solution, too, he said. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development provides innovative ideas for companies looking to curb their emissions. Just recently, international martime shipping companies agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent before 2050.

Climate change policy recommendations must be based in research. Dr. Schnoor invited Iowans to attend a WorldCanvass program on April 25th to hear about the latest scientific research related to climate change and climate-smart policy from several CGRER members. Part of a series of nine recorded discussions focused on topics of international interest, the event is free and open to the public.

What: WorldCanvass Climate Science and the Environment—What’s Next?

When: Wednesday, April 25th from 5:30-7:00 pm

Where: MERGE, 136 South Dubuque Street, Iowa City, Iowa

A catered reception will take place from 5:00-5:30 pm. Dr. Schnoor’s full piece in the Press Citizen can be found here.

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


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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.

 

Transcript:

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.

On The Radio- A decade since the 2008 flood


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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. 

Transcript:

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. 

On The Radio- Eco-friendly sunscreen


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(aninini/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 26, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a new company working to create environmentally safe sunscreen. 

Transcript: 

An eco-friendly sunscreen is currently being developed in an attempt to help the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Sunscreen is an absolute must for defending against ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays. UV rays are very damaging to the skin and repeated sun exposure can contribute to a higher probability of getting skin cancer. But many sunscreens use oxybenzone and octinoxate (oc-tin-ox-ate), two chemicals that can accumulate in the ocean and are toxic to marine life.

As people swim and enjoy the ocean waves, the sunscreen on their bodies is slowly washed away into the ocean water. An estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen pollutes coral reef areas of the ocean every year.

Scientists at the University of Florida have recently discovered a more natural, less harmful key ingredient to sunscreen—shinorine (shin-oh-rine), a UV-absorbing amino acid. Shinorine is produced from algea. Extracting a usable amount takes a long time, as algae grows very slowly.

Researcher, Yousong Ding, discovered that he could increase the production of shinorine by genetically altering algae. He hopes that his findings will persuade cosmetic companies to integrate the natural material into eco-friendly sunscreens.

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

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

On The Radio- Harnessing the ocean for renewable energy


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Ocean tides are the rising and falling of ocean levels caused by the sun and moon’s gravitational pull and the earth’s rotation. (Rita Jo/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 19, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a Canadian company that is trying to use ocean tides to create renewable energy. 

Transcript: 

A Canadian company is looking to harness the tidal pull of the ocean for energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Cape Sharp Tidal is a company located in Nova Scotia by Canada’s Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy is known to have some of the highest tides in the world. The differences in water levels between high and low tide are sometimes as large as 50 feet.

Christian Richard, the company director, was inspired by the way wind turbines collect energy by using air currents to turn the turbine blades. Using the tides for energy would work in much the same way, with the sensors being placed underwater and using the changes in the pull of the tide to generate energy.

The technology is still in the early stages of testing. The development team must work on everything from the design, to the efficiency, to proving that the invention won’t harm marine life.

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

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

Hot, drier weather poses risks to beer production


 

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Hops, the grain that gives India Pale Ales their distinct, bitter flavor, has become more expensive as Northwestern weather grows hotter. (Josh Delp/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 16, 2018

Per tradition, many will head to a pub for a beer tomorrow to ring in St. Patrick’s Day. Few, however, are likely to think about the way our changing climate impacts beer production.

Beer is made with a fermented grain, namely barely and hops, and water. All these key ingredients become more difficult to source as weather becomes more extreme.

More than seventy percent of hops, which give some beers their bitter flavor, are produced in Washington state, specifically in the Yakima Basin. NOAA National Centers for Environment Information reports that in 2015, that area of Washington faced severe drought conditions from June through August. In fact, hop’s whole growing season in Washington that year was uncommonly warm. The state still managed to produce nearly 60 million pounds of hops, but yields for certain varieties of the grain were much lower than expected. The warmer weather in that region is expected to continue hurting hop production, specifically European varieties that are grown there.

Brewing beer also requires great quantities of water. Drought conditions in many parts of California have made beer production difficult and costly. For taste, brewers prefer to use river and lake water, but as river flows reduce and reservoirs run dry, many breweries have had to switch to groundwater. Groundwater is typically mineral-rich and can give beer a funny taste. Some brewers have likened it to “brewing with Alka-Seltzer.”

In 2015, top breweries released a statement detailing the way climate change affects production,

“Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250% over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.”

New Belgium and Sierra Nevada are among many breweries that have implemented internal energy conservation practices. Sierra Nevada uses more than 10,000 solar panels to supply energy to its California brewery and New Belgium employees started giving up their bonuses to purchase wind turbines for the company over twenty years ago.  As grains, water and energy become more costly, brewers and consumers alike may benefit from considering the ecological impact each pint of beer has this Saturday.

 

On The Radio- Phosphorus in fresh water


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Salanfe Lake Dam (Soma Biswas/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 12, 2018

This week’s segment looks at the high levels of phosphorus in the world’s fresh water.

 

Transcript:

The world’s freshwater is becoming overloaded with phosphorus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Phosphorus is an essential element for plant life and is commonly found in agricultural fertilizers and sewage runoff. An excess of phosphorus in water, however, can create a process called eutrophication. This process depletes oxygen in the water which can be detrimental to aquatic life.

A recent study from Water Resources Research reported sewage and agricultural run off adding a little over one million tons of phosphorus to rivers and lakes each year. Agricultural fertilizer contributed to 38 percent of the contamination. Another large component is poorly treated sewage.

Despite international trends of increasing phosphorus levels, Iowa waterways have reported decreasing levels of phosphorus over the last few years.

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

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