Arctic Circle Experiences Record Setting Temperatures Over the Weekend


via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | June 23, 2020

The Arctic Circle likely experienced a record setting temperature of 100 °F over the weekend in Siberia during a historically unusual period of high heat for the region.

The Siberian town of Verkhoyansk measured a temperature of 38 °C (100 °F) on June 20th likely setting a new temperature record for the region.  The high temperature occurs as the Arctic Circle has been experiencing a heat wave that brought temperatures up to 10 °C above average throughout the months of March to May.  Unfortunately, the Copernicus Climate Change Service reports this past May was the warmest May on record, suggesting that more high heat events are likely for the Arctic in the future.

As higher average temperatures become common in the Arctic Circle, the surface albedo, an index that describes how reflective a surface is, will decrease because of snow and ice melt.  As the snow and ice continue to melt, a positive feedback loop is created which heats the Arctic further and will likely make record setting temperatures more common.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal Reach Iowa in a Rare Occurrence


Source: NASA earth observatory

Nicole Welle | June 10, 2020

Parts of Eastern Iowa saw heavy rainfall and flash flood warnings yesterday as what was left of Tropical Storm Cristobal moved into the Midwest.

Tropical storms over the Gulf of Mexico usually break up before they reach Iowa, but this one remained a post-tropical depression in an extremely rare phenomenon, according to Meteorologist Brooke Hagenhoff at the National Weather Service. This system brought an abrupt end to the hot, humid weather that eastern Iowans had been experiencing as it was followed by a cold front that brought cooler, dryer conditions, according to an Iowa News Now article.

The post-tropical depression caused heavy rainfall in the state, and flash flooding occurred near waterways and in low areas. Along with posing threats to human safety, flash floods can also raise environmental concerns. Floods have the ability to pick up hazardous chemicals and materials and transport them into waterways. This can threaten the safety of drinking water as well as the plant and animal life that rely on Iowa’s waterways.

Global Heat Health Information Network Promotes New Information Series


Thomas Robinson | June 2nd, 2020

A new informational series has been released by the Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN), with input from experts around the world such as CGRER member Professor Gregory Carmichael, to inform decision makers on how to best address high heat events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series covers a diverse range of topics and highlights current issues facing healthcare workers, as well as individuals who might be facing COVID-19.  Global experts address challenges such as how best to mitigate the influence wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has on how hot workers become, and how vulnerable populations can work to protect themselves from the combined risk COVID-19 and high heat present.

Hot weather is a pressing risk during the pandemic because it can result in a worsening of COVID-19 health outcomes.  As temperatures rise over the summer, communities will need to face the challenges both high heat events and the COVID-19 pandemic introduce. The information provided by the GHHIN hopes to better inform essential decision makers, so that they will have a well researched, scientific reasoning for difficult decisions. 

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.

Terrestrial Insect Populations Have Decreased Over The Past Couple of Decades


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 28th, 2020

Terrestrial insect populations are declining, according to a study released this month. 

Researchers analyzed over 150 insect surveys to clarify concerns about declining insect populations and found that terrestrial insect populations decreased by 9% per decade, while freshwater insect populations increased by 11% per decade.  The researchers placed emphasis on the fact that data were scarce from land areas with high urban and agricultural use, which suggests that the actual rate is higher than a 9% decline per decade.

Insect population decline has been the topic of recent research which warns of a catastrophic decrease in insect populations across the globe.  Since the 1970’s, it is estimated that the abundance of insects has declined by around 50%.  Insects are an essential component of our globe’s ecosystems and the decline in populations signals an unseen risk to the environment.

In Iowa, one trend that is likely to contribute to the decline in insect populations is the extensive use of pesticides such as neonicitinoids, which are a key suspect for the decline in many insect species such as bees.  Iowa has seen an increase in the amount of neonicitinoids applied since 2004 as they have been proven to be an effective insecticide if applied as a seed coating.  With the continuing trend of increased pesticide use in Iowa it is unlikely insect populations will halt their decrease in our state anytime soon.

Earth Day in the time of COVID-19: A Message from Co-Director Jerry Schnoor


Jerry Schnoor at Eawag
CGRER Co-Director Jerry Schnoor shares his reflections on the 50th annual Earth Day (contributed photo). 

Jerry Schnoor | April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020, is not just another Earth Day.  It is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – the one that changed my life forever.  Naive and over my head as student body president at Iowa State-1970, my world was on fire with righteous indignation against a compulsory draft for an unjust War in Vietnam.  At times I actually thought that it would tear the country apart.

The first Earth Day strangely diverted my immediate attention, and the diversion would last a lifetime.  Brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and organized by Denis Hayes as a national Teach-In, Earth Da

 

y spawned immense bipartisan gatherings of 20 million people in the streets for one unifying goal – a healthy Planet Earth.  Earth Day ignited in me a realization that my chemical engineering education from ISU could morph into something green and more fascinating, that is, trying to understand water quality, biodiversity, and the biogeochemistry of Earth’s processes.  Discerning remedies for the massive disruptions that 7.7 billion people and an $80 trillion GWP can inflict on the earth has proven even more challenging.

This year we celebrate Earth Day with digital gatherings due to coronavirus.  It’s not the same, but perhaps the pandemic can teach us some valuable lessons.  Some people were slow to accept the dismal science of a spreading pandemic – they lacked trust in health professionals’ recommendations for social distancing, staying home, and closing businesses, sporting events, churches and social gatherings.  But the flattening curves of Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, and even Italy, Spain, and New York bear testament to the wisdom of their call.

Our national plan for the pandemic Covid-19 was non-existent, like the Emperor’s new clothes, plain for all to see.  Pandemics are “global disease outbreaks” and they require national plans and concerted global action.  As recently as 2003-2004, WHO mitigated much more rapidly a similar virus, SARS, by careful messaging and international cooperation of 11 labs in 9 different countries.  U.S. and Chinese scientists together developed a vaccine within a year.  Far too little cooperation exists today, both at home and abroad.  Politics and hyper partisanship are disastrous in a time of global need.  We can do better.

Analogies between climate change and our pandemic response are obvious.  We have no national plan for either.  As a young egg-head professor at the University of Iowa, I published my first modeling paper on climate change and its consequences in 1994, many years after others had done so.  It projected (surprisingly accurately) the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today with business-as-usual.  That’s exactly what happened – business as usual.  If you had told me that the U.S. would still not have comprehensive climate change and energy legislation in 2020, I would have told you, “you’re crazy”.

But it’s in the history books.  We have failed to listen to the science and failed to reduce our gargantuan greenhouse gas emissions — the planet cannot take it anymore.  Now it really is a Climate Emergency.  What’s more, we are threatening to extinct 1 million species in the next generation as well – the Biodiversity Crisis.

Coronavirus humbles us all.  How can one not be moved by the sight of doctors, nurses, custodians, and admissions clerks risking their lives for the rest of us?  How can one not weep to see the miles of cars lined-up at food banks because families have nowhere else to turn?  Playing out in the richest country in the world gives great pause.

Yes, we need science-based decision making on coronavirus and on climate change, but we need compassion and understanding as well.  Noted columnist Sarah Van Gelder writes, “Changing hearts and opening minds begins when we listen”.  Imagine the world we want, where everyone is safe and healthy, where the air is clean and the water is pure. Then, let us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that spontaneous, bipartisan, original Earth Day by speaking from the heart and listening to each other.

Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Research at the University of Iowa.

 

Flood Risk Decreases in the Upper Mississippi River Basin


2020 U.S. Spring Flood Outlook (via NOAA)

Thomas Robinson | April 9th, 2020

In a recent flood forecast update, the National Weather Service predicted that sites within the Upper Mississippi River basin will have a lower risk of reaching major flood stage this spring than previously predicted. 

Dubuque, for example, saw the probability of having a major flood event drop from 51% to 37%.  Even though the decrease in flood risk is encouraging, the flood risk for Dubuque is still well above the historic probability of 12%.

The reason for this decrease in flood risk is that the bulk of spring snowmelt will have moved through the river basin by the end of March.  Even though there is improvement, the river basin still has a high risk of flooding due to the potential combination of residual snowmelt paired with above normal spring precipitation events.

One tool for Iowans concerned about floods is the recently updated Iowa Flood Information System where a statewide sensor network provides real-time information about Iowa’s waterways.

EnvIowa Podcast: Talking climate and contamination with Co-Director Jerry Schnoor


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Jerry Schnoor speaking at the release of the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement (photo by Kasey Dresser). 

Julia Poska |March 2, 2020

This week’s episode of EnvIowa features a discussion with CGRER co-director Dr. Jerry Schnoor. He is, among other things, a professor of civil and environmental engineering with a long career studying climate change, water quality and environmental toxicology. Listen to hear Schnoor discuss the urgency of climate change, his efforts to clean up chemical pollution using plants and why he wants our youth to get angry.

City dwellers rejoice: spring greening comes earlier for urban plants


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The first signs of spring occur earlier in cities than surrounding rural areas, new research found (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | February 27, 2020

Vegetation starts turning green earlier in cities than surrounding rural areas, but urban plants are less sensitive to unseasonable warmth, new Iowa State University-led research found. The authors attribute the difference to the urban “heat island” effect.

Cities typically have somewhat higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas because materials like asphalt and brick absorb heat more readily than natural landscapes. For example, New York City is about 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding areas in summer, according to NASA’s Climate Kids site.

Researchers found this “heat island” phenomenon causes urban vegetation to perceive the start of spring and begin greening an average of six days earlier than surrounding rural plants.

As climate change progresses, however, plants in both rural and urban areas are responding to unseasonably warm temperatures by beginning growth earlier and earlier over time. Pollinators and last frosts have failed to keep up, which has damaged the early bloomers’ ability to survive and reproduce.

The study found that rural vegetation is more sensitive to early spring weather than urban vegetation, perhaps due to the urban heat island effect as well.

ISU Ph.D. student Ling Meng led the research team, which included CGRER member Yuyu Zhou, an ISU geological and atmospheric scientist, among others. The study, published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on satellite images from 85 large U.S. cities from 2001 to 2014.

Zhou told the Iowa State News Service that this sort of research can help predict how plants will respond to climate change and urbanization.

DNR 2019 precipitation summary recalls Iowa’s rainy year


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From the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Julia Poska | January 10, 2020

2019 was Iowa’s 12th wettest year on record, with an average of 41.49 inches of rainfall across the state, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Rainfall in May, September and October was especially high, while the summer months experienced below average rainfall.

The two-year 2018/2019 period was the wettest on record, with 19 more inches of precipitation than average. Stream flows were above normal all 2019 following heavy snow in the winter months. The rainy spring and fall seasons are indicative of projected climate change models for the region.

2019 temperatures in Iowa were cooler than average, however, by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit. During the January “Polar Vortex,”one station in Emmet County recorded a -59 degree windchill. Summer was slightly cooler than average, though July and September were warm, andChristmas week broke record temperature highs.