On The Radio – Cumulative CO2 levels reach record high


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Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels, like coal, are combusted. (Kym Farnik/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how carbon dioxide levels soared to record highs in 2016. 

Transcript: Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose to a record-high during 2016 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The organization measures carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at 51 sites around the globe. Average accumulated CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year due to human activity and an El Niño weather event, which brought drought to much of the world’s CO2-capturing vegetation. Last year’s increase of CO2 was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Scientists say that Earth has not had the same concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere since about three to five million years ago, when temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were several dozen feet higher.

World Meteorological Organization scientists warn that greenhouse gas emissions should be cut drastically and immediately to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by the end of the century.

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 – Cedar Rapids power plant retires coal burning unit


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A view of industrial Cedar Rapids in 2013. (Arlen Breiholz/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 13, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how Alliant Energy recently added Cedar Rapids to its list of Iowa cities moving away from coal and toward natural gas.

Transcript: Alliant Energy began burning natural gas instead of coal in one of its largest energy units in Cedar Rapids last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Crews converted one of four coal-burning units at Prairie Creek Generation Station so that it could operate using natural gas last month. Upgrades to the more than 100 megawatt unit are expected to reduce the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter pollution by 50 percent.

Alliant Energy has also recently transitioned from coal to natural gas at plants in Marshalltown, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Bettendorf and Clinton. Prairie Creek Generation Station is expected to be coal free by 2025.

While coal still provides 47 percent of Iowa’s energy, that number has decreased significantly in recent years. Wind energy provides the second largest percentage of Iowa’s electricity, making up 36.6 percent of the total energy picture.

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

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

CGRER co-director delivers UI Presidential Lecture


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Dr. Gregory Carmichael (left) and University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld (right) at the 34th Annual Presidential Lecture on Sunday. (Jake Slobe/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2017

UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research co-director Dr. Gregory Carmichael delivered the 34th Annual Presidential Lecture to a crowded assembly hall at the Levitt Center for University Advancement on Sunday.

The lecture, titled “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution” featured opening remarks from University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld. Quoting Dr. Jerry Schnoor, Carmichael’s co-director at CGRER, President Harreld joked, “Greg is now more traveled than George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air, four million miles and counting.” Carmichael’s extensive research of the long-range transport of air pollution has taken him to many parts of Eastern Asia, South America, Africa and Europe, among other locations.

Carmichael’s lecture was organized into three parts: the global reach of air pollution, the link between climate change and air pollution, and a finally, a discussion about the action necessary to curb air pollution worldwide. The lecturer made a strong case for air pollution research, citing that it is the root cause of 7 million avoidable deaths per year. Carmichael pointed out that air pollution has economic consequences too; each year, it leads to loss of 10 percent of U.S. soybean yields.

The lecture encouraged a sense of urgency when it comes to cleaning up the atmosphere. Carmichael warned, “That molecule that we put in the air today will stay in the air for a long time.” He went on to say that 20 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere today will remain there for thousands of years. Professor Carmichael’s research focuses primarily on the utilization of comprehensive computer models and big data to simulate the interplay of air pollutants with weather and climate.

His work has been instrumental in understanding the way in which air pollutants from China move across the Pacific Ocean and affect the Western U.S. He said, “Fifteen to twenty percent of clean air policies in the Western U.S. are being offset by Chinese emissions.”

Above all, the Karl Kammermeyer professor of chemical and biochemical engineering emphasized his passion for instructing and advising students. Carmichael has supervised the research of 40 PhD and 35 Masters of Science students at the University of Iowa.

To learn more about Dr. Carmichael’s career, check out episode 5 of CGRER’s EnvIowa podcast.

EnvIowa Podcast: Dr. Gregory Carmichael


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Dr. Gregory Carmichael has worked closely with scientists in East Asia since 1983 to address pressing air quality problems in that region. (Tim Schoon/University of Iowa)
Jenna Ladd | February 17, 2017

In Episode 5 of EnvIowa we speak with Dr. Gregory Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and Co-Director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, about his extensive research on global air pollution.

Dr. Carmichael shares his experiences collaborating with scientists in China, explains why air quality issues in East Asia should matter to Iowans and offers some perspective about what climate science research may look under the new federal administration.

CGRER co-director Gregory Carmichael to deliver UI Presidential Lecture


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CGRER co-director Gregory Carmichael will give the 34th annual UI Presidential Lecture titled, “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution.” (Tim Schoon, University of Iowa)
Jenna Ladd | January 31, 2017

Co-director of the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), Gregory Carmichael, will give this year’s University of Iowa Presidential Lecture.

Carmichael became faculty at the University of Iowa in 1978 after earning a BS in chemical engineering at Iowa State University and a PhD from the University of Kentucky. Nearly four decades later, the Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering remains devoted to studying the global impact of pollution on air quality.

In an interview with IowaNow, Carmichael recounts how he initially became interested in air quality issues. He said, “At the time I was doing my graduate studies, acid rain was emerging as a big problem. That was really the first air pollution problem that demonstrated to people that we could have an impact beyond our local environment.”

Carmichael has won several awards including the Regents Faculty Recognition Award in 1998, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Lawrence K. Cecil Award in 2012, NASA Group Achievement Awards in 2005 and 2009. Over time, Carmichael’s research became increasingly international. In the most recent fifteen years, his research team has has conducted air quality forecasting field experiments in Chile, California, the Arctic, and Beijing.

Much of his research considers how air pollution travels intercontinentally. He said, “We have done a lot of work on this topic over time, and this long-range transport of pollution is now being taken into consideration in the management of U.S. air quality and in international discussions. Wherever the emissions are occurring, they have an impact not only locally but globally as well.”

Carmichael became co-director of CGRER in 1991, and currently serves alongside Dr. Jerry Schnoor, University of Iowa professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution”

UI Presidential Lecture by Dr. Gregory Carmichael 

Where: Levitt Center for University Advancement

When: Sunday, Feb. 19 at 3:30 pm

Anti-smog police: one part of Beijing’s fight for air quality


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A new environmental police force will patrol Beijing’s streets searching for air quality violations like garbage burning and open-air barbecues. (Ilya Haykinson/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 10, 2017

A new environmental police force is taking to the streets of Beijing to combat the city’s dangerous smog problem.

Beijing’s mayor, Cai Qi, announced this weekend that the officers will patrol the city looking for “open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, [and] dust from roads” that add to the city’s smog problem. Cai Qi’s announcement comes after Beijing experienced particularly dangerous air quality during the first week of 2017, and 72 Chinese cities were placed under pollution alerts.

Mayor Cai Qi said, “I totally understand the public’s concerns and complaints over air pollution,” and admitted to routinely checking the air quality index “first thing in the morning.”

The mayor announced that the city is taking additional measures to improve air quality. Beijing will close its only coal-fired plant, and in 2017 “coal consumption will be cut by 30 percent to less than 7 million tonnes” and “another 300,000 high-polluting old vehicles will be phased out,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

Despite last week’s “red alert,” which temporarily shut down some pollution-producing operations, China’s environment ministry found that some 500 construction sites and businesses as well as 10,000 vehicles remained active in violation of the ban.

Chinese officials acknowledge that industry and automobiles are the primary causes of the hazardous smog problem, but reports state that the government is hesitant to crack down on major polluters in fear of economic consequences.

A study published in the November edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that smog is related to one-third of all deaths in China, amounting to at least one million deaths per year.

Experts urge Iowans to test for radon gas in homes


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Radon mitigation systems use a ventilation pipe and a fan to push radon gas from the basement of the home into the open air. (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)
Jenna Ladd | December 29, 2016

As temperatures in Iowa plummet, residents are spending more time indoors, and some experts say there could be associated health risks.

Health officials and experts publicly encouraged Iowa residents to have their homes tested for radon this week. Anthony Salcedo, service manager at Thrasher Basement Systems in Omaha and Council Bluffs, said the odorless, colorless gas is found in many homes in the area.

Salcedo said, “We’re plagued with it, Iowa, Nebraska, we actually lead the country. It’s in about 70% of all homes.”

He noted that the presence of radon has nothing to do with the construction of the home. Salcedo explained,

“It’s not a foundation issue, it’s basically just what we’re building on. It could be a brand new home, it could be a 50-year-old home. We have a lot of clay soil and there’s no way to stop it on the front end. The soil breaks down, the uranium deposits, the radon gases will eventually make their way into your home and cause those health issues.”

Radon inhalation is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, it leads to 400 deaths from lung cancer in Iowa each year. Paul Niles, a certified physician’s assistant at Akron Mercy Medical Clinic, has set out to educate his patients about radon.

Niles said, “Most people confuse radon with carbon monoxide.”

At-home radon testing kits can be purchased for about ten dollars from most hardware stores. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if the test reads above 2 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L), homeowners should consider having a radon mitigation system installed. Niles explained that the Akron Mercy Medical Clinic has had a mitigation system installed. A pipe along with a fan pushes radon gas from underground into the open air outdoors.

He said, “Every county has high levels of radon. While you’re outside in the environment, it doesn’t really cause any health problems, but it’s when you’re in confined spaces that it can really do damage to the lungs.”

Buchanan County ISU Extension and Outreach has partnered with Buchanan County Environmental Health to provide a free public radon workshop. Residents can attend the workshop to learn more about radon, how to test for it at home and what to do after the test results come in.

Free Public Radon Workshop
When: 
Tuesday, January 24th, 7-8:30 pm
Where: Quasqueton City Hall, 113 Water St N – Quasqueton

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All of Iowa falls into the EPA’s zone 1, meaning that Iowa homes are very likely to have high levels of radon contamination. (Iowa Air Coalition)