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.

Carbon dioxide concentration reaches record-high


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Human activity and El Niño drove carbon dioxide levels up significantly last year. (Zappys Technology Solutions/flickr)
Jenna Ladd |November 1, 2017

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

The average accumulated CO2 level in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year, thanks 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 levels was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas measurements were taken by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at 51 sites around the globe. Dr. Oksana Tarasova, head of WMO’s global atmosphere watch program, told the BBC, “It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network.”

Tarasova also pointed out that while humans have slowed their greenhouse gas emissions, the cumulative excess CO2 already in the atmosphere will remain problematic for centuries to come.

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.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said that urgent and drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions should be made to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by 2100.

Taalas added, “With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident.”

EPA moves to repeal Clean Power Plan


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The Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, North Carolina closed its doors in 2013. Despite the Trump administration’s pro-coal policy, coal plants are shutting down around the U.S. (Duke Energy/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 11, 2017

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that the Trump administration would begin the process of rescinding the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

President Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce the power industry’s carbon dioxide pollution levels by 32 percent below 2005 levels before 2030. The plan was a part of a larger effort to meet the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, from which President Trump decided to withdraw shortly after taking office.

Gina McCarthy served as EPA administrator during Obama’s second term in office. She said in a statement, “They’re adding more pollution into our air and threatening public health at a time when the threats of climate change are growing and the costs are growing immeasurably higher on our children and their future.”

Pruitt is said to have filed his proposal to rescind the climate policy on Tuesday, but the proposal is subject to public comment for months before it is finalized. Attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts have said they will sue the administration after the repeal goes through. California and New York state have both adopted their own climate smart polices, which include emission-cutting regulations that exceed those outlined by the Clean Power Plan.

On The Radio – 2016 State of the Climate report brings bad news


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Alpine glaciers retreated worldwide for the 37th year in a row during 2016. (Dru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 25, 2017

Transcript: Earth’s climate has reached some troubling milestones, according to the 2016 State of the Climate Report that was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The report, which is produced by top editors from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, described how levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record high. The increase from 2015 to 2016 of 3.5 parts per million was the largest jump in one year on modern record.

Rising temperatures brought drought conditions to many parts of the globe. During every month of the year, at least twelve percent of the global area was experiencing drought conditions. More than half of the land south of equator experienced drought conditions during some part of 2016.

2016 also marked the 37th year in a row during which alpine glaciers retreated worldwide.

To read the full State of the Climate Report and for more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

Tesla introduces subtle solar roof option for homeowners


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Tesla’s solar roof in slate glass. (Tesla)
Jenna Ladd | May 23, 2017

The solar energy market experienced a 97 percent growth in 2016. In total, the U.S. has more than 42 gigawatts of solar energy capacity; that’s enough to power 8.3 million homes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is working to win over some U.S. homeowners who may be hesitant to install solar panels because of their bulky appearance. The company is introducing solar cell roof tiles to the market this summer that look just like conventional roofing options. The tiles are made of tempered glass, allowing the sun’s rays to reach solar cells tucked away within them. With four styles available: textured, smooth, tuscan and slate, the tiles are made to please the style-conscious homeowner.

As with many of Tesla’s products, the tiles will be cost-prohibitive for many when they first hit the market. The company estimates they will cost about $22 per square foot if a mixture of solar cell tiles and regular tiles are used and $42 dollars per square foot if only solar cell tiles are used. The company’s website reminds prospective buyers of the 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit, which allows consumers to deduct 30 percent of the total cost of installing solar panels from their federal income taxes.

The glass tiles come with a lifetime warranty and can allegedly handle hailstones traveling at 100 miles per hour with ease. Tesla compared this to conventional roof tiles, which shattered under the same conditions. Each tile’s solar cell is guaranteed to last 30 years.

The company started taking preorders in early May. It will begin installing roofs in California this June and complete installations throughout the country in the months that follow.

U.S. energy flow chart reveals the good and the bad


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(Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory)
Jenna Ladd | April 18, 2017

Each year since 2010, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released an energy flow chart that illustrates sources of U.S. energy, what it’s used for and how much of it goes to waste.

The 2016 energy flow chart quantifies energy use in British Thermal Unit “quads,” which is shorthand for quadrillion or one thousand trillion. A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is equal to the amount of energy required to raise one pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. Americans used 97.3 quads of energy in 2016, which is about 0.1 quadrillion BTU more than last year.

The gray box on the upper right-hand corner of the graphic depicts just how much of that energy was wasted this year: 66.4 quadrillion BTU or 69 percent of all energy produced. It is important to remember that per the second law of thermodynamics, when raw materials are converted into energy, some energy is always lost to heat. In other words, no reaction is 100 percent efficient.

Since the 1970’s, wasted energy has surged in the United States due to a rapid increase in personal electricity consumption and private vehicular transportation, which are both extremely inefficient. Roughly 75 of the energy generated for private transportation and two-thirds of energy required for electricity goes to waste.

This year’s energy flow chart was not all bad news. Coal use fell by nine percent nationwide. That supply was replaced by rapid growth in wind, solar and natural gas energy production. Wind and solar energy did particularly well, with wind energy up 19 percent and solar energy up 38 percent.

Fossil fuel consumption for transportation rose by 2 percent this year, but residential, commercial and industrial energy use all decreased slightly. In all, the U.S. is slowly moving away from fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Total carbon dioxide emissions fell by 4.9 percent in 2016. It is uncertain, however, whether this trend will continue under the Trump administration.

Scientists construct massive fake sun to develop new renewable energy source


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“Synlight,” the world’s largest artificial sun, was created by scientists to develop new ways to create hydrogen fuel. (Bruno Amaru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 24, 2017

Scientists in Germany have constructed the world’s largest artificial sun in order research how to produce a developing renewable energy source.

Hydrogen is regarded as the renewable fuel of the future, mostly because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions when burned. However, the gas isn’t found alone in the nature so scientists must split the molecules that make up water (H2O) in order to harness its power. Separating H20 molecules requires a great deal of energy; the German scientists hope to learn how to get that energy from sunlight.

The artificial sun, called “Synlight,” is comprised of 149 high-powered film projector spotlights and is able to generate 350 kilowatts. Bernard Hoffschmidt is research director at the German Aerospace Center, Synlight’s home. Hoffschmidt told the Guardian, “If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly.”

The researchers will point all of the artificial sun’s energy at a single 8 by 8 inch spot where it will emit 10,000 times the amount of light that reaches Earth naturally from the sun. Using these strong rays, the scientists will be able to experiment with new ways of creating hydrogen fuel using energy from the sun.

In the short term, Synlight uses an incredible amount of energy: four hours of operation is equivalent to how much electricity a family of four would use in a year. Long term, the researchers anticipate it could help them learn how to use naturally occurring sunlight to produce hydrogen fuel without the use of any fossil fuels.

Hoffschmidt said, “We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel. Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”