Midwest corn sweat, extra air moisture is harming crops

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Grace Smith | August 12, 2022

Corn sweat, a term referred to as plants giving off water through evapotranspiration, is increasing moisture in Midwest air, which is harming crops. The humidity in the air can increase temperatures between five and 15 degrees Fahrenheit over corn fields during mid-July and August.  

Iowa harvested over 13.1 million acres of corn and produced 2.58 billion bushels in 2019. One acre of corn can give off up to 4,000 gallons of water per day, contributing to extreme humidity, or, corn sweat. 

Midwest humidity isn’t just caused by corn sweat. Climate change has pushed the global surface temperature in 2022 to become the sixth hottest June in 143 years, being 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. In addition, humidity is accounting for warmer nights because the extra moisture makes it more challenging for temperatures to shift higher or lower.

This corn sweat and increased temperatures from climate change create a possible breeding area for pathogens and pests near growing plants and grain, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment. Bacteria can cause crops to fail and pests can impact crop growth by feeding on plant roots when humidity increases. 

The climate assessment also said increased humidity and precipitation contribute to soil erosion potential and reduces planting workdays because of waterlogged soil.

U.S. Senate Passes Groundbreaking Climate Bill

When Are US Senators Next Up for Reelection? | Snopes.com
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Josie Taylor | August 10, 2022

The U.S. Senate, along party lines, passed a sweeping energy, health care, climate and tax package Sunday afternoon, following an overnight marathon of votes that resulted in just a handful of notable changes to the legislation.

The 755-page bill was passed after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie in the evenly divided Senate. It now heads to the House, where Democratic leaders have announced they will take it up on Friday. Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the bill.

The bill includes $369bn for climate action, the largest investment in the issue in US history. Some households could receive up to $7,500 in tax credits to buy an electric car, or $4,000 for a used car. Billions will also be spent in an effort to speed up the production of clean technology such as solar panels and wind turbines.

There will also be $60bn given to communities that have suffered the most from fossil fuel pollution. The authors of the bill say it will cut the country’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

The action on climate comes as the US experiences a wave of extreme weather, including a recent heatwave as well as deadly flooding in Kentucky that left dozens dead.

Crops Affected by Drought in Half of Iowa

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Josie Taylor | August 3, 2022

Drought conditions are likely to develop over the southern half of the state in August as the month starts with abnormally hot days with little chance for rain, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

What started as a portion of the state being abnormally dry or in varying degrees of drought has expanded to more than half of the state. It’s the first time the dry area has been that large since April. The latest Drought Monitor report on Thursday showed an expansion of severe and extreme drought in northwest Iowa and the extension of abnormally dry conditions across much of southern Iowa.

Southwest Iowa previously led the state in available soil moisture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In early June, about 96% of its topsoil and subsoil had adequate or surplus moisture. As of Sunday, about 27% of topsoil and 36% of subsoil had adequate water for crops to grow.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Tuesday afternoon for the western half of the state. 

Last week, the state averaged temperatures of about 3 degrees cooler than normal with abysmal rainfall. Much of the south had no rain, and the highest reported rainfall accumulation was .89 inch near Churdan.

The state’s corn was rated 76% good or excellent, down from 80% the previous week. Soybeans were rated 73% good or excellent, down from 75%.

Iowa State University Introduces New Climate Science Major

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Josie Taylor | August 2, 2022

Students at Iowa State University will have the opportunity to study climate science in the 2022-2023 school year. This unique program aims to prepare students to solve climate-based challenges.

Chair of geological and atmospheric sciences, Kristie Franz, said she’s excited to introduce the new major to students. Although scientists have been talking about climate change for decades, Franz said it’s become an urgent issue to students in recent years.

The bachelor of science degree will allow students to choose from six areas of focus: advanced climate science, data visualization, design and planning for sustainability, policy and human behavior, science communication and agriculture, and natural resources. 

The coursework will consist of many classes within the university’s earth science department, but will go a step further and integrate economic and communications courses.

Associate professor Lindsay Maudlin who was brought on to teach climate science courses said an interdisciplinary look at climate change is vital to preparing students to tackle the issue.

Compostable food makes up 20% of Iowa waste

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Grace Smith | July 29, 2022

Iowans send 556,313 tons of wasted food goes to landfills yearly. The 2017 Iowa Statewide Waste Characterization Study showed that compostable food makes up for 20 percent of landfilled materials, which is a 50 percent increase since the last study, which was published in 2011. 

The compostable food takes up more space in landfills but also creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, worsening the climate. But, if food is composted correctly, less carbon dioxide equivalent will be generated. For example, for every metric dry ton of food that ends up in the landfill, 0.25 metric tons of methane can be generated in the first 120 days, but, if that ton of food is correctly composted, it could reduce those emissions by the equivalent of up to six metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In Iowa, six composting sites are allowed to accept over two tons of compostable food per week, including the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center. The Iowa City site is participating in multiple practices to ensure the facility stays environmentally cautious in its composting. Employees measure the temperatures of piles twice a week to confirm the heat is killing pathogens and diseases. The process of composting food waste into soil takes about a year. 

While the Iowa City composting site is remaining cautious in its practices, an Iowa improperly managed facility in Eddyville caused runoff to flow into the ground and through the community. Theresa Stiner, a senior environmental specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told the Press-Citizen that the DNR encourages composting, but only if it is environmentally mindful.

Regent alerts Iowa State to permit free speech in ‘politically charged’ climate science classes

Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Grace Smith | July 28, 2022

At an Iowa State Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, regent Nancy Boettger warned attending administrators to protect free speech for the new climate science major at ISU, a major that Boettger said includes a politically charged topic. 

Proposed by the Iowa State’s Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, this new major will require around 35 credits and will offer classes related to climate issues including natural science, sustainability planning, food, and more. 

“My main concern is that we go the extra mile to protect freedom of speech for opinions that differ in this politically charged topic,” Boettger said during the meeting.

During the meeting, regent Nancy Boettger said she used to receive books and other climate change-related materials when she was serving as a Republican state senator from Harlan for 20 years — from 1995-2015. Boettger plans to share those materials with ISU, which she said — although she hasn’t studied them a lot — are non-politically charged documented research.

ISU Associate Provost for Academic Programs Ann Marie VanDerZanden said the idea that climate change is viewed as political is something ISU faculty and staff have talked about. 

“We understand the political nature that some people do view climate change through,” VanDerZanden said in response. “…We’ll be really bringing forward the most current research as it relates to climate, climate change, climate science, and the intricacies of all the different systems that are involved in this.”

ISU requires freedom of speech and expression to be stated in class syllabi.

Alaska Experiences Extreme Wildfires

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Josie Taylor | July 25, 2022

In Alaska, wildfires are burning in ways that are rarely seen. Areas that are usually fireproof, or mostly fireproof, are burning.

More than 530 wildfires have burned an area the size of Connecticut, and the usual worst of the fire season is still later in the summer. While little property has burned, some residents have been forced to evacuate.

Recent rains have helped but longer-term forecasts are showing a pattern similar to 2004. In 2004, July rains gave way to high-pressure systems, hot days, low humidity and lightning strikes that fueled Alaska’s worst fire year.

The acreage burned by mid-July was about the same as now, but by the time that fire season ended, 10,156 square miles were burned.

Heat waves and droughts are making wildfires more frequent, destructive, and harder to fight in many places. This month, wildfires have torn through Portugal, Spain, France, England and Germany, which have seen record-high temperatures.

Northeast experiences triple-digit record-breaking temperatures

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Grace Smith | July 25, 2022

Multiple cities in the Northeast experienced record-breaking high temperatures on Sunday. Boston saw 100 degrees Fahrenheit, two more degrees than the previous record in 1993. Newark encountered 101 degrees, surpassing the previous July 24 temperature record in 2010 at 99 degrees. 

The Northeast wasn’t the only region to experience extreme heat. Around 71 million people throughout the country had heat indexes over 103 degrees including Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. States including South Dakota, Dallas, and Arizona are investigating deaths potentially linked to heat. A week or so earlier, Europe experienced sweltering heat that killed more than 1,000 people. 

To beat the heat, New York used public spaces as cooling centers and gave community members spray caps to put over fire hydrants in order to save water. But, cooling centers don’t combat climate change, which is amplifying the heat waves and extreme temperatures. 

The U.S. is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, and the pace at which the U.S. is decreasing its emissions is at a rate too slow to avoid destructive and disastrous climate change, Rebecca Hersher, an NPR climate reporter, said in an interview with NPR

“I mean, this is textbook climate change in action,” Hersher told NPR. “…It will only get worse in the future because the climate is still getting warmer.”

Monarch butterflies listed as endangered

Photo of a monarch butterfly in Iowa City

Grace Smith | July 22, 2022

North America’s monarch butterfly is now listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an organization working in nature conservation and sustainability, as of Thursday. 

Between 1980 and 2021, the population of Western monarchs dropped 99.9 percent. The number of Eastern monarchs dropped 84 percent from 1996 to 2014. Many factors contributed to the decrease in monarch population, including farmers’ use of genetically modified crops that kill weeds — with milkweed being the only food monarch caterpillars can feed on. In addition, the combination of climate change affecting plant growth and the butterflies’ high sensitivity to changing climate is also leading to the monarch decline. 

Iowans and other midwestern states are currently working to support the butterflies. Organizations like the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium and the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project provide resources and participate in practices to help the butterflies. In 2020, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources published a news release saying that the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium is seeking to establish 480,000 and 830,000 acres of habitat for monarchs by 2038.

Food waste worsens climate change

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Grace Smith | July 21, 2022

An estimate of 30 to 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted. When food gets wasted, inputs used to store, process, transport, and prepare the food are also wasted. Not only does food waste impact the inputs, but its use of greenhouse gases is worsening climate change. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report in 2021 that said, every year, U.S. food loss encompasses 170 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, GHG emissions. The EPA compared it to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. 

The combination of food waste in landfills, which accounts for about 23 percent of total landfilled waste, and methane burped from cows makes up for a significant number of Earth’s total methane emissions. 12 percent of methane emissions come from livestock manure. In addition, agriculture makes up 11 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

To prevent food waste from increasing, Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED, an organization that examines food waste, said during a committee meeting that standardized food labeling would make a large impact. Right now, different types of food have different labels, including “best by,” “sell by,” and “enjoy by.” Gunders said creating a standard would help stunt climate change.