Study finds heat waves seven times more likely to occur today than 40 years ago


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Grace Smith | June 27, 2022

Heat waves, or high temperatures reoccurring for multiple days, pose a major threat to many aspects of everyday life: human health, ecosystems, food-producing regions, and crop growth. A study, published in January 2022, found that heat waves are seven times more likely to occur today than 40 years ago, affecting a larger area with hotter waves. 

In addition to the increase in hotter, larger heat waves, the study also compared the 1980s to the 2010s’ number of waves. The number of heat waves has doubled from May to Sept. in the Northern Hemisphere, or north of the equator. In the 1980s, about 73 waves occurred, and in the 2010s, there were 152. Other data included the number of days with two or more heat waves, which grew seven times higher from 20 in the 1980s to 143 in the 2010s.

The most significant heat waves struck North America, Europe, and Asia. India and Pakistan have experienced the hottest march in 122 years, with 64 percent less rainfall than normal in Pakistan and 71 percent in India. The heat waves in India and Pakistan have caused 90 deaths, floods, forest fires, and a wheat crop yield decrease. And the heat waves are unlikely to subside as climate change continues. If temperatures continue to rise, heat waves may become 2-20 times more likely than occurrences this year, and 0.5-1.5 degrees hotter.

Extreme heat, flooding affects agriculture significantly


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Grace Smith | June 23, 2022

Agriculture, which is one of the most important aspects of Iowa and surrounding economies, is experiencing many challenges because of climate change and extreme temperatures including a negative impact on livestock and crops, as well as a decrease in revenue

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that climate extremes have a large negative impact on yield and livestock productivity in Iowa. In addition, the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement said confined livestock stuck in severe heat conditions are at a greater risk of death. Not only does this present itself as a problem in Iowa, but also in Kansas. On June 15, the heat killed over 2,000 cattle in Kansas, a portion of the Great Plains, which remains in a drought because of extremely high temperatures. Parts of Kansas hit up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit last week, which assisted in the deaths of the cattle. 

The heat is not the only thing affecting agricultural practices in Iowa. Flooding has caused issues including a loss in revenue for farmers. An IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering study from the University of Iowa, which was published April 26, 2022, found that in a 2-year return period, or a span of time when an occurrence is likely to surface, cropland has a 50 percent chance of flooding in a given year. The study also said that annually, Iowa loses $230 million in seed crops because of farming in areas that are likely to flood. 

Members of the industry have adapted in many ways. Seed providers have altered hybrid corn and made it more tolerable to drought and heat. In addition, farmers have reacted to an increase in precipitation by utilizing quicker planters that can move across a field faster. But, without technological changes to combat climate change in the Midwest, productivity could decrease significantly.

Great Salt Lake drying up negatively impacts air and environment


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Grace Smith | June 17, 2022

Climate change and population growth are drying up the Great Salt Lake, located in Salt Lake City Utah, which is affecting the air and environment around the lake. Since 1980, the lake has shrunk two-thirds in size. In 2021, the lake reached a new record low in average daily water levels, decreasing one inch below the previous record low in 1963, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Animals are greatly affected by this alarming issue. Around 10 million migratory birds feed on flies and brine shrimp that live in the Great Salt Lake. As water levels drop, salt levels increase, becoming too salty for the lake’s algae, killing the shrimp and flies who feed on the algae. This then affects the numerous birds that eat the flies and shrimp. The drying up of the lake also affects the air and the citizens that breathe it. The bottom of the lake contains a mixture of arsenic and heavy metals, and as the water dries up, windstorms start to circulate these poisonous metals into the lungs of 1,260,730 people in the Salt Lake City metro area.

In addition, the Wasatch Front, an area home to 2.5 million people between Provo and Brigham City in Utah, utilizes the Jordan, Weber, and Bear rivers which feed on snowfall from nearby mountains, for water and agricultural purposes. Population growth has more citizens in these cities using the three rivers as their water sources at the same time as higher temperatures turn snowfall into water vapor instead of liquid. This creates a major problem for farmland that needs more water to combat high temperatures to feed the growing communities near the lake. 

Utah state lawmakers have made it mandatory to include the topic of water in their long-term planning, according to Euro News. In addition, Laura Briefer, director of Salt Lake City’s public utility department, said during a news conference that although the city, which is expected to increase in population by 50% by 2060, needs water, recycling wastewater and pulling from groundwater can increase the water supply for the fast-growing city without taking away water flow into the Great Salt Lake.

Iowa River sees increased bacteria levels near Eldora


The Iowa River via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 1, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is warning that there is an increased level of bacteria in the Iowa River near the north-central city of Eldora.

The DNR said the city has released hundreds of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the river as it works to repair a damaged pipe, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The leak was identified on May 31, when an Eldora resident noticed the ground between the river and the wastewater treatment plant was wetter than normal. As the leak in the pipe is being repaired, the Eldora wastewater was switched to another pipe that bypasses an ultraviolet disinfectant system. The system specifically targets and kills harmful bacteria from March to November because it’s when the river is used recreationally.

In recent years, documentation shows the treatment plant discharges between 500,000 and 700,000 gallons per day. The repair to the damaged pipe could take days and residents of Eldora are asked to avoid the area. The DNR is also advising Iowans to avoid the area downstream of Eldora’s 14th Avenue bridge until the pipe is fully repaired, as that’s where the discharge will enter the river.

New study finds U.S. Corn Belt unsuitable for growing corn by 2100


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Grace Smith | May 31, 2022

Environmental Research Letters published an Emory University study on May 16 that said the United States Corn Belt, states in the Midwest that mainly cultivate corn and soybean crops, will be unfitted to grow corn by 2100 because of climate change if current agricultural technology and practices continue to be utilized and relied on. 

To determine this outcome, Emily Burchfield, author of the study and assistant professor of Environmental Sciences at Emory, conducted a study with corn, wheat, soy, hay, and alfalfa. Burchfield formed and analyzed many series of models in different conditions to project the growth of crops. Burchfield used one model to test changes in planting with low, moderate, and high emission situations and found that corn, wheat, soy, and alfalfa will not be able to cultivate in the upper Midwest by 2100. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn makes up 92 million acres of land as of 2019, but, with climate change, there may be a shift in corn cultivation from the Midwest to the Eastern region. In a finding published by the Agricultural Water Management in March 2022, researchers said that on a ten-year average, rain fed crops are likely to decrease up to 40 bushels per acre, and irrigated yields may decline by 19 bushels per acre. Burchfield said that utilizing technology alone to grow crops and pushing away from laws of physics to understand natural processes will result in an “ecological collapse.” Burchfield also emphasized the importance of shifting away from relying on primary commodity crops like corn and soy.

Nearly 50 percent of Britain’s butterfly species could disappear


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 27, 2022

Britain could see a drastic drop in its butterfly species soon.

24 out of 58 species in the country are at risk of going extinct according to a new report by Butterfly Conservation. The BBC reported there are five more species on the list than the last time data was compiled 11 years ago. Adonis Blue butterflies were recategorized this year to be more threatened. Swallowtails are also more at risk than in 2011. Wood Whites were moved to the endangered category, while groups attempt to save the British midland insects.

Large Heath butterflies are affected by climate change, according to the new report. As the northern area of the country becomes cooler and damper over time, butterflies in the area are more at risk of becoming endangered. The Large Heath joined the endangered list this week. The Scotch Argus can also be found in the northern portion of Britain and is now listed as vulnerable but not endangered.

Previous conservation work in Great Britain has, however, saved a few species. The Large Blue butterflies were declared extinct in the late 1970s, but are now being found in British grasslands. Colonies are thriving according to conservationists in the country. The Duke of Burgundy has now been found in southern Britain, where its caterpillars have more vegetation to eat.

Predictions show a busy hurricane, storm season in the Atlantic Ocean


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 25, 2022

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a higher number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean for the seventh year in a row.

In a forecast released Tuesday the NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad predicted between 14 and 20 storms, with six to 10 turning in to hurricanes with multiple running the risk of being Category 3 or higher. The forecast shows the severity of the storms will be similar to 2021, where four storms developed winds of higher than 110 mph and 21 were named.

Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has noticed tropical storms are developing faster and more frequently. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported any storm, hurricane or not, could cause significant damage.

“As we saw from Superstorm Sandy, it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane to cause such devastation to communities,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said.

FEMA is suggesting people across the country, not just coastal areas, prepare for emergency situations based on the forecasts from NOAA. Climate change is a part of why hurricane seasons are worsening and becoming more frequent. Criswell said FEMA is attempting to emphasize preparedness and mitigation as the climate alters and more severe weather events occur.

Iowa farmers plant half season’s corn in a week


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 18, 2022

After several delays during the typical planting season, Iowa farmers planted 43 percent of their corn crop last week.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the corn planting is still nine days behind, but it is quickly catching up to where it has been in previous years. Statewide, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the planting percentage jumped from 14 to 57 in a matter of days. The large strides are because of an improvement in the weather. Warmer temperatures have heated the soil to where it usually is during Iowa summers, allowing for more viable seeds to be planted. Corn plants need soil to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said in a press release that the progress farmers are making is significant. It is expected that the nearly 13 million acres of corn crop usually planted in Iowa will be in the ground by Friday, May 20.

“As we look ahead, weather outlooks show promise in keeping planters rolling and farmers busy in the fields,” he said.

Soybean planting was also up over the course of the week, jumping from 7 percent to nearly 33. The crop still remains roughly a week behind the five-year average in the state.

Biden administration to speed up environmental permits for infrastructure project approvals


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 16, 2022

The Biden-Harris administration vowed to speed up the construction of bridges, roads, and wind farms last week. Officials said they are looking to make permit approval easier without jeopardizing the necessary environmental standards for such projects.

The administration announced the goal during a press call on May 10. The new permitting plan officials are proposing would consolidate decision making to reduce the number of federal permits necessary to break ground. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory also said the new system would establish stronger timelines and tracking for projects while engaging in “meaningful outreach and communication” with states, tribes and local governments before a project begins. Mallory said a goal of the adaption is to use existing agencies’ resources to prioritize permit reviews and approvals.

Samantha Silverberg, White House deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator, said the switch will encourage states, tribes, cities, and private companies to work on new infrastructure projects using the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law which passed in 2021. Permitting delays tend to deter projects in various communities across the U.S.

The administration said alterations in permitting from the federal government will not sacrifice any environmental standards. Jason Miller, the deputy director for management for the Office of Management and Budget, said the plan can and will speed up permitting without costing the environment.

“This plan explicitly rejects the tired view that there’s an inherent tradeoff between permitting efficiency — doing permitting in a timely and predictable manner — with permitting effectively, ensuring the best outcomes for the community and the environment,” he said.

Iowa’s prime corn yields likely gone


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 11, 2022

Iowa State University agronomist Mark Licht says Iowa corn farmers are unlikely to see high yields this planting season.

Cold and rainy temperatures delayed planting in the spring months in 2022. As farmers look to finish up planting, Licht told Iowa Capital Dispatch the next few months are expected to be drier than normal. The two challenges present a likelihood that crop yields of Iowa corn will be low this year compared to recent seasons.

“I don’t mean that we can’t still have above-trend-line yields, I just don’t think that we’re going to see the record-breaking yields that we’ve seen in the last couple years,” he said. “I think we’ve maybe taken the top end off of it. How much is yet to be determined.”

At the beginning of the second week of May, Iowa farmers were two weeks behind the average planting schedule to the past five years. It was the slowest planting pace in nearly a decade. Only 14 percent of seed corn was in the ground on Sunday, as April weather made it particularly difficult to plant potentially successful seedlings. Research on corn yield from Iowa State University shows the most successful corn crops are planted before middle May.

Iowa farms have three weeks left in the planting season before yields get considerably lower in June.