78 foot wave recorded in the Southern Hemisphere


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A wave washes ashore (Warrick W/flickr)

Eden DeWald | May 16th, 2018

On May 8th, the largest wave ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere was formed off the coast of New Zealand. The wave reached a massive 78 feet as it was measured  by a buoy in the Southern Ocean.

Most waves are caused by winds interacting and transferring energy into ocean watersScientists speculate that these record breaking waves, such the 78 foot record breaker, are a result of smaller surface wave combining to form a more massive wave.

However, 78 feet might not be the of the actual peak size of the wave.  The buoys used to measure the wave do not record measurements constantly, so the wave could have reached an even higher maximum height than recorded.

The previous record for the largest wave in the Southern Hemisphere happened in 2012 and occurred near Tasmania, at height of 72 feet. The largest wave ever recorded was in 1995, and  was measured at 84 feet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Tom Durrant, a New Zealand oceanographer, stated that waves are likely to increase in size according to predictive climate models that foresee more powerful storms in the future. Stronger storms are conducive to stronger winds—creating the potential for even bigger waves.

Earth Day Network encourages year-round environmental effort


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Plastic tangles with ocean vegetation on a beach near San Francisco. (Kevin Krejci/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 25, 2018

It seems that spring in Iowa finally arrived by this Sunday, April 22nd, which also happened to be Earth Day, and many celebrated by spending time outside.

But what was the 48th Earth Day all about, if not only outdoor picnics and joyous winter-is-finally-over selfies? According to the Earth Day Network, the aim for 2018 is to End Plastic Pollution. A noble cause indeed; more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year worldwide. About fifty percent of that is used just one time and thrown away. Plastic Oceans, a non-profit dedicated to reducing plastic use and pollution, estimates that more than eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually. Much of this plastic ends up in the Pacific Ocean. More than 6,000 pounds of the stuff was removed during an Earth Day clean up on Hong Kong’s beaches this year, and the effort barely made a dent in the local pollution problem.

The Earth Day Network points out that April 22nd has been a day for civic engagement and political activism since 1970, when millions of Americans marched to call attention to the environmental degradation that had been caused by more than a century of unchecked industrial development. With carbon dioxide levels at their highest level in 650,000 years, there is a strong case to live as though every day is Earth Day. Officials from the Earth Day Network have several suggestions for how to do so. From using nontoxic cleaning products to changing vehicle air filters regularly to reading documents online rather than printing them, small changes made by many people can make a big difference.

Individuals interested in learning more about plastic pollution and how to reduce the amount of plastic they consume can also join the End Plastic Pollution campaign. Participants can calculate their own plastic consumption and create a Personal Plastic Plan to reduce consumption and keep track of progress online.

Environmental groups speak out about consequences of holiday consumerism


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This holiday season, environmental groups are reminding consumers that increasingly short-lived gadgets have an impact on the natural environment. (Curtis Palmer/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 29, 2017

U.S. shoppers spent $5 billion in 24 hours on Friday, making Black Friday 2017 a record haul for retailers. Whether it’s purchased online or in stores, the new Hatchimal or the Nintendo Switch, environmental activists warn that consumers should think twice about the impact these goods have on the environment.

Greenpeace, an independent global campaigning organization, reported that electronic goods alone are expected to generate 50 million tons of waste in 2017. Electronic goods like smart phones and laptops make up the quickest growing waste stream worldwide, less than 16 percent of which is expected to be recycled this year. About one-third of e-waste that is recycled is sent overseas to countries like Kenya and Pakistan to be taken apart by workers that are not protected from the toxic materials that can be found inside electronic gadgets.

Plastic is also a primary contributor to waste during the holiday season. Used for everything from toys to wrapping paper to grocery bags, more than 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year with about 8 million tons of it dumped into oceans annually. Plastic can take more than 400 years to break down and has mounted to form two enormous plastic islands in the Pacific Ocean, one of which is estimated to be more than one million square miles in size.

Friends of the Earth environmental activist Julian Kirby asked of holiday shoppers, “If you don’t need it or want it then don’t give them your money. If you are going to take advantage of what’s purported to be lower prices then don’t rush into it, think about whether it’s the most sustainable and ethical product and whether you might be able to get a second hand version that’s able to do just as good a job.”

On The Radio – Pace of sea level rise tripled since 1990


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A new study found that sea levels are rising nearly three times faster than in previous centuries. (Chris Dodd/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| June 12, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a recent study that found sea levels are rising at a significantly faster rate than in the past. 

Transcript: Scientists, in a new study, have found that the Earth’s oceans are rising nearly three times as quickly as they were throughout most of the 20th century.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

This new finding is one of the strongest indications yet that a much-feared trend of not just sea level rise, but its acceleration, is now underway.

Their paper, published in May’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t the first to find that the rate of rising seas is itself increasing — but it finds a bigger rate of increase than in past studies.

The new paper concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about almost a half an inch per decade. From 1993 through 2012, though, it finds they rose by almost one and a quarter inches per decade.

To learn more about the study, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

UI professor researches geology behind ocean formation


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Sunrise on the South China Sea, where UI professor David Peate is spending his summer researching continental rifts. (flickr/Ivan Herman)
Jenna Ladd | May 19, 2017

The spring semester has come to a close and most UI professors have retreated to their campus labs to catch up on research. Dr. David Peate, on the other hand, is spending his summer days floating on the South China Sea.

This is no pleasure cruise, however. The professor of Earth and Environmental sciences is working 12-hour days to advance scientific understanding of how continents separate and oceans are formed. Peate embarked on the 9-week expedition funded by the International Ocean Discovery Program with 125 other scientists and crew members from around the world, he explained in an interview with Iowa Now.

In the interview, Peate explained that when continents drift apart, the uppermost layer of the Earth’s crust is stretched so much that parts of a deeper layer called the mantle can ooze up into the crust. Sometimes the mantle is so hot that it rises up as lava and forms continental boundaries like those seen in eastern Greenland and northern Europe, he explained. Other times, the mantle rises at cooler temperatures and no lava is formed. The expedition’s primary mission is to understand the difference between these two types of continental rifts.

The continental rift in the South China sea is “different than other well-studied rifted margins. For one, it is not covered by thick piles of lava flows, unlike most other examples of continental rifting, which spawned lava flows,” he said.

The researchers’ ship is equipped with a three mile long steel tube that drills into the ocean floor to collect cores. “That is equivalent to the distance between the Old Capitol and Iowa City West High School,” Peate explained to Iowa Now. Once pulled up, cores are separated into five-foot lengths and prepared for geologists to study. Peate is mostly interested in volcanic rock. Some of the cores will return to Iowa with him. He said, “I will collaborate with other international scientists from the expedition to make detailed chemical investigations of all the volcanic rocks that we find.” Peate continued, “Combining results from the different drilled sites will allow us to build a picture of how the volcanic activity changed through time as the rifting event happened.”

Peate’s other areas of research include the formation and transport of magma in Iceland and the driving forces behind large magma eruptions. His compete interview with Iowa Now can be found here.