Iowa climate scientists predicted extreme summer heat, extreme rainfall expected


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | July 27, 2021

In 1991, scientists accurately predicted climate change would lead to a warmer and wetter Midwest in the spring and summer. Now, 5-day heat wave temperatures in Iowa are anticipated to increase around 7° F in an average year and 13° F once per decade, in comparison to the late 20th century. 

The impact of these findings go beyond weather patterns, degraded public infrastructure is one major ways everyday life will be altered by the new climate. In 2018, a group of climate scientists and researchers from across the state focused the Iowa Climate Statement on infrastructure to emphasize their concerns. In the statement, they explain how daily total rainfall is expected to double in intensity by 2025. 

Flooding along Iowa’s eastern and western borders in 2019 alone resulted in $1.6 billion in damages, according to the Des Moines Register. “…This type of flooding in this region is expected to become even more likely in the future if we do not take immediate actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said University of Iowa Researcher Wei Zhang

Scientists recommend buildings be designed to withstand heavier rain by integrating rain screens, large gutters and downspouts. For the hot summer greater insulation, improved ventilation, planting of shade trees and more are needed.

Since 2011, the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has co-produced an annual Iowa Climate Statement to explain the impact of climate change on Iowa. Released in early October early, nearly every Iowa college and university has agreed to the statement. 

UI Professor Explains Forever Chemicals


Josie Taylor | June 28, 2021

University of Iowa professor, Dave Cwiertny gave a presentation via Zoom to a CGRER member. He explained PFAS chemicals in drinking water, which are also referred to as forever chemicals. He gave an explanation for what they are, why people should be concerned, and what can be done now.

Professor Cwiertny near the beginning of the presentation tells us why PFAS exists in the first place. PFAS is a man-made chemical that does have some desirable traits. They have oil and water repellence, temperature resistance and friction reduction. They are used in non-stick cookware and fire fighting foams. Areas near fire fighting locations, like airports, landfills or near food processing locations are at a higher risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals in their drinking water. Here you can view the PFAS cycle.

PFAS chemicals are something to be concerned about because they can cause problems, specifically for pregnant women. Exposure to PFAS chemicals can cause low birth weight, preterm birth and other problems.

If you have an unregulated private well, you should check if you are near a location that has history of PFAS contamination. Free testing could be available through Iowa Grants to Counties. If you have public water, contact your provider and ask about their plans testing for PFAS chemicals through the Department of Natural Resources.

If you have extra concerns or questions you can contact Professor Cwiertny through his email (david-cwiertny@uiowa.edu) or by phone (319-335-1401).

UI Professor Talks About Drought on Iowa Press


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 21, 2021

On Friday, University of Iowa professor Larry Webber, along with Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan were interviewed on Iowa Press. They both answered questions about water quality in Iowa, and more specifically how the drought is affecting water.

Corrigan and Webber were both calm during the interview, and did not act scared about Iowa’s future. They were disappointed at times, but held out hope. 

The interview was started by asking Corrigan and Webber about the recent news that the Supreme Court would not move forward with a lawsuit that was brought forward by a couple of groups dealing with agriculture pollution on the Raccoon River. They both expressed disappointment. Professor Webber said “we’ve had a lot of talk and the talk has been going on now for a decade”, and now we need progress. 

Both interviewees were asked if they believed there would be a Flint, MI type of situation in the near future. Both men shut that thought down quickly. They said that Iowa is not experiencing anything like Flint, meaning Iowa does not have drinking water contaminated with lead, and they reassured that Iowans are taking this seriously. 

Corrigan shared that Des Moines was asked to cut down on their water use, and that the citizens of Des Moines did that. He said that they have seen a 5 million gallon reduction in water from day to day. He holds out hope that Des Moines will not get to the place of needing to ration water completely. 

Webber ended the interview by sharing that he believes federal leadership is needed in times like this. He wants more leadership in USDA in order to help farmers handle a drought effectively. 

University of Iowa Researchers Host First Annual BioBlitz


Via

Elizabeth Miglin | June 8, 2021

Researchers at the University of Iowa are hosting the 1st Annual BioBlitz at the newly restored Ashton Prairie on July 10th. The study gives participants the opportunity to contribute the first data points to a multi-year study by examining insect diversity changes over time at the site. 

Throughout the event, participants will be shown how to examine insects under a professional microscope and learn how to identify different species with the naked eye and the iNaturalist app. Guests will also hear from the leaders of the prairie restoration project on the vision for the prairie as well as how the collections and observations will contribute to greater research on ecological health. Event staffers noted “As this is the 1st Annual event, we hope to see some young scientists who can grow along with the biodiversity at the prairie over the years.”

Facilitators of the event include the University of Iowa Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Office of Sustainability and the Environment, The Iowa Raptor Project, UI Museum of Natural History, the Iowa City Science Booster Club, and 10 visiting Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Sciences research students with additional support from the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.

The event will be hosted at the Prairie Reconstruction Project Site at the UI Ashton Cross Country Course and will go from nine am to noon. Free registration is open for the event on the University of Iowa events calendar website. 

The University of Iowa Outlines 2030 Sustainability Goals


Maxwell Bernstein | May 8, 2020

The University of Iowa has outlined six new goals to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing sustainability literacy, and education by 2030 according to a Iowa Now. These goals are a collaboration between the 2030 UI Sustainability Task Force which includes: faculty, staff, and students. 

As provided in the press release the goals framework include:

  1. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and to pursue a renewable energy supply strategy through energy conservation and a comprehensive decarbonization plan.
  2. Embed sustainability into campus culture. 
  3. Expand sustainability research, scholarships, and create opportunities for researchers to find solutions. 
  4. Use campus as a “living laboratory” for sustainability education and exploration by increasing opportunities for students and researchers to use sustainability as a means for education. 
  5. Provide students with skills and knowledge to be sustainable in a 21st century society.
  6. Facilitate knowledge exchange among the campus community, the state of Iowa, the country, and the world by creating partnerships. 

Some achievements that the university has made since 2010, according to Iowa Now, include:

  • Total energy usage is slightly lower regardless of 15 new buildings and additional campus changes.
  • 40% of UI energy consumption comes from renewable energy sources. 
  • 75% reduction in annual coal consumption.
  • 50% of UI’s purchased power comes from wind energy. 

UI enters final year for 2020 sustainability goals


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UI EV vehicle charging station (via a 2018 Office of Sustainability Report. )

Julia Poska | January 1, 2020

In 2010, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced the 2020 Vision: The University of Iowa’s Sustainability Targets. It laid out out sustainability goals to reach within the next decade, which began today. 

The goals were as follows:

1. Become a Net‐negative Energy Consumer

This goal indicated that the university should consume less energy in 2020 than it did in 2010, despite projected growth. Building energy consumption reports from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) indicate energy energy consumption growth from 2005 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council, though, provided data indicated that energy consumption was below the baseline, if baseline included projected consumption for new buildings.

2. Green Our Energy Portfolio

The document indicated that the University would consume 40% renewable energy in 2020. Since 2010, the university has increased production of energy through renewable biomass sources like oat hulls and miscanthus grass in the on-campus power plant. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council reported 17% renewable energy in 2017.

3. Decrease Our Production of Waste

This goal indicated that the university would “divert” (meaning recycle or compost” 60% of waste by 2020. The Office of Sustainability has since implemented a “tiny trash” program to encourage recycling and a dorm room composting program. The most recent data, for 2017, indicates a 38% diversion rate.

4. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Transportation

The university aimed to reduce per-capita fossil fuel emissions from campus transportation methods by 10%. A 2018 report to the university’s staff council reported a 14% reduction in per-capita transportation emissions, due in part to the campus’s fleet of electric vehicles and solar charging station.

 

5. Increase Student Opportunities to Learn and Practice Principles of Sustainability

6. Support and Grow Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainability‐focused and Related Areas

7. Develop Partnerships to Advance Collaborative Initiatives, both Academic and Operational

The last three goals provided qualitative measures, more difficult to measure and assess directly. The university undoubtedly provides  sustainability opportunities for students, in both practice and research, and has fostered numerous collaborative initiatives.

Stay tuned over the next 364 days to see whether these goals are fully met.

 

 

New UI research could help fight pollution with microorganisms


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Concrete and other surfaces are often covered in a thin film of pollution and pollution fighting bacteria and fungi (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 20, 2019

As pollutants like particulates, PCB and pesticides filter out of the air, they often accumulate on surfaces like asphalt or building exteriors. When it rains, the pollutants can run off into water sources.

University of Iowa researchers recently published findings in Earth and Space Chemistry, revealing that a variety of bacteria and fungi live within the film of pollution on such surfaces. Some of those microorganisms are able to digest and break down the pollutants.

Researchers Scott Shaw (chemistry) and Timothy Mattes (civil and environmental engineering) intend to sequence the DNA of these organisms in the future. They will then be able to determine which could potentially be cultivated for fighting pollution in other areas, according to Iowa Now.

CGRER, the UI Center of Health Effects of Environmental Contamination,  the U.S. Department of Defense Army Research Office and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission funded this research.

Rise in natural gas drives increase in global carbon emissions


Tyler Chalfant | December 10th, 2019

As representatives from nearly 200 countries meet to discuss limiting greenhouse gas emissions, a study released last week shows that global fossil emissions have risen for a third year in a row. This rise is largely due to an increase in the use of natural gas that has outpaced the decline of other fossil fuels, including coal.

The growth in emissions largely comes from China and India. While emissions in North American and European countries are gradually declining, these countries still consume 5 to 20 times as much oil per capita as China and India. Therefore, as car ownership and air travel in Asia increase, global oil consumption is expected to rise.

This prediction is part of a larger trend. Natural gas, often viewed as a cleaner “bridge fuel” used to replace coal and other fossil fuels, as well as renewables, are being used to provide new energy to new consumers, not just replacing other fossil fuels. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel globally, but has been presented by energy companies as a long-term solution. 

As coal has declined in recent years, the U.S is projected to see a 3.5% rise in natural gas use in 2019. The University of Iowa has increased natural gas use, rising 61% between 2014 and 2018, as the primary means of displacing coal in its power plant. When University President Bruce Harreld declared a climate crisis on Monday, he said that the university wants to substitute natural gas as well and move towards biomass.

Because of these trends in oil and natural gas use make it likely that we will see another increase in carbon emissions in 2020. One major obstacle to meeting the goal of a 2 degrees Celsius increase limit, set in the Paris Climate Agreement, is establishing international carbon markets, an issue that could be decided in Madrid this week. 

University of Iowa administrators discuss sustainability goals, ending coal in power plant


University of Iowa power plant, by Dave Smith, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | October 31st, 2019

University of Iowa administrators met Thursday to discuss the school’s sustainability goals. This meeting followed months of protests from Iowa City students and community members, including a visit from international climate activist Greta Thunberg. The strikers have called on the university to create a Town-Gown Climate Accord with the city and to end coal burning at the university’s power plant. 

None of the strikers were invited to participate in Thursday’s meeting. Stratis Giannakouros, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said that this sort of meeting addressing the university’s climate goals is fairly routine. 

The university has committed to ending the burning of coal by 2025, although the strikers are demanding that this change happen much sooner than that, and that the power plant transitions to 100% renewable sources by 2030. 

The university plans on entering into a public-private partnership, or P3, to operate its utilities system. University President Bruce Harreld has stated that the partnership will not alter the plan to stop burning coal by 2025, although some bidders are interested in stopping even earlier, by 2023. 

Senior Vice President of UI Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz told the Daily Iowan that he thought that deadline was realistic, and that many of the finalists for the P3 were drawn to the university specifically because of the desire to get rid of coal. “All of them have said that the first thing they want to do is explore our plans for 2025, and how we can expedite that,” Lehnertz said.

Crowd of 3,000 heard Greta Thunberg speak in Iowa City


Photo by Joe Bolkcom

Tyler Chalfant | October 8th, 2019

Iowa City high school and middle school students were joined by thousands of Iowans at a climate strike on Friday, along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. 

The students, who were inspired by Thunberg, have been striking since March to demand that governmental leaders at all levels take action to address climate change. Some of the strikers led the crowd in chants calling out specific leaders and listing their goals, including that the University of Iowa power plant “end coal now.”

The University of Iowa currently aims to fully transition from coal by 2025, with 40% of campus energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Although the power plant has reduced its use of coal considerably since 2008, it released the equivalent of more than 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gases last year from the burning of coal alone. 

The power plant has replaced coal in part through the increased burning of biomass, it has also increased its use of natural gas by 61% since 2014. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, and releases significantly fewer greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels, but still contributes to global warming through the release of carbon dioxide as well as methane leaks occurring during its extraction and transportation. 

Attendants of the rally spoke of the need for larger, structural changes, in addition to individual action, to address climate change. “Obviously there are things that individuals can do,” Melina Hegelheimer, a first year student studying Ethics and Public Policy at the university said, “but the biggest things that can contribute are coal, farming, and more ethical and more environmentally friendly practices for those types of things.”

A UI senior studying Geographical and Environmental Sustainability Cayla Baldus added that Thunberg’s speech inspired her as a climate activist and geographer. “You don’t fail and stop,” she said, paraphrasing Thunberg, “You fail and you keep going, and that’s kind of what I needed to hear in this political climate.”