Dr. Charles Stanier provides Lake Michigan Ozone Study update


great_lakes_ozone_values
Red dots indicate areas where mean ozone levels were above 70 parts per billion, which is the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard. (Rob Kaleel/LADCO)
Jenna Ladd | March 9, 2017

The Lake Michigan Ozone Study 2017, a collaborative research campaign designed to better understand ozone levels around the lake, will begin this May.

The communities around Lake Michigan frequently experience an overabundance of surface-level ozone, which can cause respiratory problems for humans and harm plant life. Through the study, scientists are working to generate new information about how ozone in the area is formed and transported above the lake.

Brad Pierce is NOAA Advanced Satellite Products Branch scientist stationed at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said, “There are these sites along the lake… that are in violation, and they’re not really areas that have a whole lot of industry.” Pierce added, “The sense is that a lot of this has to do with lake breeze circulations. We want to go out and measure the lake breeze circulation and the transport of ozone precursors – the emissions that end up producing ozone – in the springtime when this lake breeze is most dominant.”

Since the study was commissioned last year, it has received additional support from the scientific community. Dr. Charles Stanier is a CGRER member and UI professor of chemical and biochemical engineering. He said, “We’ve expanded from one aircraft and two [air quality monitoring] ground sites to two aircrafts and seven ground sites. We’ve got extensive measurements that will start in May and continue into June and then extensive computer simulations that will help make sense of what we see.”

The collaborative field campaign consists of scientists from several universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa, and many more as well as professionals from the agencies like the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO) and NASA.

Dr. Stanier provides more information about the study’s goals and primary research questions below.

Collaborative campaign to offer better understanding of high ozone levels along Lake Michigan shoreline


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Areas that exceed EPA’s ozone compliance level are clustered along Lake Michigan’s shoreline. (Space and Science Engineering Center/University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Jenna Ladd | August 31, 2016

Scientists from the University of Iowa will take part in the Lake Michigan Ozone Study 2017 this summer in order to better understand consistently high ozone levels along the Lake Michigan shoreline. 

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered the ozone standard to 70 parts per billion, communities on all sides of the Lake Michigan shoreline have consistently seen ozone levels that are out of compliance with EPA regulation. Before states can work to lower ozone levels into compliance with federal law, they need to test how accurately current ozone models are measuring conditions in the area. The Lake Michigan Ozone Study will work to provide more detailed data that could be used to develop and test new ozone models. The collaborative field campaign consists of scientists from several universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa, and many more as well as professionals from the agencies like the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO).

Dr. Charles Stainer, an associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, explains, “You can make new models, but there’s no data to test them against. I mean there is data, but it’s too limited.” Currently, there are two buoys in the lake that measure ozone levels and about fifteen surface stations near the shoreline that do the same. Stainer says this doesn’t cut it, “What you really need is a full map of ozone and a few vertical profiles where you can fully constrain the wind, the water vapor, the ozone, the nitrogen oxides, and then a few other [chemical] species that would be tell-tale signs that the models are too far in one direction or too far in the other.”

Between May 15th 2017 and June 15th 2017, the campaign will have access to an aircraft from NASA that will be equipped to provide the kind of detailed data they need. The aircraft will likely be based in Madison, Wisconsin. Forecast models for weather, ozone, and other chemical factors will be used daily to determine the aircraft’s flight plan. Stainer said that he expects many of the flights will be between Madison, Wisconsin; Cheboygan, Wisconsin; and Chicago, Illinois in some combination.

Brad Pierce, a NOAA Advanced Satellite Products Branch scientist stationed at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the campaign also hopes to better understand the complex lake breeze system that affects ozone production.“There are these sites along the lake… that are in violation, and they’re not really areas that have a whole lot of industry,” he explained, “The sense is that a lot of this has to do with lake breeze circulations. We want to go out and measure the lake breeze circulation and the transport of ozone precursors – the emissions that end up producing ozone – in the springtime when this lake breeze is most dominant.”

The campaign is still looking for additional funding that would expand ground measurement sites with high-tech, real-time monitors from various atmospheric chemistry groups from around the country.

In short, Stanier said, “The existing data you can test whether the models predict ozone too high or too low, but this advanced data set would enable you to say why.”

US lags behind EU in regulating lethal solvent


A barrel once containing methylene chloride now serves as the base for a street light in Hong Kong. (Georgia/Flickr)
A barrel once containing methylene chloride now serves as the base for a street light in Hong Kong. (Georgia/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | September 30, 2015

A recent investigative story by the Center for Public Integrity analyzes a lethal solvent found in various industrial products and how the United States has been slow to take regulatory measures to ban the chemical.

The article points out that accidental exposure to methylene chloride has led to at least 56 deaths since 1980. Methylene chloride is common in products such as paint strippers, degreasers, and carpet cleaners. Fatal exposures to the chemical date back to the 1940s. Around that same time researchers at Iowa State University were studying methylene chloride as a way to extract oil from soybeans.

Roughly three decades later, two medical researchers at the University of Wisconsin wrote a report outlining the dangers of the chemical and the criticizing various agencies for not taking action against it. The authors wrote: “The legal responsibility for protecting the public currently rests with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It has remained mute, as did the governmental agency originally responsible, the Environmental Protection Agency, when in 1971 the CH2C12 hazard was formally called to its attention.”

The article also points out industry leaders have lobbied against regulations on the chemical and have advocated for its industrial effectiveness.

Faye Graul, executive director of the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, a trade group that includes methylene chloride manufacturers, said the way to stop the string of deaths is simple: “Proper use of the product.” Labels on the cans warn against using in areas that aren’t well ventilated.

Among those fatalities included in the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis is Traci Sheibal who in 2012 died using the solvent to clean a bathtub while working in Council Bluffs.

Journal features ISU research on agriculture and climate change


This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)
This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | December 11, 2014

The most recent issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation includes several articles by Iowa State University researchers focused on ways that climate change is affecting agriculture.

Researchers and graduate students in from Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project contributed to most of the articles in the recent issue. The project, known simply as the Sustainable Corn Project, is based at Iowa State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the 20 reports in the recent journal issue, 14 were authored by researchers with the Sustainable Corn Project.

One of the reports analyzed the effects cover crops have on nitrous oxide emissions, concluding that cover crops increased nitorus oxide levels in 60 percent of published observations. The authors point out that certain variables could have affected the reaction between the cover crops and nitrous oxide emissions including “fertilizer N(itrogen) rate, soil incorporation, and the period of measurement and rainfall.”

The Sustainable Corn Project is a collaboration between 10 Midwestwen land-grant universities: Iowa State University, Lincoln University (MO), Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois,  University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, and University of Wisconsin. Roughly 160 scientists, engineers, educators, and students work with more than 200 farmers on this project.

Study predicts more days of extreme heat in the future


Los Angeles' infamous smog is just one example of climate change's effects on public health. (Flickr)
Los Angeles’ infamous smog is just one example of climate change’s effects on public health. (Flickr)
Nick Fetty | September 26, 2014

A University of Wisconsin study has found that the number of extremely hot days in midwestern and eastern U.S. cities is expected to triple by mid-century.

The study – which was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association – predicts Milwaukee and New York City will see three times their current average of days that reach 90 degrees of higher by 2050. It also examined the ripple effects that hotter days and the resulting increase of storms would cause on public health. These effects include increased risk for waterborne and other infectious diseases as well as health risks associated with greater air pollution and a more carbon-intensive diet.

To combat these adverse effects on public health, the study suggests a number of measures including: reducing fossil fuel consumption, designing sustainable cities, and eating less meat. The study drew on experts from the studies of public health, air quality, and climate science.

The study cited the 1995 Chicago heat wave which led to more than 700 deaths. Since 1982, extreme heat in Wisconsin has killed more people than all other natural disaster combined. Extreme heat throughout the country has also killed thousands of cattle and other livestock in recent years. Statistics about heat-related fatalities in Iowa were unavailable, however by 2100 Des Moines is estimated to have 85 days with temperatures of 90 degrees or higher and 30 days of 100 degrees or higher.

University of Iowa hosts international conference about environmental contamination


Nick Fetty | August 19, 2014
Water pollution in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)
Water contamination in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)

Beginning today and continuing through Friday, the University of Iowa is hosting a conference to discuss emerging contaminants and their effect on the environment.

EmCon 2014: Fourth International Conference on Occurrence, Fate, Effects & Analysis of Emerging Contaminants in the Environment will feature speakers from all across the world, including a keynote speech from University of Iowa engineering professor and CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor. Representatives from various Big Ten schools (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin) as well as Iowa State, Stanford and several other educational and governmental entities are scheduled to give speeches or other presentations. The event “will focus on the most recent developments and findings concerning the source, occurrence, fate, effects, and analysis of emerging contaminants in the environment, providing an ideal venue for exchange of cutting-edge ideas and information in this rapidly evolving research area.”

The first conference, EmCon 2007, was held in York, United Kingdom and brought in more than 100 attendees from all around the world. EmCon 2009 was in Fort Collins, Colorado and EmCon 2011 was in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The National Hydraulic Engineering Conference 2014 is also taking place in Iowa City this week. This event will focus on “sustainability in the design of infrastructure in a rapidly changing environment.”

EmCon 2014 begins at 4 p.m. today and the full schedule of events is available here.

Entomologists advise EPA on resistant corn rootworms


Photo by Coastlander, Flickr.

Wisconsin entomologists sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency in early March advising them on how farmers should deal with corn rootworms that are building a resistance to transgenic corn. Transgenic corn contains a protein that is supposed to kill corn rootworms, but evidence indicates that rootworms are adapting to this threat.

Some suggestions for limiting or slowing the spread of resistant rootworms include planting some non-transgenic corn to promote the non-resistant rootworm population. This plan hinges on the idea that the non-resistant rootworms will then spread their genes to the rest of the rootworm population.

Farmers can also switch between different kinds of transgenic seeds.

Read more about this issue here.