UI professor researches geology behind ocean formation


Early morning on the South China sea
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.

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.”

Iowa Flood Center partners with NASA to improve soil moisture measurement


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An artist’s rendering of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive Satellite from outer space. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/NASA)
Jenna Ladd | August 25, 2016

Students and researchers at the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) spent this summer working with NASA on a research project aiming to better understand and measure soil moisture.

The IFC team, based at the University of Iowa, is working to compare soil moisture data provided by NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite with data gathered on the ground by IFC’s soil-moisture monitoring sensors. Researchers are specifically comparing soil moisture data from the South Fork watershed near Ames, a tributary of the Iowa River. IFC’s ground instrumentation provides real-time soil moisture measurements to farmers and researchers, while NASA’s satellite collects information in a different way. Put simply, the SMAP satellite views the Earth surface at a specific microwave-radiation wavelength that allows it to see through vegetation. The more water that is held in the soil, the darker it appears to the satellite. NASA is comparing this data against that which is measured on the ground by IFC to determine whether the water held inside of crops affects the accuracy of satellite imaging.

“As with many remote-sensing products, there is a continued need for evaluation,” says IFC Director Witold Krajewski. Validation of the satellite is a two part process. Researchers began by analyzing NASA’s satellite data from the end of May through early June, when crops were only beginning to emerge from the soil. During this first phase, IFC researchers and graduate students also set out to install and maintain soil-moisture instruments on the ground. They took a second look at soil moisture in early August when corn, soy, and other agricultural crops densely cover the ground in order to determine the satellite’s accuracy.

In addition to these measurements, IFC is taking a closer look the relationship between rainfall and soil moisture. The research team is using two mobile X-band polarimetric radars to study rainfall with increased temporal and spatial precision. IFC is also gathering data using several rainfall measuring tools provided by NASA. Krajewski explains, “Understanding the rainfall variability gives you an idea how much water gets into the soil and how it dries out.”

IFC is working with research partners at Iowa State University as well as those from universities and institutions across the country.

 

On The Radio – Workshop brings together scientists and educators


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Teachers participating in a curriculum development workshop at the Critical Zone Observatory environmental science workshop last month. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | August 1, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers the Critical Zone Observatory environmental science educator workshop that took place last month.

Transcript: Workshop brings together scientists and educators

Two University of Iowa professors from different disciplines came together last month to host an event aimed at helping teachers better connect with their students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Nearly two dozen Eastern Iowa teachers got together last month for a workshop that taught them about hands-on activities and lesson plans to better engage their students and potentially attract them to STEM careers. The event was organized by UI earth and environmental sciences professor Art Bettis along with College of Education clinical assistant professor Leslie Flynn. The event was also sponsored by the UI State Hygienic Laboratory and the Intensively Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory, a National Science Foundation-supported research collaborative that studies the impact agriculture has on land, air, and water in the Midwest.

The workshop consisted of two parts: a morning session that had the teachers at a research site in eastern Iowa County learning about hand-on activities and potential field trip opportunities for their students. The teachers took water samples and tested them for various metrics such as nitrate levels. In the afternoon, the teachers took part in a curriculum development exercise at the State Hygienic Lab.

Dr. Bettis – who is also a member of the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research – said he was happy the event was able to bring together scientific researchers and public educators.

Art Bettis: “With the CZO, we want to, just like all scientists we want to be able to get our science out to the public and there’s multiple ways of doing that but I’m a pretty firm believer that one of the really, really critical and best ways to do it is through education.”

For more information about the Critical Zone Observatory Environmental Science Workshop, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

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

UI student wins award for weather modeling research


Negin Sobhani (right), a SIParCS student from Iowa State, explains her research on profiling the WRF model to attendees of the 2015 RMACC Symposium in Boulder, Colorado. (Brian Bevirt / CISL)
Negin Sobhani (right), a SIParCS student from the University of Iowa, explains her research on profiling the WRF model to attendees of the 2015 RMACC Symposium in Boulder, Colorado. (Brian Bevirt / CISL)
KC McGinnis | November 17, 2015

University of Iowa’s Negin Sobhani received an award for her work in weather research at an advanced computing consortium this summer.

Sobhani, a graduate student in chemical and biochemical engineering at the UI, won the award for her research poster while participating in the Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science (SIParCS) program held in Boulder, Colorado. She and several other SIParCS interns exhibited their work at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Advanced Computing Consortium (RMACC) High Performance Computing Symposium. The symposium draws users of high-performance computing systems from around the country including those in industry and government computing.

SIParCS students including Sobhani won three of four awards in the RMACC poster competition, where they displayed their research. Sobhani’s poster, titled, “Performance Analysis, Profiling and Optimization of Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model” analyzed the performance of an advanced Weather Research and Forecasting model using performance profiling software to determine and examine any performance issues with the model. In doing so she found ways to make key calculations relating to wind transport of trace gases more efficient.

Learn more about Sobhani’s summer program here.

Researchers meeting to discuss link between lead ammunition and dying bald eagles


Researchers found 168 dead bald eagles in the upper Mississippi area for a lead exposure study. (Contributed photo)
Researchers found 168 dead bald eagles in the upper Mississippi area for a lead exposure study. (Contributed photo)

Officials in the Upper Mississippi River U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge will meet today in Prairie du Chien, Wis., to discuss recent findings which link dying bald eagles and lead ammunition.

Beginning in 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists Ed Britton, Sarah Warner, Mike Coffey and Drew Becker collected dead bald eagles from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. After testing the livers of 168 dead birds, they found that 48 percent came back with detectable lead concentrations. 21 percent had lethal amounts of lead, indicating lead poisoning.

The lead most likely came from the carcasses of wild game left behind by hunters using lead ammunition. According to a fact sheet by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, eagles frequently scavenge deer and pheasant carcasses, many of which contain lead fragments left behind by hunters who cleaned the carcasses on-site and left behind gut piles which may contain lead fragments. High amounts of lead can be lethal, and non-lethal exposure can cause vision and respiratory problems, leading to secondary trauma.

Lead is currently the most popular material used in shotgun ammunition because it is dense, inexpensive, readily available and soft enough not to damage vintage gun barrels, a common problem with steel ammunition. Fortunately, companies in the hunting and shooting industry have already created several non-toxic alternatives, including Tungsten-Matrix, which has nearly the same density and softness as lead, key factors hunters look for when choosing ammunition.

The meeting today in Prairie du Chien is part of a series of information sessions being held in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Quad Cities over the course of two weeks. For more information on these meetings and the effects of lead on bald eagles, visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Iowa water levels in good shape for 2014


 

PHoto by Carl Wycoff (Flickr)
Photo by Carl Wycoff (Flickr)

Normal snow levels over the winter season and cooler spring temperatures may lead to a more moderate 2014 in Iowa, according to state water and climate experts.

In an interview with KCRG, Mike Gannon of the University of Iowa’s IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering labs said that Iowa saw normal snowfall in the winter period and normal rainfall over the past few weeks, in contrast to roller coaster precipitation levels over the past three years. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources uses groundwater monitoring stations across the state to assess water quality, drought levels and future water supply.

State Climatologist Harry Hillaker told KCRG that lower temperatures have also contributed to stable groundwater levels by preventing groundwater from evaporating too quickly.

In addition to groundwater, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources also monitors Iowa’s lakes, wetlands, streams and beaches.