Study finds that flood patterns are changing across the U.S.


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The threat of moderate flooding is generally increasing in the northern U.S. and decreasing in the southern U.S. (American Geophysical Union.)
Jake Slobe | May 3, 2017

The risk of flooding is changing by region throughout the United States and two of the reasons could be shifting rainfall patterns and changes in groundwater.

University of Iowa engineers, in a new study, have determined that the threat of flooding is growing in the northern half of the U.S. while declining in the southern half. The American Southwest and West are experiencing decreasing flood risk.

UI engineers Gabriele Villarini and Louise Slater compiled water-height information from 2,042 stream gauges operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. They then compared the data to satellite information gathered over more than a dozen years by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission showing the amount of water stored in the ground.

The study found that northern sections of the country have an increased amount of water stored in the ground and are at increased risk for minor and moderate flooding. Meanwhile, flood risk is decreasing in the southern portions of the U.S., where stored water has declined.

Why some sections of the nation are getting more, or less, rainfall is not entirely clear. The researchers say one cause could be the redistribution of rains as the regional climate changes.

The researchers hope their findings can change how flood patterns are discussed. In the past, flood risk trends have typically been discussed using stream flow, or the amount of water flowing per unit time. The UI study views flood risk through the lens of how it may affect people and property and aligns the results with National Weather Service terminology understood by the general public.

New Trump executive orders will take aim at protected public lands, offshore drilling bans


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National park sites without active wells, but where drilling could take place in the future. (National Parks Conservation Association)
Jake Slobe | April 26, 2017

After moving last month against Barack Obama’s efforts to limit fossil fuel exploration and combat climate change, President Trump will complete his effort to overturn environmental policy this week by signing two executive orders to expand offshore drilling and roll back conservation of public lands.

Today, Trump will sign an executive order directing his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, to review national monuments designated by previous presidents under the Antiquities Act of 1906, aiming to roll back the borders of protected lands and open them to drilling, mining, and logging.

President Trump is then expected to follow up on Friday with another executive order that will aim to open up protected waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to offshore drilling. If signed, the order would eliminate the Obama administration’s plan that would have put those waters off limits to drilling through 2022. Friday’s order is also expected to call for the lifting of a permanent ban on drilling in an area including many of those same waters — a measure Obama issued in December 2016 in a last-ditch effort to protect his environmental legacy.

These moves, according to the Trump administration, will begin to fulfill a central campaign promise to unleash a wave of new oil and gas drilling and create thousands of jobs in energy.

The reality is much more complicated say experts in the law, policy, and economics of energy. Legal experts say it will still be a heavy lift for the Trump administration to change the current laws. The orders are unlikely to lead to job creation in the near future or significant new energy development.

On The Radio – Huge crowds attend March for Science rallies in Iowa and worldwide


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Hundreds of scientists and supporters gathered at the Pentacrest for the March for Science in Iowa City on Saturday. The march was one of more than 500 others in communities around the nation.
Jake Slobe | April 24, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses the March for Science rallies that took place worldwide on Saturday, April 22.

Transcript: On April 22, scientists and science advocates flooded the streets of over 500 cities around the globe to show their support for scientific research and evidence-based policy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Following in the footsteps of the Women’s March on Washington, the March for Science was the biggest public demonstration against the Trump administration’s budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and more.

Since February, the momentum behind the March for Science grew quickly, with many organizations offering support. Over 100 science organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science supported the March for Science.

The initiative started as a scientists’ march on Washington, D.C., but has since spread to cities across the U.S. and the world.

Organizers of the march have recently announced they plan to transition from organizing marches to creating a global organization focused on science education, outreach, and advocacy.

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

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

Integrating art and science: Climate Narrative Project explores new ways to communicate environmental issues


Jeff Biggers introduces the Fellows that took part in the Spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project. (Photo by Bethany Nelson)
Jake Slobe | April 12, 2017

In this episode of EnvIowa, we talk with Jeff Biggers, writer in residence at the University of Iowa and Natalie Himmel, an English and International Studies Major at the University of Iowa about the Climate Narrative Project.

The Climate Narrative Project, launched in 2014, is a special media arts initiative through the UI Office of Sustainability designed to train a new generation of climate storytellers. The project reaches across many academic disciplines using theatre, film, creative writing, spoken word poetry, yoga, and dance to grapple with how stories can change the way we view climate and spur action.

Over the past three years, Climate Narrative fellows have produced a wide variety of art projects including short films, theatrical monologs, and creative writing pieces. The projects center around localized themes related to climate change. Past themes have included the role of water and the Iowa River, soil carbon sequestration and prairie restoration, local food and regenerative agriculture, and climate migration.

This semester the project will focus on exploring ways in which we can live in regenerative cities in an age of climate change.

Since its inception, the Climate Narrative Project has brought in a wide range of undergraduates and grad students from many Colleges and departments including the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Public Health, Tippie College of Business and Graduate College.

The Climate Narrative Project serves as a partner for the Yale Climate Connections nationally syndicated public radio program. In 2014, Yale featured the Climate Narrative Project: Climate As Local Narrative.

To learn more about the fellows and see the Climate Narrative Project outlines, discussions, and an archived research from previous projects visit https://sustainability.uiowa.edu/initiatives/climate-narrative-project/.

EnvIowa is available on iTunes and Soundcloud and a complete archive of previous episodes can be found here.

 

Science Not Silence: March for Science set to take place in Des Moines on April 22


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Jake Slobe | April 5, 2017

Des Moines’ March for Science is set to take place Earth Day, April 22, and will kick off at 12 a.m. at the Iowa State Capitol.

Following in the footsteps of the Women’s March on Washington, the March for Science promises to be the biggest public demonstration against the Trump administration’s assault on evidence-based scientific research.

Since February, the momentum behind the March for Science has been growing quickly, with many organizations offering support. Some 100 science organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science support the March for Science.

Des Moines’ march is part of a “global call to support and safeguard the scientific community,” as the March for Science champions publicly funded and communicated science as an integral part of everyday life.

The initiative started as a scientists’ march on Washington, D.C., but has since spread to cities across the U.S. and the world. Organizers periodically update an interactive map that shows the locations for all planned marches.

Iowa City will also be hosting a March for Science on the 22nd from 12-4. You can follow efforts for each location’s march via their individual Facebook groups.

The March for Science website includes a call to action to support scientific research: “The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.”

Those interested in participating in  one the March for Science demonstrations in Iowa or learning more about the march can do so at marchforscienceiowa.org

On The Radio – UI announces it will be coal-free by 2025


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Infographic of the University of Iowa’s path to zero coal. (Josh Brdicko, Marketing & Design, BFA ’18)
Jake Slobe | March 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the university’s recent announcement to get rid of coal by 2025.

Transcript: University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld announced late last month that the university will be coal-free by 2025.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The UI has taken steps to reduce its dependence on coal. In 2008, the university established seven “sustainability targets” to be achieved by 2020.

Since 2008, the UI has managed to reduce its use of coal by 60 percent.

The university’s current energy portfolio includes oat hulls, miscanthus grass, wood chips and green energy pellets.

UI partnered with Iowa State University in 2013 to develop a miscanthus grass energy crop. Working with farmers within 50 miles of Iowa City, the university has planted 550 acres of the miscanthus and will plant an additional 250 to 350 acres this spring. The goal is to establish up to 2,500 acres locally by 2020.

To learn more about the university’s plan to go coal free, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org

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

Statewide monarch butterfly conservation strategy released


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Monarch Butterfly picture taken at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Jake Slobe | March 13, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the recently released monarch butterfly conservation strategy.

Transcript: A statewide strategy for the conservation and advancement of monarch butterflies was released last month in response to declining monarch populations.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The strategy was prepared by the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, a group of more than thirty organizations including agricultural and conservation groups, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies. It includes scientifically-based conservation practices such as using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying potentially toxic pesticides.

Monarch butterflies provide many vital ecosystem services like the pollination of agricultural and native plants. They have seen a population decline of 80 percent in the last two decades due primarily to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list monarch butterflies as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

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