Extreme Rain from Thunderstorms is Rising Due to Climate Change


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Precipitation change in the U.S. from 1991 to 2012. (NASA)
Jake Slobe | Febraury 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a recent study linking climate change and an increase in heavy rain events.

Transcript: An increase in extreme rain events could change the ways cities handle storm water management and flooding.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Rain is increasingly falling in the form of short, localized bursts associated with thunderstorms found a new study released in Science Advances late last month.

The study directly links this increase in heavy rain storms to the warming and moistening of the atmosphere caused by rising greenhouse levels.

The results fit with rainfall trends already observed in the U.S., as well as model predictions that massive rains associated with thunderstorms could become both more common and more intense in the U.S. as the world continues to heat up.

Extreme downpours have already been increasing in the U.S., most notably in the Northeast, where they have increased by 71 percent since mid-century, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

Upon previous research which has also predicted an increase in extreme rain events due to climate change.

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

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

Iowa State researchers receive grants to improve glacier flow models and sea level predictions


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                         Calving of the Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. (Alaska National Park Service)
Jake Slobe | February 15, 2017

Iowa State University’s Neal Iverson and a team of researchers are working on research that will predict how much glaciers will contribute to the rise of sea levels.

The research will focus on the extent to which glacier-flow to oceans is likely speed up over the next century as the climate warms.

Iverson, an Iowa State University professor of geological and atmospheric sciences who has studied glaciers in Iceland and Norway, and the rest of the research team will look to lab experiments and field work to build more realistic computer models of glacier flow.

Iverson said about the project:

“Glaciologists are trying to predict how fast glaciers will flow to the oceans. To do that, we need new lab and field data to include complexity in models that is usually neglected. These are complicated systems. Modeling them is hard. But we need to include how water in ice affects its flow resistance, and we need sliding laws that are based on the real topography of glacier beds and that include rock friction. Adding these things really matters.”

Two new grants will help Iverson and his team fund their research, both of which grants are from the National Science Foundation.  The research will also receive funding from the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council to support the work of applied mathematicians at the University of Oxford in England.

Iverson is the lead investigator on both grant proposals. The other researchers are Lucas Zoet, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a former postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State; Ian Hewitt, an associate professor and university lecturer at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute; and Richard Katz, a professor of geodynamics at Oxford.

The first project will look at temperate ice, or ice at its melting point, and how this soft, watery ice resists deformation. That’s important because the resistance to deformation of temperate ice at the edges of ice streams – areas of rapid ice flow within the Antarctic ice sheet that can be hundreds of miles long and tens of miles wide – holds back the flowing ice.

The second project will support development of better “sliding laws” to help predict the sliding speeds of glaciers and ice sheets. Sliding laws are the mathematical relationships between the glacier sliding speed and the factors that control it, such as the stresses below the glacier, the water pressure there, the topography of the glacier bed and the concentration of debris in glacier ice.

Both projects will use the glacier sliding simulator Iverson has been using since 2009 to study glacier movement.

The new projects will add complexity to Iverson’s lab experiments. Debris, for example, will be added to the ice ring to study friction between it and the rock bed during sliding. In other experiments, temperate ice will be sheared between rotating plates to study how its resistance to flow depends on its water content.

Nearly 50,000 gallons of oil spill from Iowa pipeline


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Heavy snowfall in northern Iowa early this week complicated diesel oil clean-up efforts in Worth County, Iowa. (echoroo/flickr)
Jake Slobe | Febraury 13, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a  oil spill onto a Worth County farm that took place last month.

Transcript: An underground pipeline recently leaked 47,000 gallons of diesel fuel onto a Worth County, Iowa farm.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The pipeline, which is owned by Magellan Midstream Partners, was first discovered to have ruptured last month. Situated twelve inches underground, the pipeline stretches across Iowa, Illionois Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Clean-up crews worked to vacuum the diesel fuel from the soil despite high winds and heavy snow. The spilled diesel fuel was transported to a facility in Minnesota while the remaining contaminated soil went to a landfill near Clear Lake. The spill did not reach the nearby Willow Creek and wildlife reserve.

Transnational oil pipelines remain a controversial issue in the United States. Following President Trump’s executive orders reviving the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, opponents expressed concerns about the environmental and human health impacts associated with refined oil pipelines. Since 2010, 807 spills have been reported, causing an estimated $342 million in property damages.

The spill in Worth County is the largest diesel oil spill since 2010, its cause is still under investigation.

For more information about the oil spill in Worth county, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Iowa Supreme Court issues ruling in Des Moines Water Works case


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The Des Moines Water Works building in Des Monies, Iowa.
Jake Slobe | February 6, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the Iowa State Supreme Court ruling that ruled against Des Moines Water Works.

Transcript: The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled against Des Moines Water Works in its attempt to pursue damage payments from northwest Iowa county drainage districts.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Supreme Court ruling was a blow to the Des Moines utility’s lawsuit claiming that underground drainage tiles in Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista counties funnel high amounts of nitrate from farm fields into the Raccoon River.

Water Works hoped to reverse nearly a century of legal precedent that’s given the districts immunity from being sued for damages.

Water Works also wants to force drainage districts to seek permits under the federal Clean Water Act. It’s a move that would increase regulation for about 3,000 districts statewide. That portion of the lawsuit will still move forward toward a trial which will take place in June.

Farm groups celebrated the court’s decision to uphold the longstanding precedent. They said the lawsuit has been a distraction from their work to improve water quality.

Clean water advocates worried the decision would reduce pressure on lawmakers to create a substantial new funding source for water quality improvements and would decrease efforts to set goals for reducing nitrogen levels in Iowa rivers.

The lawsuit has added pressure to implement the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a voluntary plan to cut nitrogen and phosphorus levels by 45 percent from rural and urban areas.

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

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

Flint residents sue EPA for $722 million in damages


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Tap water samples used by Virginia Tech University researchers during the Flint Water Study. (Science-based Medicine)
Jenna Ladd | February 2, 2017

Residents of Flint, Michigan are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly mishandling the city’s lead contamination issue.

The more than 1,700 citizen are seeking $722 million dollars in damages. The plaintiffs argue that the EPA “failed to follow several specific agency mandates and directives” and neglected to determine whether local and state officials were immediately taking steps to address the issue.

The 30-page lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Michigan on Monday. It reads, “This case involves a major failure on all levels of government to protect the health and safety of the public…Local, state and federal agencies and employees, working individually and at times in concert with each other, mismanaged this environmental catastrophe.”

According to the EPA’s own website, lead contamination of drinking water can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia among children. Lead from drinking water can also pass through the placenta resulting in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth.

The city of Flint, population of 100,000, switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014, causing lead to leach from the city’s old pipes. A year later, children from Flint were found to have high levels of lead in their blood samples. Researchers from Virginia Tech University concluded that 40 percent of the homes in the predominantly African American city had drinking water that exceeded federal safety limits in September of 2015.

On January 24, 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that the city’s drinking water tested below the federal limit. Ninety percent of the samples taken contained lead levels of 12 parts per billion or less, well below the federal limit of 15 parts per billion. Still, public health officials recommend that residents continue to use filtered water for cooking and drinking as the city continues to replace its pipes.

This class-action lawsuit follows Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s felony charges against four government officials involved in the public health crisis. In all, 13 current and former government officials have been held accountable for the contamination of Flint’s water.

Climate change could dramatically alter mountain habitats


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Wyoming’s Grand Tetons south of Yellowstone near Jackson Hole. (flickr)
Jake Slobe | February 1, 2017

Mountain regions of the world are under direct threat from human-induced climate change which could radically alter their fragile habitats, warn an international team of researchers.

The international study, which spanned seven major mountain regions of the world, revealed that decreasing elevation – descending a mountainside to warmer levels –consistently increased the availability of nitrogen from the soil for plant growth, meaning that future climate warming could disrupt the way that fragile mountain ecosystems function.

The researchers also found that the balance of nitrogen to phosphorus availability in plant leaves was very similar across the seven regions at high elevations, but diverged greatly across regions at lower elevations. This means that as temperatures become warmer with climate change, the crucial balance between these nutrients that sustain plant growth could be radically altered in higher mountain areas.

They also found that increasing temperature and its consequences for plant nutrition were linked to other changes in the soil, including amounts of organic matter and the make-up of the soil microbial community.

These changes were partly independent of any effect of the alpine tree line, meaning that effects of warming on ecosystem properties will occur irrespective of whatever shifts occur in the migration of trees up-slope due to higher temperatures.

Rather than use short-term experiments, the research team used gradients of elevation in each mountain region spanning both above and below the alpine tree line.

Indian factory captures and utilizes carbon dioxide


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An Indian chemical plant has figured out how to turn its carbon emissions into baking soda. (Ramkumar/Flickr)
Jake Slobe | January 30, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a chemical plant in India that has discovered how to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions.

Transcript: An industrial plant in India has become the first in the world to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions to turn a profit.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The factory, located at an industrial port in southern India, captures carbon dioxide emissions from its own coal-powered boiler which are then used to make baking soda, and other chemical compounds found in detergents, sweeteners and glass. Two young Indian chemists developed a new way to strip carbon dioxide from emissions using a form of salt that binds with carbon dioxide molecules in the boiler’s chimney. According to the inventors, the new approach is less corrosive and much cheaper than conventional carbon capturing methods.

Carbon Capture and Utilization at the 3.1 million dollar plant is projected to keep 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. Carbonclean, the London-based group that invested in the project, predicts that capturing and utilizing carbon dioxide could offset five to ten percent of the world’s total emissions from burning coal.

For more information about this breakthrough system, visit iowaEnvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.