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.

On The Radio – Hy-Vee supermarkets tackle food waste


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Hy-Vee is an employee-owned chain of more than 240 supermarkets located throughout the Midwestern United States. (Flickr / Picture Des Moines)
Jake Slobe | March 6, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses Hy-Vee’s recent strategy to reduce food waste within their stores. 

Transcript: Iowa’s Hy-Vee supermarket chain recently announced an initiative to reduce food waste.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The employee-owned corporation began its “Misfits” program in mid-January, and now offers “ugly” produce in nearly all of its 242 stores. “Ugly” produce are those vegetables and fruits that typically are not sold at market due to industry size and shape preferences. The program’s produce offerings include peppers, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and apples, among other fruits and vegetables. On average, consumers can expect to pay 30 percent less for the “ugly” items.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply goes to waste. Food waste makes up the vast majority of waste found in municipal landfills and quickly generates methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than CO2 during its first two decades in the atmosphere.

Hy-Vee’s Misfit program supports the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effort to achieve a 50 percent food waste reduction nationwide by 2030.

For more information about Hy-Vee’s food waste reduction efforts, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

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.