University of Iowa announces it will be coal free by 2025


zero-coal-timeline
Infographic of the University of Iowa’s path to zero coal. (Josh Brdicko, Marketing & Design, BFA ’18)
Jake Slobe | February 22, 2017

University of Iowa President, Bruce Harreld, announced on Feb. 20 the UI will be coal-free by 2025.

“It’s the right choice for our students and our campus, and it’s the surest path to an energy-secure future,” said Harreld in the press release. “In 2025, we expect to have diminished our reliance on coal to the point it is no longer included in our fuel portfolio.”

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

Since the 2020 vision’s inception, the UI has managed to reduce its use of coal by 60 percent.

This correlates with one of the sustainability targets, which seeks to derive 40 percent of the UI’s energy from renewable resources — a far cry from a university once dependent on fossil fuels, according to the UI sustainability website.

The coal-free goal builds on the the sustainability targets set by UI officials in 2012. At that time, UI officials pledged to work toward having 40 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2020. The idea, according to UI officials, was to help transition from the university’s dependency on fossil fuels — including coal — and to increase campus use of biomass and other renewable energy sources.

Over the past nine years, UI campus has reduced its use of coal by 60 percent, according to the release. In late 2016, UI achieved a single-day high of 52 percent energy generated from renewable fuels and averaged 50 percent that week.

In addition to the UI’s use of coal, the sustainability targets also deal with achieving net-negative energy growth and decreasing the amount of waste put into landfills.

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 with local farmers living within 50 miles of Iowa City. The university has already planted 550 acres of the miscanthus and will plant an additional 250 to 350 acres during the spring of 2017. The goal is to establish up to 2,500 acres locally by 2020, according to the release.

 

Extreme Rain from Thunderstorms is Rising Due to Climate Change


precipitation_nca_1991-2012_lrg
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.

Indian factory captures and utilizes carbon dioxide


2134213496-carbon_1024
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.

New administration stifles publication of climate change science


9440758789_f41b7ae0b7_o
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Haydn Blackey/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 26, 2017

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has worked to eliminate climate science from the public arena.

Hours after swearing in, the new administration removed climate-related information from the White House website. The only reference to climate change now visible on the site is a promise to throw out “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

The Trump administration also ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its climate change webpage on Tuesday, according to reports from two anonymous EPA employees. The sources say the page could go down as early as Wednesday. The agency has also been banned from making press releases, writing blog posts and communicating via social media while the Trump administration make its transition into power.

In a recent interview with NPR, Doug Ericksen, the head of communication for the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, said that throughout the transition period, scientists will be subject to an internal vetting process before they can make their conclusions public.

Ericksen said, “We’ll take a look at what’s happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that’s going to reflect the new administration.”

He did not say whether the review process would become a permanent hurdle for EPA scientists. Ericksen said, “We’re on day two here…You’ve got to give us a few days to get our feet underneath us.”

Any internal vetting at the EPA directly contradicts its scientific integrity policy. The policy, established in 2012, “Prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.”

It is not unusual for new administrations to curb public outreach while its agencies adjust to the transition of power but government vetting of scientific work is uncommon.

Andrew Light, a senior fellow in the Global Climate Program at the nonpartisan World Resources Institute, said, “It’s certainly the case that every administration tries to control information, but I think that what we’re seeing here is much more sweeping than has ever been done before.” Light added, “And in particular, it’s noteworthy that it seems to be aimed at a cluster of science-driven agencies that primarily work on the environment and climate change.”

Toxic algae may become more common as climate and oceans warm


California Algae Bloom Kills And Sickens Hundreds Of Animals
Toxic algae blooms have plagued the California coast like this outbreak that killed or sickened thousands of animals that volunteers raced to save. (Getty Images)
Jake Slobe | January 25, 2017

A new link between toxic algae and warmer ocean temperatures provides the latest sign that climate change is causing biological disturbances in the oceans. Scientists tracked West Coast outbreaks of the planktonic algae back to 1991, finding a strong correlation with warm phases of ocean cycles.

The new research, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on a single-cell species of phytoplankton called Pseudo-nitzschia. The phytoplankton produces domoic acid, which can be fatal to humans if consumed at high levels by eating shellfish. Domoic acid has also been implicated in mass die-offs of marine mammals, including sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and whales.

A 2015 Pseudo-nitzschia bloom from the extending from California coast up to Alaska was the most widespread on record, taking a $100 million bite out of the Dungeness crab industry in Washington, Oregon and California, according to NOAA. Scientists monitor for the toxin and close down fisheries when it reaches dangerous levels. There were unprecedented outbreaks of similar pathogens around the world that year, which was Earth’s warmest on record until 2016.

Researchers have documented the changes to plankton cycles in recent years, including bigger and longer-lasting blooms spreading to new territory. Evidence points to ocean warming as a big part of the problem, with some regional nuances. In 2014, a European Union science report concluded that toxic algae blooms will increase under climate change. Researchers of the new study wrote,

“If these warm ocean regimes become more persistent due to global warming, as some hypothesize, West Coast domoic acid events may also increase in persistence and frequency.”

Since 1900, the average sea surface temperature has increased by 0.85 degrees Celsius. Coastal waters are “very likely to continue to warm in the 21st century, potentially by as much as 4 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit,” according to the EPA, which has warned of increased algae blooms.

Lead author of the new study and oceanographer at Oregon State University, Morgaine McKibben said the scientists compared temperature records from West Coast waters with official reports of elevated toxin levels to find a surprisingly strong correlation between ocean warm phases and outbreaks. She said,

“The warmer the conditions, the bigger the impacts. If it’s a really warm year, it’s going to be a really toxic year.”

The new study looked back 26 years, with the outbreaks spiking during warm phases of the ocean cycle and during El Niño years. While the exact link between climate change and recurring cycles like El Niño has been difficult for scientists to pin down, research shows a clear global warming fingerprint that links greenhouse gas pollution and warmer ocean water off the west coast.

 

 

Iowa Energy Plan unveiled


gov-energy-plan
Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds unveiling the statewide Iowa Energy Plan               (iaenvironment.org)
Jake Slobe | January 23, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the recently released Iowa Energy Plan.

Transcript: A new state plan for Iowa’s energy policies will serve as a framework for current and future state leaders.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

After a year of planning and collaboration with stakeholders from around the state, the Iowa Energy Plan has been unveiled and is available for review.

Chaired by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Energy Plan was initiated to set state priorities and provide strategic guidance for Iowa’s energy future. The plan assesses current and future energy supply and demand, examines energy policies and programs and identifies emerging challenges and opportunities.

The new energy strategy envisions electric car-charging stations across the state, anaerobic digesters that turn animal waste to energy, and top state and federal researchers finding ways to store wind and solar energy.

The plan details dozens of objectives and strategies, but is overall guided by four categories — economic development, energy efficiency and conservation, energy resources and transportation and infrastructure.

For more information about the Iowa Energy Plan, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Warming U.S. could see a large increase in extreme rains


precipitation_nca_1991-2012_lrg
Precipitation change in the U.S. from 1991 to 2012. (NASA)
Jake Slobe | January 4, 2017

According to a new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the number of summertime storms that produce extreme downpours could increase by more than 400 percent across parts of the United States  including sections of the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast, and the Southwest by the end of the century.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, also found that the intensity of individual extreme rainfall events could increase by as much as 70 percent in some areas. That would mean that a storm that drops 2 inches of rainfall today would be likely to drop nearly 3.5 inches in the future.

“I think this is one of the most severe consequences of climate change, at least in the US,” said Andreas Prein, study co-author.

An increase in extreme precipitation is one of the expected impacts of climate change because scientists know that as the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water, and a wetter atmosphere can produce heavier rain. In fact, an increase in precipitation intensity has already been measured across all regions of the U.S. However, climate models are generally not able to simulate these downpours because of their coarse resolution, which has made it difficult for researchers to assess future changes in storm frequency and intensity.

Prein and his co-authors used the new dataset to investigate changes in downpours over North America in detail. The researchers looked at how storms that occurred between 2000 and 2013 might change if they occurred instead in a climate that was 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer (the temperature increase expected by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unabated).

The study also found that the intensity of extreme rainfall events in the summer could increase across nearly the entire country, with some regions, including the Northeast and parts of the Southwest, seeing particularly large increases, in some cases of more than 70 percent.

A surprising result of the study is that extreme downpours will also increase in areas that are getting drier on average, especially in the Midwest. This is because moderate rainfall events that are the major source of moisture in this region during the summertime are expected to decrease significantly while extreme events increase in frequency and intensity. This shift from moderate to intense rainfall increases the potential for flash floods and mudslides, and can have negative impacts on agriculture.

The study also investigated how the environmental conditions that produce the most severe downpours might change in the future. In today’s climate, the storms with the highest hourly rainfall intensities form when the daily average temperature is somewhere between 68 to 77 degrees and with high atmospheric moisture. When the temperature gets too hot, rainstorms become weaker or don’t occur at all because the increase in atmospheric moisture cannot keep pace with the increase in temperature. The new study found that storms may continue to intensify up to temperatures of 86 degrees  because of a more humid atmosphere. The result would be much more intense storms.

“Understanding how climate change may affect the environments that produce the most intense storms is essential because of the significant impacts that these kinds of storms have on society,” Prein said.