On The Radio – New study looks at freshwater flood risk from hurricanes


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On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on southwestern Haiti as a category-4 storm—the strongest storm to hit the Caribbean nation in more than 50 years. Just hours after landfall, NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this image. (NASA)
Jake Slobe | March 27, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a new study showing that hurricanes can often cause more damage to land further inland than previously thought.

Transcript: A study including researchers from the University of Iowa has found that hurricanes often do more damage in the form of freshwater flooding, sometimes thousands of miles inland, than they do on the coasts.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study looked at freshwater flood risk from North Atlantic tropical hurricanes as part of a groundbreaking study linking hurricanes to flood insurance claims. The authors were the first to analyze future flood impacts due to climate change and urbanization.

The study found that the number of insured residential losses from freshwater flooding is twice as high as that from coastal flooding.

The study’s findings, published in Scientific Reports, could influence the way policy makers think about risk management, emergency services, flood insurance, and urban development.

Until now, research into freshwater flood risk due to hurricanes has been limited. They analyzed all significant flood events associated with U.S.  hurricanes that reached land from 2001 to 2014.

The researchers found that just one-third of total residential flood insurance claims were related to storm surge and that the impact of freshwater flooding from hurricanes was much more significant.

To learn more about the study, visit iowaenvironmentfocus.org

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

The Weather Channel gives a forecast from the year 2050


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Jake Slobe | March 15, 2017

Mega-droughts. Long-lasting heat waves. Flooded coastal cities. These are the weather scenarios for 2050 from a series of imaginary, yet realistic, reports from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that predict a future of warmer, wetter and more extreme weather.

WMO released four series of future weather reports in 2014 and 2015 to highlight the need for action to minimize the risks of extreme weather and climate events. Series 4 was launched in advance of the Paris conference on the Climate Change Convention in November 2015, Series 3 supported the Third World Conference on Disaster risk Reduction held in Sendai, Series 2 was launched in December 2014 during the Lima conference on the Climate Change Convention, and Series 1 was launched in September 2014 to support the UN Secretary-General’s call for action at the UN Climate Summit.

Three of the station’s best-known personalities—Sam Champion, Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams—each contribute to segments that imagine a world besieged by the kind of extreme weather scientists expect to see a lot more of by midcentury.

Climate reporter Andrew Freedman said about the video forecast:

“This Weather Channel video of a weather forecast in 2050 may be the most compelling climate advocacy vid I’ve seen. It represents an aggressive, almost advocacy-oriented, move on the part of The Weather Channel, which began covering climate change more routinely during the past two years after virtually ignoring it entirely for several years.”

What they created are only possible scenarios and not true forecasts. Nevertheless, they are based on the most up-to-date climate science, and they paint a compelling picture of what life could look like on a warmer planet. The events dramatized in both pieces are entirely in keeping with what climate scientists expect to see as human-spewed carbon continues to saturate the atmosphere.

You can watch all the videos here.

 

 

New study identifies spill risk of hydraulically fractured wells


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The amount of natural gas from hydraulically fractured wells has exploded over the last 15 years. (U.S. EIA)
Jake Slobe | March 1, 2017

Each year, 2 to 16 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemical-laden water, hydraulic fracturing fluids and other substances, according to a new study.

The analysis, published Environmental Science & Technology, identified 6,648 spills reported across Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania over a 10-year period.

Researchers examined state-level spill data to characterize spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 wells hydraulically fractured or fracked in the four states between 2005 and 2014.

Lauren Patterson, policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the study’s lead author.

“State spill data holds great promise for risk identification and mitigation. However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis.”

North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents, followed by Pennsylvania at 1,293, Colorado at 476 and New Mexico at 426. The number of spills reported is partly a reflection of the reporting requirements set by each state. For example, North Dakota required reporting smaller spills (42 gallons or more) than Colorado and New Mexico (210 gallons or more).

The results of the study exceed the 457 spills calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for eight states between 2006 and 2012 because the EPA’s analysis only considered the hydraulic fracturing stage, rather than the full life cycle of unconventional oil and gas production.

Fifty percent of spills identified in the Environmental Science & Technology article were related to storage and moving fluids via pipelines, although it was not always possible to determine the cause of the spill because some states explicitly required this data to be reported while others relied on narrative descriptions.

Across all states, the first three years of a well’s life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest, had the greatest risk of a spill. The study found that a significant portion of spills (from 26 percent in Colorado to 53 percent in North Dakota) occur at wells that experienced more than one spill, which suggests that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.

 

University of Iowa 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 | 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


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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.

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.

New administration stifles publication of climate change science


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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.”