Scientists construct massive fake sun to develop new renewable energy source


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“Synlight,” the world’s largest artificial sun, was created by scientists to develop new ways to create hydrogen fuel. (Bruno Amaru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 24, 2017

Scientists in Germany have constructed the world’s largest artificial sun in order research how to produce a developing renewable energy source.

Hydrogen is regarded as the renewable fuel of the future, mostly because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions when burned. However, the gas isn’t found alone in the nature so scientists must split the molecules that make up water (H2O) in order to harness its power. Separating H20 molecules requires a great deal of energy; the German scientists hope to learn how to get that energy from sunlight.

The artificial sun, called “Synlight,” is comprised of 149 high-powered film projector spotlights and is able to generate 350 kilowatts. Bernard Hoffschmidt is research director at the German Aerospace Center, Synlight’s home. Hoffschmidt told the Guardian, “If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly.”

The researchers will point all of the artificial sun’s energy at a single 8 by 8 inch spot where it will emit 10,000 times the amount of light that reaches Earth naturally from the sun. Using these strong rays, the scientists will be able to experiment with new ways of creating hydrogen fuel using energy from the sun.

In the short term, Synlight uses an incredible amount of energy: four hours of operation is equivalent to how much electricity a family of four would use in a year. Long term, the researchers anticipate it could help them learn how to use naturally occurring sunlight to produce hydrogen fuel without the use of any fossil fuels.

Hoffschmidt said, “We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel. Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”

Extreme weather reaches ‘uncharted territory’


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Hurricane Matthew is just one example of the climate change-related extreme weather events that have taken place in 2017. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 23, 2017

Last year was a record-breaking year for climate change and not in a good way. Global temperatures set record highs for the third consecutive year and sea ice coverage worldwide shrunk by 4,000,000 square kilometers, that’s about the size of the European Union.

These extraordinary climate conditions led to extreme weather events all around the world. Among them, Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean, the first category four storm to reach land since in 1963 and severe droughts in southern and eastern Africa. A recent report from the United Nations World Meteorological Organization found that extreme weather has carried over into 2017.

So far this winter, severe storms in the Atlantic Ocean have caused Arctic “heat waves” so that while ice cover in the region should be refreezing, many days it was close to melting. North Africa and the Arabian peninsula have seen colder than usual winter temperatures while parts of Canada and the U.S. have been much warmer than is typical.

David Carlson is the World Climate Research program director. He said, “Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system.”

In the month of February alone, nearly 12,000 warm temperature records were broken in the U.S.

Carlson added, “We are now in truly uncharted territory.”

Top doctors say climate change harms human health


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The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health details how climate change will affect human health in specific regions of the U.S. (Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health)
Jenna Ladd | March 16, 2017

The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health released a report on Wednesday explaining the ways in which climate change harms the physical and mental health of people in the U.S.

The report, titled “Medical Alert! Climate Change is Impacting our Health” was written by medical doctors, including allergists, pediatricians, infectious-disease doctors, OB/GYNs and gerontologists from eleven health organizations.

Very few Americans, less than 32 percent, can name a specific way in which climate change harms human health. “Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker,” said Dr. Mona Sarfaty, the director of the new consortium.

The authors broke down the specific health effects of climate change in each region of the U.S. The doctors explain that three by-products of climate change will directly impact human health: air pollution, extreme heat and extreme weather events. Increased temperatures associated with climate change intensify smog, wildfires and pollen production, leading to poor air quality, the report said. “Poor air quality increases asthma and allergy attacks, and can lead to other illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths,” the authors wrote.

Rising global temperatures cause more frequent, longer, and more extreme heat waves in many parts of the U.S. Excessive heat leads to heat-related illness, exacerbates some medical conditions, and can cause death due to heat-stroke and dehydration. The report read, “Anyone can be harmed by extreme heat, but some people face greater risk. For example, outdoor workers, student athletes, city dwellers, and people who lack air conditioning (or who lose it during an extended power outage) face greater risk because they are more exposed to extreme heat.”

The physicians pointed out that extreme weather events are also taking a toll on their patients. The increased frequency and severity of major storms, floods, and droughts can cause injury, displacement and death, the report read. These events often prevent residents from receiving proper medical care due to blocked roads, destroyed bridges and the like. Gastrointestinal illness and disease often follow the power outages associated with extreme weather events as well, according to the doctors.

Beyond these direct impacts, climate change also speeds up the spread of infectious diseases and has an insidious impact on humans’ mental health. With temperatures rising around the world, infectious disease vectors like ticks, mosquitoes and fleas can now survive in regions that were previously too cold for them. For example, “Ticks that carry Lyme disease have become more numerous in many areas and have expanded their range northward and westward,” the report said.

U.S. residents that have experienced increasingly common extreme weather events like foods, major storms, and droughts are likely to suffer mental health consequences including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Anyone could experience these effects, but women, pregnant women, the elderly, children, and those with a preexisting mental health condition are most at risk.

The report concluded with a call to government leaders, asking them to address climate change in the name of human health. It read, “Doctors agree with climate scientists: the sooner we take action, the more harm we can prevent, and the more we can protect the health of all Americans.”

Dr. Charles Stanier provides Lake Michigan Ozone Study update


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Red dots indicate areas where mean ozone levels were above 70 parts per billion, which is the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard. (Rob Kaleel/LADCO)
Jenna Ladd | March 9, 2017

The Lake Michigan Ozone Study 2017, a collaborative research campaign designed to better understand ozone levels around the lake, will begin this May.

The communities around Lake Michigan frequently experience an overabundance of surface-level ozone, which can cause respiratory problems for humans and harm plant life. Through the study, scientists are working to generate new information about how ozone in the area is formed and transported above the lake.

Brad Pierce is NOAA Advanced Satellite Products Branch scientist stationed at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said, “There are these sites along the lake… that are in violation, and they’re not really areas that have a whole lot of industry.” Pierce added, “The sense is that a lot of this has to do with lake breeze circulations. We want to go out and measure the lake breeze circulation and the transport of ozone precursors – the emissions that end up producing ozone – in the springtime when this lake breeze is most dominant.”

Since the study was commissioned last year, it has received additional support from the scientific community. Dr. Charles Stanier is a CGRER member and UI professor of chemical and biochemical engineering. He said, “We’ve expanded from one aircraft and two [air quality monitoring] ground sites to two aircrafts and seven ground sites. We’ve got extensive measurements that will start in May and continue into June and then extensive computer simulations that will help make sense of what we see.”

The collaborative field campaign consists of scientists from several universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa, and many more as well as professionals from the agencies like the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO) and NASA.

Dr. Stanier provides more information about the study’s goals and primary research questions below.

Intense summer heat to become more likely due to climate change


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Sydney, Australia saw record heat this summer, with mean temperatures 37 degrees Fahrenheit above average. (Bernard Spragg/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 3, 2017

Southern Australia just endured its hottest summer ever recorded, and recent research found that the likelihood of more extreme summer weather is on the rise.

Following summer months where Sydney’s mean temperature remained 37 degrees Fahrenheit above average, Dr. Perkins-Kirkpatrick at the University of New South Wales in Sydney began to study the relationship between human-induced climate change and summer heat waves.

Along with other researchers at the World Weather Attribution, Perkins-Kirkpatrick concluded that climate change has made it 50 times more likely that New South Wales will experience another similarly scorching summer. Simply put, before 1910 extreme weather like that experienced this summer was likely to occur once every 500 years, now it is likely to occur every 50 years on average. If climate change remains unabated, researchers say that likelihood could increase even more.

The report said, “In the future, a summer as hot as this past summer in New South Wales is likely to happen roughly once every five years.”

Energy companies in New South Wales had trouble supplying enough electricity to meet the demand for air conditioning units during the heatwave’s most intense days from February 9th through the 11th. Meanwhile, according to report by The Guardian, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull criticized renewable energy efforts, calling renewable energy goals in the country “completely unrealistic.”

Dr. Andrew King of Melbourne University was another one of the report’s authors. He said, “Yes, people would have experienced 40C [104 degrees Fahrenheit] days several decades ago around different parts of Australia and in Sydney but we know that these incidences of very hot days are getting more frequent and we are setting more records for heat.”

King added, “The purpose of the analysis in this report is to raise awareness that climate change is already impacting on weather in Australia. Hopefully it motivates action on climate change, because we know what the solution to climate change is.”

Winter tornados move through Midwest


West of Tuscaloosa, Alabama
(Frank/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 2, 2017

More than 20 tornados ripped through parts of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee on Tuesday.

The severe thunderstorms and tornadoes killed at least three people and left thousands of residents in the Midwest and Southeastern U.S. without electricity. While tornados during winter months are rare, they seem to be happening with increasing frequency.

Typically wintertime tornados form when a forceful jet stream moves across the Southern U.S. and meets colder, retreating air fronts. According to The Weather Channel, usually these tornados crop up in the Deep South, however, in February 2016 severe tornados touched down in Pennsylvania and Virginia, ultimately killing seven people.

On average, February is second-least tornadic month of the year, but recently averages for that month are increasing. February 2008 had 146 total tornados, making it the most tornadic February since the 1950s, and February 2016 came close behind with 138 total twisters.

While an abundance of scientific evidence links climate change with the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like heat waves and coastal flooding, the relationship between climate change and tornado frequency remains unclear.

Due to particularly strong jet-stream level energy characteristic of the winter months, winter tornados can occur at any time of the day or night, unlike more predictable spring and summer tornados that almost always form during the late afternoon and evening. The Weather Channel also points out that it is common for winter twisters to be wrapped in rain, making them more difficult to spot.

Experts remind Midwestern and Southeastern U.S. residents that severe weather in the winter months can be deadly and to create or review their severe weather plans.

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(The Weather Channel)

Statewide monarch butterfly conservation strategy released


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The Cerro Pelón Reserve near Macheros is the second most populous monarch butterfly roosting site in Mexico during the winter months. (Dylan Hillyer/personal collection)
Jenna Ladd | February 28, 2017

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium released its statewide strategy for the conservation and advancement of the monarch butterfly on Monday.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy aims to recover monarch butterfly populations in Iowa and North America. Developed by the 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-the strategy provides necessary resources and information to advance the well-being of monarch butterflies in Iowa and across the continent.

A recent report found that the population of monarch butterflies that spend the winter months in Mexico decreased by 27 percent in 2016, primarily due to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. Milkweed is the only plant in which female monarchs will lay their eggs as well as the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. According to the consortium, about 40 percent of monarchs that overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and its neighboring states. In the last two decades, the total monarch population has declined by 80 percent.

Monarch butterflies provide vital ecosystem services including pollination and natural pest management. They also serve as a food source to larger animals such birds and bats.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said, “We didn’t get to this point overnight, and we aren’t going to improve the population overnight. But we have a really strong group across many different areas of expertise working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond.”

The strategy provides scientifically-based conservation practices that include using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying pesticides that may be toxic to the butterfly.

In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Wendy Wintersteen is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. She said, “This strategy is critical to rally Iowa agriculture, landowners and citizens to continue to make progress in restoring monarch habitat.”