UI professor researches geology behind ocean formation


Early morning on the South China sea
Sunrise on the South China Sea, where UI professor David Peate is spending his summer researching continental rifts. (flickr/Ivan Herman)
Jenna Ladd | May 19, 2017

The spring semester has come to a close and most UI professors have retreated to their campus labs to catch up on research. Dr. David Peate, on the other hand, is spending his summer days floating on the South China Sea.

This is no pleasure cruise, however. The professor of Earth and Environmental sciences is working 12-hour days to advance scientific understanding of how continents separate and oceans are formed. Peate embarked on the 9-week expedition funded by the International Ocean Discovery Program with 125 other scientists and crew members from around the world, he explained in an interview with Iowa Now.

In the interview, Peate explained that when continents drift apart, the uppermost layer of the Earth’s crust is stretched so much that parts of a deeper layer called the mantle can ooze up into the crust. Sometimes the mantle is so hot that it rises up as lava and forms continental boundaries like those seen in eastern Greenland and northern Europe, he explained. Other times, the mantle rises at cooler temperatures and no lava is formed. The expedition’s primary mission is to understand the difference between these two types of continental rifts.

The continental rift in the South China sea is “different than other well-studied rifted margins. For one, it is not covered by thick piles of lava flows, unlike most other examples of continental rifting, which spawned lava flows,” he said.

The researchers’ ship is equipped with a three mile long steel tube that drills into the ocean floor to collect cores. “That is equivalent to the distance between the Old Capitol and Iowa City West High School,” Peate explained to Iowa Now. Once pulled up, cores are separated into five-foot lengths and prepared for geologists to study. Peate is mostly interested in volcanic rock. Some of the cores will return to Iowa with him. He said, “I will collaborate with other international scientists from the expedition to make detailed chemical investigations of all the volcanic rocks that we find.” Peate continued, “Combining results from the different drilled sites will allow us to build a picture of how the volcanic activity changed through time as the rifting event happened.”

Peate’s other areas of research include the formation and transport of magma in Iceland and the driving forces behind large magma eruptions. His compete interview with Iowa Now can be found here.

Neonicotinoids found in University of Iowa drinking water


activate charcoal
Activated carbon filters were shown to effectively remove neonic insecticides from drinking water. (Minnesota Department of Health)
Jenna Ladd | April 7, 2017

Neonicotinoids, a specific class of pesticides, have been detected for the first time ever in tap water according to a recently published study by University of Iowa scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Neonics became widely used by farmers in the early 1990s, mostly because they are harmful to insects but to not other species. The pesticides are still very popular, despite mounting research that suggests they are lethal to bees and other helpful insect species.

A team of researchers compared tap water samples from the University of Iowa drinking water supply to samples of Iowa City municipal tap water. Tap water from each source was tested for three primary neonicotinoid types: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. The University of Iowa filtration system removed only a minute amount of each insecticide. In contrast, the City of Iowa City successfully removed 100 percent, 94 percent and 85 percent, respectively, of each primary neonicotinoid.

Researchers say this can be explained by the different filtration systems used in each facility. Neonicotinoids readily dissolve in water, they say, and therefore easily slip through the University’s sand filters. The city employs an activated carbon filter that successfully removes the chemicals. Dr. Gregory LeFevre, University of Iowa environmental engineer and one of the study’s authors, said that activated carbon filters can be a cost-effective way to tackle these insecticides in an interview with the Washington Post. In fact, the University purchased a small activated carbon filtration system shortly after the study wrapped up in July 2016.

Levels of neonicotinoids in University water were relatively small, ranging from 0.24 to 57.3 nanograms per liter. LeFevre said, “Parts per trillion is a really, really small concentration.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not set a limit for neonicotinoid levels in drinking water. The study’s authors argue that more research is called for to assess neonicotinoid exposure on a larger scale. LeFevre explained, “Without really good toxicity data it is hard to ascertain the scale of this, but whenever we have pesticides in the drinking water that is something that raises a flag no matter what type of concentration it is.”

On The Radio – Flood patterns changing across the U.S.


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The threat of moderate flooding is generally increasing in the northern U.S. and decreasing in the southern U.S., while some regions remain mostly unchanged. (American Geophysical Union)
Jake Slobe | January 2, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses changing flood patterns found by University of Iowa researchers.

Transcript: The risk of flooding is changing regionally across the United States and the reasons could be shifting rainfall patterns and changes in groundwater.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

University of Iowa engineers, in a new study, have determined that the threat of flooding is growing in the northern half of the U.S. while declining in the southern half. The American Southwest and West, meanwhile, are experiencing decreasing flood risk.

UI engineers Gabriele Villarini and Louise Slater compiled water-height information from 2,042 stream gauges operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. They then compared the data to satellite information gathered over more than a dozen years by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission showing the amount of water stored in the ground.

The study found that northern sections of the country have an increased amount of water stored in the ground and are at increased risk for minor and moderate flooding. Meanwhile, flood risk is decreasing in the southern portions of the U.S., where stored water has declined.

The researchers hope their findings can change how flood patterns are discussed. In the past, flood risk trends have typically been discussed using stream flow, or the amount of water flowing per unit time. The UI study views flood risk through the lens of how it may affect people and property and aligns the results with National Weather Service terminology understood by the general public.

For more information about the flood research, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Critical Zone Observatory Environmental Science Workshop


(Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | June 29, 2016

Nearly two dozen Eastern Iowa K-12 teachers attended a workshop Tuesday to learn about hands-on activities and lesson plans for engaging students in science.

The Critical Zone Observatory Environmental Science Workshop brought together the University of Iowa College of Education, the UI Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, the UI State Hygienic Laboratory, and the Intensively Managed Landscapes-Critical Zone Observatory to help teachers connect their students to environmental science. While the workshop focused mostly on science, Leslie Flynn, a clinical assistant professor in the UI College of Education, said the workshop also aims to show teachers and students how science is connected to other fields.

“I think what (earth and environmental sciences professor) Dr. Bettis did that was interesting for the teachers was show them how our landscape has changed over time. As farm practices have changed and more people have moved into the area, it’s changed the Clear Creek Watershed,” said Flynn. “Teachers were drawing connections not just between the science but also the history of the landscape, geography, political considerations in terms of zoning. I think what it showed us is that it’s a very interdisciplinary topic and that we can use the environment and the watershed to look through multiple lenses. Through math, science, social studies, engineering and I think that really struck a chord with the teachers.”

Workshop attendees spent the morning at a research site in rural Iowa County to learn about hands-on activities and potential field trip opportunities related to environmental science. The afternoon session was at the UI State Hygienic Laboratory where teachers developed environmental science lessons plans. Flynn said she thinks inter-departmental cooperation, particularly between she and CGRER member Dr. Art Bettis, was key to the success of the event.

“One thing that’s really important to me is finding people who want to partner. In this project, Art and I said “yes” to each other. We didn’t know each other (prior to this event.) Then the State Hygienic Laboratory welcomed us in here,” said Flynn. “So one of the great things is finding people who say “yes” and when they do you can solve problems for K-12 and the community so it’s just been a great experience.”

Lincoln High School students collect over 9,700 lbs of recycling


Photo by Lower Columbia College, Flickr

Students in Environmental Science classes at Lincoln High School in Des Moines are working hard to increase their school’s recycling. Once a week, the students collect recycling bins that each class fills and places outside of their classroom.

The Environmental Science students then sort through the bins to ensure that everything is recyclable.

So far, they have collected over 9,700 lbs. of recycling.

Read more about this project and other school projects via the Des Moines Register here.

For a series of videos on creating a school recycling program, click here.