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.”

University of Iowa alumnus receives BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award


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University of Iowa Alumnus, James Hansen (Columbia University)
Jenna Ladd | January 17, 2017

University of Iowa Alumnus James Hansen has been honored with the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category.

The BBVA Foundation promotes, finances, and developments research projects in Biomedicine and Health, Environment, Economy and Society, Basic Sciences and Technology, and Arts and Humanities on behalf of the BBVA Group, a multinational banking group headquartered in Bilbao, Spain.

Hansen received the Frontiers of Knowledge Award along with Japanese climatologist Syukuro Manabe. The two men independently developed the first computation models with the ability to simulate climate behavior, and pioneered the “use of these models to understand and project how Earth’s climate responds to changing concentrations of atmospheric CO2,” said the BBVA’s prize jury.

Originally from Denison, Iowa, Hansen earned his Bachelors, Masters, and PhD from the University of Iowa in Physics. He studied under renowned physicist James VanAllen in the space studies program in the late 1960’s. In 1967, Hansen joined NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. While researching planetary atmospheres at the Institute, Hansen was instrumental in establishing that Venus’ extremely hot temperatures were due to a greenhouse gas effect.

As CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere continued to rise throughout the 1970’s, Hansen shifted his focus and began to study the effect of CO2 on climate. He developed a computational model independently from Manabe, and his conclusions were published in the Journal of Science in 1981. The BBVA prize jury points out that this research was important because it was the first ever to incorporate global temperature data and to predict how global warming would affect other earth processes such as oceanic circulation and flooding.

Manabe said, “I started working with models earlier, but Hansen was the first to use these models to make predictions.”

Hansen served as Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies from 1981-2013. He is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute where he has led the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program since 2013.

NPR science writer Joe Palca to visit University of Iowa


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Jake Slobe| November 16, 2016

The Public Policy Center is hosting NPR science correspondent Joe Palca for a talk, “Reporting on Remarkable Science and Remarkable Scientists.” The talk, which is part of the Creative Matters series, is free and open to all.

Wednesday, November 16
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

100 Phillips Hall

Joe Palca will discuss creativity, innovation, and the translation of science as part of the Office of Research and Economic Development’s Creative Matters series.

Palca has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1992 where he has covered a range of science topics including everything from biomedical research to astronomy.  He also has his own series, “Joe’s Big Idea,” which explores the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors.

Palca has won numerous awards throughout his career including the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Writing.

The Creative Matters lecture series seeks to demonstrate that creativity is not only at the core of all research and discovery, but also central to our human experience. The exciting lineup of invited speakers includes artists, thinkers, builders, and doers who challenge conventional thinking about creativity, science, and artistic expression and borrow from a range of influences and disciplines in their work.

The Creative Matters series brings together artists, thinkers, builders and doers who challenge conventional thinking about creativity, science, and artistic expression. The series, which has grown out of the Arts Advancement Committee, has set in motion a campus-wide conversation about the centrality of creativity and discovery to all that we do at the University.

To learn more about the talk, visit ppc.uiowa.edu.

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.”

Report: STEM scores lower for minority, low-income students in Iowa


Students get hands on experience learning about science at Chicago's Argonne National Laboratory. (Argonne National Laboratory)
Students get hands-on experience learning about science at Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory. (Argonne National Laboratory)

Nick Fetty | August 5, 2015

A report released Monday finds that math and science proficiency rates for Iowa students from low-income and minority families lags below their peers.

The third annual report – which was compiled by researchers from Iowa’s three public universities – points out that while overall student achievement in math and science has improved since Governor Terry Branstad launched his Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council in 2011, there is still room for improvement.

“Amidst plenty of good news, there’s also reminders that our work is not done and there’s more to do,” Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds told the Mason City Globe Gazette. “So while we have made progress, and that’s something that we can celebrate, we know that we still have work to do.”

The report also found that interest in STEM careers was higher for elementary-school students compared to those in middle and high school, that 90 percent of students who participated in a STEM “Scale-Up” program in 2014-2015 had a greater interest in at least one STEM subject or career, and that more than 60 percent of Iowans surveyed said they were familiar with efforts to improve STEM education in the Hawkeye State. Earlier this summer, Iowa State University hosted a workshop for grade school teachers to better implement STEM programs into their classrooms.

Despite the lower rates for minority students at the K-12 level, the report also concluded that completion of community college STEM-related degrees for minorities has improved 69 percent since 2010. Overall, STEM degrees at Iowa’s public universities have increased 12 percent and  11 percent at private colleges since 2010.

On the Radio: Climate statement addresses public health


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Des Moines University Professor Yogi Shah addresses media during the release of the Iowa Climate Statement 2015.

 

June 29, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks ways the Iowa Climate Statement 2015 highlighted public health issues related to climate change. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Climate Statement and Public Health

SCIENTISTS AND RESEARCHERS IN IOWA HOPE TO USE THE STATE’S ROLE AS THE FIRST IN THE NATION CAUCUS TO BRING PUBLIC HEALTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE INTO THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

THE FIFTH ANNUAL STATEMENT ENCOURAGES IOWANS TO ASK PRESIDENTAL HOPEFULS HOW THEY PLAN TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE WHILE ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL IN IOWA. DES MOINES UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR YOGI SHAH CITED SEVERAL PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS AFFECTING IOWANS INCLUDING INCREASED FLOODING, INCREASED RATES OF INSECT-BORNE DISEASES, AS WELL AS INCREASED ALLERGEN RATES AND A LONGER ALLERGEN SEASON.

YOGI SHAH: “Because of increased CO2 in the air, the ragweeds, the poisons, the proteins are stronger and causing more allergies. So that way we are seeing longer seasons. In Iowa itself, shown by national studies, we have 19 extra days of allergies which we didn’t see a few years ago.”

188 SCIENTISTS FROM 39 COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES SIGNED ‘IOWA CLIMATE STATEMENT 2015: TIME FOR ACTION.’

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE STATEMENT, VISIT IOWAENVIRONMENTALFOCUS.ORG

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

On the Radio: Smoke linked to tornado intensity, UI study finds


Damage to the roof of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City from a 2006 tornado. (Laura Crossett / Flickr)
Damage to the roof of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City from a 2006 tornado. (Laura Crossett / Flickr)
April 13, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent study by University of Iowa researchers who found a link between smoke from fires and tornado intensity. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

**Please feel free to download the audio file for this On the Radio segment and distribute to friends, colleagues or media. To download the mp3 file, right click this link and choose “Save Link As…”

Transcript: Tornadoes

A recent University of Iowa study has found that smoke from fires can contribute to the intensity of tornadoes.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters earlier this year. The researchers examined how smoke affected a system of severe weather events which occurred on April 27, 2011. This system produced 122 tornadoes and caused 313 deaths across the southeastern United States. The study found that smoke particles in the atmosphere lowered the base of the clouds and affected the speed of the winds which increased the intensity of the tornadoes. The research was conducted using computer simulations.

CGRER co-director Greg Carmichael and CGRER postdoctoral fellow Pablo Saide were co-authors of the study, along with researchers from other University of Iowa departments, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and NASA.

For more information about tornadoes and for a link to the study visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org

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

http://now.uiowa.edu/2015/02/ui-researchers-link-smoke-fires-tornado-intensity

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL062826/abstract