GRACE from Above Keeping an Eye on Groundwater Below

Most people in the world, including everyone in the city of Kent, depend on groundwater as their source for drinking water–and for good reasons: ground water is 100 times more abundant than surfacewater, its abundance is less variable than surface water, and ground water in general does not have many of the problems that constantly plague surface water. For example, surface water is susceptible to pollution from airborne contaminants (such as mercury from coal-fired power plants) and contaminants in stormwater runoff (such as nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural activities and the associated toxins from hazardous algal blooms). Surface water also is more susceptible to the vicissitudes of weather patterns such as the three-year drought in Georgia that nearly drained Atlanta’s major drinking water reservoir.

Groundwater aquifers have one major threat: drying up–either from water being withdrawn faster than the aquifer can be replenished by natural process (typically because of population increases that lead to increased demand for water) or from an aquifer replenishment rate that is too slow (typically because too much pervious surface has been lost to roadways and urban landscapes). Another potential major threat to groundwater sources is changes in weather patterns as a result of global climate change. The danger here is a slower groundwater recharge rate. Because most people in the world depend on groundwater as their sole source of water for drinking and for commercial activities, if aquifers shrink to the point of being unable to support the people who depends on them, major populations shifts may occur. If you think that immigration is a problem as people seek a better life, think about what will happen as people immigrate to stay alive. This potential exodus is why the U.S. military views loss of water resilience as a major threat to international security.

Never has it been more important to monitor the size of global groundwater aquifers as global populations increase and aquifers potentially decrease. The problem is that groundwater is out of sight and not as easy to monitor as surface water is. But help is on the horizon and passing overhead every 90 minutes. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) is not just another satellite; rather, it’s two satellites in exactly the same orbit but spaced about 137 miles apart at an altitude of 300 miles. A balance between the momentum of the satellites and gravitational pull exerted on them by the Earth keeps the two satellites from colliding with each other. For example, as one satellite passes over a region of higher gravity, such as a mountain range, it is pulled into a lower orbit, increasing the distance between the two satellites, which is measured precisely by microwaves that are constantly beamed from each satellite to the other. Satellite GPS instruments record the exact coordinates of the satellites. In this way a “gravity map” of the entire Earth is determined.

GRACE satellite observations from 2002 to 2017 have shown that while the mass of mountains does not change over time, the mass of water does change. The simple explanation is that water moves, but mountains do not. In other words, water moves and therefore its mass at any given point is a sum of the parts that can move (water) and the parts that do not move (the mountains). As a region on Earth become wetter, the mass of that region increases; conversely, as that region becomes drier, the mass of the region decreases. After comparing the gravity maps from several passes of the GRACE satellites over several years, NASA scientists were able to determine which regions are becoming wetter and which regions are getting drier. The original GRACE satellites stopped working in 2017; however, a set of replacements–the GRACE-Follow On satellites, or GRACE-FO, for
short–was launched in May 2018.


GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites

Analysis of the gravity maps during the 15-year life of the original GRACE satellites led NASA scientists to detect trends in water-distribution changes. The scientists summarized their findings by saying, “The wet places are getting wetter and the dry places are getting drier.” The wet places are the high latitudes (i.e., polar regions) and the tropics (i.e., regions near the equator). The temperate regions (the middle latitudes, which span between the tropics and the polar regions) are getting drier. The scientists note in their report that “within the dry areas we see multiple spots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

But why? These changes were examined for causes ranging from changes in rainfall patterns to cyclical changes in weather patterns to changes in human activities and demography. The scientists found that

one of the consistent causes of groundwater depletion is agricultural activity and that the effect is visible in such diverse places as Saudi Arabia, western Australia and the Central Valley of California. In California, for example, farmers in the Central Valley, an area often referred to as the “fruit basket of the United States,” were forced to rely more and more on groundwater during a three-year snowfall drought in the northern part of the state diminished the supply of surface water typically used to irrigate crops. Whether these trends are the result of climate change or the result of cyclical weather patterns remains unknown. The data-collection period was not long enough to answer that question. Thanks to GRACE-FO, that question will be addressed. Stay tuned.

Want more information? Go to https://gracefo.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/38/grace-fo-fact-sheet/ for a fact sheet and go to https://gracefo.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/73/for-15-years-grace-tracked-freshwater-movements-around-the-world/ for a NASA video.

–Bob Heath

What Is Repair Cafe?

Repair Cafe is an international movement to save money and resources by gathering local volunteer experts to repair items normally

found around the house. The items remain useful but a minor problem. The movement is popular in Europe. Locally, Rich Patterson is trying to establish a repair café in Portage County. He has talked about it at KEC’s Friday breakfasts. If you are interested in learning more or helping with this effort, contact Patterson at 330-245-6277 or rpatterson19@gmail.com.

Lake Erie Data at Your Fingertips–Instantly!

Are you heading out to Lake Erie to fish or swim, and want to know the condition of the lake right now? Better than “an app for that,” you can text your request and instantly receive a message from the data buoy itself. How cool is that?!

Ok, so here’s how it works. Sixteen solar-powered buoys are deployed on Lake Erie–from the far eastern stations off of Dunkirk, New York, to the westernmost buoy off of Monroe, Michigan. Each buoy contains at least two multiparameter data sondes (devices for testing physical conditions) that monitor water-quality variables such as water temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll as well as external variables such as air temperature, air pressure, wave height, wind speed and wind direction. Each buoy reports the conditions at the surface and at the bottom of the lake. In deeper waters, the buoys collect data at two-meter intervals from the surface of the lake to the bottom of the lake to anticipate the development and extent of “dead zones” in the bottom waters. Some buoys even have a camera onboard that takes real-time images that can be accessed online. These data are stored onboard in a data-logger and are downloaded at half-hour intervals to a central server at LimnoTech, a private environmental consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To access the current data, text a buoy identification number to the server in Ann Arbor and, within seconds, the server texts you a message with the available information.

The buoy identification numbers for some buoys closest to Cleveland and the westernmost and easternmost buoys on Lake Erie are given below:

Solar-Powered Buoy

For a comprehensive view of all the locations, go to https://glbuoys.glos.us

As an example, I texted the server 734-418-7299, and then entered the number for the Cleveland intake crib, 45176. I received a text reply within seconds, notifying me that at “4:30 p.m. EDT the wind was coming from the northwest at 7.8 knots, with an air temperature of 74.8 F, water temperature of 75.7 F in waves of 1.0 feet.” In short, it was a great day on Lake Erie to go boating and fishing.

But wait-there’s more! More buoys, that is. A network of buoys spans the Great Lakes: 13 in Lake Superior, 21 in Lake Michigan, 9 in Lake Huron, 16 in Lake Erie and 9 in Lake Ontario. Another buoy is located in Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont, just south of Montreal, Ontario, Canada. The buoys cost about $50,000 each to deploy and are supported by both public agencies (e.g., NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Environment Canada, and Ontario Ministry of the Environment), academic institutions (including State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, University of Minnesota, University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and Ohio State University) and as private companies (such as LimnoTech and LEEDCo [Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation]). The deployment of this network of buoys costs more than $3.5 million in equipment alone. Given the expense of monthly maintenance on each buoy, it is clear that more is at stake than the convenience of weekend boaters.

The buoy network provides the infrastructure needed to develop a “smart lake.” A smart lake is similar to a “smart city.” In a smart city, the workings of the municipality are controlled like an integrated system. Think of traffic flow being controlled to optimize the efficient flow rate of trucks and cars on a citywide basis. Or think of the electrical grid in a city being monitored and managed as a system for optimal stability and availability of energy for workers and residents. For a smart lake, think of managing the efficient flow of ship traffic through the Great Lakes system. Or think about monitoring and managing water quality for the 14 million people who depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water. While not yet a smart city, Cleveland could have a smart lake one day. The Cleveland Water Alliance (a consortium of academic, commercial, governmental, and nongovernmental organization stakeholders) is spearheading an effort to make Lake Erie a smart lake through innovative water technologies.

For more information about network of buoys, which is part of the Great Lakes Observing System, click here. To watch a video about the buoys  produced by Rock the Lake, click here.

–Bob Heath

Looking Forward in Plastics

New Processes for Plastics Emerging

Here are some of the new developments in efforts to make plastics that are more eco-friendly:

Plastic into fuel There are several formulations. One is to convert polyethylene into diesel without waste products or pollution, using rhenium and iridium catalysts. Another to use end-of-life plastics that usually cannot be recycled into crude oil. Another is a small tabletop household machine that heats plastic, runs it though cooling pipes and chambers until it condenses back into oil. While these methods could remove millions of tons of plastic garbage, they still would contribute to carbon emissions. Another process has been created that turns plastic into ethanol, using a cheap and affordable catalyst called calcium bentonite, which breaks plastic down into ethane, methane and propane.

Biodegradable and compostable plastic The development of bioresin has helped in developing a more environmentally friendly plastic and plastic-based products. There are two types of bioresin: degradable and compostable. Degradable bioresins can be broken down continually into smaller and smaller pieces. Compostable resins can be reduced to simple biological matter and be used as mulch after being mixed with specific byproducts at a composting plant. Both of these new plastics are projected to grow by 20% per year, with plastic film being the primary application for both, especially in the medial and food industries.

Edible food packaging to reduce plastic waste Edible packaging is versatile and eco-friendly because it can be eaten or composted, and it may drastically reduce plastic packaging waste. Packaging made from casein, a milk protein, can be eaten or composted and will be especially useful for single-serve items (think string cheese, where the edible packaging would be protected by a separate package to keep the casein clean and sanitary to eat). And there is Shrilk, a biocompatible and biodegradable edible film packaging made from shrimp shells and silk. It is only half the weight of comparable aluminum alloys but matches their strength and toughness.

New process tested biodegradable plastics Mango Materials, located in the San Francisco Bay area, developed a new process to create a biopolymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate from methane by using bacterial fermentation, which makes the material biodegradable and petroleum-free. The new material has the added advantage of capturing methane and sequestering the carbon into a high-value material. The technology would be located at the site of methane production to reduce methane emissions. The company has determined that capturing methane from U.S. landfills would produce more than 3 billion pounds of biopolymer ever year. The company is using grants and working with the Energy Department’s Small Business Vouchers pilot program and the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory to test a final step of removing water from the final biopolymer and to scale up their business.

Biodegradable and edible utensils These tools can easily withstand hot-food temperatures.

Six-pack ring holders for beverages Ring holders made from wheat and barley are being developed from the natural by-products of beer production and are edible and more friendly to animals and sea life than current models.

Biodegradable plastics Under development are biodegradable plastics that can rot unaided in a ditch or in a landfill, using plant sugars, starches and seaweed. The plastics decay into carbon dioxide and can produce methane. Ideally, a way to capture the methane can be found.

Biorenewable, biodegradable plastic alternatives Colorado State University researchers have found a new way to produce a compound called bacterial poly(3- hydroxybutyrate), or P3HB, which shows promise as a substitute for petroleum plastics in medical and major industrial uses. The researchers are using a starting material called succinate, which is produced by the fermentation of glucose, and is much quicker and less expensive to produce and scale up than P3HB compounds formed using algae, bacteria and other microorganisms.

Structure of bacterial enzyme that generates useful polymers discovered Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have found the structure of PHA, an enzyme that nearly all bacteria use to produce large polymers that store carbon when food is scarce. Bacteria produce different types of polymers depending on the starting material. PHA synthase can string together up to 30,000 subunits, making much larger polymers than humans can make. The researchers found a way to crystallize the protein and then perform x-ray crystallography to reveal the protein’s atomic and molecular structure. The researchers now can see the entrance and exit structures, thereby enabling them to make specialty polymer additives, latex and medical applications. But the process is not cost efficient enough to compete with oil-based plastics for most uses. The researchers hope this new framework will enable them make better polymers with unique properties and open up new materials and applications in the future.

Other efforts are looking at new types of industrial recycling plants that can recycle our current and future plastics on a larger scale, including cars and other large-scale items. Stay tuned.

Sources: ; Thomas Industry Update; Colorado State University; MIT News Office; U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Beyond Plastics: Four New Inventions in 2018

Shoes that could help save the world

Retail startup Allbirds is moving away of petroleum-based footwear with SweetFoam, a product made from parts of sugarcane that are now discarded as trash. The company started with flip-flops and are moving on to incorporate its use in their entire product line. Most exciting, they have made the technical know-how behind SweetFoam available to everyone who wants it.

The electric semi truck

Thor ET-One has converted a formerly fuel-burning truck into a sleek electric semi prototype that can haul up to 80,000 pounds for up to 300 miles per charge. While there are other new electric rigs in the works with other companies, Thor’s makers are confident that converting old trucks can help their company make a difference now–not in the future.

A more efficient water heater

Heatworks Model 3 Smart Water Heater sends electrical current through the water to heat it quicky and only when residents need hot water, rather than having the water sit ready in the tank. The company estimates a savings of $240 a year for the average family of four.

Roofing that fights smog pollution

3M has created a material for roofing shingles that breaks down smog particles so they can be washed away by rainfall, and Malarkey Roofing (a top U.S. shingle manufacturer) has already starting using these new granules in their shingles, which they say has reduced the smog equivalent to 100,000 trees. They are aiming to double this figure next year and again the following year.

Source: “The 50 Best Inventions of 2018, Time, Nov. 25/Dec. 3, 2018.

A Recycler’s Lament

What do you mean we can’t recycle glass?! And you only want #I and #2 plastics?! And you don’t want the caps from my plastic bottles and cartons?!

KEC was in the forefront in l960s in leading the recycling movement in Ohio, and our efforts lead to what Ohio officials called Portage County’s model program. So, this is hitting us especially hard, as we see the market for recycling crashing. It feels like we’re sliding backward.

But we need to keep moving forward and focus on what we can do until the economics of recycling change. Read the following to learn the new rules and why they are changing, as well as a few of the new processes that people are developing that can help our recycling efforts.

So What CAN I Recycle?

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Recycling’s Future?

China’s recent ban on the import of many categories of solid waste has sent tremors through the recycling community. China had become the world’s largest consumer of solid waste, increasing its imports from 4.5 million tons in 1995 to 45 million in 2016.

As China’s appetite for scrap increased, cities, as a matter of convenience, moved toward a one-bin recycling collection system . . . our single stream system and sorting equipment were designed for a Chinese market with no restrictions. But in 2013, China began imposing quality restrictions . . . high contamination rates required much more work to extract usable materials, and rising Chinese wages made separation even more expensive. After China imposed restrictions on waste, about 10% of U.S. shipments were rejected. Then in June 2017, China announced that by the end of the year, it would no longer accept imports from 24 categories of solid waste and imposed a maximum contamination rate of 0.3%. By the end of 2018, China will close the door to all post-consumer plastics. Any PET or HDPE won’t be allowed in unless it’s been processed into pellets or flakes.

*********************** PUBLIC NOTICE ***********************
The illegal trash dumping in public or mixed in with recyclables is rising, despite warnings and increased enforcement efforts. Portage County now will be prosecuting people, rather than issue warnings! Placing trash inside a recycling bin will result in a third-degree misdemeanor littering charge, while dumping trash outside of a recycling bin will result in a felony, punishable by two and four years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
*********************** PUBLIC NOTICE ***********************

Fortunately, sorting equipment (MRFs) have started integrating new technologies designed to auto-sort materials the older MRFs couldn’t handle…deli trays, yogurt cups, etc.

And new markets for solid waste recyclables are opening up. According to a new report, the global waste management market is expected to grow to $435 billion by 2023. The majority of the growth is expected to be witnessed in the emerging Asia-Pacific regions.

Time to Develop New Habits about Plastic Use

Plastics have become an integral part of our lives–from the toothpaste tube and toothbrush we use in the morning, to the containers we store our foods in, the toys our children play with, the cars we drive, the typewriter keys I’m using to type this article, and so much more. We can’t get rid of plastic completely in our modern world. Just think of modern hospitals without sterile tubes, bags and equipment. Plastic is so abundant because it is durable and easy to form into a myriad of objects. But remember that it’s a petroleum-based product that adds to our carbon footprint, exacerbates climate change, increases the mounds of garbage throughout the world and harms waterways.

In our last newsletter, Lorraine wrote about comments that Sherri A. Mason, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Science at the State University of New York at Fredonia, made when she spoke at the Cleveland City Club on August 14. Mason stressed that we have to be part of the solution to the excess of plastic in our lives by trying to cut down on the plastic we use in the first place–especially single-use plastics, plastic bags and straws, and take-out containers. She also urged everyone to pledge to reduce their use of plastics and to continue to recycle what we can.

Join in the Excitement of the New Era

Those trying to prevent the Icebreaker Project from going ahead are not
put off by the facts.  They continue to add to the Ohio Power Siting Board’s
Comments Page their dishonest arguments, claiming that wind turbines are
responsible for large numbers of bird and bat deaths.  This is despite the Final
Environmental Assessment, announced by the U.S. Department of Energy on
September 10th, which showed that the Icebreaker Project has very little
environmental impact, and should be free to move ahead.

Regardless, the Lake Erie wind power opposition forces just persist in their
attacks.  On October 10th they submitted to the OPSB references to statements expressed by those who claim that wind turbines emit sub-auditory sounds that are capable of damaging the brain.  However, these fears are clarified as baseless, in an article discussing “wind turbine syndrome” in The Atlantic, on June 19th, 2017.

These phony fears have been vigorously propagated by the Australian coal
mining industry, in various parts of their Continent.  The effort began at least a
decade ago, when these wind power opponents judged that Australians would have greater interest in the health of their eardrums and brains than in any potential danger to wildlife.  Their fabrications certainly caused many citizens around that country to become wind opponents.

Fossil fuel providers, instead of continuing to battle against the essential need of countries to move away from outdated energy sources, should find a way of getting on board the exciting opportunity of moving to new, non-polluting versions.

There are countless examples, throughout history, of far-sighted innovators who could see that the way that objects were being made could be improved. In some cases these innovators had no previous experience in influencing how the necessary materials or equipment could be manufactured, in order to make the desired updates.

However, other innovators have actually been the makers of the forms of equipment that were increasingly becoming outdated.  They saw how some of that equipment they were producing could be modified, in order to move us into the new era. Studebaker was a classic example of such a company.  It was founded in 1852 and was originally a manufacturer of farm wagons.  Studebaker then formed the Studebaker Automobile Company, and in 1902 began the production of electric vehicles. After two years it moved to building gasoline vehicles. Although the company did not have a very long lifespan, it developed a reputation, over the next 50 years, for very high quality and reliability.

A current example of corporate far-sightedness is illustrated by Statoil.  It
recently adapted its offshore oil drilling business to include manufacturing
floating platforms for offshore wind turbines.  It partnered with Masdar, and on
October 18th 2017, Statoil Hywind, the world’s first floating wind farm started
production, offshore from Peterhead in Scotland.

But it is not only industry leaders who can benefit from making smart
transitioning choices.  Some of those who have actually been employed as coal
miners in the past are moving to newer, and very different forms of
employment.  An example of such a transition was the subject of an NPR
interview on October 19th 2018, in which Colorado coal miners told how they
had enthusiastically taken up jobs in their state’s new fiber-optic cabling
enterprises.

So the message for us all, and now particularly for the fossil fuel industry,
is, as it has always been, “Evolve – Don’t Stagnate”.

-Written by Sarah Taylor, Windustrious

KEC Now Accepting ‘Legacy for the Environment’ Grant Proposals for 2018-2019

KEC is seeking proposals from persons or organizations with ideas for improving the environment in Portage County.  Areas of consideration will include, but are not limited to, environmental education, storm water management, the mitigation of stream and river degradation, the protection of other surface and groundwater resources, enhancement of alternative energy usage, and/or the creation of sustainable communities. We also welcome other areas of consideration that would improve air or water quality, natural beauty, and environmental awareness in Portage County.

Requests will be considered for amounts up  to $1,000.

Proposals must be submitted by December 31, 2018, and awards will  be announced by February 16, 2019.
For a complete description of the requirements and a copy of the RFP application form, click  here.

Hope for the Planet: The Promise of Permaculture (2018 Fall Forum)

Renee and Randy Ruchotzke in their backyard (Photo Copyright Record Courier)

The threat of climate change calls for a revolution in our way of life, toward a sustainable future. Permaculture offers this revolution in the brilliant disguise of a gardening fad that is really developing a deep understanding of the complex workings of natural systems.

Forum presenter Renee Ruchotzke will share the basic principles of Permaculture and how she is implementing them in her back yard garden. She will offer practical tips you can try at home and ways we can have a positive impact on the climate starting in our community… restoring the earth one back yard at a time.

Renee Ruchotzke has completed a Permaculture Consultant Design course, using what she has learned both in her city lot garden (with husband Randy) and in her work nationally consulting with and training leaders of liberal faith communities.

Monday, October 22, 2018, 7:00pm

Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent
228 Gougler Ave, Kent, OH 44240

Free and open to the public!

KEC Participates at Festivals

KEC’s booth at both River Day and Kent Heritage festivals this year focused on the use of rain barrels to help with water conservation and watershed protection.  Sixty percent of municipal water goes to watering lawns, so using collected rain to water during dry times means there is less water flowing into storm drains, sewer systems and ultimately local waterways.  This protects local watersheds by decreasing runoff from the 70 million pounds of fertilizers and pesticides used on laws each year.  And in doing so, the water plants receive is naturally soft, free of chlorine, fluoride and others chemicals in tap water.  KEC also had displays about the Cuyahoga River’s 20th year as an American Heritage River and information about Lake Erie coastal management.

River Day, the third Saturday in May, was sunny and dry and an overall spectacular day this year.  The Coast Guard oversaw the Ready,Set, Wear It! Lifejacket activity, with young and old trying them on and having fun.  Next year, we are adding dog lifejackets, so stay tuned.

The Kent Parks and Recreation booth was shared by Portage Soil and Water and the City of Kent. They gave away about 500 native trees, including pawpaws, hundreds of packs of a milkweed seed mix, stormwater awareness and safe summer information as well as answering countless questions and sharing fun aquatic animals to look at and touch—always enjoyed by young and old.

The e-fishing at Tannery Park with Davey Resource Group was successful on Friday with Student Day and on Saturday, families shared what they had seen, as the water was not conducive to e-fishing on Saturday.  See pictures from that Sunday’s Record Courier at http://www.record-courier.com/photogallery/OH/20180519/NEWS/519009995/PH/1.

 

Saturday, Crooked River Adventures was sending out kayaks for the on the river for “River Day” Adventures.  And Brad Bolton was there to take pictures and provided music on Saturday as well.

 

We are all looking forward to next year. It will mark  the 29th Annual River Day Festival here in Kent in May, as well as the 50th anniversary in June of the last Cuyahoga River fire.  There are many groups working to plan great events for next May and June.  Well let you know as things progress.

Sustainability in High Places

On a recent trip to Chicago, I went on a river tour of their downtown Architecture.  I learned  lot about the various styles of buildings from historically inspired and art deco to mid century modern, post modern and contemporary and how they visually tried to integrate any new buildings by using details from nearby buildings to make it seem to fit.

The environmental fact that interested me is that as these styles changed, so did their energy efficiency.  I was surprised me to know that some of these very tall skyscrapers are LEED (Leadership in Energy  and Environmental Design) certified, thus saving money and increasing energy efficiency.

One example they gave of this is 111 South Wacker.  The previous building at that site was then the tallest building in Chicago to be demolished.  The current 51-story, blue glass structure is a striking example of creative problem solving and was completed in 2005.  It achieved Chicago’s first LEED (Gold) certification.  Among other features, the building has a green roof. But designers were concerned about plants surviving 65 floors up, so their green roof houses alpine species.  For more information about this and other Chicago architecture, as well as information about architectural boat tours, click here:  https://www.chicagoarchitecture.org.

 –Lorraine McCarty