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University of Iowa News Release


April 19, 2011

RELATED: UI Earth Day activities

UI students partner with Iowa City to reduce greenhouse gasses

Three vans traveling 3,000 miles can leave an awfully big carbon footprint.

We're talking about a 6.2-metric-ton footprint, according to calculations made by the University of Iowa students in Art Bettis' course -- Geology Field Trip: Selected National Parks.

But when those students set out on a 10-day field trip that will be the capstone of their spring semester geoscience class, they will have already offset those carbon emissions -- and more -- through weeks of lifestyle changes and one big planting project conducted with the City of Iowa City.

The class is partnering with the city to plant more than 1,000 native Iowa shrubs at Sycamore Greenspace, a city park and wetland area that was constructed for storm water management. About 900 ninebark, nannyberry and arrowwood shrubs were purchased by the city from the State Forest Nursery in Ames, and another 150 were donated. In addition, Lon Drake, professor emeritus of geoscience, is donating 50 elderberry and coralberry shrubs.

The shrubs will sequester about 6.2 metric tons of carbon in about three to five years, Bettis said.

They'll also beautify the area and help create a wildlife habitat for native birds and other animals in the park, said Brenda Nations, environmental coordinator for the City of Iowa City.

"This is a great partnership for us," Nations said. "One of our goals as a city is to lower emissions within our community, and anything students can do in that area is a huge help. I'm really excited that students are getting this as a part of their education. With this project, they're getting a hands-on education in a new environment, and, of course, we're getting the help of their labor."

Bettis' students had planned to begin planting the shrubs on Friday (Earth Day), but because of the rainy weather the group will have to postpone the planting for a couple weeks. Volunteers from Kirkwood Community College's Environmental Club and senior students from Iowa City City High School have also offered to pitch in. 

"I'm really excited that this is the direction we've decided to go," said UI junior Eric Tripp, a chemical engineering major from Burlington, Iowa. "It's something that's really visual, and helps quantify the effects of our actions. This project not only helps solve a problem, but also helps other people perceive the size of the problem."

In addition to being enrolled in Bettis' class, Tripp is in the middle of an energy efficiency auditor internship with the Iowa City Public Works Department.

Geology Field Trip: Selected National Parks meets once a week, and aims to increase appreciation of the geologic, biologic and cultural resources of the National Park System, and to heighten awareness of the management issues in these parks. The course concludes this year with a field trip to Florisant Fossil Beds and Great Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado and Tent Rocks National Monuments and Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico. Bettis didn't require any of the 15 UI students in his class to participate in the carbon challenge aspect of the course, but every one of them wanted to get involved.

"They were all for it right away," he said. "They have just taken the ball and run with it. I think most students are just dying to do something that will help solve a bigger problem in the community."

Other steps students have taken to reduce their carbon footprint include the following: taking the bus, walking or bicycling instead of driving; eating more meatless meals; composting; and using less water.

"I think this has been a really cool way to get people thinking about environmental issues," said UI junior Emmalyn Kayser of Des Moines, one of the students in Bettis' class. "As an environmental science major, these things are always on my brain, but I took a similar road trip on my own last summer, and I didn't even think twice about the carbon I was putting into the atmosphere. I was just super excited to go on the trip. Now I feel like I'm 'paying back' the environment for both that trip and this one."

For more Earth Month activities at the UI, visit and

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Art Bettis, Department of Geoscience, 319-335-1831,; Brenda Nations, City of Iowa City, 319-887-6161,; Anne Kapler, Office of University Relations, 319-384-0043,

NOTE TO EDITORS: University News Services will send out a media advisory when a new date for planting the shrubs has been determined.