How to curb Iowa flooding according to an agricultural engineer


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Sandbags like these are not an adequate solution to Iowa’s flood problem, Kamyar Enshayan warned (flickr).

Julia Poska| September 21, 2018

In an effort to call Iowa to action, Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education, called on his expertise as an environmentalist and agricultural engineer for a Des Moines Register OpEd earlier this week.

Enshayan warned Iowans that flooding will only get worse as the climate changes and gave those upstream three pieces of advice to protect their downstream statesmen.

First, he said we should hand floodplains back to nature. He called for an end to construction and development along riverbanks, arguing that the ecosystem services floodplains provide are more valuable than riverside property.

Natural floodplains improve water quality, provide great wildlife habitat, offer natural flood protection and reduce flood disaster and recovery costs according to the Nature Conservancy. 

Second, we need to make Iowa more “spongy” with sustainable cropping and biodiversity solutions. Enshayan suggested increasing crop diversity in longer rotations to promote healthy soil. Deep-rooted native prairie plants and natural wetland ecosystems will also help contain water.

Finally, he said we must get to the root of the problem and reduce carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. He pointed to methane-emitting landfills and Iowa’s continued dependence on coal as areas for potential improvement.

Enshayan addressed policy makers at the end of the piece, saying they should listen to scientists and engineers like himself to proactively protect people and resources.

“Sand bagging is not enough, not a lasting solution, and does not address upstream problems,” he said.  “Let’s work on lasting solutions.”

 

Soil could hold key to climate adaptation


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A plant begins and ends its life in the soil, which could be the key to climate adaptation (Flickr). 

Julia Poska| September 20, 2018

Climate change models predict decreased crop yields as temperatures rise, but new research from Michigan State University says our soil can save us.

If yields go down, the amount of carbon returned to the soil will too, creating a feedback loop that would only accelerate crop loss.  The study, published in Agriculture and Environmental Letters, found that certain soil management and conservation practices can compensate for crop loss by keeping carbon in the soil.

Practices like cover cropping and conservation tillage, encouraged by the researchers, benefit the environment in other ways as well. Especially in Corn Belt states along the Mississippi River, these practices are encouraged to keep soil nutrients out of the water.

Lead scientist Bruno Basso said soil may be our most important resource for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change in an MSU media release about the study. “The soil that we’ll deal with in 2050 is surely to be different than it is now, so recognizing how to manage it today -along with adaptation strategies for tomorrow — is critical,” he said.

 

Rain still falling in Iowa


 

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Iowa Flood Center

Kasey Dresser | September 19, 2018

In years past by September, Iowa no longer expects rain. However that is obviously not the case with heavy rainfall the past 10 days and more expected in the forecast. Professor Gabriele Villarini, a faculty affiliate of the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, paired with Assistant Research Scientist Wei Zhang to develop the images above for context around the rain we are currently experiencing.

The top left panel shows that from 1981 to 2010 Iowa could expect at most 2 inches of rain in August and September. The bottom left panel shows that we are currently expecting 8-10 inches.

The top right panel shows that in this time period, Iowa is experiencing the most rainfall since 1948. The bottom right panel shows that in some areas there is more than 80% rain now than the second largest rainfall.

For more information, check out the Iowa Flood Information Center.

On The Radio- Increasing Summer Heat


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Midday heat (wexass/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | September 17, 2018

This weeks segment talks about why Iowa and other mid-latitude states are experiencing hotter summers.

Transcript:

Summers in mid-latitudes, including Iowa, are warming faster than other seasons, a recent study found.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Between forty and sixty degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, an area from the southern Iowa border to mid Canada warmed more rapidly in the summer than in the winter over a thirty-eight-year-period,

The study published in the journal Science attributed this finding to the fact that a substantial amount of Earth’s land mass is concentrated in this zone, and land tends to heat up more quickly than the ocean. This can have serious implications on agriculture, because much of this land is used to grow crops in the summer, particularly in Iowa.

This study was conducted using a fingerprint method, meaning the researchers could distinguish natural climatic warming from increased temperatures due to human activity.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dog-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

 

Could climate change be behind Hurricane Florence?


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The National Hurricane Center shows the “cone of uncertainty” predicting where Hurricane Florence’s eye might travel.

Julia Poska| September 14th, 2018

North and South Carolina have both issued evacuation warnings in anticipation of a very destructive weekend. The eye of Hurricane Florence is made landfall this afternoon, though her rain bands touched land late Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, Florence’s strongest sustained winds of 105 mph put her in Category 2 classification for wind. As of Friday afternoon, she has downgraded to Category 1.  Forecasters say her storm surge, the swell of water pushed onshore by hurricane winds, will be a Category 4. The National Hurricane Center predicts floods over 9 feet above ground in some areas.

States as far inland as Indiana may receive the tail end of the hurricane, which will most likely have weakened to a less windy but still wet tropical storm or depression by then.

Experts debate whether climate change will increase the frequency and severity of tropical storms and hurricanes in coming years, and whether it already has. It is difficult to separate natural variability from human-induced effects when examining any specific storm, but many of the conditions needed to spawn hurricanes are certainly undergoing change.

To many experts, it seems to many that rising sea levels exacerbate storm surge, that rising sea surface temperatures could add more fuel to storms, and that a warmer, wetter atmosphere increases rainfall.  Just look to 2017’s especially devastating season for evidence that these storms are getting nastier.

Other experts say that climate change will increase wind shear, friction between upper and lower level winds moving in different directions, which could actually stop more hurricanes from forming. Only time will tell which factors

As climate change is variable over the Earth’s surface, models show both increase and decrease of all those different factors in different locations. While climate change will almost certainly impact hurricanes, only time will tell the nature of that impact.

 

U.N. official pushes for faster, better climate efforts


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The United Nations headquarters in New York City (wikimedia.commons).

Julia Poska| September 13th, 2018

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on global leaders to ramp up their Paris Accord commitments and to do it soon in a speech he gave September 10 at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

“If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us,” he said, as quoted in Al Jazeera.

Guterres pointed to record-breaking temperatures and devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Maria as evidence that climate change is outpacing human efforts to reduce it. He called on leaders outside of national government, like industry leaders and local officials, to take initiative as well.

The U.N Paris Accord, signed by almost 200 countries, aims to keep global temperatures at least 2 degrees Celsius below a pre-industrial baseline by the end of the century.  2020.  As of right now, many countries are not on track to meet these targets. Even if the Accord met its full potential, many critics argue the reductions it outlines would not actually meet the 2 degree mark.

Guterres spoke of the agreement, saying “What we still lack, even after the Paris Agreement, is leadership and the ambition to do what is needed,” as quoted in the New York Times. He asked leaders to step up and meet their Paris Accord promises to show citizens of their countries they “care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands.”

The next U.N climate summit, COP24, will be held in Poland this December. At this summit, world leaders who have heeded Guterres’ warning will have the opportunity to announce plans to increase their fossil fuel emission reduction targets.

Marshalltown, IA continues to struggle after tornado in July


 

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Debris still in the streets

Kasey Dresser | September 12, 2018

On July 19th of this year, Marshalltown, IA was hit with a devastating tornado. 89 homes were destroyed and 525 sustained major damage. The  tornado struck a low income part of town making it very difficult for the small town to bounce back. Many people in the area had little to no insurance.

Lennox and JBS Swift & Co., the two largest employers have made sizable donations to help rebuild property. With disaster relief help, several employers have been able to continue to provide health insurance to their employees despite no longer having jobs for them. However, the process is slow and there are many people in the town still living in destroyed homes despite the tornado occurring months ago. Marshall County Family Long Term Recovery Committee is currently going door to door to evaluate which homes can still be lived in long term. Greg Smith, chairman of the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council, stated, “It is not unusual for the poorest of the community to become poorer after a disaster.”

There is also large concern from business owners they may not have the insurance money to rebuild their company. It is a city requirement to use the original materials instead of replacing it with something cheaper, like wood. The collapse of these business will leave many people unemployed.

Even after the physical damage is cleared away Marshalltown will likely face a difficult couple years. Jim Zaleski, the city’s economic development director and tourism marketer, has helped with tornado relief in other towns. He believes,” the tornado was a catalyst, ” and will “force the community to take some hard looks at what was going to happen over the next decade.”