Dust storms, high winds, droughts may impact Midwest agriculture long term


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | June 24, 2022

Wind gusts up to 70+ mph, dry cropland, and a thunderstorm with high winds created a haboob, or a large and intense dust storm, in Northwest Iowa on May 13. The haboob was a part of a larger aggregate of thunderstorms traveling through Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and both North and South Dakota. This haboob and other windy conditions in the Midwest cause major problems for soil. 

Wind traveling through dry cropland unearths crops and soil in and on the ground. During a study by Texas-based erosion specialist Chris Coreil at the beginning of May, high winds and droughts caused farmers to lose soil anywhere between three to 29 tons per acre in South Dakota. The haboob erosion estimates were similar, with estimates of up to 12 tons of lost soil per acre in South Dakota. 

And the extreme temperature doesn’t appear to be ending soon. Climate change is causing an increase in precipitation and an increase in droughts, which will harm soil and agricultural practices. 

One way to combat these high winds and drought conditions is with a crop cover, which right now, only 3-5 percent in most states own a cover. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released an announcement in January expanding services and opportunities for “climate smart agriculture,” and has a goal of crop covers protecting 30 million acres of corn and soybean land in the U.S. by 2030.

Extreme heat, flooding affects agriculture significantly


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Grace Smith | June 23, 2022

Agriculture, which is one of the most important aspects of Iowa and surrounding economies, is experiencing many challenges because of climate change and extreme temperatures including a negative impact on livestock and crops, as well as a decrease in revenue

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that climate extremes have a large negative impact on yield and livestock productivity in Iowa. In addition, the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement said confined livestock stuck in severe heat conditions are at a greater risk of death. Not only does this present itself as a problem in Iowa, but also in Kansas. On June 15, the heat killed over 2,000 cattle in Kansas, a portion of the Great Plains, which remains in a drought because of extremely high temperatures. Parts of Kansas hit up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit last week, which assisted in the deaths of the cattle. 

The heat is not the only thing affecting agricultural practices in Iowa. Flooding has caused issues including a loss in revenue for farmers. An IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering study from the University of Iowa, which was published April 26, 2022, found that in a 2-year return period, or a span of time when an occurrence is likely to surface, cropland has a 50 percent chance of flooding in a given year. The study also said that annually, Iowa loses $230 million in seed crops because of farming in areas that are likely to flood. 

Members of the industry have adapted in many ways. Seed providers have altered hybrid corn and made it more tolerable to drought and heat. In addition, farmers have reacted to an increase in precipitation by utilizing quicker planters that can move across a field faster. But, without technological changes to combat climate change in the Midwest, productivity could decrease significantly.

2019 Iowa Climate Statement projects high temperatures in Iowa


Via CGRER 2019 Iowa Heat Wave Graphics

Grace Smith | June 20, 2022

The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement released on Sept. 18, which was backed by 216 Iowa science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges, projected dangerous heat to be more frequent and severe. The statement and graphics explain the need for preparedness in the coming decades. Weather reports and projections say above-average temperatures in Iowa are likely to occur in the next few months.

Between 1976 and 2005, the number of days in a year with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit was 23. The Climate Statement predicts that between the years 2036-2065, the average days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit will be up to 57 days in a low emission scenario, or 68 in a high emission situation. 

July 2019 was recorded as the hottest month in Iowa for 140 years. But, nationally, in July 2021, the combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the average in the 20th century, which normally sat at 60.4 degrees. This increase set a record for the hottest July, nationally, in 142 years. 

And temperatures will continue to increase. The National Weather Service and the Farmer’s Almanac, which has formulated annual weather predictions for over 200 years, said Iowa’s summer will be drier and hotter than normal, including above-average temperatures. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association released a 2022 Aug., Sept., Oct., forecast prediction on June 16 and said there is up to a 40% change increase in average monthly temperatures. Almost the rest of the U.S. is also likely to increase in temperature, with no predictions of decreasing. 

Iowa City will experience hot days this week up to 96 degrees Monday and 99 degrees Tuesday.

Great Salt Lake drying up negatively impacts air and environment


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Grace Smith | June 17, 2022

Climate change and population growth are drying up the Great Salt Lake, located in Salt Lake City Utah, which is affecting the air and environment around the lake. Since 1980, the lake has shrunk two-thirds in size. In 2021, the lake reached a new record low in average daily water levels, decreasing one inch below the previous record low in 1963, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Animals are greatly affected by this alarming issue. Around 10 million migratory birds feed on flies and brine shrimp that live in the Great Salt Lake. As water levels drop, salt levels increase, becoming too salty for the lake’s algae, killing the shrimp and flies who feed on the algae. This then affects the numerous birds that eat the flies and shrimp. The drying up of the lake also affects the air and the citizens that breathe it. The bottom of the lake contains a mixture of arsenic and heavy metals, and as the water dries up, windstorms start to circulate these poisonous metals into the lungs of 1,260,730 people in the Salt Lake City metro area.

In addition, the Wasatch Front, an area home to 2.5 million people between Provo and Brigham City in Utah, utilizes the Jordan, Weber, and Bear rivers which feed on snowfall from nearby mountains, for water and agricultural purposes. Population growth has more citizens in these cities using the three rivers as their water sources at the same time as higher temperatures turn snowfall into water vapor instead of liquid. This creates a major problem for farmland that needs more water to combat high temperatures to feed the growing communities near the lake. 

Utah state lawmakers have made it mandatory to include the topic of water in their long-term planning, according to Euro News. In addition, Laura Briefer, director of Salt Lake City’s public utility department, said during a news conference that although the city, which is expected to increase in population by 50% by 2060, needs water, recycling wastewater and pulling from groundwater can increase the water supply for the fast-growing city without taking away water flow into the Great Salt Lake.

Flooding in Montana closes Yellowstone National Park


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Grace Smith | June 15, 2022

Over 10,000 visitors evacuated Yellowstone National Park as floodwaters demolished houses, bridges, and roads at Yellowstone and in nearby communities. Over 3 inches of rain and 5.5 inches of melted snow from high temperatures caused mudslides, flooding, and the closure of the National Park for at least a week. The combination of rain and melted snow created a 14.5-foot rise in sections of the Yellowstone River. Superintendent of the park, Cam Sholly, said in a news conference on Tuesday the northern area of the park is likely to remain closed until October or November. 

Yellowstone and southern Montana are at a higher risk of flooding because of climate change. According to the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment, a scientific report on temperature and precipitation trends and projections, the Upper Yellowstone Watershed has increased in temperature by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. In addition, since 1950, springtime rain has increased by 20 percent while streamflow from rivers has increased between 30-80 percent.

There is more risk for Yellowstone National Park with a 7 percent increase in annual precipitation by mid-century and mean annual temperatures are projected to increase 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2061-2080, under RCP4.5, a system and idea put in place to inform research.

New study finds U.S. Corn Belt unsuitable for growing corn by 2100


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Grace Smith | May 31, 2022

Environmental Research Letters published an Emory University study on May 16 that said the United States Corn Belt, states in the Midwest that mainly cultivate corn and soybean crops, will be unfitted to grow corn by 2100 because of climate change if current agricultural technology and practices continue to be utilized and relied on. 

To determine this outcome, Emily Burchfield, author of the study and assistant professor of Environmental Sciences at Emory, conducted a study with corn, wheat, soy, hay, and alfalfa. Burchfield formed and analyzed many series of models in different conditions to project the growth of crops. Burchfield used one model to test changes in planting with low, moderate, and high emission situations and found that corn, wheat, soy, and alfalfa will not be able to cultivate in the upper Midwest by 2100. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn makes up 92 million acres of land as of 2019, but, with climate change, there may be a shift in corn cultivation from the Midwest to the Eastern region. In a finding published by the Agricultural Water Management in March 2022, researchers said that on a ten-year average, rain fed crops are likely to decrease up to 40 bushels per acre, and irrigated yields may decline by 19 bushels per acre. Burchfield said that utilizing technology alone to grow crops and pushing away from laws of physics to understand natural processes will result in an “ecological collapse.” Burchfield also emphasized the importance of shifting away from relying on primary commodity crops like corn and soy.

New study finding ocean life complicates plastic waste cleanup


Via Pexel.

Grace Smith | May 23, 2022

Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, hypothesized that gyres consolidate plastic and living organisms similarly. Gyres are global circular currents powered by wind that can act as a whirlpool, which creates garbage patches in the ocean. Helm published the study on April 28, finding her hypothesis accurate after following French swimmer Benoit Lecomte over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Supporting evidence was also found through additional experiments in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies in the Pacific Ocean and is the world’s largest ocean garbage patch. Researchers that followed Lecomte through the patch found, in some parts of the garbage, there was almost the same number of neuston, or surface-dwelling organisms, and pieces of plastic in the patch. The finding demonstrated the accuracy of Helm’s original hypothesis. 

Although fascinating, Helm said her study could potentially complicate plastic cleanup measures as conservationists attempt to get rid of the 269,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean. Today, plastic waste make up 80% of sea pollution and kills more than 100,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds every year. Plastic in the ocean harms all sea life including small fish as well as large whales because they mistake the waste for food or get tangled in pieces of plastic. Despite the home that neuston have found, Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, told The New York Times that individuals around the world must take into account the large-scale and harmful effects of plastic in the ocean.