On the Radio- Green infrastructure key to keeping urban flooding at bay


6220750095_c0d10d1c43_z.jpg
Green roofs are a type of green infrastructure (flickr).

Julia Poska | November 19, 2018

This week’s segment looks at flood mitigation approaches that incorporate nature into city design.

Transcript:

As Iowa’s extreme rain events intensify over time, flood management considerations will need to expand beyond river floodplains.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Floods commonly occur when rivers swell over their banks, but flooding can happen far from river systems, too.  Urban flooding occurs when drainage systems fail to move large amounts of storm water away from developed areas quickly.

According to the Iowa Climate Statement 2018, scientists forecast that daily rainfall in Iowa’s most extreme rain events will double by midcentury, meaning cities and towns will have even more water to manage.

One solution is to replace areas of impermeable concrete and asphalt with green infrastructure. These swaths of soil and vegetation absorb and slow down water to process it more naturally and reduce flooding.

Green infrastructure can be incorporated into sidewalks, buildings, backyards and even parking lots. Rain gardens, bio-swales, green roofs and more bring plants, soil and mulch into community design in attractive and helpful ways.

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

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

 

 

 

Hurricane Harvey worsened by Houston skyline


14742363743_44b261a305_z.jpg
The buildings of Houston made the floods it experienced last August more intense, a new study found (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 16, 2018

Houston can partially blame the unprecedented flooding it experienced during Hurricane Harvey last year on its skyline. A new study co-authored by Gabriele Villarini, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, found that Houston’s topography exacerbated Harvey’s rainfall.

Researchers obtained data on rainfall and water discharge in Houston during the storm from various national agencies, and compared it to a computer model that simulated the same storm with a twist. In the model, the city of Houston was replaced with undeveloped farm fields to calculate the built environment’s effect on the storm’s behavior.

The analysis concluded that urban development in the Houston area increased the likelihood of intense fooding 21 times during that particular storm. In other words, if Houston were really an expanse of farmland instead of a city, less rain would have fallen.

“The buildings stop the air from being able to move forward, away from the ocean,” co-author Gabriel Vecchi from Princeton told NPR. “They sort of stop the air in that general area, and the air has nowhere to go but around the buildings, or up.”

Vecchi said when tall buildings push air farther upwards, the amount of atmospheric water vapor that condenses into rain increases. Houston’s skyline not only stalled the storm, but squeezed more rain out of it.

 

 

 

The Iowa Organic Conference in Iowa City next week


4682879772_690ba00bb5_z.jpg
Organic corn like this one is served popped throughout the conference  (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 15, 2018

While University of Iowa students are away for Thanksgiving break next week, Iowa’s organic farmers and advocates with gather in the Iowa Memorial Union for workshops, food and community.

The Iowa Organic Conference begins Sunday, Nov. 18 with a 6pm reception in the IMU ballroom. The following morning, keynote speaker David Montgomery, a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, will speak while attendees eat breakfast at the opening ceremony. His talk, titled Growing a Revolution: Bringing our Soil Back to Life, will discuss ways to enhance seemingly hopeless soils.

Attendees can attend workshops throughout the day and visit around 40 vendors in the main lounge. Highlights include workshops led by Liz Carlisle, author of Lentil Underground, and Iowa journalist Art Cullen, who wrote a series of Pulitzer-winning editorials about Iowa’s water pollution.

Breakfast and lunch are included in the registration fee, and will feature organic fare locally sourced from the Iowa City area. Snacks will be available throughout the day as well.

The event is sponsored by the Iowa State University Organic Program and the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability. Registration is still open for $120.

 

Earth has three moons: Confirmed


6147915333_7ab5c0b194_z.jpg
This moon is not alone out there (flickr).

Julia Poska| November 9, 2018

They’ll never light up the night sky or pull in the tides, but two additional moons orbit the earth, invisible to the naked eye. A team of Hungarian scientists captured images of them for the first time this year.

The reported the discovery in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society September 1, though the media only picked up the story this week.

According to Universe Today, a moon is defined as “a celestial body that makes an orbit around a planet,” like a “natural satellite.”  The big, round rock commonly known as “the moon” certainly fits this definition, as do the two newly discovered moons, though they look vastly different.

These moons are clouds of tiny dust particles, not solid bodies, according to a recent National Geographic feature. They are each about nine times wider than the Earth’s diameter, and orbit at about the same distance from the planet as our regular moon.

“The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the moon, are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy,” Judit Slíz-Balogh, one of the study’s authors, told National Geographic.

The clouds are so faint that astronomers were unable photograph them until now, with special Polarized lenses on their cameras, though they’ve suspected the moons’ existence since the 1950s. Kazimierz Kordylewski, a Polish astronomer whom the moons have been named after, thought he saw one in 1961, but was unable to prove it.

 

Iowa explores renewable energy storage


14677909174_56dba00f4b_z.jpg
Batteries can make solar arrays productive even after the sun goes down (flickr).

Julia Poska| November 8, 2018

Already a leader in wind energy, Iowa wants to expand its renewable energy portfolio even further. The Iowa Economic Development Authority granted $200,000 to Ideal Energy in Fairfield last month to study “solar plus” systems, solar arrays enhanced with energy storage capacity via batteries.

Without the addition of batteries, these solar grids would only supply power when the sun was shining. The batteries can supply power during outages and at night, and help “shave” energy bills by supplying energy at peak demand hours, when utility costs are highest.

Ideal Energy is currently building a large, 1.1 megawatt solar array with a 1.1 megawatt hour vanadium flow battery for the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield. This is the largest solar plus project in the state of Iowa and will cover about a third of the university’s annual energy needs.

Ideal is also installing a somewhat smaller array with a lithium-ion battery at the Agri-Industrial Plastics Company in Fairfield. The battery will provide nighttime power for the company’s 24-hour production lines and save them an estimated $42,000 annually.

With the Iowa Economic Development Authority grant, Ideal will assess and compare the performance, efficiency and maintenance of both systems in partnership with Iowa State University’s Electric Power Research Center. A statewide committee, established by the 2016 Iowa Energy Plan, will evaluate the research to inform future solar plus projects in the state.

 

 

Water pollution Iowa’s top science policy issue


3114487590_22a274b03b_z.jpg
Streams carry farm pollution into the Missippi River, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 2, 2018

In light of upcoming midterm elections, Popular Science wants voters to be informed about science policy,  even if campaigners are not. The national magazine recently released a list of each U.S. state’s most pressing science policy issue.

Unsurprisingly, Iowa’s biggest challenge is to reduce pollution from farms. Because intensive agriculture takes place on over two-thirds of Iowa’s land, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous leak from the state’s ubiquitous farm fields into waterways at alarming rates.

The list cites a University of Iowa study from earlier this year, which found that Iowa’s nitrogen runoff into the Mississippi River rose 47 percent over the last five years. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, initiated in 2013, aimed to reduce this rate 45 percent in that same time span.

Nutrient loss degrades soil quality for growers, and has created legal tensions between farmers and local waterworks. The loss creates issues far downstream as well. An overabundance of nutrients  in the Gulf of Mexico has created a “dead zone” where low-oxygen conditions are inhospitable to aquatic life, which threatens the area’s fishing industry.

The Nutrient Reduction strategy pushes conservation practices like planting cover crops on otherwise bare fields, diversifying land use, and creating buffers along waterways out  to farms, but adoption of such practices is still too low.

The next round of political leaders will need continue searching for a solution, something Iowa voters should take into consideration.  As Popular Science wrote, “Even if it never surfaces on the campaign trail, science is always on the ballot.”

 

Social inequality and coping with climate change


7838028244_50a63cd343_z.jpg
Coastal communities are among the most vulnerable as climate change alters global conditions (flickr)

Julia Poska| November 1, 2018

As climate changes around the world, certain areas will become inhospitable to human life; coasts will flood, city water supplies will face crises, and islands will disappear. Unfortunately, people living in such areas cannot always cope with the change, according to a new study published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 

“Many of the people most at risk from environmental changes have the fewest freedoms and therefore the least ability to adapt in the face of such difficulties,” said lead author Jon Barnett in a media release.

Worldwide evidence compiled by Barnett and other researchers from the Universities of Melbourne and Exeter suggests that protecting human rights and freedoms is key  to reducing the impacts of climate change for the vulnerable. Freedom of movement is especially important, as it  provides those facing environmental threats the option to leave.

The Australian researchers highlighted the perils threatening Pacific Islanders in their report. The tiniest islands of Micronesia and Melanesia could be underwater in a matter of decades as sea levels rise. Policies in Australia and New Zealand that welcome islanders to move to mainland create security for those people, who typically have minimal economic and political resources.