CGRER Looks Forward: Anthropologist Matt Hill


Julia Poska | March 8, 2019

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Matt Hill, shot by Julia Poska, 2019.

In their relatively short residence on Earth, humans have survived several dramatic climate change events, albeit with more natural causes than at present. They have endured man-made environmental challenges, like deforestation, as well.

So could the key to modern climate adaptation lie in the triumphs and mistakes of ancient civilizations? Matthew Hill, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa, sees potential.

“I think that you can use the past—carefully—to see patterns, see how certain strategies were attempted to deal with these environmental changes and see whether they have failed or succeeded,” Hill said. “I see it as one helpful guidepost to how people have responded to similar changes.”

Anthropology, broadly, is the study of human cultures. Hill primarily focuses on human interactions with the environment. As an archaeologist, he spends a lot of time studying ancient peoples and their technologies—specifically, how indigenous hunters interacted with animal populations in North America.

Hill describes his research on ancient North American peoples and animals. 

One of his earliest studies involved North American bison. They sustained native populations in the Great Plains for tens of thousands of years but declined rapidly once Europeans joined the hunt. Hill sought to understand the differences in strategy and mindset that led to dramatically different outcomes for bison before and after colonization.

About half of Hill’s recent research focuses on modern humans, too. With an interdisciplinary team of Iowa researchers, he is studying the social and environmental positions of wood-burning stove users in rural India.

“We’re trying to understand how these women are coping and adapting to a changing environment, one in which there’s deforestation and one in which governments and international organizations are targeting their way of life for change,” he said.

Hill discusses his research on biomass burning in rural India. 

Adaptation is the common thread throughout Hill’s projects. In both past and present peoples, he has examined a number of successful and failed strategies for dealing with all sorts of environmental problems.

As he sees it, innovation is not an issue. He said people have always been clever and able to develop new technologies and approaches. The bigger problem seems to be motivating political and economic elites to work towards positive change.

“Even if there’s goodwill, there’s not a single direction that a country or large group moves toward,” Hill said. “It’s often contradictory forces.”

Hear Hill’s thoughts on the political reality of environmental action. 

The masses often have more incentive –they are harmed by environmental isues far more than elites – but the poor and disenfranchised typically lack adequate resources to be a “positive push forward,” he said. It is up to leaders to be proactive and implement solutions that work for everyone.

But still, successful adaptation is possible. Hill pointed to North American big game hunters as evidence. At the end of the paleolithic Ice Age they faced mass extinction of food sources like mammoths and mastodons.

Amazingly, they managed to “not just survive but thrive,” he said. He attributes thoughtful resource management and long-term planning to their success.

“We can only hope that American society can point to these kinds of behaviors,” Hill said. “Not just thinking about next quarter or the next year, but thinking about the next generations, we too can not just survive change, but flourish in the face of change.”


***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a new blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspective and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018


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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor answer questions about the Iowa Climate Statement.

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu and Kasey Dresser | October 11, 2018

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate was released earlier today at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The statement was announced by Jerry Schnoor, the co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and Ulrike Passe, Associate Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University.

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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor read the climate statement and answered questions

The eighth annual statement, “Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” released Thursday, October 11 was signed by a record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities. The statement describes the urgent need to fortify our building and public infrastructure from heat and precipitation and looks to the future weather of Iowa, suggesting ways to improve Iowa’s buildings to suit those changing weather patterns.

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The climate statement holds a record number of signers
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Extreme precipitation is just one factor influencing this year’s climate statement topic

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Watch the press conference on our Facebook page

Read the climate statement

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.

Hymenoptera declared to be the most species rich animal order


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A parasitic wasp pauses on a leaf (Katja S/flickr)

Eden DeWald| May 23rd, 2018

University of Iowa professor Andrew Forbes has been conducting research that may intimidate those who aren’t fans of parasitic wasps. Forbes specializes in studying these wasps that belong to the Hymenoptera order, which also includes insects such as bees and ants.

In a preprint paper, meaning it has not yet been peer reviewed, Forbes asserts that the Hymenoptera order is more species rich than originally thought. Previously, Coleoptera— the beetle order, was thought to be the most speciose. However, Forbes’ specialization in parasitoid wasps allowed him to make the connection that there can be multiple species of parasitic wasps preying upon a single species of insect. Based on this ratio, one species of host insect to many different species of parasitic wasps, it would make sense that Hymenoptera is the most species rich order. The paper concludes that Hymenoptera has perhaps 2.5-3.2 times more species rich than Coleoptera.

Species richness is an important factor in general biodiversity. And although parasitic wasps may sound quite gruesome, they can provide useful services. Parasitic wasps prey on insects that are bothersome to humans such as garden pests like caterpillars, and even mosquitoes.

A visit with Dr. James Hansen discussing his relationship with Dr. Van Allen


 

Kasey Dresser | May 4, 2018

The University of Iowa was very lucky to receive a visit from scientist, researcher, and adjunct professor Dr. James Hansen. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and interview. Today’s video talks about his relationship with Dr. Van Allen. 

A visit with Dr. James Hansen and his advice to students


Kasey Dresser | May 3, 2018

The University of Iowa was very lucky to receive a visit from scientist, researcher, and adjunct professor Dr. James Hansen. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and interview about his work, education, and relationship with Dr. James Van Allen. Today’s video talks about his education and advice to students. 

A visit with Dr. James Hansen about his work


Kasey Dresser | May 2, 2018

The University of Iowa was very lucky to receive a visit from scientist, researcher, and adjunct professor Dr. James Hansen. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and interview about his work, education, and relationship with Dr. James Van Allen.

Hansen was trained in astronomy and physics under Dr. Van Allen at the University of Iowa, graduating with the highest distinction in 1963; he then published his dissertation on Venus and helped launch the Pioneer Venus project in May of 1978. Hansen was the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York from 1981 to 2013. Today, he continues his work on climate change as the director of the Program on Climate Science at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and gave a TED talk on climate change in 2012.

This video, discussing his work, will be the first of a 3 part video series. Tomorrow, Dr. Hansen will speak directly to students and the following day will focus on his relationship with Dr. Van Allen.