Hurricane Harvey worsened by Houston skyline


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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.

 

 

 

Social inequality and coping with climate change


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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.

 

 

Iowa Pulitzer winner says ‘Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style’


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Cullen details the consequences of climate-fueled floods and heatwaves for Iowa farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 26, 2018

“Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style” -Art Cullen

Over the course the current midterm election campaigns, Iowan farm fields have faced high heatwaves, record-breaking rainfall, flooding and unseasonable cold. Experts say such extreme events are fueled by climate change.

Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, editor of Storm Lake, Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, published a new editorial on The Guardian last week to share his thoughts on the matter.

“Few politicians in the five states around here are talking about regulating agriculture in an era of warmer and wetter nights and long droughts,” he wrote. “Yet farmers are paying attention.”

Cullen based his argument in the findings of regional climate researchers. An Iowa State scientist predicted Iowa’s recent floods 20 years ago. Someone at the University of Minnesota predicts Iowa’s corn yield will halve by 2070. An agronomist, also from Iowa State, said soil erosion is making corn starchier and less valuable.

To combat the change, farmers have historically increased drainage tile. Cullen cited the environmental consequences of that adaption, mainly low oxygen due to excess nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, and water quality issues within the state.

As the situation has gotten worse and awareness has risen, farmers have started making positive changes, too, Cullen said.  They’re looking at sustainability reports, cover cropping to reduce erosion, and rotating diverse crops and livestock.

Cullen calls for policy makers to “catch up” and provide more financial aid to help farmers implement sustainable practices and even retire land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Radio- Crop enhancement at night


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Photo taken at a farm in Colorado (David Mulhern/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | October 15, 2018

This weeks segment looks at a study that tracks how nighttime airflow can affect crops.

Transcript: 

A new study in Illinois aims to improve crops by tracking how air moves at night.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

When the earth loses heat at night, sometimes cool layers of mostly still air form just above the surface. These pockets of air are called stable boundary layers, and scientists still know very little about how they flow.

They do know, however, that the subtle movements of stable boundary layers have important implications for agriculture. Understanding nighttime air flow could help farmers decide when to use anti-frost fans for example, and could minimize drift of aerosol pesticides.

Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of South Carolina will track this elusive phenomenon by releasing smoke and then using lasers to measure how it flows. They will also log atmospheric conditions like cloud cover and temperature to learn what exactly causes stable boundary layers to form.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, began mid-September and will run through November 15th.

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

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

Extreme rain causes record-setting delay for Iowa soybean harvest


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This map from Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows the extent of rainfall in Iowa this fall. These conditions have contributed to a delayed soybean harvest. 

Julia Poska | October 19, 2018

Last week, Iowa saw up to four inches of rain rain, below-average temperatures, and 10 confirmed tornadoes. The unfavorable weather has made this year’s the slowest Iowa soybean harvest on record.

As of Oct. 14, Iowa farmers had only harvested 14 percent of soybean acres in the state. , according to last week’s Iowa Crop Progress & Condition Report, put out by the National Agriculture Statistics Service. The report said that between the cold, rain and even snow, only 0.8 days during the week were suitable for fieldwork.

At this time last year, about 30 percent of Iowa soybeans were off the field. In 2016, that number was closer to 50 percent.  The 2018 Iowa Climate Statement, released last week, warns that extreme rainfall events will only get worse in Iowa as time goes on. Future years may see even later delays for harvests.

Despite the slow harvest, the bean plants themselves are a bit ahead of schedule. The report said 97 percent of the soybean crop was dropping leaves as of the 14th, five days ahead of average. Wallace’s Farmer reported that in some fields, moisture has prompted beans to start sprouting out of their pods.

Ideally, the beans only contain 13 percent moisture at harvest, but these wet conditions could cause the beans to absorb and store more water from the air, according to South Dakota’s Capital Journal. This could spell bad news for farmers, as many buyers only take dry soybeans. Farmers will have to wait longer to harvest or store their beans long-term.

Dryer conditions this week should have provided some opportunity for farmers to catch up. Meanwhile, states in the eastern Corn Belt are reporting faster-than-average harvest, according to Wallace’s Farmer.

 

 

Climate change: heat, rain, and less beer?


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These glasses could look 17 percent less full during future extreme climate events (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 18, 2018

Last week, the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement warned of worsening extreme heat and rain events statewide as climate change progresses. A new study published this week has predicted what, for some, might be an even scarier outlook: global beer shortages.

International researchers studied how recent extreme climate events, like drought and heatwaves, have impacted barley yields and beer prices around the world. They used their findings to model potential future impacts in more extreme events.

They predict that during severe events global barley production will fall by 3 to 17 percent, leading to a 16 percent global decline in beer consumption. It would be as if the United States stopped drinking beer altogether.

Different regions of the world would feel the drop unequally; countries that already drink less beer would face greater scarcity. Argentina would consume about 32 percent less beer, the study said.

The United States would see a reduction of 1.08 to 3.48 billion liters,  about 4 to 14 percent of the quantity consumed nationally in 2017, as reported by the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

In such a shortage,  researchers said beer prices would about double in most places.

Lead UK author Dabo Guan from the University of East Anglia said more studies on climate change economics focus on availability of staple crops like corn and wheat, in a press release about the study.

“If adaptation efforts prioritise necessities, climate change may undermine the availability, stability and access to ‘luxury’ goods to a greater extent than staple foods,” he said. “People’s diet security is equally important to food security in many aspects of society.”

 

 

 

 

On The Radio- Climate change affecting the moss in Antartica


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Red lichens, moss, hair grass, and pearlwort make up the fauna of Antarctic (Karen Chase/ flickr)

Kasey Dresser | October 15, 2018

This weeks segment highlights the affect of climate change on plant life in East Antartica.

Transcript:

There is evidence of climate change affecting moss beds in East Antarctica.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In East Antarctica, green moss beds emerge after the snow melts for 6 weeks. West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula have experienced significant climate changes, but East Antarctica was yet to experience anything major.

Professor Sharon Robinson from the University of Wollongon in Australia was surprised to see abrupt changes in the moss. In 2003 the monitoring system was first set up and the moss beds were lush and bright green. When her team returned in 2008 the majority of the plants were red. The dark red color indicates the plant is stressed.

The red pigment is meant to act as sunscreen. On the team’s most recent trip to East Antarctica, there were also patches of grey moss indicating the plant is starting to die. This behavior is caused by a drying climate in the region. It is now too cold and windy for the moss beds to live primarily under water. The drier climate is a result of climate change and ozone depletion.

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

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