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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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

On The Radio- Farmers are profiting from environmental conservation


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Kasey Dresser | October 7, 2018

This weeks segment talks about an incentive for farmers to be more environmentally friendly. 

Transcript:

Farmers are finding profitable ways to help the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Agriculture practices are creating environmental challenges for our water, air and soil.

Public concern about the environment has led to increased adoption of conservation efforts. However, many conservation methods are costly.  A new study from the Environmental Defense Fund is providing more options for farmers to find profitable ways to help the environment.

One of the main ways that farmers are able to improve the health of their land is through the use of cover crops. Cover crops keep topsoil intact and improve the health of crops overall. Other methods include diversifying crop rotation and switching to more environmentally friendly herbicides.

These conservation practices come with an initial expense, but have proven to be cost effective overall for many farmers in the Midwest.

Three participating farmers provided a transparent look into their financial gain since implementing these conservation methods. While they experienced some profit, they all expect greater gains in the future as they gain more experience.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

An analysis of early farming practices


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Farming (cjuneau/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | September 26, 2018

A study from the University of Wisconsin- Madison theorizes how agriculture would have affected the climate without the Industrial Revolution.

According to the Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis, early farming practices produced mass amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. Without the presence of the industrial revolution ancient agriculture would have trapped enough methane in the atmosphere to create a similar state of climate change.

The Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis was originally developed by William Ruddiman, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Virginia 15 years earlier. The climate reconstructions are based on ice core data. Our current geological time frame is called Holocene and the one before is referred to as MIS19. Both time periods started with similar carbon dioxide and methane concentrations based on evidence from ice core data. MIS19 saw a steady drop in greenhouse gasses. The numbers have since spiked to our current state of emissions. The data currently stops at the start of the Industrial Revolution but people are continuing to develop the hypothesis.

Stephen Vavrus, a senior scientist on the project concludes, “science takes you where it takes you,” and “things are so far out of whack now, the last 2,000 years have been outside the natural bounds. We are so far beyond what is natural.”