Reflecting on the 2018 Climate Statement


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This visual from Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows extreme rainfall in Des Moines this past summer.

Julia Poska | October 12, 2018

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research had a big day yesterday; we released the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement at the Cedar Rapids Public Library for the press and public. Today we can reflect on the magnitude of the statement’s message.

Titled “Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” the statement warns of the urgent need to adapt buildings and public infrastructure to withstand the extreme weather of tomorrow. Scientists predict that average annual heat waves will increase by 7ºF and the most extreme rainfall events will double in intensity by midcentury.

“These are really scary numbers which will have negative consequences for the elderly, the economy, for corn and soybeans, as well as beef, hogs and poultry even under sheltered confinement,” said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of CGRER. “We must start now to adapt our built environment, including buildings and flood mitigation systems, to this changing climate.”

Schnoor presented the statement yesterday with Associate Professor of Architecture Ulrike Passe, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Building Energy Research.

“Water will also enter buildings from the foundation or basement walls,” Passe said. “In particular, heavier rain events and higher water tables affect foundations, and standards going forward must reflect that.”

She provided examples of several adaptations that can be made to buildings to prepare them for increased heat and precipitation, including steeper roof slopes, increased insulation and better ventilation. She said Iowan communities should consider managing increased rainwater runoff with green, vegetation-based infrastructure like rain gardens and urban forestry as well.

These adjustments need to be made as soon as possible; Iowa’s weather is already feeling the effects of climate change.

“Warming over the Gulf of Mexico is helping feed large rain events in Iowa and the Midwest,” Schnoor said. “That’s why we’re prone to intense downpours and major flooding like Des Moines saw on June 30 and like eastern Iowa has been experiencing for the past six weeks. People’s homes and businesses are being flooded that have never been flooded before.”

Burning less fossil fuel and reducing atmospheric carbon emissions can help mitigate climate change’s impacts as well, but at this stage, adaptation is absolutely crucial. We at CGRER hope those with decision-making power take the statement to heart, and listen to the record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities who endorsed it.

 

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.

Climate change visible in recent Iowa weather events


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Extreme heat, humidity, and precipitation are some of the effects of climate change seen in Iowa so far this summer. (Bidgee/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 13, 2018

Recent weather events in Iowa have followed the expected effects of climate change.

Connie Mutel, a historian at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, penned an op-ed in The Gazette this week, bringing light to the effects of climate change visible in recent weather events around the state.

Between 1901 and 2016, she wrote, Iowa’s average temperature has increased about 1 degree Fahrenheit. With this, weather events in Iowa have become more extreme and unpredictable.

Among the staggering statistics are increases in:

  • Absolute humidity due to greater evaporation from lakes and rivers (23 percent increase since 1971 in Dubuque)
  • Rainfall due to the higher capacity of air to hold moisture (about 5 more inches per year compared to 100 years ago)
  • Heavy precipitation events, causing soil erosion impacting agriculture (37 percent increase between 1958 and 2012)

If humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, the predictions for the future are even more dire:

  • Extreme heat waves (one every 10 years) will be around 13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by 2050
  • Global average temperature increase of over 7 degrees Fahrenheit from 1900 levels by 2100 — compared to a 1.8 degree increased seen so far

Mutel calls for more action in Iowa and nationwide to switch to renewable energy sources, following in the footsteps of countries like China, Costa Rica, and New Zealand that are on their way toward serious reductions in fossil-fuel based energy production.

“Will we continue to allow current trends to slide us toward a less dependable globe that degrades life’s abundance, beauty, and health?” she asks. “Or will we work for a self-renewing, healthier, more stable planet fueled by the sun, wind, and other renewables? The choice remains ours.”

UI begins new sustainable water graduate program


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The University of Iowa is home to a new graduate program for sustainable water development. (Vkulikov/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 5, 2018

The University of Iowa’s new Sustainable Water Development graduate program goes beyond science and engineering to give its “trainees” a holistic understanding of food, energy, and water.

The program is in its first year with a class of 17 students from around the country with a vast array of career goals. Coursework employs several different disciplines, like entrepreneurship and health in addition to science and engineering.

“I’m excited to think that when I’m finished here, I won’t just be an engineer — I’ll be a scientist, a budget expert, and a public health expert. I’ll definitely be better prepared for whatever the world throws at me,” Amina Grant, a student in the program, said to Iowa Now.

The National Science Foundation Research Traineeship awarded a $3 million grant to the UI to start this program in 2016. Program director David Cwiertny believes the multidisciplinary proposal and the opportunities the state provides made Iowa the best choice for the grant.

“The state really does feed the world,” Cwiertny said to Iowa Now. “Iowa is also a leader in wind energy and is dealing with important water quality issues. This makes the state the perfect place for a training program for professionals who want to address water, food, and energy issues.”

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.

Iowa Flood Information System predicts economic damages of flooding


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The Mississippi River in Dubuque is one of many in the state that is threatening to flood this spring. (Lesley G/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 10, 2018

Flooding has cost Iowa communities more than $18 billion in the last thirty years, and as the Mississippi and Cedar Rivers continue to swell this spring, Iowans may wonder how much they can expect to pay out on flood disasters in the future.

In recent years, scholars at the Iowa Flood Center have been working to predict just that. HAZUS, developed by the the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides predictions of the economic impact various magnitudes and types of natural disasters might have across the United States. During 2017, Research Engineer and Assistant Professor Ibrahim Demir and graduate research assistant Enes Yildirim, combined HAZUS’ information on demographics, buildings and structural content with data from the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

As a result, IFIS now offers flood loss and economic damage estimations for twelve communities in the state. These include Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls,  Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Independence, Kalona, Monticello, Ottumwa, Rock Rapids, Rock Valley, and Waterloo. HAZUS’ model makes it possible for users to not only view the overall economic damages to a community but also how much in damages individual buildings can be expected to accrue.

Iowa Flood Center researchers are working to expand this predictive model to other parts of the state. For now, users can use the following guide to learn more about the financial consequences of flooding in any of the aforementioned communities.

First, users must visit Iowa Flood Information System website, then:

  1. Hover their cursor over the “Flood Maps” tab and find their community under the “Flood Map Scenarios for Communities” button.
  2. After clicking on the “Damage Estimate” button, users can toggle the “Flood Map Controller” to model different scenarios.