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.

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.