The Midwest has long sustained an ideal climate for growing crops, but projections forecast rising temperatures and more intense rainfall in the region, far from optimal for the healthy growth of corn and soy.
Warmer winters will also encourage survival of pests season to season, and rising temperature and humidity in spring may increase disease outbreaks in crops.
More intense rainfall will also increase soil runoff, already a major issue in the region. When soil washes off of fields and into waterways, there are fewer nutrients for plants in the field and more in the water, which can fuel harmful algae blooms.
Scientists project a 5 to 25 percent drop in corn productivity throughout the Midwest by mid-century. Soy yields may fall about 25 percent in the southern Midwest, but could increase in northern states.
Ohio State University researchers believe clean drinking water can be harnessed from nighttime air, when water is more prone to condensing. They have been developing methods for capture with the aid of some unusual experts: desert lifeforms.
The pointy tips and sharp spines on cacti collect water from nighttime fog and funnel it town to the plants roots. Desert grasses do the same with pointed blades. Beetles collect water on their backs, which feature water-repellant and water-attracting spots that push the water towards the bugs’ mouths. These features help the plants and insects survive in harsh, low-water conditions.
The researchers, led by Bharat Bhushan, professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State, have been experimenting with materials, shapes and textures using 3D printed models in foggy enclosures. They have already determined that conical shapes and grooved textures are efficient water collection methods and hope to test prototypes in deserts outside the lab as they continue to develop designs. They published their findings so far in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Societyin late December.
The final products of their work could have implications for water-scarce areas, where strife over clean water will only worsen with climate change. Water captured by such devices could supplement the drinking water supplies of private homes or whole communities.
“Water supply is a critically important issue, especially for people of the most arid parts of the world,” Bhushan said in a Science Daily report. “By using bio-inspired technologies, we can help address the challenge of providing clean water to people around the globe, in as efficient a way as possible.”
The Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the 2015 Clean Water Rule would reduce federal jurisdiction over wetlands, streams and other small water bodies on Iowa farmland. Some Iowans see the proposal, officially made in mid-December, as a win for farmers, while others see it as a hit to much needed water quality regulation in the state.
Since the start of his term, Pres. Trump has wanted to limit Obama’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, which more clearly defined “Waters of the United States” within the Clean Water Act of 1972. This increased the protected area by about 3 percent (according to an op-ed from Bloomberg News) by adding more streams and neighboring wetlands, ponds and impoundments into federal jurisdiction and reducing those waterbodies that could once be given/denied protection on a “case-by-case” basis.
The current administration proposes removing wetlands without clear surface connection to larger bodies of water from protection, as well as “ephemeral” streams that only flow with rainfall or snowmelt, about 18 percent of the country’s total streams. The proposal is now undergoing 60 days of public comment.
In November, Iowa already allowed Iowa to halt enforcement of the rule until disagreement over it was settled in court. The most farmers seem to want that allowance made permanent by the Clean Water Rule rollback. The Iowa Farm Bureau shared a statement of support in December after the EPA announced the proposed rollback, and called the Obama Era rule an “overreach.”
As Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters, “Iowa’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that going forward a tire track that collects rain water won’t be regulated by the federal government.”
Iowa has serious water quality issues, however, caused for the most part by runoff from farm fields containing harmful nutrients like nitrate and phosphorus. The state recognizes the importance of on-farm streams and wetlands in managing soil and water quality, and encourages the construction of buffers between crops and waterways to minimize runoff into streams or wetlands.
Curt Zingula, a Linn County farmer who uses a saturated buffer on his farm to protect a creek, told theSioux City Journal he is proactive about water quality management, but thinks the Clean Water Rule “cast a shadow” over a landowner’s entire farm.
Others believe the rule was necessary, however, and think the proposed rollback will worsen Iowa’s water problem. A staff editorial in the Gazette called Ernst’s statements “hyperbole” and pushed for more focus on the water itself in the discussions surrounding the proposed rule change.
“If the Trump administration can’t explain how its definition will lead to cleaner water, and all of its related benefits, it should go back to the drawing board,” it reads. “Otherwise, it’s simply replaced Obama’s ‘overreach’ with a dereliction of duty to protect the nation’s waters for future generations.”
This weeks segment looks at how increased temperature and precipitation will affect crop production in the Midwest.
Increasing temperatures and precipitation will affect crop yields in the Midwest.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
The Midwest, often referred to as the breadbasket of America, is a major producer of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Rising temperatures and greater precipitation threaten farmer’s livelihoods.
According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Midwestern states are expected to warm up more than any other region in the U.S. Currently, the Iowa average annual 5-day maximum temperature during a heat wave is in the range of ninty to ninty-five degrees Fahrenheit.
Now U.S. climate scientists are projecting that by mid-century, five-day heat wave temperatures in Iowa will increase by about seven degrees Fahrenheit for the average year and by thirteen degrees Fahrenheit once per decade compared to heat waves in the late twentieth century.
Higher average temperatures increase the rate of evaporation from soil and plant leaves, leaving the land dry and arid and potentially damaging crop yields. Longer spells of high heat pave the way for droughts. The newly dryer land is then unable to properly soak up water from heavy rainfall, creating more flooding scenarios.
This weeks segment looks at how the relationship between humans and ecosystems will change with the affects of climate change.
Climate change will alter the relationship between humans and ecosystems.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Ecosystem services are benefits that humans gain from nature. Some of these benefits will diminish in coming years, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released in November.
Some ecosystem services provide resources like food, water and fuel. Iowa’s economy depends heavily on one such service—agriculture. The growing season is starting earlier and becoming wetter, which will impact crop yields.
Other services protect humans from natural dangers such as disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes and ticks. As northern climates get warmer the ranges of such pests and the diseases they carry are expanding.
Cultural services include natural provisions for recreation, tourism, aesthetics and spirituality. Climate change will impact sporting seasons and threaten cherished landscapes.
Changes will vary among regions and ecosystems, making the future hard to predict. Some losses are inevitable, though, and may compromise human industry, livelihood and sustenance.
We already know climate change is having major impacts on rainfall. The 2018 Iowa Climate Statement said the strongest rainfall events of the year may double in intensity by 2025. Climate change will alter the hydrologic cycle in other ways as well, majorly changing society’s relationship with water.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment, controversially released Black Friday, details the forecasted changes to water supplies in the U.S.. It compiles the findings of over 300 experts and has been reviewed by 13 federal agencies, in an effort to inform top decision-makers and common citizens.
More intense rainfall will be met with more intense drought and reduced snowpack, which is bad news for communities that rely on glacial melt for their water supply. These changes are exacerbating water availability issues caused primarily by overuse of groundwater aquifers in much of the U.S..
As higher temperatures create even higher demand for water for drinking and irrigation, this problem will only get worse and worse, which will have major implications for both the food supply and the industrial sector.
The altered hydrologic cycle will impact the quality of our limited quantity of water as well. Rising water temperatures will impact the health of ecosystems, and changes runoff patterns of pollutants into water will impact human health and pose challenges for water treatment facilities. Sea level rise could also threaten coastal drinking water supplies with the potential intrusion of saltwater flooding.
The report says the biggest water issues for the Midwest are adapting stormwater management systems and managing harmful algae blooms. Iowa is already familiar with floods produced by intense rainfall. Algae blooms, fueled by nutrient-runoff from farm fields, will be further increased by rising temperatures.
Other water-related challenges detailed in the assessment include the deterioration of water infrastructure and managing water more strategically in the future.
The world’s soils hold massive amounts of carbon from decomposed plants and animals. In this way the soil acts as a sink, storing carbon that could otherwise end up in the atmosphere, but soil is a source of carbon emissions.
Two studies published this month highlight just how helpful and harmful the the soil’s carbon storage capacity might be in the face of climate change.
The first, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the changing role of peatlands, also known as bogs or mires, in the carbon cycle. According to author Qianlai Zhuang of Purdue University, peatlands cover about 3 percent of the Earth’s surface but contain 30 percent of soil carbon. This major sink, though, has begun to release large amounts of carbon, too.
When peatlands are drained for human uses like agriculture or mining, they release some of that carbon into the air. The rate of carbon loss is predicted to increase with climate change, even for untouched peatlands.
Northern-hemisphere peatlands in Canada, Siberia and Southeast Asia have already begun releasing significant amounts of carbon, but Zhuang and PhD candidate Sirui Wang found that Amazonian peatlands may soon follow suit, according to a Purdue University media release. The researchers estimate that by the end of the century, peatlands in that area could release an amount of carbon equal to 5 percent of current annual emissions worldwide.
The second study, published in Nature Climate Change, found increased capacity for carbon storage deep within the soil. Much of the soils carbon is stored in a dissolved form; the carbon leaches downwards in the water and attaches to minerals over 6-feet underground.
Little is known about this method of storage, but Washington State University researcher Marc Kramer and Oliver Chadwick from the University of California Santa Barbara have looked at it closely and believe humanity could take advantage of the process to bury more atmospheric carbon deep inside the earth. Unfortunately, they believe climate change will limit this capacity in tropical rainforests, currently the best locations for dissolved carbon storage.