This weeks segment looks at how deforestation is affecting coffee production.
Deforestation and climate change may wipe out coffee worldwide.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent the last 30 years traveling across the world recording the patterns of coffee forests and farms. Sixty percent of coffee species are at risk for extinction due to the effects of climate change and deforestation. Coffee plantations are expected to vanish from the three major coffee producing continents.
Part of Dr. Davis’ research is the development of a barometer to test the biodiversity of forests and risks posed to coffee plants. The most popular coffee bean, arabica, comes from Ethiopia and has been shown to be extremely vulnerable to climate change effects. He reports that the ecosystems are becoming less diverse which mean less food and less shelter for species.
While there are 124 coffee species, a majority are wild and inaccessible. Dr. Davis and the rest of his team continue their research to find rare coffee plants and new places to farm them. His travels have been directed toward cooler areas. On the teams’ most recent expedition, they found a hillside in Liberia covered in stenophylla, a flowering coffee plant that they are currently testing.
More research will hopefully ensure coffee is available long into the future.
Iowa’s flood season started off with an splash this week. The state saw road closures, city evacuations and one even one collapsed bridge. In wake of major damage from east to west, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a statewide disaster proclamation Thursday.
The official proclamation activates the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate disaster response using state resources. It also activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program for qualifying residents; those with household incomes up to twice the federal poverty level have 45 days after the proclamation to apply for up to $5,000 in flood damage repairs.
The proclamation also activated the Disaster Case Management Program in 21 counties. Case managers help those seriously affected by disasters overcome adversity by helping them create a disaster recovery plan and offering guidance, advice and referrals.
Better safe than sorry
The flood season has only just begun and is expected to be brutal this year. Flood insurance takes 30 days from purchase to become active, but flood risk is an all-year hazard, especially in Iowa. It is not too late to protect your household from future floods.
Do you live in a flood plain? Find out here and remember that over 20 percent of flood insurance claims come from properties outside the supposed “high-risk” zone. The average claim is about $30,000: six times more than the maximum granted by the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program and with no income requirement.
Be aware of present flood risk as well. Watches are ongoing in much of the state. Be sure to…
Avoid driving across even shallowly flooded roads.
Keep at least a day’s supply of shelf-stable food and water in your home, especially if you live in a floodplain.
While Iowans rejoiced over spring-like weather this week after a long, brutal winter, flooding caused by rapid snowmelt and heavy rains has threatened communities across the state.
Iowa weather services have been reporting higher-than-average risks for major flooding this spring since late February, and many outlooks have only increased within the last week, according to the Des Moines Register. The risk is most pronounced along the Mississippi River, where a Quad Cities survey found the risk of flooding through May to be 95 percent last week. The National Weather Service says flooding in the Quad Cities could break records.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch Wednesday morning that will last until at least this evening across most of the state. In some areas the watch will extend into next week. Below is information on flooding and alerts throughout the state as of this morning.
Major flood stage was reached in Waterloo, Maquoketa and DeWitt as of Thursday morning. Moderate flood stage was reached in many areas Wednesday, including Kalona, Atkins and Augusta (IFIS).
Yesterday, Cedar Rapids expected a “moderate flood stage” when the Cedar River crests early next week. Officials said this should be fairly insignificant for residents. The city had already reached moderate flood stage as of Wednesday night (Gazette/IFIS).
An ice jam raised alarm in Ottumwa Wednesday morning, though it only caused minor agricultural flooding (Des Moines Register).
Squaw Creek in Ames reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday morning, all areas were at or below moderate levels (IFIS).
An ice jam collapsed a bridge in Johnston Wednesday evening. The trail leading to the bridge had been closed prior to the collapse (Des Moines Register).
Des Moines Public Works closed parts of George Flagg Parkway and Fleur Avenue. These could remain closed for days (WHOtv).
An ice jam in the Raccoon River flooded rural communities in Dallas County (Des Moines Register).
Western Iowa was hit worst of all. As of Thursday morning, eight communities from north to south were at major flood stage (IFIS).
The Boyer River in Hogan and the West Nishnabotna River near Avoca reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. A Red Cross station was set up in Avoca for those displaced from homes (kwbe/IFIS).
Underwood in Pottawattamie County lost function of its sewer lift system Wednesday. Residents were asked to stop flushing toilets temporarily (kwbe).
Harrison County Emergency Management ordered a partial evacuation of Missouri Valley Wednesday night. As of 9:20pm, 2,600 people were underwater (Des Moines Register).
Several roads have been closed as well. Check 511ia.org for current closures.
Take care around even shallowly flooded areas, especially when driving. Remember that while newly-purchased flood insurance takes 30 days to go into effect (and will therefore not help you this week), Iowa’s flood season has only just begun.
Natural disasters are enormously costly. The U.S. incurred an estimated $306 billion in physical damage from extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods in 2017 alone.
CGRER member Eric Tate, a professor in the University of Iowa geography department, quantifies disaster impacts in a bigger way.
“Looking at these impacts just by dollars affected may not really get at the true impact of how people are affected, how their livelihoods are affected,” he said.
Tate studies the social effects of disasters, with an emphasis on floods. Looking beyond physical damage, he determines how population characteristics like age, disability, education and poverty create social vulnerability to harm.
Listen to Tate explain social vulnerability in his own words.
Disaster impacts are typically distributed unevenly; certain groups suffer disproportionately due to social, political, economic and institutional inequalities. These processes may debilitate some households while neighbors go unaffected during the same storm.
Using mainly government disaster relief data, Tate has measured and mapped the social reality of disasters like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. He’s currently examining 2015 flooding in South Carolina. His research aims to inform planning and policy by lending insight into how various population characteristics contribute to vulnerability.
“What is needed in this field is a bunch of studies looking at different disasters at different scales of analysis, looking at different variables, looking at different outcomes,” he said. “When you put them all together, now you start to get some generalizable understanding.”
Officials can use such analyses to help vulnerable populations before, during and after disasters with adjusted mitigation and primary response plans. The social dimension of sustainability is often underemphasized, but is crucial for implementing effective change.
“If we want to have sustainable futures but the gains aren’t equitably shared, then is that sustainable?” Tate asked.
Tate on the need for research into the spillover effects of disasters.
He sees several ways policymakers on all levels can more deeply embed equity into decision making. They can model vulnerability among their constituents themselves or look to academic research that does so. They can seek to be inclusive and involve a diverse cross section of the population early on in the decision making process.
Tate pointed to the National Environmental Policy Act as well, which requires the government to complete environmental impact assessments prior to undergoing all federally funded executive projects. He thinks a similar statute could mandate assessments of the far-reaching social consequences of such projects.
He also advised considering climate change in proactive disaster planning, as atmospheric carbon seems to amplify climatological weather events. In Iowa, flooding has already become pronouncedly more intense and will continue to get worse in coming decades.
“Regardless of your belief in climate change or not, we’re seeing changes in hydrological extremes,” Tate said.
Tate on how to help protect yourself and your community from flooding.
Intensified flooding will increase pressure on the already vulnerability and likely push some previously unaffected households beyond their coping capacities.
Tate calls for updated statistical analysis to better inform everyone from city planners to homeowners about risk and vulnerability in different areas. The 100-year floodplain of today may become the 50-year floodplain in 15 years, but flood maps are based on historical frequencies and do not reflect projections for the future.
“Trying to understand future risk based on past occurrences is likely to lead you to faulty conclusions,” he said. “We should be thinking maybe a little less probabilistically and a little more possibilistically.”
***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a new blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspective and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***
Early Wednesday morning, while many across Iowa were still asleep, records were broken by the so-called “Polar Vortex” over the Midwest. Before 4 a.m. Des Moines saw a minus 20 degree temperature, making it the coldest Jan. 30 the city has seen in recent history. Waterloo got an even colder minus 24 degrees, breaking the same record in that city. Farther north, temperatures reached minus 29 degrees, as reported by the Des Moines Register.
Windchill made the cold temperatures feel even more brutal. In Cedar Rapids, windchill Wednesday morning reached minus 55 degrees, a tie with the 1985 record for the coldest windchill ever recorded there. According to the Register, winds were steadily between 15 and 25 mph, but at times blew into the mid-30s.
Climate change and extreme cold
Some studies suggest that such extreme “Polar Vortex” events in the Midwest could become more common with climate change, though more research needs to be done to make a definitive call on the matter.
It appears that warmer arctic temperatures cause the jet stream, a westerly moving band of air circling the northern part of the globe, to dip farther south, bringing the North Pole’s extreme cold into the United States. Read this article from National Geographicfor a more in-depth look at the science.
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.
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.