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 – Flood patterns changing across the U.S.


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The threat of moderate flooding is generally increasing in the northern U.S. and decreasing in the southern U.S., while some regions remain mostly unchanged. (American Geophysical Union)
Jake Slobe | January 2, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses changing flood patterns found by University of Iowa researchers.

Transcript: The risk of flooding is changing regionally across the United States and the reasons could be shifting rainfall patterns and changes in groundwater.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

University of Iowa engineers, in a new study, have determined that the threat of flooding is growing in the northern half of the U.S. while declining in the southern half. The American Southwest and West, meanwhile, are experiencing decreasing flood risk.

UI engineers Gabriele Villarini and Louise Slater compiled water-height information from 2,042 stream gauges operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. They then compared the data to satellite information gathered over more than a dozen years by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission showing the amount of water stored in the ground.

The study found that northern sections of the country have an increased amount of water stored in the ground and are at increased risk for minor and moderate flooding. Meanwhile, flood risk is decreasing in the southern portions of the U.S., where stored water has declined.

The researchers hope their findings can change how flood patterns are discussed. In the past, flood risk trends have typically been discussed using stream flow, or the amount of water flowing per unit time. The UI study views flood risk through the lens of how it may affect people and property and aligns the results with National Weather Service terminology understood by the general public.

For more information about the flood research, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Iowa professor selected to serve on U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce


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University of Iowa associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, associate faculty research engineer at IIHR, and Director of the Environmental Policy Research Program, David Cwiertny. (Anne Easker, IIHR)
Jenna Ladd | October 6, 2016

Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) member David Cwiertny has been selected to serve on the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce as minority staff. Cwiertny, who is also the Director of the Public Policy Center’s Environmental Policy Research Program, received the appointment through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS creates opportunities for scientists to offer their expertise and analytical skills to legislators while also learning more about the policy making process firsthand. Cwiertny said,

“Evidence, rooted in sound science, should whenever possible be used to inform and improve decision making and new policy.  And science has never been more important for informing policy, particularly as society begins to address how best to manage and adapt to a changing climate. So in my discipline of environmental engineering and environmental science, I think there is a real opportunity for scientists and engineers to help advance policy that better enables sustainable development both in the US and around the globe.”   

As an AAAS 2016-2017 Congressional Fellow, he will serve on both the energy and power and environment and economy subcommittees. Cwiertney, who is also an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate faculty research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, will function as a technical expert within the two subcommittees, which are responsible for all legislation and regulation related to water, air, and soil quality and energy. He added, “I’m eager to see, first hand, what the major hurdles are to translating scientific discovery into evidence-based decision making, and how we can improve and evolve our craft as researchers to better help policy makers.”

Cwiertny is one of two fellows that were selected from a pool of over 100 applicants.

On the Radio: Iowa Flood Information System


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This week’s On the Radio segment covers the Iowa Flood Information System website that offers many features to help Iowans prepare for and better understand floods. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

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IIHR Director Honored for Conservation Efforts


Photo via IIHR

IIHR Director Larry Weber and his wife Miechelle recently received the Johnson County Heritage Trust Conservation Award for their conservation efforts. The Webers are working toward restoring and conserving a stretch of land that they call “Old Man’s Timber.”

Larry Weber keeps a blog updated with progress and news about his work with the timber, follow this link to find out more.

 

Spotlight on Flood Center’s Witold Krajewski


Check out the Daily Iowan’s profile on Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center.

Months after the historic flooding in the summer of 2008, many Iowans were left with questions on how to move forward. And when the Iowa Flood Center was created in the spring of 2009, the center and its director Witold Krajewski were there to help.

Today, Krajewski, 57, a University of Iowa professor of civil and environmental engineering, helps Iowans at risk for flooding better understand water flow in the environment.

But the positive nature of his work doesn’t keep him from occasionally feeling the emotional toll of flood damage. During this summer’s flood in Ames and Des Moines, Krajewski said he felt a “high level of frustration.”

“It was like a challenge that I can help with my knowledge,” said Krajewski, a native of Warsaw, Poland.

And read more recent news about the Iowa Flood Center and flooding in Iowa:

A Watershed Woman: Connie Mutel


Photo by Tim Schoon.

IT’S EASY to sum up Connie Mutel’s complexity. Simply put, she’s a renaissance woman.

Tucked away in her office in the IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Institute’s archives, Mutel enjoys the hundreds of years of history and scientific research at her fingertips.

But she’s the antithesis of what one might expect from a historian and archivist. She does more than just preserve and organize documents in a stuffy room. Outside of her office, she engages with Iowa’s natural landscape and with her pen, campaigns vigorously, yet eloquently to help protect it.

An eternal liberal arts student, Mutel dons many figurative hats atop her shortly-cropped hair. Beyond her archival duties at the IIHR, she is also an ecologist and accomplished writer and editor.

Mutel has edited the soon to be released A Watershed Year: Anatomy of the Iowa Floods of 2008 – her twelfth book – a diverse collection of essays that scientifically dissect the Iowa floods of 2008. The compilation includes works from many of Mutel’s colleagues at IIHR.

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