Midwest corn sweat, extra air moisture is harming crops


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | August 12, 2022

Corn sweat, a term referred to as plants giving off water through evapotranspiration, is increasing moisture in Midwest air, which is harming crops. The humidity in the air can increase temperatures between five and 15 degrees Fahrenheit over corn fields during mid-July and August.  

Iowa harvested over 13.1 million acres of corn and produced 2.58 billion bushels in 2019. One acre of corn can give off up to 4,000 gallons of water per day, contributing to extreme humidity, or, corn sweat. 

Midwest humidity isn’t just caused by corn sweat. Climate change has pushed the global surface temperature in 2022 to become the sixth hottest June in 143 years, being 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. In addition, humidity is accounting for warmer nights because the extra moisture makes it more challenging for temperatures to shift higher or lower.

This corn sweat and increased temperatures from climate change create a possible breeding area for pathogens and pests near growing plants and grain, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment. Bacteria can cause crops to fail and pests can impact crop growth by feeding on plant roots when humidity increases. 

The climate assessment also said increased humidity and precipitation contribute to soil erosion potential and reduces planting workdays because of waterlogged soil.

July 5 derecho intensity linked to climate change


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | July 7, 2022

A derecho swept through parts of Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on July 5. South Dakota experienced fallen power lines and trees from wind gusts higher than 90 mph. Huron and Miner, states in South Dakota, had wind gusts higher than 95 mph. The derecho that swept intense wind through the Midwest may be linked to climate change. 

The derecho on July 5 is a progressive derecho, a summertime-occurring derecho fueled by an area that is hot, dry, and contains strong winds. A similar occurrence happened in August of 2020 when a derecho with extremely high winds hit over 700 miles in 14 hours across the Midwest destroying crops, homes, trees, and more. Meteorology professor at the University of Northern Iowa Alan Czarnetzki said, after the 2020 derecho, human-induced warming of the planet’s surface can increase the likelihood of stronger derechos

After the derecho on July 5, scientists also say climate change can increase the intensity of storms like derechos. According to NASA, as the air continues to warm from climate change, other storms including hurricanes may also be affected, creating heavier rainfall and stronger wind. 

In 2021, the world’s surface temperature was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dust storms, high winds, droughts may impact Midwest agriculture long term


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | June 24, 2022

Wind gusts up to 70+ mph, dry cropland, and a thunderstorm with high winds created a haboob, or a large and intense dust storm, in Northwest Iowa on May 13. The haboob was a part of a larger aggregate of thunderstorms traveling through Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and both North and South Dakota. This haboob and other windy conditions in the Midwest cause major problems for soil. 

Wind traveling through dry cropland unearths crops and soil in and on the ground. During a study by Texas-based erosion specialist Chris Coreil at the beginning of May, high winds and droughts caused farmers to lose soil anywhere between three to 29 tons per acre in South Dakota. The haboob erosion estimates were similar, with estimates of up to 12 tons of lost soil per acre in South Dakota. 

And the extreme temperature doesn’t appear to be ending soon. Climate change is causing an increase in precipitation and an increase in droughts, which will harm soil and agricultural practices. 

One way to combat these high winds and drought conditions is with a crop cover, which right now, only 3-5 percent in most states own a cover. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released an announcement in January expanding services and opportunities for “climate smart agriculture,” and has a goal of crop covers protecting 30 million acres of corn and soybean land in the U.S. by 2030.

Severe Weather in Iowa and Across the Midwest Wednesday Night


Trees down in Iowa in August 2020

Josie Taylor | December 16, 2021

There were Tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings throughout the afternoon and evening across the Plains Wednesday. Twisters in Iowa, fires in Kansas and damage across the region has been reported today. 

There were 118 severe thunderstorms and 71 tornado warnings across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa Wednesday night, the National Weather Service said. 

In Iowa, the weather caused power outages, severe damage and at least one death. Iowa State Patrol troopers say a tractor-trailer was blown over in the wind around 8:30 p.m. killing at least one person. 

There were more than a dozen tornadoes reported in Iowa, with most seen in the western part of the state. Confirmation of tornadoes and damage assessments will be available in the coming days, said Allan Curtis of the National Weather Service.

Des Moines recorded a 74 mph wind gust at the airport at 8:28 p.m. Wednesday. This was the strongest gust not associated with a thunderstorm seen in Des Moines since 1970, the National Weather Service reported on Twitter.

Accurate damage assessment may take days to confirm, but we know that there are many trees down across Iowa, homes have been damaged and some Iowans are still without power today.

Companies propose carbon-capture pipelines, activists remain unsure


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 29, 2021

A new pipeline could be built across the Midwest.

Two companies are looking to build a pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois, but they plan yo utilize a carbon-capture technology at ethanol refineries and moving it to places it can be buried underground. Environmental activists are divided on the issue.

President Joe Biden and some Republican law makers support this type of pipeline. The federal government also has plans to solidify this option by offering tax credits for every metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered by a company.

The Environmental Protection Agency said storing of carbon dioxide is safe if companies do it carefully. There have not been any fatalities or injuries of workers in the carbon sequestering process.

Brad Crabtree from the Great Plaines Institute told the Associated Press carbon-capture pipelines are a potential way to bridge partisan divides while helping with climate change mitigation.

The process works by injecting the carbon dioxide in its liquefied state, allowing it to become rock. Then, it eventually hardens into minerals or it can dissolve.

Environmentalists remain concerned, however. Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, Carolyn Raffensperger, told the AP she doesn’t know if the technology can be trusted and denounced carbon-capture methods as a climate solution.

The proposed pipeline will go through South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska alongside North Dakota and Illinois if it’s approved.

SCOTUS Hears Biofuels Case, Could Impact Iowa


Via flickr

Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 30, 2021 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a case that could exempt small refineries from the Renewable Fuel Standards Program on Tuesday.

The nine justices heard oral arguments in the Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC v. Renewable Fuels Association case that questions if small refineries can request exemptions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards that were created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the country. The case was submitted for a later decision that will likely come in a few months.

Attorney General of Iowa Tom Miller submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court alongside Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Virginia officials. The 29-page brief asks the highest court to side with the Renewable Fuels Association and deny exemptions for small refineries if exemptions are not in place continuously.

Miller and Attorney General of Nebraska Doug Peterson argue in the brief that the EPAs “recent trend of freely granting small-refinery exemptions has undermined” the Renewable Fuel Standard’s promises of environmental benefits and energy independence.

In the case, the Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC argued that they face detrimental financial impacts when forced to buy ethanol and biodiesel at Congress’s demanded levels. Miller and his colleagues argue that the EPA’s willingness to grant exemptions has harmed the Iowa farming and biofuels industry.

In January 2020, a 10 Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and sided with the Renewable Fuels Association, a decision the EPA supported. After hearing oral arguments on April 27th, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to present a decision in July 2021.

Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy draft released


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Female monarchs lay their eggs in milkweed pods. (Charles Dawley/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 15, 2018

A draft of the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy was released on Monday, and Iowa plays an integral role in its success.

North American monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 80 percent in the last two decades, and their numbers are less than half of what is needed to guarantee a sustainable population. The black and gold pollinators spend their winter months in Mexico and southern California and travel to the northern midwest for the summer. Female monarchs lay eggs exclusively in milkweed pods.

Released by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the conservation strategy draft explains that midwestern states plan to establish 1.3 billion new milkweed stems over the next two decades. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is included within the midwestern effort. Written by Iowa State University’s Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, its aims to establish between 480,000 and 830,000 acres on monarch habitat by 2038.

Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, said, “The consortium has worked collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to expand habitat on our agricultural land, urban areas, roadsides, and other public land. We appreciate the many partners that have been involved and are encouraged by the work already underway.”

Iowa’s strategy provides evidence-based recommendations for creating monarch habitat and aims to document all voluntary efforts. 127 to 188 million new milkweed stems are estimated to be planted in Iowa in accordance with the plan.

Given that the vast majority of Iowa land is in agricultural production, the plan’s authors emphasize that agricultural lands must be a part of the solution. The strategy considers both expanding on existing conservation practices and planting milkweed stems in underutilized farm land as viable options. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will decide in June 2019 whether the monarch butterfly should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said, “Iowa falls entirely within the monarch’s northern breeding core. This means that every patch of milkweed habitat added in Iowa counts, and Iowa is perfectly situated to lead the way in conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly. The recovery cannot succeed without Iowa.”

The full draft of the Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.
The complete Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.

Crop production linked to regional changes in climate


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Corn and soy plants can cool the climate on a regional level, but intensified conventional agriculture can harm water and soil quality. (Lana/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2018

A new study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College detail the way intensive agriculture has influenced precipitation and temperature patterns in the midwest.

During the second half of the 20th century, corn production in the midwest increased by 400 percent and soybean yields doubled due to more intensive agricultural practices. The study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the midwest also saw significantly more precipitation and lower temperatures during the summer months over the same period of time. They concluded that the changes were not merely correlated, but that the land use change actually caused the regional climate changes.

The authors explain that each time plants take in carbon dioxide, they release moisture into the atmosphere through pore-like structures called stoma. With more plentiful and robust plants due to intensive agriculture, the amount of moisture corn and soy crops collectively release into the atmosphere has increased in the midwest since the 1950’s. This extra moisture, the study found, has caused summer air to cool and more precipitation to fall. In the last fifty years, average summertime rainfall in the midwest has increased by 15 percent and average summer temperatures have dropped by 0.5 degrees Celsius.

Roger Pielke Sr., a senior researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder commented on the study, he said, “This is a really important, excellent study. The leadership of the climate science community has not yet accepted that human land management is at least as important on regional and local climate as the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by human activities.”

Since completing the study, the researchers have developed a formula that accounts for the causative relationship between plants and regional climate changes that can be entered into U.S. regional climate models. It correctly predicted those changes that have been observed in the midwest over the last 50 years.

The study opens the door for further research into land use changes and how they can affect local climate.

4th National Climate Assessment public draft released


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St. Paul, Minnesota, like many U.S. cities, has developed its own climate adaptation plan. (U.S. Global Change Research Program)

Jenna Ladd | November 21, 2017

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released the first public draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment this November.

The assessment, which is projected to be complete in late 2018, is required through the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to “analyze the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity.”

Findings from the report are separated into several geographic regions of the United States, with Iowa included among the Midwestern states. Scientists say that Iowans and others in the Midwest region can expect longer growing seasons and increasing carbon dioxide levels to bump yields for some crops, but that positive effect will be reversed over time. As the climate continues to change, increased humidity, severity and frequency of heat waves along with poorer water and air quality are expected to endanger agricultural yields.

Gene Takle and Charles Stainer, both CGRER members, were recently interviewed on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River about the program’s findings. Takle said,

“Humidity has been going up for the last 30 years, and it continues to go up. This fields a number of different consequences, heavy rainfall, the 5, 6, or 7 inch rainfall events that we seem to be experiencing every year. We’re also experiencing a rise in both summertime and wintertime temperatures which are going to be bumping up against our crops.”

To drive home the economic impact of a changing climate, Takle added, “In 2013, we were not able to plant 700,000 acres in Northwest Iowa.”

Scientists point out that Midwesterners burn through 20 percent more carbon emissions per capita than the national average. That said, they argue, the region has incredible potential to take actions that reduce those emissions that cause climate change.

The current draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment can be found here.

Midwest drinking water quality symposium draws large crowd


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The symposium’s attendees included students, state legislators, water utility workers, environmental and public health representatives and farmers. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)

Jenna Ladd | October 18, 2017

Approximately 150 people gathered at Drake University in Des Moines for the “Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest-A Symposium” on September 21 and 22. Sponsored by several University of Iowa centers including the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC), Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), and the UI Public Policy Center, the event featured thirteen speakers.

Four plenary discussions about topics such as the health impacts of nitrate in drinking water, how to communicate with the public about water quality, unregulated contaminants in drinking water and more.

Complete PowerPoint presentations from the symposium’s presenters can be accessed here.