Frequency of Iowa flooding and precipitation on the rise

Graph showing the average amount precipitation per year in Iowa. The average amount of has increased dramatically in the state. Since 1960, has seen 10 percent increase in the amount of annual precipitation. (Iowa State University)
Jake Slobe | October 26, 2016

Recent Iowa State University data shows that 100-year flood plain maps actually map 25-year flood plains.  The data also shows that an increasing frequency of large rainfall events throughout Iowa. In Cedar Rapids, the number of heavy rainfall events has increased by 57 percent over the last 100 years.

Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education says that part of the reason for these increases in flooding is coming from changes in land use.

“Over the last 100 years, we have significantly altered the hydrology of our state. The part that we can do something about that would have fairly immediate results is land use change, meaning changing the way our cropping system works, and reestablishing some of the elements we’ve lost like wetlands and forests.”

Currently, the vast majority of Iowa’s agricultural land has, for a long time, been under cultivation in a two-year, corn-soybean rotation. Long-term studies at Iowa State University have demonstrated that moving to a three or four-year crop rotation would lead to a significantly different system that could naturally reduce flooding.

Researchers in Iowa are now analyzing the impact of upstream flood mitigation efforts — as well as determining the costs of potential efforts.

For example, the cost of funding watershed management projects, to help mitigate flood in the state is estimated to be around $5 billion, which is a bargain when put in the context of the cost of flood damage recovery. The damage from the 2008 flood alone was estimated at $10 billion across the state.

On The Radio – Student Garden coming closer to campus

The current student garden is located off campus on Hawkeye Park Road in Iowa City. (Jake Slobe)
Jake Slobe | October 24, 2016

This week’s On The Radio discusses the announcement of a new, on campus student garden coming early next year.

Transcript: The University of Iowa Student Government is working with student gardeners to develop a new garden on campus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The UI Student Government, last month, voted unanimously to give $17,000 to UI Student Gardeners to build a brand new garden on campus. The new garden will be located near North Hall.

Formed in the spring of 2009, the UI Student Garden has been producing a variety of spring and summer produce for meals served to university students, faculty and staff at the Iowa Memorial Union.

Currently, the student garden is located several miles from campus and can be inconvenient for student gardeners.

The new garden is expected to ready for planting by early next year allowing students to begin planting as soon as next spring.

More information about the student garden can be found at

From the UI Center for Global and Regional and Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Energy expert Jay Hakes to visit University of Iowa

Jake Slobe | October 17, 2016

Distinguished author and lecturer Jay Hakes will be visiting the University of Iowa today to discuss energy challenges in the U.S.

The lecture, titled “Energy Challenges for the Next American President,” will focus on the upcoming obstacles that America will face in order to meet energy needs.

The lecture is part of the “Ida  Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program” and will take place this evening from 5 to 6 pm and will be located in Van Allen Hall LR2. Theblecture is available for all to attend and is free of charge.

Hakes is one of the foremost authorities on U.S. energy policy and history. He has a long history working on energy issues and has held several prominent positions including a Director of the Governor’s Energy Office for Florida Governor Bob Graham,  and Administrator of the  U.S. Energy Information Administration during the Clinton administration, and Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library from 2000-2013.

Hakes also served as the Director for Research and Policy for President’s Obama’s BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Commission.

Hakes travels widely in the United States and the world to lecture on energy issues, and is a regular contributor to the energy news and opinion website Real Clear Energy.

Hakes’ 2008 book, A Declaration of Energy Independence, analyzes U.S. energy policy since the 1970’s and provides workable solutions to the nation’s energy dilemmas. Hakes also has two forthcoming books; one on the energy crises of the 1970s, and the other on the history of the climate change debate in the United States.


UI researchers take part in “Lake Michigan Ozone Study”

2013-2015 graph of ozone in the Midwest showing high ozone levels along the coast of Lake Michigan. Ozone levels above 70ppb violate the new ozone standard established by the EPA. (Rob Kaleel / SSEC)
Jake Slobe | October 17, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the Lake Michigan Ozone Study.

Transcript: Researchers at the University of Iowa are taking part in a collaborative field campaign to better understand the sources and transport of ozone near Lake Michigan.

This is the Environmental Focus.

The Lake Michigan Ozone Study is a joint effort of scientists at the University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and other research institutions to gain useful information about the concentration of ozone along all sides of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, the study’s objectives include an evaluation of current regional ozone models and the effect of Lake Michigan’s breeze circulation on ozone transport.

Communities with little industrial activity on all sides of Lake Michigan have consistently experienced ozone levels higher than the EPA’s limit of 70 parts per billion.

Project organizers are still seeking additional  funding in order to install high tech, real-time monitors at various ground measurement sites in the region.

For  more information about the Lake Michigan Ozone Study, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Iowa State’s agricultural and biosystems engineering program ranks best in country

Bird’s eye view of Iowa State University’s new Biorenewables Complex which was completed in 2014. (Iowa State University.)
Jake Slobe | October 12, 2016

Iowa State University’s agricultural and biosystems engineering undergraduate program was recently ranked No. 1 in the country by U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Colleges.

The report stated that, “Students who enroll at this major research, land-grant university experience a unique personal, welcoming environment, and a rich collection of academic and extra-curricular programs that help them discover their own individual greatness.”

Department Chair Steven Mickelson credits much of the ranking to the university’s new Biorenewables Complex. The complex, consisting of Elings Hall, Sukup Hall and the Biorenewables Research Laboratory, opened in 2014 and offers cutting-edge classrooms and laboratories.

While the new complex has been significant in boosting the level of ISU’s engineering department, it is just one of many changes within the program in the last few years.

In the summer of 2013, ISU teamed up with the Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) to invest in a 3-D metal printer that will contribute to students’ learning. The new laser printer has been building parts for Iowa manufacturers since last fall and allows students to learn about the advantages of adopting metal 3D printing as part of the design and manufacturing process.

The department has also recently acquired a state-of-the-art water flume.  The new water flume allows students to simulate Iowa streamflow which assists them in crop research.

“These two new pieces of technology are used for teaching and learning that gives great experience to help students with jobs and research,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson also attributes the ranking to the program’s growth in undergraduate and graduate students. The program has seen a 46 percent increase in undergraduate students and a 25 percent increase in graduate students over the last 5 years.

He emphasizes the importance of hands-on learning experiences in the classroom. He says hands-on learning curriculum accounts for 38 percent of all classes in the department.

“Hiring high-quality faculty, getting the right people on the bus to being with is what makes this department great.”

On The Radio – 2016 Iowa Climate Statement


Jake Slobe | October 10, 2016

This week’s on the radio discusses the sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement. The full statement can be found here.

Transcript: The sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement was released on October fifth.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The document, titled Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture, was signed by 180 science researchers and faculty from thirty-eight Iowa colleges and universities. This year’s statement centers around Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s U.S. Department of Agriculture Initiative “Building Blocks for Climate-Smart Agriculture.” Vilsack’s initiative aims to expand nation-wide voluntary, incentive-based programs for farmers to combat human-induced climate change.

The climate statement champions proven conservation techniques such as planting perennial plants on marginal cropland and reduced-till or no till farming that would decrease nation-wide net emissions and increase carbon storage in soil. Statement authors note that the document is part of a larger effort, strengthened by the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to offset human-caused climate change.

For more information about the 2016 Iowa Climate Statement or to read the full document, visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Climate Educator Forum 2016

Connie Mutel, Senior Science Writer for IIHR, offered suggestions for educators to more effectively communicate about climate change at the Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | October 7, 2016

The University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research hosted the 2016 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum in West Des Moines this Friday.

The event featured presentations from leaders in higher education, scientists, and experts in related fields that aimed to improve climate science education for students in Iowa. Kris A. Kilibarda, State Science Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education, outlined the goals and implementation plan for Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). NGSS are K-12 science standards that will be adopted by schools in Iowa over the next three years. The standards promote cross-curriculum, investigative learning that includes elements of climate science.

Des Moines Area Community College student Maxwell Blend attended the forum. Maxell, now 25, attended K-12 within the Valley Community School District. He said, “Growing up, I guess I wasn’t introduced to science or mathematics super early on, at least not in a complex manner…so it’s really cool to see that they’re actually going to be teaching students some of those critical thinking skills.”


Event organizer David Courard-Hauri also took the time to reflect on the recent release of the sixth annual Iowa climate statement titled Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture

Giselle Bruskewitz, Coordinator of Sustainability Education at Central College, said that she found both the statement and forum to be relevant to her work. She said,

“I think all of that kind of ties into what we do at Central College with interdisciplinary education. Climate change should be part of what we’re teaching in higher ed, and it should be pervasive not only in the curriculum but also in the day-to-day experiences, such as how we’re eating on campus and how that ties us to our agricultural system.”

Central College is one of only 13 colleges in the country to require all of its students to take a sustainability course before graduating. The campus boasts an organic garden that provides experiential learning and food for students. The Pella college also leads a Sustainability Faculty Workshop for higher education instructors of all disciplines to design courses which integrate sustainability into their coursework. “This interdisciplinary approach is something that’s really central to what we do,”Bruskewitz added.

Over the lunch hour, Senior Science Writer for IIHR at the University of Iowa, Connie Mutel, offered suggestions for climate scientists looking to more effectively communicate their work to the general public. Mutel, who is also the author of A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland, emphasized the importance of storytelling and a solution-based tone when communicating about climate change.

Dr. Diane Debinski, Professor of Conservation Biology at the Iowa State University, presented about climate change adaptation within grassland ecosystems as reflected by her field work in Ringold County. Debinksi said,

“This conference was a great opportunity for educators from K-12 to university level to share ideas about how to communicate about climate change using stories, graphs, and imagery.”