Scientists at four leading Illinois research institutions, three in the Chicago region, are forming a new collaboration to study the effects of drought on urban trees and develop more effective drought response strategies nationwide through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The project is being led by researchers at The Morton Arboretum in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago and the Illinois State Water Survey at the Prairie Research Institute.
With access to Lake Michigan, a temperate climate, and groundwater scattered throughout, it is hard to consider fresh water a limited resource in Illinois, yet two major aquifers in northeast Illinois are encountering issues that will threaten their sustainability. Communities, industries, and water specialists in Will, Kendall, and Grundy Counties have formed a coalition, the Southwest Water Planning Group (SWPG), and contracted with the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) to understand current and future risk to their water supply.
In the southwestern suburbs of Chicago, the two aquifers used to meet water supply demands are the shallow aquifer and the deep sandstone aquifer. Shallow wells are considerably less expensive to drill than sandstone wells. However, the shallow aquifer is not able to provide the quantities of water needed throughout Will County and is absent over large portions of the county. Although the deep sandstone aquifer is present throughout Will County, its water levels are lower now than ever before.
The Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper, a nonprofit advocating for clean water, tested a total of 31 samples of water [for microplastics], mainly from north St. Louis County and north St. Louis. Researchers did the majority of testing between September and November 2022. They worked with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Funding for the project came from the Missouri Foundation for Health.
For two years, a pilot Illinois Farm to Food Bank program has paved a path to helping trim food waste and build food bank inventories with fresh, healthy food directly from farmers.
Now, legislation making the pilot program a permanent state program awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. House Bill 2879 establishes the Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program within the Department of Human Services (DHS) to help expand the availability of nutritious, locally grown, raised or processed foods for Illinois’ emergency food system.
The Farm to Food Bank pilot program has been administered by Feeding Illinois and was launched in 2021 with grant funding from USDA. The program connects food banks with Illinois farmers to establish a pipeline of fresh food for food pantries throughout the state. It also provides a secondary market for products that might be left in the field or trees, or blemished products.
Four Illinois research institutions announced on Thursday a two-year project that will examine how drought affects urban trees in order to inform how cities nationwide can effectively respond to drier-than-normal conditions made more common in some areas by climate change.
Drought is typically studied in an agricultural context, the researchers said. This project, on the other hand, will “provide useable information for decision makers in charge of urban tree management,” said Trent Ford, who is the state climatologist based at the University of Illinois, in a news release. Other institutions involved with the research are The Morton Arboretum, Argonne National Laboratory and the Prairie Research Institute’s Illinois State Water Survey.
The project is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office, which supports high-priority climate research regionally, nationally and internationally.
Using data spanning 120 years, scientists in the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) have a unique view of long-term changes in stream fish populations and their habitats in Champaign County. The best news: several fish species that were last seen here in the 1960s have returned to the county, suggesting some streams are improving.
Champaign County fish surveys were first taken in the late 1880s, with subsequent monitoring in 1930, 1960, and 1988. INHS ecologists resampled 122 sites in the county between 2012 and 2015.
Whether you enjoy watching the weather or hope for more accurate local forecasts, reading a rain gauge in your own backyard as a volunteer to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow (CoCoRaHS) network can make a big contribution to spot-on forecasts and studies of precipitation and climate, according to Trent Ford, Illinois State Climatologist at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS).
CoCoRaHS is a nationwide non-profit network with about 860 volunteers of all ages in Illinois, but more volunteers are needed to cover various parts of the state. Volunteers check rain gauges at the same time each day, particularly in the early morning, measure any precipitation, and report the results on an app or computer. In this way, they learn more about the weather and how it can affect our lives.
Rainfall observers help to fill the gaps where National Weather Service (NWS) stations are absent. When NWS stations are far apart and few across the state, their reports don’t account for local variability in rainfall. In Champaign County, for instance, Ford noted that last year in two locations just 8 miles apart, one area received 10 more inches of rain than the other.
“Where there are few CoCoRaHS observers, we are asking a lot of the National Weather Service stations to represent large areas that could have significant differences in rainfall,” Ford said. “When thinking in agricultural terms, 10 inches of rain could be the difference between a good crop or one that yields less than expected.”
The daily precipitation measurements that volunteers provide are important for post-event analysis to understand storms and their impacts in the state. Daily and weekly precipitation data are also used to improve predictions for next week’s forecast, Ford said.
“One thing we all share is our concern over the accuracy of weather forecasts.” Ford said. “The CoCoRaHS network makes a huge difference in helping us to understand that day-to-day weather variability.”
Observers are needed in all parts of the state, in rural and urban areas, as rain can appear in one area, but not in another. Weather forecasts are important in both agricultural areas and in cities. The observations contribute to the understanding of where there may be effects from urban or flash flooding.
In Chicago and in smaller cities, most of the CoCoRaHS observers are in the periphery of cities, leaving entire neighborhoods with no collected rain data.
As a part of daily monitoring, volunteers indicate days when no precipitation occurs, which can be just as important as determining how much rain fell in a day or two. As the State Climatologist, Ford examines indicators for drought every week so he can make state recommendations to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which informs federal and state decisions on drought recovery assistance.
“It’s really important for me to have data from observers to know where it didn’t rain,” Ford said. “Without the observations, we might assume that the whole county got rainfall. Accurate data are necessary, particularly when parts of the state are going into and out of drought.”
Researchers also use the observation data in computer models and for studies of weather, climate, and water-related topics, such as streamflow and water supply planning. The data collected from volunteers have proven to be accurate enough to inform research.
Minna Ernestine Jewell (1892-1985) was an early 20th century aquatic ecologist and zoologist who studied Midwestern aquatic habitats extensively. Although she has gained some recognition for her contributions in ecology, a fact that has gone unreported is her brief affiliation with the Illinois State Water Survey.
Jewell was born Feb. 9, 1892 in Irving, Kansas, the fourth of seven children of Lyman Leander and Mary Jane Moores Jewell. Her parents had been neighbors and schoolteachers in Blue Rapids Township prior to marrying. The family owned a farm in Irving, Kansas where Minna lived until she graduated from Irving High School in 1910. Jewell enrolled at Colorado College in 1910, where she studied biology and graduated with honors in 1914. Yearbooks show she participated in the social life of the campus, engaged in extracurriculars such as the Dramatic Club, and had a wry sense of humor. Parasitologist William Walter Cort was a biology instructor at Colorado College during Jewell’s junior year, in between his MA and PhD work in zoology at the University of Illinois. Cort may have influenced Jewell’s interest in zoology and in pursuing graduate work, as well as her choice of graduate schools.
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