Highway travelers view much of the Midwest as little more than barren flatlands. The formation of the region and its rich soils, especially tall grass areas that seemingly should support diverse forests, however, have long fascinated scientists. Newly available, long-term climate data now say the area is the product of weather extremes.
Compared with adjacent regions, the tall-grass area of the plains endures more frequent periods of severe drought, more lightning strikes and subsequent fires from frequent winter thunderstorms, dryer cold weather and more rapid plant and soil moisture evaporation, a team of researchers from the Illinois State Water Survey and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says in the current issue of the journal Physical Geography.
"Beyond the 100 years of scientific curiosity is that these extremes of weather and their frequency or their non-frequency that we have found to be critical factors for the plains are actually very important issues as we face global climate change," said Stanley A. Changnon, a water survey scientist and professor of geography. "The long-term data weve gathered and are analyzing can provide us with very useful guidance as we talk about potential changes to our agricultural systems and to the way we as people live in general."
Jim Barlow | UIUC
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