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 we've 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."
Changnon and his State Water Survey colleagues have digitized national climate data going back to 1890. Information from before 1948, when the federal government began a formal record-keeping procedure on computer punch cards, was taken from records left by volunteer weather observers. Once they interpreted and entered the information into digital records, the researchers began analyzing individual weather factors and running comparisons.
The triangular-shaped tall grass area scrutinized in the study stretches from Tulsa, Okla., to Fargo, N.D., to Indianapolis. European explorers entering what they called "an inland sea" found a hu
Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign