'Science Café' to explore the extremes of Iowa flooding and rainfall

AMES, Iowa -- It won't be a science class. It won't be a lecture. But there are sure to be some lessons learned about the Iowa floods of 2008.

The Iowa State University chapter of Sigma Xi -- an international, multidisciplinary scientific research society -- will co-sponsor a "Science Café" featuring Iowa State faculty members sharing their perspectives and answering questions on the theme, "Extreme Water and Weather in Iowa."

William Simpkins, the president of Iowa State's chapter of Sigma Xi and a professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, said the café presentations will facilitate discussion about this summer's flooding in Iowa. There will also be explanations of the science of flood prediction plus talk of how climate change and land use may affect flooding now and in the future.

"The fact that people don't seem to understand some basic hydrologic concepts is in my view a bit disturbing," Simpkins said. "It's incumbent on scientists and engineers to get accurate information out to people so we can make good decisions. And, we need to create a forum where we can do that more effectively."

Simpkins and three other Iowa State faculty members will try to do that during the Science Café. It will be 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, in the Skybox at Legends American Grill at 200 Stanton Ave. in Ames. It is free and open to the public.

The café will feature brief presentations by these faculty members to spark discussion:

  • Simpkins, a hydrogeologist who is studying groundwater in the Ames aquifer and at Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames, will open the café and moderate the conversations.
  • Kristie Franz, an assistant professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, will answer, "What is the 100-year Flood?" Franz is researching surface water hydrology, stream flow prediction and the modeling of snow and rainfall runoff.
  • William Gutowski, a professor of geological and atmospheric sciences who contributed to the international panel on climate change that won a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, will address, "Future Extreme Rainfall in Iowa." Gutowski was a lead author of part of a recent report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program that predicts increased frequency of intense rainstorms and heat spells for North America.
  • And Michael Burkart, an affiliate associate professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, will address the "Effects of Landscape Changes on Stream Discharge in Iowa." Burkart, formerly of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Soil Tilth Laboratory at Iowa State, has spent much of his career studying how agricultural practices affect water quality.

Sigma Xi's national organization is supporting science cafés as a way to communicate science to the public and its 2008 focus is on water issues. The idea is for scientists and engineers to share their research through informal conversations in a friendly setting.

The conversation about flooding and climate will be the first Science Café at Iowa State. The event is co-sponsored by the Iowa Water Center at Iowa State and the Institute of Science and Society at Iowa State.