Spring Showers & Texas Wildflowers
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has one of the largest rainwater harvesting systems in America.
Using 17,000 square feet of rooftop, the system can collect about 10,200 gallons of water for every inch of rain. Every year, the Wildflower Center can collect an average of 200,000 gallons of water, which is used exclusively on the center’s plants.
The Wildflower Center offers a how-to guide on rainwater harvesting for homeowners who want to add value to a house and make a healthful investment for an ecologically sustainable future.
But one group of UT researchers hasn’t had to cancel pool parties because of the weather — they knew it was coming.
Researchers in the Jackson School of Geosciences recently developed a better, more accurate way to forecast summer rainfall across Texas. They predict that most of the state has a greater than 90 percent probability of a wet summer this year.
The new model, which uses more localized data than larger-scale models have typically used to predict summer weather in Texas, is about 70 percent effective in predicting summer precipitation. The greater accuracy gives water providers and decision makers more time to prepare for potential droughts.
“Water is a tremendously important resource, and improving forecasting will only help in managing that resource,” says Jackson School of Geosciences Dean Sharon Mosher. “This is the type of science that will benefit people throughout the state and beyond.”
Here’s a quick look at some of the other ways Longhorns are researching rain and working with weather:
- Research scientist Bridget Scanlon recently wrote for the Texas Tribune about ways to capture floodwaters for use in drier times. The recent rains in Texas, she says, highlight a water resource challenge: too much water when we don’t need it, and too little when we do.
- University Meteorologist Troy Kimmel posts weather updates online and works with the Campus Safety and Security Committee to ensure the university community is safe during emergency weather events.
- In 2011, Mark Simmons, director of research and consulting for the Lady Bird Wildflower Center, received a nearly $18,000 grant to study how the water-handling ability of vegetated, or green, roofs can be improved for use in warm climates. The green roofs can help reduce building temperatures and filter pollutants from storm water.
- Kerry Cook, a professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences, researches changing climate systems. In a recent study, she found the warming Earth causes annual monsoons in the Amazon rainforest to begin later, effectively shortening the wet season and lengthening the dry season, a trend that hurts the ecosystem. She’s also researched how global climate change may bring heavier rains to the northern Great Plains and less rain to the southern Great Plains during April, May and June, which could mean more flooding and intense storms.
- Jane M. Cohen, a professor in the School of Law, focuses her scholarly work on the potential legal implication of bioprecipitation, or precipitation made by living agents. In 2012, she published a paper, “Are we killing the rain? Meditations on the water cycle and, more particularly, on bioprecipitation,” in which she found that while bioprecipitation research is still in early stages and not yet on the agendas of global policy makers, the field has potential to change land-use and water-management systems around the world.
- Researchers from The University of Texas Marine Science Institute who have been studying the effects of oil and dispersants found that rain can greatly increase the amount of oil aerosolized from surface slicks during cleanup efforts after an oil spill. “No one has thought to look at the effect of rain before, and it is very exciting to be at the forefront of this discovery,” says Edward Buskey, a professor who has worked on the research.
- Earlier this year, students in the Cockrell School of Engineering worked with a local elementary school to install a rain garden that’s both an environmentally friendly addition to the school and a learning tool for students.
Watch engineering students explain how a rain garden at a local elementary school is serving as a learning tool and a storm water infrastructure solution: