Summer naturally finds us spending more time outdoors, which provides a multitude of opportunities to observe the diversity of plant and animal species that inhabit Iowa. Unless you are already a professional naturalist, you may occasionally wonder about the identity of some species you encounter. If you’d like to satisfy that curiosity without lugging around a bulky field guide, consider checking out one of the many Bur Oak Guides available at the Sciences Library.
Most Bur Oak Guides are easy to carry laminated foldout guides (roughly the size of a folded roadmap) published by the University of Iowa Press. They offer a handy way to identify the most likely species of plant or animal you will encounter in a variety of Iowa habitats. There are guides for birds, butterflies, fish, frogs, grasses, mushrooms, orchids, and trees, to mention just a few.
Unlike the laminated foldout guides mentioned above, there are some titles in this series published as full-length reference books that offer more detailed treatment of their subjects. Among them is a trio of beautifully illustrated books co-authored by Sylvan Runkel that describe the wildflowers and plants of Iowa’s wetlands, woodlands, and tallgrass prairie.
Since the month of July finds so many wildflower species of the tallgrass prairie in bloom, I would be remiss if I did not mention An Illustrated Guide to Iowa Prairie Plants by Paul Christiansen and Mark Müller, which was published in the Bur Oak Books series, a companion series to Bur Oak Guides.
Whereas Runkel’s books on Iowa’s wildflowers offer full color close-up views of each species with narrative that includes brief natural history, this black-and-white illustrated guide places greater emphasis on plant morphology and provides detailed line drawings that provide a fuller picture of various plant parts critical to properly identify particular species. This title has the added benefit of being available in a free online version created through a partnership between the University of Iowa Press and the UI Libraries.
Full descriptions of individual titles in both series can be found at Bur Oak Guides and Bur Oak Books at the University of Iowa Press website.
While there is no consensus among groundhogs this week about exactly when spring will arrive, there is the reminder that spring will come, and as Punxsutawney Phil would like us to know, “you’re looking forward to one of the most beautiful and brightest springs you’ve ever seen.” Check out the table below to see how groundhogs all over North America have faced (or not faced) their darkest shadows to bring us their prediction! Under the column “2021 Prediction,” you can find a link to an article or video of these famous whistle pigs and other prophetic creatures making their most recent forecast!
Iowa City Darwin Day celebrates the benefits of science for humanity, and all are invited to celebrate this year by attending virtual talks by prestigious scientists! All Iowa City Darwin Day events are free and open to the public.
Erich Jarvis’ talk “Evolution of Brain Pathways for Vocal Learning and Spoken Language” will be on Friday, February 12 at 12 PM CST. Erich Jarvis is a professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics of Language at the Rockefeller University. He uses song-learning birds and other species as models to study the molecular and genetic mechanisms that underlie vocal learning, including how humans learn spoken language. He chairs the international Vertebrate Genomes Project which studies how species are genetically related and how unique characteristics evolve. Jarvis also collaborates on a project to generate a new human pangenome reference that will represent over 90% of genetic diversity.
Dr. Jarvis is the 2002 recipient of the National Science Foundation Alan T. Waterman Award and was awarded the Director’s Pioneer Award by the National Institutes of Health in 2008. He received the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award in 2019
Charmaine Royal is a 2020 Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor. She is Associate Professor of African & African American Studies, Biology, Global Health, and Family Medicine & Community Health at Duke University. She is also core faculty in the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, senior fellow in Kenan Institute for Ethics, and faculty in the Social Science Research Institute where she directs the Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference and the Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation. Dr. Royal’s research, scholarship, and teaching focus on ethical, legal, and social issues in genetics and genomics, particularly the intersection of race and genetics and its policy implications and practical interventions.
UI Professor of History Mariola Espinosa
UI Visiting Professor of Law Phoebe Jean-Pierre
Dr. Brian Donovan , BSCS
Moderator: UI Associate Professor of Law Anya Prince
You are invited to the Sciences Library for a comfortable, quiet place to study! There are computer stations, study carrels, and booths with USB and outlets for phones and computers. If you have group work to do, there are tables and large mobile monitors to use for sharing your computer screen. The Sciences Library is located between Phillips Hall and the Biology Building on Iowa Ave. The building is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM for the Spring 2021 semester. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have hygiene stations available with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. A face covering is required, and yellow stickers mark off seats that are to remain unoccupied. The book stacks are open so feel free to peruse the shelves!
If you need help with your research, then you can meet with a librarian in a one-on-one research consultation to help you find books and articles that you need for a paper or project. You can search InfoHawk+ to find out what the UI Libraries has that you can use online or check out & take home, which includes print books, ebooks, newspapers, journals, and magazines (both print and online), DVDs and streaming videos. You can request that the library purchase something that we don’t have, or request to borrow something that we don’t have through Interlibrary Loan. You can access all of our ebooks, electronic journal articles, streaming videos, and online resources from off-campus by logging in with your HawkID.
You can ask librarians for help about research and using the library whenever you need it through chat, email, in-person, or by phone. Have a great semester! We’re glad to have you at the Sciences Library!
When you take a break from your studying, rest and recharge with online puzzles, science coloring sheets, wildlife live cams, and museum and nature virtual tours with the Sciences Library’s Finals Week Stress Relief Guide. You can put together a puzzle of the Andromeda galaxy, The Blue Marble view of Earth, a porcupine having a snack, or a peacock displaying its feathers. The science coloring sheets include Coloring Molecular Machinery: A Tour of the Protein Data Bank, Discovering Biology Through Crystallography, and images from the Biodiversity Library. Animal live cams from Explore.org, zoos, and aquariums can transport you to the sights and sounds of an African safari, a colorful, bustling coral reef, or a soothing waterfall. Immerse yourself virtually in the Badlands, the Grand Canyon, and other National Parks, or attend an online tour of the Field Museum, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and the British Museum. If you need a laugh, you can find Bird and Moon, xkcd, and other science comics on the Stress Relief Guide!
Iowa is not known for having an especially dramatic landscape. But in fact there are many hidden gems to be found in this particular plot of so-called flyover country. Among them is Wildcat Den State Park in southeastern Iowa. According to Iowa DNR it is one of the most photographed state parks in Iowa. If you’ve not yet visited this state park to walk its trails and view its remarkable geological features, take advantage of any opportunity to do so before it becomes snow and ice encrusted. The park is 12 miles northeast of the city of Muscatine; from the University of Iowa campus it’s roughly an hour drive by car.
The most prominent landscape feature at Wildcat Den are the spectacular sandstone cliffs and glens whose origins date back to the Middle Pennsylvanian period, or about 310 million years ago, when ancient rivers coursed through this landscape. What makes these cliffs on the south side of the park so visually arresting is due in part to cross-bedding*, as well as iron-oxide stained and cemented zones visible on the exposed sandstone. To walk the trail at the base of these cliffs is every bit as captivating as a visit to a fine arts museum. But there’s much more to the geology at Wildcat Den.
Brian Witzke’s 1999 article in of Iowa Geology (pages 16-19 ) provides a brief, but very informative introduction to the geology of this park, while “The Natural History of Wildcat Den State Park,“ is a more detailed introduction to all aspects of the park, including its history, archaeology, vegetation, and wildlife. Its treatment of the park’s geology is in-depth and somewhat technical, but would still be informative to the novice. In this Geological Society of Iowa (GSI) field trip guidebook Robert McKay details the geological phenomena of cross-bedding* that is so visible in the sandstone at Wildcat Den. It also includes discussions of all the stops on the 1997 GSI field trip, and could serve as either a preview of what to expect on a visit or a review to answer questions raised after first visiting the park.
Two books published by the University of Iowa Press in its Bur Oak series would make excellent companion resources to help contextualize the geology of not only Wildcat Den State Park, but of geology all across the state: Jean Prior’s Landforms of Iowa and Wayne Anderson’s Iowa’s Geological Past: Three Billion Years of Earth History. Both Prior and Anderson note the preponderance of sedimentary rock throughout Iowa in its exposed rock record, evidence of its early marine environment.
Iowa Geology, a small journal published by Iowa DNR Geological Survey Bureau from 1976 to 2001, offers a treasure trove of highly readable articles for a general audience on a variety of topics pertaining to Iowa geology one might imagine, including “The Midcontinent Rift,” “Global Climate Change and the Cretaceous Greenhouse World,” and “The Age of Dinosaurs.” All issues are available in PDF format from Iowa Research Online: The University of Iowa’s Institutional Repository.
For those who wish to explore Iowa’s geology in other parts of the state, the Iowa Geological Survey (IGS) provides a beautiful suite of webpages called Parks of Iowa, which also makes available guidebooks similar to “The Natural History of Wildcat Den State Park” for 12 other Iowa state parks. In fact, IGS makes the Geological Society of Iowa Guidebooks for field trips to over 70 diverse sites throughout Iowa freely available from its publications platform.
Now it’s time to go explore!
Thank you to Kai Weatherman for writing this post, and a special thanks goes to Raymond Anderson for his expert geologic commentary!
Photographs of Sandstone Bluffs at Iowa’s Wildcat Den State Park
The best-exposed rocks in Wildcat Den State Park are Pennsylvanian-age sandstones, originally deposited in a large river that was flowing to the southwest through the area. The river was flowing through dense equatorial forests towards an arm of the sea that was advancing from the south into Iowa about 312 million years ago. The sand formed sand bars and underwater dunes that were constantly being modified as river channels changed directions, eroding and cutting into existing bars and covering them with new sand layers (beds) from different directions creating the spectacular cross-bedding that is displayed in most exposures. Geologists identify these sandstones as the Spoon Formation of the Cherokee Group. At some exposures, especially at the Devil’s Punchbowl, the sandstones are resting on a dark gray shale unit, the Caseyville Formation, the oldest Pennsylvanian unit in Iowa. The Caseyville was deposited on a river delta that developed into an earlier advance of the Pennsylvanian sea into Iowa.
Many of the photographs on this page were taken during the 2000’s. So, some features may appear somewhat different now.
The autumnal equinox occurred on Tuesday, September 22 this year. This marks the turning point when the sun passes over the Earth’s equator, and the hours of daylight and night are close to equal. From this point on, the hours of daylight will soon begin decreasing each day until the shortest day of the year occurs on the winter solstice. One of the most beautiful effects of the shorter days occurs when deciduous trees prepare for winter by taking on the brilliant colors of red, orange, yellow, and purple. According to the Iowa DNR’s Fall Color Report, the best viewing time for fall colors in central Iowa begins the first week of October.
When deciduous trees stop producing chlorophyll to get ready for winter, their leaves cease being green and turn to red, yellow, orange, or purple. InChemistry’s “Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?” explains the chemical compounds that are responsible for this color change. Red and purple colors are due to anthocyanins present in the leaves, while yellow and orange colors are due to carotenoids and flavonoids.
In Smithsonian Magazine, you can watch a two-minute time-lapse video showing different leaves changing color, a process that would normally happen slowly over several days. It is interesting to watch the video since the process of a leaf turning orange or yellow is different than when a leaf turns red or purple.
If you’re interested in seeking out fall colors, you can use the UI Trees web application to find maples, oaks, dogwoods, and other deciduous trees on campus. You can also view beautiful fall color displays that have been captured in the Iowa Digital Library’s Geoscience Slides collection!
2020 has been an unusual year, to say the least. A pandemic, murder hornets, an Iowa derecho, hurricanes, racial injustice, wildfires, and most recently a discovery on Venus that points to potential alien life. It is a lot to take in and it can be a relief to bury oneself in reading. What else could 2020 bring? Check out these unusual books chosen to match an unusual year.
Head to the Sciences Library for a comfortable, quiet place to study! We offer a variety of study spots. There are many computer stations, study carrels and booths with USB and outlets for phones and computers, tables, and large mobile monitors to use for sharing your computer screen. This year we have new paint, new carpeting, and new rolling white boards!
The Sciences Library is located between Phillips Hall and the Biology Building on Iowa Ave. The building is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 6 PM. During the pandemic we have hygiene stations available with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. A face covering is required, and yellow stickers mark off seats that are to remain unoccupied. The book stacks are closed so that we can offer more electronic book access. If you would like to pick up a book, go to the service desk on the first floor.
Our live chat service is available during the day and also from 6-9 PM on Monday through Thursday, and 1-5 PM on Sunday.
On Monday, August 10 many Iowans were left stunned by the ferocity and destruction left in the wake of a band of storms accompanied by straight-line winds that blew through the state with the force of a hurricane. But in the aftermath, media references to a “derecho” caused many of us to scramble to the Internet for a definition.
What many of us didn’t realize is that this term was coined at the University of Iowa by professor of physics and chemistry Gustavus Hinrichs in the late 19th century. The first formal use of the term derecho in publication occurred in an 1888 article authored by Hinrichs in the American Meteorological Association Journal entitled “Tornadoes and Derechos.” However, the term was not widely used until after its appearance in a 1987 article that appeared in the journal Weather and Forecasting.
In June 1998 when a similar storm hit the state, blowing freight train cars off a bridge in Iowa City and into the Iowa River, scarcely a mention could be found for “derecho” in the Iowa City Press Citizen, Cedar Rapids Gazette, or The Des Moines Register. The Daily Iowan, however, did make mention of a bow echo, which is typically associated with derechos. That storm system came to be known as the Corn Belt Derecho of 1998. Even as late as 2009 Jack Williams noted in The AMS Weather Book that “this term isn’t very well known.” That is now likely no longer the case.
The August 2020 Midwest derecho received considerable national media attention, and has been called an historic event. What made this derecho so noteworthy is that very high winds persisted for an unusually long period of time. Siouxland News reported that, “Winds in the Linn County and Cedar Rapids area were likely in excess of 100 mph for nearly an hour.” The maximum wind speeds of this storm, both measured and estimated, correspond to wind speeds of EF2 and EF3 tornadoes respectively.
Derechos, a type of mesoscale convective system, are minimally defined as long-lived wind storms that produce a swath of wind damage over more than 240 miles with wind gusts of at least 58 mph along most of its length.
The National Weather Service offers a wealth of information on derechos, including a basic primer at its JetStream site, as well as an extensive Facts About Derechos article.