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Math Models to Help Track Flora's Flate -- TIPSHEETS November 6, 2000

November 6, 2000 For more information on these science news and feature story tips, please contact the public information officer at the end of each item at (703) 292-8070. Editor: Peter West MATH MODELS TO HELP TRACK FLORA'S FATE Researchers at the University of Minnesota have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to employ new mathematical models to help determine how plants and their associated microbes affect, and are affected by, each other and their environment. The $3 million grant could improve the accuracy of ecological and biodiversity studies. The research team, led by Claudia Neuhauser, a specialist in probability, will focus on modeling what happens when a pest-resistant species of a plant is introduced into a biological community. In particular, the team will look at the effects on the pest itself; the effects of a new species on a plant community's associated microorganisms; and how plants adapt to reductions in their habitat. The team will use mathematical models that take into account the complex dependence and interactions among plants and microorganisms in a mosaic of agricultural and natural habitats. The work takes advantage of recent advances in the mathematical field of theoretical probability. [Amber Jones] NSF RECOGNIZED FOR SOUND STEWARDSHIP OF PUBLIC FUNDS NSF recently received the 1999 Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting from the Association of Government Accountants (AGA), the nation's highest recognition for excellence in federal financial management and accountability. NSF was one of two federal agencies -- along with the Social Security Administration -- to receive the award, which is similar to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. The AGA introduced its annual award last year to encourage and reward similar benchmarking among federal agencies. NSF Director Rita Colwell accepted the AGA award on behalf of the foundation at the Library of Congress on Oct. 17. The award specifically recognized NSF for providing "a quality presentation of NSF program and financial data that can better meet the needs of Congress, the administration and the public." NSF's budget history reflects significant change since its "first real budget" in 1952, Colwell pointed out. "That $3.5 million budget has grown to over $4 billion-and we are pushing to double that amount over the next five years," she said. "This (award) speaks well of NSF's commitment both to scientific excellence and to our sound stewardship of public resources." (Mary Hanson) POPULATION AND WEALTH, MORE THAN CLIMATE, DRIVE SOARING COSTS OF U.S. FLOOD DAMAGE

Societal changes, more than increased precipitation, spurred a steep rise in flood-damage costs in the United States over the past six decades, according to a new study published in October in the Journal of Climate. U.S. annual flood losses, adjusted for inflation, have risen from $1 billion in the 1940s to $5 billion in the1990s, the study notes. "Climate plays an important but by no means determining role in the growth of damaging floods in the United States in recent decades," write the authors, Roger Pielke Jr. and Mary Downton, both of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). NSF funded the research. In a series of recent articles, including the one in the Journal of Climate, Pielke, Downton and colleagues have looked at the role of increasing precipitation, population and national wealth. Pielke and Downton examined ten different measures of precipitation. They found a strong relationship between flood damage and the number of two-day heavy rainfall events and wet days. They also found a somewhat weaker relationship between flood damage and two-inch rainfall events in most regions. However, these relationships could not explain the dramatic growth in flood losses, according to the authors. The Pielke-Downton paper found that flooding increases with precipitation, depending greatly on the time and location of the rain or snowfall. However, "Even without an increase in precipitation," they write, "total flood damage will continue to rise with the nation's growing population and wealth unless actions are taken to reduce vulnerability." [Cheryl Dybas] -NSF-