The past 70 years have been good for corn production in the Midwestern U.S., with yields increasing fivefold since the 1940s. Much of this improvement has been credited to advances in farming technology, but researchers at Harvard University are asking if changes in climate and local temperature may be playing a bigger role than previously thought.In a new paper, researchers found that a prolonged growing season due to warmer temperatures, combined with the natural cooling effects of large fields of plants, have had a major contribution to improved corn production in the U.S.“Our research shows that improvements in crop yield depend, in part, on improvements in climate,” said Peter Huybers, professor of Earth and planetary sciences in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) and of environmental science and engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “In this case, changing temperatures have had a beneficial impact on agricultural production, but there is no guarantee that benefit will last as the climate continues to change. Understanding the detailed relationships between climate and crop yield is important as we move toward feeding a growing population on a changing planet.”The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).The researchers modeled the relationship between temperature and crop yield from 1981 to 2017 across the so-called Corn Belt: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. They found that as temperatures increased due to global climate change, planting days got earlier and earlier, shifting by about three days per decade.“One of farmers’ biggest decisions is what they plant and when they plant it,” said Ethan Butler, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota, first author of the paper, and a former graduate student in EPS. “We are seeing that farmers are planting earlier — not only because they have hardier seeds and better planting equipment, but also because it’s getting warmer sooner.”Early planting means the corn has more time to mature before the growing season ends.There is also a second, more surprising trend that has benefited corn yields. Whereas the vast majority of temperatures have warmed over the last century, the hottest days during the Midwestern growing season have actually cooled.“Increasingly productive and densely planted crops can evaporate more water from leaves and soils during hot days,” said Nathaniel Mueller, former postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment and co-author of the paper. “Widespread increases in rates of evaporation apparently help shield maize from extreme heat, cooling the surrounding area and helping to boost yields.”Mueller is currently an assistant professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine.The researchers estimate that more than a quarter of the increase in crop yield since 1981 can be attributed to the twin effects of a longer growing season and less exposure to high temperatures, suggesting that crop yields are more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought.The researchers also show that the planting and harvest dates farmers currently use are significantly better adapted to the present climate than they would have been to climates in earlier decades.“Farmers are incredibly proactive and we’re seeing them take advantage of changes in temperature to improve their yield. The question is, how well can they continue to adapt in response to future changes in climate,” said Huybers.This research was supported in part by the Packard Foundation and the National Science Foundation.
This is a two-part blog series on the changing role of desktop virtualization in the Higher Education space. This first part of the blog will focus primarily on the ways that VDI has changed the environment in higher learning institutions, and Part 2 will focus on ways that I see VDI’s role continuing to evolve in the future.When I first started talking to universities, community colleges and for-profit learning institutions about desktop virtualization, there was a constant theme: a need to streamline management of sprawling computer labs. On top of trying to keep students from pirating music and providing phone support for thousands of different kinds of personal devices, the average campus IT department was supporting 1,000 lab computers dispersed across 100 different locations. The amount of personnel time that was devoted to “Patch Tuesday” and endpoint remediation was astronomical.Because as many as 10% of those computers rejected patches and had to have in-person maintenance, “Patch Tuesday” could easily bleed into “Patch Wednesday” and beyond. As a result, the idea that lab computer maintenance could be centralized and completed from a single command center was very attractive. Moving lab systems from traditional PCs to thin clients further reduced management burdens and drove simpler execution. IT administrators could transition from gearing up for Patch Tuesday and address more strategic initiatives that would help the university.And, then, for those that adopted early to solve those management problems, some magic happened. Applications, tools, even the entire desktop experience could be directly served to student computers as well, enabling greater flexibility, taking pressure off campus labs during the crunch of midterms and finals, and allowing students to take advantage of sophisticated software suites from the comfort of their dorm rooms at 3 a.m.The results were transformative for both teaching and learning. Students could work when and where it made sense for them, rather than competing for software access during lab hours. Plus, VDI helped bridge the digital divide between wealthier and poorer students. Less powerful student-owned endpoints that lacked the horsepower or rendering capability to run sophisticated applications could now access a broad range of software from campus servers. This also opened new doors for schools serving students with alternate scheduling needs, like working students attending night classes.Discussions with forward-thinking campus IT professionals about how desktop virtualization could enable lab consolidation and transformation led to initiatives to free up classroom space and create “21st Century Collaboration Spaces.” Instead of rows and rows of computers, these spaces could now be equipped with areas for smaller groups of students, including remote students via webcam, to work together. This was great in concept, but there was a technology barrier to really making this happen. When the computer labs were originally set up, a lot of the smaller, more specialized labs were put in place specifically to serve up sophisticated applications for modelling, CAD, or statistical analysis.Until recently, though, desktop virtualization technology was limited in its ability to virtualize 3D graphics applications and deliver a seamless user experience. So, perhaps counterintuitively, these smaller labs could not be consolidated. As a result many campuses were forced to run a dual-technology structure for their labs, with some labs running virtually and others relying on traditional endpoints.In the past year or two, dramatically-improved graphics virtualization technologies and ever-more powerful thin clients have completely changed the game, yet again. Suddenly, historically complex applications can be accessed in frictionless architecture in a generalized lab that allows for students with a range of workloads, from a simple Word document to accessing complex CAD/CAM applications, with no degradation in speed or user experience.Additionally, students have the flexibility to access these applications on their own computers back at the dorm. Following this transition, we’re hearing more about true lab consolidation and the freeing-up of labs into either collaboration spaces or much-needed classroom or meeting spaces, especially in urban campuses where space is at a premium and expansion isn’t an option. Indeed, the benefits of cloud client-computing are so powerful that Higher Ed as a sector has been among the strongest advocates for the technology among early adopters of desktop and graphics virtualization.So, what’s next for Higher Ed and VDI? What new problems can this technology solve in the university environment, as it gets more powerful and less expensive? Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this two-part blog series to find out our ideas for interesting directions moving forward. read more