Air and Water Pollution

A paper written about air and water pollution.

Air and Water Pollution

The human race has been able to accomplish many feats as it evolves and adapts to the surroundings and ever changing environment. Some look at the changing environment as something that is uncontrolled or cannot be effected by the actions taken by human. From the standpoint of science there are many observed changes that take place on a daily basis including the exponential release of pollutions into the atmosphere and waterways. Explosive growth of algae in waterways due to excess phosphorus and other nutrients from runoff of fields sprayed with chicken bedding and compost as well as higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have shown to affect the world that the human race lives in.

The industrialized nations of the world are producing many items of convenience and have been at a rate that exceeds the demand. The increase in goods production has put a stronger pull on the infrastructure of these countries. In the United States, as estimated by RITA, had a total of 250,272,812 highway vehicles registered in 2010 (RITA, 2012). Production consumes energy, in turn more energy is needed to produce and maintain these vehicles. Production of parts, assembling, maintaining, and repairing all put more strain on the power gird increasing the need to burn more fossil fuels. As the amount of fossil fuels consumed increases so does the pollution which is the byproduct of the choice to live at a higher standard. Carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide are all byproducts of consuming fossil fuels and are the major contributors to global warming, the observed changed that humans are having on the earth. These three gases are all primary sources of air pollutants but once in the atmosphere they are likely to react and form secondary pollutants (The Habitable Planet, 2012). When nitrogen oxides mix with hydrocarbons the resulting gas is ozone. In the higher atmosphere Ozone protects the earth from the harmful radiation of the sun but at lower elevations it has a chance to raise air temperatures and cause respiratory track issues.

One of the most effective ways that some of these byproducts have been mitigated is by the addition of catalytic converters to all modern vehicles. The catalytic converter is used to convert excess hydrocarbons that made it past the combustion cycle into steam and carbon dioxide. This additional piece of equipment was put into place due to new regulations passed by the government to help reduce the about of emissions released by automobiles. Although the amounts of nitrogen oxides and residual hydrocarbons have been reduced the amount of carbon dioxide has increased. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide are trapping the energy from the sun causing the surface of the earth to warm. Warmer surface temperatures cause larger and more frequent forest fires as well as melting of the polar ice caps, ice shields, and glaciers. This increase in carbon dioxide has had and is still having a lasting effect on the air and waterways.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have a direct relation to the amount of carbon dioxide in any given waterway as the gases in the atmosphere will always try to obtain equilibrium between the water and air. As the amount of carbon dioxide has increased with a decrease of carbon dioxide sponges such as vast land covered by forests, the waterways and oceans are now soaking up the excess carbon dioxide in an attempt to reach equilibrium. This increase in carbon dioxide in the water is creating a more acidic ocean, dropping the pH levels. As the pH levels drop, life forms such as crustacean and coral will no longer be able to maintain their shells or form. When the pH of the ocean reached below 8, the calcium carbonate that is the shell or body will no longer maintain a solid form and the life form will die, increasing the amount of decaying material in the waterway and adding to eutrophication.

Not only an increase in decaying matter can lead to eutrophication but also point and non-point sources of pollutants. When a waterway is allowed to gain addition there can be a swing in the balance of the system. When a natural system or ecosystem is working in equilibrium then there is little chance of one single organism taking over the system. If this equilibrium is thrown out of balance by an introduction of addition nutrients such as nitrogen via excessive fertilization of aquiculture or excess accumulation of phosphorus and nitrogen from runoff surrounding compost or bedding from factory chicken farms then lower level organisms can exploit the surroundings (B. Champion, personal communication, September 5, 2012).

A bloom of algae can completely destroy the native organisms in any water way by reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. The lower level life forms such as algae will soak up the excess nutrients, gaining an advantage to out compete the other higher life forms in the waterway thus causing effects such as blocking out light from entering into the water, removing major amounts of critical nutrients, and reducing the dissolved oxygen to levels that will not allow any aerobic life forms to survive. Whether the excess nutrients are from one single source or many different sources the effect can be the same, a breakdown of the balance and equilibrium in the system.

Humans have been able to adapt to these changes and are always working on improving life, however, there needs to be a shift from improving the standard of living to that of improving the standard of the environment. Having the ocean become pH neutral thus losing its ability to produce food for consumption could inevitably cause the demise of the human race. Understanding the problems and the effects of the action humans take on the environment around them is the first step. Learning new ways to cut the pollution and changing the culture of industrialized nations is the second step. Maintaining the balance within the natural world and doing everything possible to not upset the equilibrium will ensure that all future generations of humans are able to thrive and live their own sustainable lifestyle. Correcting the damage and allowing the balance to find itself again is paramount for the survival of the human race.

References

The Habitable Planet, 2012. Unit 11: Atmospheric Pollution. Section 3: primary Air Pollutants. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/envsci/unit/text.php?unit=11&secNum=3

Research and Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2012. National Transportation Statistics [Data file]. Retrieved from http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_11.html

Global Warming?

The causes and consequences of global warming have been talked about and debated for some time now.  There are many people who don’t think that global warming is a real trend and that it is just something that some scientists got together and thought up.  It is an interesting tie that most who feel this way do believe in Immaculate Conception, at least in the American government.  From a science standpoint, there are many trends and observations that lead one to think that global warming is actually occurring and that there is some influence to this from humans.  Acidification of the oceans and other waterways, acid rain, an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, trends of warmer weather, increased forest fires, longer and dryer droughts, receding glaciers and the melting of artic ice sheets, and a larger amount of transpiration.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have a direct relation to the amount of carbon dioxide in any given waterway as the gases in the atmosphere will always try to obtain equilibrium between the water and air.  As the amount of CO2 has increased with a decrease of CO2 sponges such as vast land covered by forests, the waterways and oceans are now soaking up the excess CO2 in an attempt to reach equilibrium.  This increase in carbon dioxide in the water is creating a more acidic ocean, dropping the pH levels.

This excess in CO2 as well as other gases, like sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, has led to the normally clean rain waters to now become slightly acidic.  Nitric acid and sulfuric acid are the resulting compounds that are now precipitating from the once almost pure waters in the sky.  All of these gases are greenhouse gases and have the ability to capture energy from the sun in the form of heat.  This increase in captured heat is also slowly raising the temperature of the planet.  As the temperatures rise across the globe, there are now more forest fires and droughts.  In South America, NASA was able to track fires over many years and show that as the temperatures rise there is a direct correlation between those temperatures and the amount of fires during a given year.  In Colorado, there have seen studies that show, although this year has been wetter than normal, the amount of transpiration is greater, meaning that although we are receiving more water to the ground, we are also losing more water to the atmosphere.  Thus soils are drier and there is an increased chance of damage from drought.

Tamarisk in Colorado

There are many different reasons that invasive species are able to succeed in taking over a native species by entering into a new habitat. A lack of natural predators, for lack of a better word, such as insects that may feed off the plant can be one such reason. In a new habitat or ecosystem there may not have been a disease introduced at the same time that the invasive species is susceptible to, or the local animal life is not able to forage on the new plant to help keep its growth in check. Other reasons why an invasive species may take hold over a native species, talking about plant life, may be the ease of expansion. Tamarisk, which is a large problem in Colorado and some of the other western states, has the ability to germinate seeds within 24 hours of being dropped. These seeds are carried by tuffs of hair that will float along the waterways or can be carried by winds for large distances. The speed of growth by the new species as well as natural adaptations can allow for an explosion of growth smothering out the native plant life.

Thanks Konocti for the pic

Tamarisk has been a problem in Colorado for a long time and some of the consequences that have been observed because of its introduction into the area can be seen along the local waterways. Problems such as narrowing of waterways and streams by lining the banks and creating an almost impervious mat of growth, displacing the natural and native plant life, and the chance of increased wildfires due to deadwood and over growth. As the Tamarisk grows it binds together and creates areas that are hard for animals to pass when they are trying to reach the waterlines. Tamarisk naturally likes alkaline soils which is what most of the western states are comprised of. The plant itself has the ability to draw salty water from deep in the ground up to the surface and then the salts are dispersed through the leaves where it will then drop to the top soil increasing the salinity of the surrounding soils. This increase in salinity of top soils will inhibit growth of natural species that are more sensitive to salinity concentrations thus helping the invasive species succeed at the detriment of the local ecosystems.

Afghanistan Veterans Against the War retreat

Today is the second day of the AVAW retreat. Made it to Denver last night and am excited to meet some new people and make our way through planning the new direction that the organization is heading. Follow the blog and I will be updating it soon.

Update:

The retreat went great, and we were able to come together and hash out a vast majority of the goals of the newly formed AVAW group.   Walking away from Saturday we had the main goals set forth to draft a name change statement to be given to the board of directors at the national convention in Baltimore later next month. Veterans who served in Afghanistan on the ground as well as support came from each side of the country to meet, most for the first time, each other and a member of Afghans for Peace based out Canada.

Sunday we met at the organizers house to share breakfast and a Skype call to Afghanistan to speak with the Afghanistan Peace Volunteers.  After the call we closed the weekend by spending a few hours sharing our stories and listening to each other in the safe space that we had created.  Sharing stories of the carnage seen overseas at the hands of Americans as well as reflection that this day was the 11th anniversary of the first bombs dropped on Afghanistan.  After lunch and some time around the fire we decided it was time to head back to the real world and try to continue the healing we had started over the weekend.  We packed up and started our 4 hour drive home.

All in all we were able to accomplish a great feet and meet some new friends all the while helping each other to realize that we are not alone.

Harvest Moon

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As I stand on my porch looking up at the harvest moon I see the world with fresh eyes.
Little color shows through the bright light shining from the star on the opposite side of the world.
A slight blue, white and much gray.
Few stars can be seen in the wake of this flood.
Through the blinding I can still see a chance for change in our world as the night progresses.
Even without the known light to guide us, we are changing the world around us.