Fishes in the Boston Common?

fish Boston is a beautiful city. It is rich with 400 years’ worth of history and culture. Toward the end this century, this historic city will be underwater. However, what is the cause? You guessed it, global warming. It is predicted that within a few decades, globally, oceans will increase somewhere between two and six feet. [*] For coastal cities like Boston, this means big trouble, or in other words: fishes swimming in the Boston Common. The photos below show how as little as 5ft and as much as 25 feet of water can affect the look of the Boston area. [*] Based on the past trends of consistent sea level rise in the Boston area, it is very possible that Boston will be under water sooner than we think. [*]

This picture shows what Harvard's Campus would look like with 5 feet in sea level rise.

This picture shows what Harvard’s Campus would look like with 5 feet in sea level rise. *

This picture shows what Harvard's Campus would look like with 25 feet in sea level rise.
This picture shows what Harvard’s Campus would look like with 25 feet in sea level rise.*
This picture shows the increasing trend of sea level rise in the Boston area.

This picture shows the increasing trend of sea level rise in the Boston area.*

Where’s the Evidence? (That it’s actually global warming) Global warming is the phenomenon in which the temperature of the earth is increasing. Global warming is caused by many factors, but primarily it is the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and deterioration of important atmospheric layers. It is back by strong evidence that human activities has contributed greatly to many of the factors that cause global warming.  Some human activities that contribute to the global warming crisis are pollution and the burning of fossil fuels.

This diagram shows how global warming works.

This diagram shows how global warming works.*

Having the temperature of the earth change has serious impacts on environment. This rapid change in climate temperature causes drastic weather conditions such extremely hot summers, heavy rainfall, and fridge winters. [*]  Additionally, an increase in global temperature causes the ice from the north and south poles to melt. When there is more ice melting, this leads to rises in sea levels because there is more water being released into the oceans. Rising sea levels means that in near future, cities like Boston will be partially underwater. Solutions Due to the serious threat of dramatic sea level rises, Boston has started to rethink ways to build infrastructure or modify existing structures. As of recently, the city has made it mandatory that departments consider sea level rise during planning decisions. [*]  Nonprofits like the Urban Land Institute want to turn Boston into the Amsterdam or Venice of North America by replacing streets with canals so water can flow through. [*]

This is a picture of what the new layout of Boston would like with canals in place. This a solution to the rising sea level problem.

This is a picture of what the new layout of Boston would like with canals in place. This is  a solution to the rising sea level problem. *

However, I think there is an easier and simpler solution; let’s stop global warming. Maybe instead of trying to build dams or canals, we should change our habits so that the world’s temperature does not continue to rise.  Tackling global warming as our main issue will save us money and heartache down the line. The only way that we can keep fishes out of the Boston Common is to change the way we interact with our world. The first step is to use less or more efficient forms of energy.

Advertisements

Drugs in the Drinking Water?

There are pharmaceuticals in my drinking water?

Unfortunately, there is a high chance that there are traces of pharmaceutical drugs in tap and bottled water. I was very surprised myself to learn about this sad fact. The tap water in the United States in arguably the cleanest and safest drinking water in the world that is free of microbes and other harmful chemicals. (1) According to the Associated Press investigation, there are varying drugs such as antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. (2) But how exactly does this happen? What are the environmental and health implications of having drugs in our drinking water?

How Do They Enter Our Drinking Water System?

Over last few years, the numbers of U.S prescriptions have rose 12%, tallying up to 3.7 billion prescriptions. Adding nonprescription drug purchases to this list adds another 3.3 billion.(3)  With a grand total of 7 billion prescription drugs entering a population of 320 million people, there is no wonder why our drinking water is contaminated. When people take these medications, not all of the medicine is absorbed by the body. Therefore, unmetabolized or unused drugs are being flushed down the toilet. The waste water is then treated and released in reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. Next, some of that water is cleaned at treatment plants and then piped to consumers. (4) The problem is that most of these treatment plants do not remove all of the drug residue.

But wait, human waste and voluntary disposal are not the only causes for contamination in our water system. The drugs that veterinarians use to treat animals with arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity are sometimes the same drugs that are used to treat humans. (5) Similar to humans, the drugs are still prevalent in the waste by products. In the same way that thorough human waste drugs enters our water system, animal waste is washed into streams, rivers, and groundwater systems. This not so pure water eventually ends up in our bodies.

The Effects On Human Health & The Environment  

Although these drugs are found at parts per billion and per trillion, scientists are still concerned about the lifetime effects of these drugs floating around in our drinking water. There is research evidence to support that small amounts of medicine can have devastating effects on human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells, and human breast cancer cells. It can cause kidney cells to grow too slowly, cancer cells to proliferate exceedingly, and the blood cells showed signs of biological activity associated with inflammation. (6) Additionally, there is evidence from the global and national community of the damaging impacts that pharmaceutical ridden waterways can have on wildlife. Male fish have been found to essentially turn into female fish by creating egg yolk proteins which is usually found in females! (7) This is a clear red flag that having drugs in our water (although in a small amounts) is definitely not beneficial to human or Environmental health.

Solutions?

So now the big question is what can we do about our drinking water? Apparently it does not matter whether you drink tap or bottled water; we are all still at risk. It is time that we pressure our government and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  As human beings we are entitled to clean drinking water and safe food. It is about time we the people of this nation truly had the power to change the ball game for all our sakes (and the environment’s!). Over the past few weeks in this blog series, we have been posting many articles about how one can save energy. However, this is time when we need to use it. We need to use the energy that it requires to protest, write to congress, and voice our opinions. Don’t you want to know what’s floating around in your drinking water?

Below are a few sources that have more information concerning particular states’ and cities’ purity of drinking water.

http://www.disposemymeds.org/index.php/environmental-impact

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/how-polluted-is-us-drinking-water

-http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-03-10-drugs-tap-water_N.htm

The Future: Not Salty Salt Water

When you were little you were always told to never pee in the pool, right? Well some people don’t think that rule applies to the ocean, and to those people I say this: The ocean may be our new source of fresh water, so quit peeing in it! The process of desalinization may be the solution to end the Californian drought, and other droughts all around the world (as long as those places have the access to the technology). The basic idea of the process is that sunlight is focused onto a cylinder of water using mirrors; the water then evaporates and spins a turbine as it rises and later collects as clean water. Desalination takes impure runoff water, or ocean water, and uses solar energy to evaporate the water off, using it for farming, drinking water, or other purposes.

In California the WaterFX solar thermal desalinization plant is working to turn contaminated run off water into pure water for the community. This one plant so far is capable of producing 14,000 gallons of clean water a day. That’s the same amount of gallons if you collected all the milk from 1,750 cows in one day. The average American uses between 80-100 gallons of water a day through just daily use. The hope for this plant is to expand their operation and produce 2 million gallons a day. Aaron Mandell, co-founder of WaterFX, sells the water to farmers in the community and sees the company multiplying ten times in the next five years. Using desalinization is a really good way to help the drought in California, but doesn’t it mess up the natural water cycle?

Solar desalinization sounds pretty cool initially, it produces clean water and power with no fuel, just sunlight, but I had many initial concerns with the process when I first heard of it. The water cycle is basically the base of life on earth, and if it is tampered with then who knows the extent of the damage that could be done. How much water would be taken out of the ocean? What would happen to microorganisms in the water that play a crucial role in the oceans food chain? What happens to the left over gunk that made the water impure to begin with? After thinking about these questions I came to the conclusion that no source of energy is perfect and that on the scale of natural cycles that we already mess with in order to get power, solar desalinization seems to be on the smaller end of the spectrum.  It essentially has no negative environmental impacts directly due to the fact that it has no emissions, and no chemicals are used in the process. Its negative impact is based purely upon what people who run the plant choose to do with the “gunk” that’s left over after the water evaporates.

How Much Do We Know About Fracking?

Many people have heard of fracking and the controversy that surrounds it, but few know what it actually means, or what the environmental cost is. Fracking is a word that has a lot of politics behind it, and triggers a lot of immediate reactions, but many people do not even understand what it is.

Natural gas is a nonrenewable fossil fuel, but burns cleaner than coal or petroleum. Natural gas is used in many domestic and commercial applications. It is composed of simple hydrocarbons, mostly made up of methane. It is traditionally mined from gas fields using wells, but a large amount of gas trapped in shale formations cannot be mined in this way. Fracking allows that gas to be mined. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, works by injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, chemicals and proppant (solid material used to keep fractures open) into the shale, causing the shale to fracture and release the gas.

Fracking is a new way of mining natural gas, and there has been little time to see what long term negative effects it has on the environment. There are several specific concerns about fracking’s environmental impact. Fracking uses an estimated 70 to 140 billion gallons of water each year. This raises concerns about the impact on drinking water resources and the effect on aquatic ecosystems. Proppant used in the fracking, usually silicone based sand, needs to be mined, and can contaminate groundwater. Various chemicals are also added to the fracking fluid, some of which have very serious health consequences. Pollution from the fracking fluid can seep into drinking water reserves and aquatic ecosystems, threatening both natural and human health. The concerns about fracking are not just theoretical. There are multiple examples of spills like this occurring. In addition to the spills, there is a worrying lack of accountability, with gas companies failing to report the spills to the government.

Natural gas may be the cleanest burning fossil fuel, but if mining for it involves fracking, the trade offs may not be worth it. We still do not know the full potential to cause damage to the environment that fracking has, but that has not stopped numerous companies from setting up fracking sites. There over 2 million hydraulically fractured wells in the U.S., and around 95% of new sites use the procedure. To continue this trend of using technology without any consideration for its environmental impact is irresponsible and near-sighted.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/hydraulic_fracturing_101

http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html

http://www.csg.org/pubs/capitolideas/May_June_2012/fracking101.aspx

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/The-Problem/fracking/

Has Energy Wastage Really Decreased Over the Years?

Over the years technological advancements have been made with the hopes of making individuals lives easier. However, there have also been several advancements made with the hopes of helping reduce the energy wastage. The problem is that as technology advances, the price of technology increases, and the idea of trying to conserve energy becomes less appealing. According to a report in 2005, commercial and residential buildings are responsible for 38.9% of the total energy consumption in 2005 in the US. In 2005, 53.7% of the total is used by residential buildings, while the remaining 46.3% is used by commercial buildings. The US has always been the larges consumer of energy, which also leads it to be the largest contributor to energy wastage. If you look at the Figure 1 below, you can clearly see that the US uses more energy than any other country.

Figure 1.

Enerrgy-use-PerCapita

You may ask yourself why the US uses so much energy, especially when we have a smaller population that other countries. There are many reasons, but one reason is because we are the worlds leader in oil consumption, consuming up to 25% of the total oil consumption. If you look at Figure 2 you can see that not only has there has been an increase in oil consumption in the US, but also around the world.

Figure 2.

world-oil-consumption-001

Now, lets take a closer look at the US. In the United States, a majority of the energy consumption that occurs in building happens in residential buildings, such as homes and apartments. While this may make sense, it also makes it harder to fix. There are more homeowners than commercial business owners, therefore making commercial building energy efficient seems like it is an easier task. More specifically, 51% of the electricity consumed in the US occurs in residential buildings and 74.4% of the total water consumption is used by homeowners in their homes. Water consumption has doubled over a span of 50 years, from 1950 to 2000, causing the average person to use about 100 gallons of water everyday. Furthermore, 4 billion dollars is spent every year in the United States to provide energy to run drinking water and wastewater utilities. By using better efficiency equipment, we can reduce up to 10% of the cost, which is equivalent to 400 million dollars.

Going Back to what I had mentioned before, the reason that energy efficient technology is not used that often is because the price of buying energy efficient equipment is a lot more expensive. However, something that many people don’t understand is that in the long term the investment will help because it will actually help you save money.

A perfect example of this occurred in Four Seasons Resort in Maui. The resort began to make advancements in their technology which costed up to $8 million dollars, however once all of the advancements are done, the resort will save over $1 million. In the long run, not only will they gain their $8 million, but they will save much more than that.

So has Energy wastage changed over the years? In my opinion, I think that energy wastage will decrease, if it hasn’t already because of people who want to make advancements so they don’t waste $94,000 because of a leak.

Long Island’s Nitrogen Downfall

The earth carries out it’s cycles day by day without us even realizing. It revolves around it’s axis each day, concurrently revolving around the sun each year. It rains, the sky clears, it rains again. The earth seems to do what it pleases, without any respect to the measly human being. But we as a race have more power than we realize. Our actions change this earth, not always for the better.


fig. 1 Montaulk is an example of a beautiful beach in Long Island

Long Island is a beautiful region of the United States, popular for it’s breath taking beaches and serene oceanside environment. For years, tourists have flocked the sandy seashore, and fishermen have angled the plentiful amounts of crustaceans and aquatic creatures living underneath the surf for profit. But the seeming perfection of this environment has been shattered. New data and observations have shown that the Nitrogen levels of well known areas such as Westhampton Beach, Huntington Bay, Shinnecock and Flanders Bay have skyrocketed, forcing the oxygen levels toxically low. This increase in nitrogen has caused many sea creatures to either leave or die off. These aquatic animals need oxygen to survive. As the number of creatures in the area lowers, unrestrained algae takes over, turning oceans and bays an unsightly and unhealthy green.


fig. 2 In areas of countries like China, this algae increase has become extreme.

But why does this occur? The answer can be found in a lesser known, yet integral cycle of the earth: the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen is required for life of all plants and animals. Without it, we could not survive. Seventy-eight percent of the atmosphere is made of nitrogen, as well as three percent of our own human body. Nitrogen can be found in proteins and nucleic acids, in other words, in foods, and in DNA. As you can now see, nitrogen, though invisible, is essential. But nitrogen in large amounts can be detrimental to our environment. Large amounts of nitrogen, in the form of pollution, have entered the Long Island waters by way of soil leaching and runoff. Leaching occurs when fertilizer added to the ground does not bind with the soil, due to the nitrate in the substance being negatively charged. Runoff includes that from the sewer and septic pipes.


fig. 3 The nitrogen cycle is a complex process, but is necessary to sustain life on earth.

Other polluting contributors include an outdated waste water system, the use of pesticides, and emissions from power plants and vehicles. As these factors add up over time, nitrogen levels heighten, oxygen levels decrease, and the sea creatures dissipate. But the fish and animals aren’t the only things to disappear. The increase in nitrogen affects more than just the wildlife. It can negatively affect the economy, as it is doing now in New York. Tourists are slowly disappearing, disliking the polluted water, that is steadily becoming greener with algae. The pristine, once picture-perfect beaches may soon be a thing of the past. The fishing industry suffers as well, as their copious supplies run low, and what animals that remain will be sickly and oxygen-deprived. The main economic frame of the area is bending and shifting, all due to too much nitrogen.


fig. 4 Seen in this image is an example of runoff. This runoff is coming directly from the sewers and has many negative affects on the environment.

It seems like there is not much that can be done. Big factories and corporations will not soon change their polluting ways, and nor will ordinary humans, most living their lives oblivious to the the existence of the nitrogen cycle and its importance. Though I usually try to see the bright side in situations, the future does not look promising for Long Island, and possibly other beaches around the country, and world. I believe that pollution, though promoted extensively in a negative light, will not decrease anytime soon. Fertilizers and pesticides are an everyday tools for farmers; they will not risk the health of their crops and cease to use these things. The world takes their white sand and blue rolling surf for granted, but if people do not soon learn of the nitrogen cycle, all will soon turn green… with algae.

El Niño of 2014?

In a world where slight but significant changes in angles, distance or direction shift are constantly happening, regional climate is quite steadfast in comparison. However, El Niño and La Niña are both climate phenomenon that are not easy to predict, unlike phenomena like Hadley cells that constantly behave the way they do. The last El Niño was in 2009-2010 and forecasts say that the winter of 2014-2015 may experience El Niño, but not a particularly strong one (Roz, 2014). So should we be happy about this news? Coming from a country were summer monsoons could kill, I used to think that any form of strong rain was evil. But some other places suggest otherwise.

El Niño happens when there’s an unusual reversal of the direction of warm surface water in the Pacific ocean. This reversal happens when the trade winds, which normally move from east to west, reverse direction or simply weaken. When trade winds aren’t blowing westward, the warm surface water that moves from the western South American coast towards Australia instead builds up at the coast of Peru or Ecuador, creating areas of higher sea level, which also indicate warmer water (since water expands, like air). Warmer water in that area is indicative of El Niño.

Figure 1 shows the sea temperatures that are indicative of an El Niño and La Niña. Figure 2 is a recent Jason-2 satellite shot to compare with the El Niño example in Figure 1, and as one can see, Figure 2 doesn’t look too similar with Figure 1. Earlier this year, forecasts were wary that the El Niño of 2014 would be the devastating 1997 El Niño, but nowadays, it looks like an El Niño would be either wimpy or non-existent.

Figure 1.

enso_500x308

Figure 2.

kelvin-waves_b7e395ef7e53a5e8d9bd7e4f0419b27b.nbcnews-ux-1160-900

I used to wonder, “Aren’t these intermittent surprises a bad thing? You’d think that these climate curveballs would drive people nuts!” In 2004, El Niño was particularly harsh with Florida by sending four hurricanes at it. El Niño flooded Peru and Ecuador and in the past, and California dreaded El Niño because it also brought them floods and mudslides. But now that California is in the middle of an intense drought, they are begging Mother Nature to create a strong El Niño. Texas has been in the middle of a drought since October 2010 and like California, is hoping for El Niño to give them rain (Blaney, 2014). Now that I looked into the current conditions of certain places, I’m doing what I never thought I would do: I am hoping for a hurricane (for California and Texas at least). The possible El Niño of 2014 has reinforced the idea that anomalies aren’t completely bad, and that’s something I think that people should keep in the back of their minds when regarding anything unexpected whether its data, traditions or even life. A curse to one is another’s blessing.

Bibliography

“Last Chance for El Nino Drought Relief? New Kelvin Waves Cross Pacific – NBC News.” NBC News. 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

<http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/california-drought/last-chance-el-nino-drought-relief-new-kelvin-waves-cross-n210081>

Blaney, Betsy. “El Nino Forecast to Help Texas out of Drought.” Houston Chronicle. 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

<http://www.chron.com/news/texas/article/El-Nino-forecast-to-help-Texas-out-of-drought-5775541.php#photo-6904163>

Pidcock, Roz. “Climate Scientists Dub This Year’s El Niño “a Real Enigma”.” Web log post. The Carbon Brief. 4 Aug. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/08/climate-scientists-dub-this-year%E2%80%99s-el-nino-a-real-enigma/&gt;.

Rogers, Paul. “California Drought: El Niño Chances Increase, but Scientists Say It May Be a Weak One.” San Jose Mercury News. 5 June 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. <http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_25906906/california-drought-el-ni-241-o-chances-increase&gt;.