Environmental Science: Wikis

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Blue Marble composite images generated by NASA in 2001 (left) and 2002 (right).

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physical and biological sciences (including physics, chemistry, biology, soil science, geology, and geography) to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems. Environmental science provides an integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems[1].

Related areas of study include Environmental Studies and Environmental Engineering. Environmental Studies incorporates more of the social sciences for understanding human relationships, perceptions and policies towards the environment. Environmental Engineering focuses on design and technology for improving environmental quality.

Environmental Scientists work on subjects like the understanding of earth processes, evaluating alternative energy systems, pollution control and mitigation, natural resource management, and the effects of global climate change. Environmental issues almost always include an interaction of physical, chemical, and biological processes. Environmental Scientists bring a systems approach to analyze environmental problems. Key elements of an effective environmental scientist include the ability to relate spatial and temporal relationships as well as quantitative analysis.

While the concept of environmental science has existed for centuries, it came alive as a substantive, active field of scientific investigation in the 1960s and 1970s driven by (a) the need for a large multi-disciplined team to analyze complex environmental problems, (b) the arrival of substantive environmental laws requiring specific environmental protocols of investigation and (c)the growing public awareness of a need for action in addressing environmental problems. Events that spurred this development included the publication of Rachael Carson's landmark environmental book Silent Spring[2]. along with major environmental issues becoming very public, such as a major oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California (in 1969), and the Cuyahoga River of Cleveland, Ohio, "catching fire" (also in 1969), helped increase the visibility of environmental issues and create this new field of study.

Contents

Components

Atmospheric sciences focuses on the Earth's atmosphere, with an emphasis upon its interrelation to other systems. Atmospheric sciences can include studies of meteorology, greenhouse gas phenomena, atmospheric dispersion modeling of airborne contaminants,[3][4] sound propagation phenomena related to noise pollution, and even light pollution.

Taking the example of the global warming phenomena, physicists create computer models of atmospheric circulation and infra-red radiation transmission, chemists examine the inventory of atmospheric chemicals and their reactions, biologists analyze the plant and animal contributions to carbon dioxide fluxes, and specialists such as meteorologists and oceanographers add additional breadth in understanding the atmospheric dynamics.

Ecology. An interdisciplinary analysis of an ecological system which is being impacted by one or more stressors might include several related environmental science fields. For example, one might examine an estuarine setting where a proposed industrial development could impact certain species by water and air pollution. For this study, biologists would describe the flora and fauna, chemists would analyze the transport of water pollutants to the marsh, physicists would calculate air pollution emissions and geologists would assist in understanding the marsh soils and bay muds.

Environmental chemistry is the study of chemical alterations in the environment. Principal areas of study include soil contamination and water pollution. The topics of analysis include chemical degradation in the environment, multi-phase transport of chemicals (for example, evaporation of a solvent containing lake to yield solvent as an air pollutant), and chemical effects upon biota.

As an example study, consider the case of a leaking solvent tank which has entered the habitat soil of an endangered species of amphibian. As a method to resolve or understand the extent of soil contamination and subsurface transport of solvent, a computer model would be implemented. Chemists would then characterize the molecular bonding of the solvent to the specific soil type, and biologists would study the impacts upon soil arthropods, plants, and ultimately pond-dwelling organisms that are the food of the endangered amphibian.

Geosciences include environmental geology, environmental soil science, volcanic phenomena and evolution of the Earth's crust. In some classification systems this can also include hydrology, including oceanography.

As an example study of soils erosion, calculations would be made of surface runoff by soil scientists. Fluvial geomorphologists would assist in examining sediment transport in overland flow. Physicists would contribute by assessing the changes in light transmission in the receiving waters. Biologists would analyze subsequent impacts to aquatic flora and fauna from increases in water turbidity.

Open-pit coal mining at Garzweiler, Germany

Regulations driving the studies

Environmental science examines the effects of humans on nature (Glen Canyon Dam in the U.S.)

In the U.S. the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 set forth requirements for analysis of major projects in terms of specific environmental criteria. Numerous state laws have echoed these mandates, applying the principles to local-scale actions. The upshot has been an explosion of documentation and study of environmental consequences before the fact of development actions.

One can examine the specifics of environmental science by reading examples of Environmental Impact Statements prepared under NEPA such as: Wastewater treatment expansion options discharging into the San Diego/Tijuana Estuary, Expansion of the San Francisco International Airport, Development of the Houston, Metro Transportation system, Expansion of the metropolitan Boston MBTA transit system, and Construction of Interstate 66 through Arlington, Virginia.

In England and Wales the Environment Agency (EA),[5] formed in 1996, is a public body for protecting and improving the environment and enforces the regulations listed on the communities and local government site.[6] (formerly the office of the deputy prime minister). The agency was set up under the Environment Act 1995 as an independent body and works closely with UK Government to enforce the regulations.

Terminology

In common usage, "environmental science" and "ecology" are often used interchangeably, but technically, ecology refers only to the study of organisms and their interactions with each other and their environment. Ecology could be considered a subset of environmental science, which also could involve purely chemical or public health issues (for example) ecologists would be unlikely to study. In practice, there is considerable overlap between the work of ecologists and other environmental scientists.

The National Center for Education Statistics in the United States defines an academic program in environmental science as follows:

A program that focuses on the application of biological, chemical, and physical principles to the study of the physical environment and the solution of environmental problems, including subjects such as abating or controlling environmental pollution and degradation; the interaction between human society and the natural environment; and natural resources management. Includes instruction in biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, climatology, statistics, and mathematical modeling.[7]

See also

References

  1. ^ Environmental Science: Iowa State University, http://www.ensci.iastate.edu (Accessed 02/17/2010)
  2. ^ Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), Mariner Books, 2002, ISBN 0-618-24906-0
  3. ^ Beychok, M.R. (2005). Fundamentals Of Stack Gas Dispersion (4th Edition ed.). author-published. ISBN 0-9644588-0-2. 
  4. ^ Turner, D.B. (1994). Workbook of atmospheric dispersion estimates: an introduction to dispersion modeling (2nd Edition ed.). CRC Press. ISBN 1-56670-023-X. 
  5. ^ http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/
  6. ^ http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1503251
  7. ^ National Center for Education Statistics. Classification of Instructional Programs. United States Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, 2000. (Accessed 01/29/2010)

External links

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Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physical and biological sciences (including physics, chemistry, biology, soil science, geology, and geography) to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems. Environmental science provides an integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems.[1]

Related areas of study include environmental studies and environmental engineering. Environmental studies incorporates more of the social sciences for understanding human relationships, perceptions and policies towards the environment. Environmental engineering focuses on design and technology for improving environmental quality.

Environmental scientists work on subjects like the understanding of earth processes, evaluating alternative energy systems, pollution control and mitigation, natural resource management, and the effects of global climate change. Environmental issues almost always include an interaction of physical, chemical, and biological processes. Environmental scientists bring a systems approach to the analysis of environmental problems. Key elements of an effective environmental scientist include the ability to relate space and time relationships as well as quantitative analysis.

Environmental science came alive as a substantive, active field of scientific investigation in the 1960s and 1970s driven by (a) the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to analyze complex environmental problems, (b) the arrival of substantive environmental laws requiring specific environmental protocols of investigation and (c) the growing public awareness of a need for action in addressing environmental problems. Events that spurred this development included the publication of Rachael Carson's landmark environmental book Silent Spring[2] along with major environmental issues becoming very public, such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and the Cuyahoga River of Cleveland, Ohio, "catching fire" (also in 1969), and helped increase the visibility of environmental issues and create this new field of study.

Contents

Components

Atmospheric sciences focuses on the Earth's atmosphere, with an emphasis upon its interrelation to other systems. Atmospheric sciences can include studies of meteorology, greenhouse gas phenomena, atmospheric dispersion modeling of airborne contaminants,[3][4] sound propagation phenomena related to noise pollution, and even light pollution.

Taking the example of the global warming phenomena, physicists create computer models of atmospheric circulation and infra-red radiation transmission, chemists examine the inventory of atmospheric chemicals and their reactions, biologists analyze the plant and animal contributions to carbon dioxide fluxes, and specialists such as meteorologists and oceanographers add additional breadth in understanding the atmospheric dynamics.

Ecology. An interdisciplinary analysis of an ecological system which is being impacted by one or more stressors might include several related environmental science fields. For example, one might examine an estuarine setting where a proposed industrial development could impact certain species by water and air pollution. For this study, biologists would describe the flora and fauna, chemists would analyze the transport of water pollutants to the marsh, physicists would calculate air pollution emissions and geologists would assist in understanding the marsh soils and bay muds.

Environmental chemistry is the study of chemical alterations in the environment. Principal areas of study include soil contamination and water pollution. The topics of analysis include chemical degradation in the environment, multi-phase transport of chemicals (for example, evaporation of a solvent containing lake to yield solvent as an air pollutant), and chemical effects upon biota.

As an example study, consider the case of a leaking solvent tank which has entered the habitat soil of an endangered species of amphibian. As a method to resolve or understand the extent of soil contamination and subsurface transport of solvent, a computer model would be implemented. Chemists would then characterize the molecular bonding of the solvent to the specific soil type, and biologists would study the impacts upon soil arthropods, plants, and ultimately pond-dwelling organisms that are the food of the endangered amphibian.

Geosciences include environmental geology, environmental soil science, volcanic phenomena and evolution of the Earth's crust. In some classification systems this can also include hydrology, including oceanography.

As an example study of soils erosion, calculations would be made of surface runoff by soil scientists. Fluvial geomorphologists would assist in examining sediment transport in overland flow. Physicists would contribute by assessing the changes in light transmission in the receiving waters. Biologists would analyze subsequent impacts to aquatic flora and fauna from increases in water turbidity.

Regulations driving the studies

In the U.S. the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 set forth requirements for analysis of major projects in terms of specific environmental criteria. Numerous state laws have echoed these mandates, applying the principles to local-scale actions. The upshot has been an explosion of documentation and study of environmental consequences before the fact of development actions.

One can examine the specifics of environmental science by reading examples of Environmental Impact Statements prepared under NEPA such as: Wastewater treatment expansion options discharging into the San Diego/Tijuana Estuary, Expansion of the San Francisco International Airport, Development of the Houston, Metro Transportation system, Expansion of the metropolitan Boston MBTA transit system, and Construction of Interstate 66 through Arlington, Virginia.

In England and Wales the Environment Agency (EA),[5] formed in 1996, is a public body for protecting and improving the environment and enforces the regulations listed on the communities and local government site.[6] (formerly the office of the deputy prime minister). The agency was set up under the Environment Act 1995 as an independent body and works closely with UK Government to enforce the regulations.

Terminology

In common usage, "environmental science" and "ecology" are often used interchangeably, but technically, ecology refers only to the study of organisms and their interactions with each other and their environment. Ecology could be considered a subset of environmental science, which also could involve purely chemical or public health issues (for example) ecologists would be unlikely to study. In practice, there is considerable overlap between the work of ecologists and other environmental scientists.

The National Center for Education Statistics in the United States defines an academic program in environmental science as follows:

A program that focuses on the application of biological, chemical, and physical principles to the study of the physical environment and the solution of environmental problems, including subjects such as abating or controlling environmental pollution and degradation; the interaction between human society and the natural environment; and natural resources management. Includes instruction in biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, climatology, statistics, and mathematical modeling.[7]

See also

References

  1. ^ Environmental Science: Iowa State University, http://www.ensci.iastate.edu (Accessed 17 February 2010)
  2. ^ Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), Mariner Books, 2002, ISBN 0-618-24906-0
  3. ^ Beychok, M.R. (2005). Fundamentals Of Stack Gas Dispersion (4th Edition ed.). author-published. ISBN 0-9644588-0-2. 
  4. ^ Turner, D.B. (1994). Workbook of atmospheric dispersion estimates: an introduction to dispersion modeling (2nd Edition ed.). CRC Press. ISBN 1-56670-023-X. 
  5. ^ http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/
  6. ^ http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1503251
  7. ^ National Center for Education Statistics. Classification of Instructional Programs. United States Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, 2000. (Accessed 29 January 2010)

External links


Wikibooks

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

Contents

Introduction

This textbook uses the Environmental Science AP outline of topics as a guide. It should not, however, be looked at as an AP-level text. Please add to the textbook to make it better.

Interdependence of Earth's Systems: Fundamental Principles and Concepts

It is a basic science one has to think about it.

Human Population Dynamics

Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources: Distribution, Ownership, Use, Degradation

Environmental Quality

Global Changes and Their Consequences

Sustainable Development

More than a decade after the Rio Summit in 1992, the challenge of moving economic development forwards, without compromising the availability of resources for future generations and at the same time protecting the environment and cultural heritage has become more urgent than ever.


Appearing on the scene with the publication of Limits to Growth, it was not until the 1987 Brundtland Report, produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development, that sustainable development entered the political arena. The idea was to identify a “pathway” through which people could create sustainable policies and practices rather than to develop a blueprint for action.


Ever since, the concept of sustainable development (SD) has managed to “stay alive” and has actually created much dispute and discussion. Since its emergence, SD has been widely embraced by government bodies and other influential organizations around the world, yet the actual behaviour of institutions that have claimed devotion to sustainability has been much criticized.


Sustainable development and sustainability have been used differently, but there is no evident consistency of difference. There has been much debate about whether and how the usages have differed or should differ, but these debates are unresolved. There is not even much agreement on which term is broader, or which carries more undesirable baggage. Here, the two terms are synonymous.


One of the drawbacks of SD as a concept has been the lack of agreement on its definition and guiding principles, although this is probably also a reason why the term has lasted for a long time and has become so widely accepted and debated. However one may choose to define it, sustainability stands as a critique; it is a challenge to prevailing assumptions, institutions and practices.


It relates to the basic non-viability of current development trends and practices and, therefore, it implies a need for significant change. Sustainability is indeed a challenge to conventional thinking. It requires the capacity to adapt to constantly changing conditions, as well as the flexibility to work with uncertainty, and with differences in local conditions and in public expectations shaped by culture, values and experience. Above all, it is participatory, ensuring that local communities and individuals have substantive input into designing and implementing development programs and projects.


Sustainability is more than setting up a system of compatible relations among biophysical, social, and economic aspects. It is also a matter of culture and governance. How relations are built with each other, what habits of thought and behaviour we establish and how we go about making decisions are central to sustainability.


It implies considering both the present and future, the incorporation of economic, environmental and social considerations into planning and management, the recognition that our institutions must evolve so that they can deal with the linkages and complexity of the world, the combination of technical and local knowledge systems, and to seek to change underlying values, beliefs and attitudes.


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