PDS AP Environmental Science 8th Period 2010-11

Key Concepts

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Closed for business…

If you have just stumbled upon this blog, note that our class no longer meets and will no longer be adding new content.  Feel free to click around and see all that we’ve learned about environmental science this year. -Mr. W

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Freedom from our oil addiction?

After watching Who Killed the Electric Car (2006), we took a look at some of the new plug-in electric cars from Chevy, Ford, Nissan, and Tesla now on the market.  Are electric cars really the answer for ending our dependence on foreign crude oil? Could it be that simple? This Daily Show clip (8 minutes) is one of my favorites on the history of American president’s trying to get us to cure our addiction to oil:

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Carbon Offsets: Solution or Scam?

So, your text had a section on carbon offsets, but we never discussed it in class. There are many companies out there now marketing carbon offsets to reduce your “carbon footprint.” Terrapass is a popular one. You can offset one year’s worth of air travel (an estimated 8,000 pounds of carbon emitted) for just $50.60 as of 5/5/2011. Your money goes to support wind farms and methane capture projects-that’s how the carbon is “offset.” Some companies will even plant trees to offset carbon produced by your lifestyle.

So, does this approach mitigate (lesson) global climate change or encourage “cheating?” Watch this clever parody of carbon offsetting by a couple of Brits:

*If you want to learn more, visit www.cheatneutral.com

So, what do you think?

*Try www.carbonfootprint.com to for a carbon calculator if you want to assess how much carbon dioxide results from your lifestyle.

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A Carbon Cycle Story

As we approach the final day before the AP exam, have you reviewed the nutrient cycles? Knowledge of these cycles is critical-they tie everything together.  In the fall we learned primary reservoirs, key chemical reactions, and anthropogenic impacts.  I also had each of you write a creative short-story of a cycle.  Here is a good one by MiriamA:

To be consistent is Carl’s game. His friends even go as far as to call him a connoisseur of consistency. But even the existence of a consistent Carbon molecule can be quite stressful. Sometimes, the mundane routine of Carl’s daily reality was overpowering: wake up, realize he’s stuck in a rock, think about eating breakfast, but realize he’s in a rock, take a nap, consider breaking out of his rock prison, and then realizing he is stuck. In a rock. Repeat for millennia.

Carl’s predicament made him pretty bored. His life seemed doomed to be forever consistent, when all of a sudden, Carl realized his rock was on top. Way on top: Consistent Carl was king of the lithosphere. Through weathering, Carl’s little piece of sedimentary rock was exposed and divided. Centuries went by; he was trod on by wooly mammoths, rained on incessantly, rolled by the wind down hills, and pushed back up them by construction trucks as gravel. And just when our friend Carl could no longer take the inconsistency of his new life, the greatest change yet struck him: Lichen was Carl’s new immediate neighbor. Carl’s rock was broken down by lichen into the soil. Carl was excited to be returned to the soil once more, but to his surprise…he was RESPIRATED.

As Carl considered changing his vacation response on his email back to his classic signature of    “-You’re Favorite Boring Molecule”, Carl had yet another wake up call. His neighbor Lichen (fondly known as DJ Breakdown) had used energy to break him down, and had respired in the process, releasing Carl airborne as CO2 into the atmosphere.

Feeling like a new molecule, Carl was in ‘CO2 Tattoo Parlor’, inking in his newfound freedom, when he felt himself being pulled eastward over a body of water. He was newly surrounded by other, unfamiliar, yet similarly liberated CO2 molecules (some with ‘Stairway to Heaven’) inked across their covalent bonds), bumping about in the atmosphere. Back in his consistent days, Carl had attended school with perfect attendance, and thus new that the amount of CO2 in the air pocket he was in was greater than that in water, and that he would soon be diffused below the water’s surface.  As he mentally prepared for the big plunge, Carl was yet again surprised when he was intercepted by a surface-dwelling aquatic organism and used for photosynthesis.

When the surface-dweller decayed, Carl was yet again released by the help of decomposers. He floated down, down, down, past his previously airborne friends who had arrived at the same place he had through diffusion. He bumped in H20, and formed Carbonic Acid. Carl, who had never been part of such a demanding relationship before, could barely recognize himself. The change kept going when he was transformed into bicarbonate, and then met Calcium. Before Carl knew it, he was part of Calcium Carbonate; planted on the bottom of the ocean floor as part of a coral reef. Carl had come a long way since his rock days, and was here to stay. He bought a new desk, got a haircut, and moved in for a while.

But what happened to some of Carl’s tattooed friends? Some of them were diffused, some of them decayed, but some were used in photosynthesis in photosynthetic organisms on the surface of the water. When that producer was eaten, the consumer respired to use glucose, and released the CO2 back into the atmosphere. They were airborne once more (‘Free Bird’ was added to the covalent bonds), but that did not last long. The CO2 was used once again for photosynthesis on the shore, helping a tree to grow. Years and years passed, and Carl’s friends went with the decaying tree to the soil, where they were broken into smaller and smaller pieces. And like Carl’s favorite book, Life Swap, Carl’s friends settled down over the millennia for a nice consistent life as sedimentary rock.

A little summary of pathways also by MiriamA:



Detritus respire

Released to atmosphere

Used by plants for photosynthesis

Plants eaten by consumers

Higher level consumers eat those consumers and respire, returning to atmosphere

Co2 travels on over to a large body of water

Diffuses into the ocean (high to low)

Used by surface dwelling creatures, respire, returned to atmosphere

Where it is used by plants for photosynthesis


Turn into sedimentary rock again………


Diffused Co2 meets up with H20, makes carbonic acid, which turns into bicarbonate

Bicarbonate meets with calcium to make calcium bicarbonate

Precipitates, becomes coral!!

Degraded coral is impacted together, turns into sedimentary rock

So, do you remember the steps of the carbon cycle? Do you remember the formulas for these forms of carbon? Do you recall all the ways humans alter this cycle?

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Sustaining Biodiversity: The Species Approach

On Tuesday we covered Sustaining Biodiversity, and I will be covering the species approach(Will W. has already covered the ecosystem approach). The three types of species extinction are as follows:-Local Extinction (or extirpation), -Ecological Extinction (when a species can’t fulfill a niche), and -Biological Extinction (global, permanently gone)

I know terms like endangered and threatened are tossed around a lot today, but they aren’t just based off someones “feelings” about there not being enough of a certain species; they’re legal terms put in place by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This law placed species into two categories: -Endangered Species (a species in threat of extirpation in all or part of its range), or -Threatened Species (a species in threat of becoming endangered in all or part of its range).

Here are some characteristics of Extinction-prone species: -low reproductive rate, narrow distribution, fixed migratory patterns, specialized niche, feeds at high trophic levels, rare/commercially valuable, large territories(larger territories=more interaction with humans=more likely to be hunted/exterminated/have habitat destroyed)

Here is a link to a brief video from a documentary on  Species Extinction

*sorry about not embedding the clip, but I kept getting an HTTP error overtime I tried to post it.(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpxmTZ02FXg uploaded to Youtube by:  on Feb 7, 2008, originally part of a documentary)

Yeah, I realize that clip was a little dramatic near the end…but it did a great job of addressing Utilitarian, Moral, and Ecological reasons of the importance of species (see lower in post for clarification of terms).

Human Impacts: As the video pointed out, humans have accelerated extinction rates (1,000-10,000x the background rate0, and this leads many scientists to believe we are now in our 6th major extinction period.

Some of the reasons for acknowledging the Importance of Wild Species are: -Utilitarian: humans benefit/rely on many wild species such as bees for pollination. -Aesthetic: quite simply enjoying the natural beauty of wild species(cute pandas…)-Moral: some might argue that all living things have a right to live, and humans should therefore feel morally obligated to acknowledge and protect wild species. -Ecological: If one species goes extinct then other species in the exterminated species habitats will be affectedly negatively.

Causes of Premature Extinction: borrowing Mr. Willard’s acronym here, HIPPO; which is a rank-ordered list that stands for Habitat destruction & fragmentation, Invasive species, Population growth (humans), Pollution, Overharvesting (including poaching).

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Blackle–new Google

Hey y’all-

I don’t know why I didn’t think about this before but a while ago I found out about this seach engine, which is powered by Google, called Blackle. It saves energy by just having the background being black instead of white. It’s pretty cool, so check it out. I posted a link with specifics on how it saves energy.


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Ecosystem Approach to Sustaining Biodiversity

International Treaties and Conventions:

Convention on International Trade in Endangered species (CITES)

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

US Federal Laws:

Lacey Act

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

Marine Mammal Protection Act

Wilderness Act


Preservation vs Conservation:

Preservationists like John Muir are focused on keeping wilderness as untouched as possible in order to maintain the biodiversity of a certain region. Conservationists like Gifford Pinchot are much more interested in finding ways to use land and resources while at the same time limiting their use so these resources aren’t over-harvested (sustainable use).

How do we preserve and conserve:

Approximately 1/3 of the land in the United States is owned by the public. That’s more land than any other country in the world has devoted to public use.



Types of Public Lands

1-Multiple-use lands – This includes National Forests and National Resource Lands

2-Moderately Restricted-use lands – This includes National Wildlife Refugees

3-Restricted-use lands – This includes National Parks and National Wilderness Preserves.

The tropics are a hotpoint of contention for land management. Areas like rainforests with high biodiversity contain plants that can be used for medicinal purposes, as well as house countless species of animals. That’s why the tropics have become known as a “biodiversity hotspot”.

The UN supports a plan called “Biosphere Reserve.” This involves protecting one core area in a place of high biodiversity that is surrounded by two buffer zones. The core area has had very little human impact, while the first buffer zone is a limited use zone for humans, and the second buffer zone is impacted a little more.

The first step in land preservation and conservation is to designate the land to a specific type of public land so that it may be protected by the federal laws that are already in place.

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In the news…

I know things are winding down, but I was amazed by all the recent news stories that deal with our units of study. At this point in the course, reading the news is a way to study. This AP exam is constantly being rewritten as new research is published or new environmental disasters occur! Check out any that interest you:

NPR: Fukushima Vs. Chernobyl: Still Not Equal

BBC: BP oil spill: The environmental impact one year on (yes, it’s been a year already!)

NPR: Researchers Link Extreme Rains To Global Warming

NPR: Washing Away The Arctic Coastline (more on sea level rise)

NPR: Climate Change Trends: Carbon Emissions Giants (data/maps)

NPR: Tapping The Earth For Energy Savings Year-Round

NPR: Our ‘Toxic’ Love-Hate Relationship With Plastics

NPR: Repelling Bugs With The Essence Of Grapefruit

NPR: The Worldwide ‘Thirst’ For Clean Drinking Water

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Green Week?! What?!


If you did notice lately, it is very “hip” to “green.” I’m watching my favorite Thursday night NBC comedy shows, and seeing all these public service announcements for “green week.”  Heck, even the NBC peacock logo is green this week! Check out NBC’s slick website: http://www.nbc.com/Green/

And, FOX is getting in on the act too.  Check out their slick website: http://www.fox.com/greenitmeanit/

This type of public relations stuff is called “greenwashing.” Here’s a definition (can’t find or recall the source):

Greenwashing is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.

So, why is what NBC or Fox doing this week considered sorta sly? Well…do you think the network executives are doing it for the network or us (or both)? You decide.

If you want to know more, here are a few “watchdog” sites that monitor greenwashing:







So, be a smart consumer, not all that is green is good. ANY group can claim to be green-there is no government standard! Love to discuss any of this with any of you here or in class one day…can you think of other examples you’ve seen?

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Last Test Questions

I do not understand how nitrogen can produce both primary and secondary pollutants.
Also, how in depth do you think we should know the process of  scrubbers?

Good luck studying for the last test!

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