bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Algae blooms

I am currently taking chemistry as part of my prerequisite courses for grad school.  A lot of chemistry doesn’t seem that relevant, but one of my assignments is to write a paper and it can be on anything related to chemistry.  This allowed me to look at the more broad view of chemistry (rather than tiny molecules and atoms) and I have discovered interesting things.  I won’t bore you with the whole paper, but I looked into algae blooms when they are caused by eutrophication which is excessive amounts of nutrients in a body of water.

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Eutrophication often occurs when nitrates and phosphates are suddenly found in excess. Algae are able to use this excess nitrogen and phosphorus to grow exponentially. It appears that algae can use phosphates from a variety of sources to gain this critical component to their cellular activity. The biggest industry in phosphates is agricultural fertilizers but they also appear in laundry detergents and human and animal waste. Agricultural runoff brings the phosphorus in fertilizers from cropland to lakes, rivers and the ocean. This runoff also includes phosphates that come from animal waste. Phosphates in human waste and household cleaning products like laundry detergents end up in wastewater, much of which also eventually ends up in lakes, rivers and the ocean. Problems occur because some of the algae is toxic and can contaminate drinking water and the fisheries and potentially poison human food. The other big affect is the decrease in oxygen in the water. The algae are stimulated to grow through excess nutrients, but this growth means they are taking other nutrients, such as oxygen, out of their environment. This can cause the death of other aquatic organisms who require enough oxygen to survive.

 

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the UK: an environmental look

I have been looking into various graduate schools and programs I might be interested in attending soon and and have found some outside of the US that look fantastic.  It made me curious about what other countries are doing in terms of the environmental challenges that face us today.  So I’ve decided to take a brief look at a few countries this year.  I chose the UK first, partly because there’s no language barrier, and partly because there’s a program in Southampton I’m interested in.

London smog.  It turns out that air pollution really is a problem.  Here is an article from The Guardian about it: London air pollution ‘worst in Europe’.  The good news is that the European Union has regulations and the UK is not living up to them.  (This will mean less if the UK actually leaves the EU, but I think they’ll still want to clean up the air.)  Air pollution can be a serious health concern.

The government’s Environmental Agency website is clear and helpful.  It includes an article about releasing lots of fish into rivers.  They have a program to breed and restock the rivers with various species.  Overfishing is a big problem everywhere, especially in a place like the UK with so much coastline.

The UK did a National Ecosystem Assessment and this is, to me, is a fantastic idea.  This is a way to look at the whole picture.  They also followed up on areas that had uncertain results.  Many environmental groups and government agencies all over the world are focused on only one aspect of the problem.  Sometimes we also need to look at the big picture because it is all interconnected.

AzoCleanTech has also written an article about the UK if you’re interested in more information:  How clean is your country?


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Environmental Action and Marine Biology

This summer didn’t turn out the way I planned (getting Lyme disease certainly wasn’t the plan), although I am moving toward going back to school to study environmental marine science.  I am volunteering for two organizations (which I will blog about later) and am just starting a statistics course.  But last week I was inspired when I got together with a group of people interested in preserving the oceans.  I went to an event at the New England Aquarium called Save Ocean Treasures.  It was designed to bring awareness to the efforts that are being made to preserve certain areas off the coast of New England as national monuments.  The aquarium brought in the National Geographic photojournalist Brian Skerry to talk about his experiences diving and show his pictures.  Here is an example:

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Another speaker was Jon Witman who is a professor at Brown.  Protecting Cashes Ledge is one of his projects.  Cashes Ledge is a ridge that is a biodiversity hotspot off the coast of New England that has not yet been overfished.  Cashes Ledge is a nursery for Atlantic cod.  It is protected from overfishing for now but making it a National Monument would protect it forever.  The U.S. has been protecting certain areas on land for decades now and the Obama administration is considering protecting certain areas off our coasts.  The Conservation Law Foundation is one of the groups advocating for it.  I hope they succeed.


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Springtime! gardening and spending time outdoors

It’s springtime!  Despite New England’s weather it’s the beginning of June and it’s the season to spend time outdoors.  Unfortunately, mosquitos love me and I’m very allergic.  I hate dousing myself in chemicals, but I always figured it was way better than having multiple itchy spots for a week.  This year, I thought there must be a better way.  I was inspired by Clinton Kelly’s segment on The Chew (min.11).  (And I tend to do what Clinton says when it comes to entertaining.)  His suggestion was citrus juice on yourself, mosquito repelling plants, homemade citronella candles.  I plan on trying it all, but I wanted to grow some plants this year anyway.  It turns out a lot of herbs repel insects.  (Here’s an example of a list of plants: Naturalliving.) An herb garden on the deck seemed like the perfect solution.  Here’s a picture of half of my herb garden:

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I bought an extra pot of lavender because it smells so good to me but not apparently to insects, is a great addition to tea and has beautiful flowers.  I’m thinking I might get some lemongrass pots as well.  I love to garden and I haven’t often been in a position with the room to do it.  I’m going to try to grow some vegetables from kitchen scraps.  In theory, I’ll never have to buy lettuce, ginger, garlic or onions again.  And I will know exactly what was in the soil and what was sprayed on them as they were grown.


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Inspiration for 2014

It is the end of the year (my first as a blogger) and I decided it was time to be inspired.  One of the problems of the environmental movement is it tends to spread a message of doom.  No one wants to hear that the world as we know it is going to end, that our way of life is unsustainable.  It is so often a negative campaign.  Corporations are doing terrible things to the Earth.  Animals and plants are dying.  But the Earth is an amazing place and I think it’s important to remember that.  I took a course online this fall on edX called The Energetic Earth.  At the very end of the course the professor showed a series of photos that were beautiful and also illustrated some of the concepts we had talked about.  I thought it was a great idea.  So I have put together some photos I took over the past few years.  The Earth is an amazing place.  And if we treat it right it will continue to be an amazing place for a long time.  I hope these inspire you.  And maybe look through your own photos to find your own inspiration to keep working to live a green life.

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sunlight streaming down on the mall in Washington, DC

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sun shining through a castle ruin in Germany

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a flooded Neckar river in Heidelberg, Germany

 

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a storm coming from the Atlantic toward Emerald Isle, NC

 

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Purgatory Chasm in Newport, RI