GEO 101 Environmental Geology
Notes for September, 7 2007
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Become familiar with the
syllabus it will give
you important information regarding the class.
The first exam will include questions about
information in the syllabus.
following concepts will be considered throughout the course
when dealing with environmental issues.
Environment -- Sum of all features and conditions surrounding an organism that
might influence it.
Geology -- Study of the Earth.
Environmental Geology -- Geology as it relates directly to human activities.
Principle of Uniformitarianism --
For Geology -- Present is key to the past.
For Environmental Geology -- Past is key to the future
Carrying Capacity -- The maximum number of organisms in this case people that a
system can maintain on a continuing basis. This number depends to a large extent on the
quality of life that is expected to be maintained. The higher the quality the smaller the
Sustainable Resources vs. Mining (i.e. Renewable vs Nonrenewable resources)
- Sustainable Resources are replaced at the same rate or greater than they are
being used up. These are renewable resources.
- Mining -- Resources are used up faster than they can be replaced. Common understood
examples are the exploitation of ores, oil and coal. In many areas agriculture is mining
the soil. These are non-renewable resources.
Common Good vs Personal Gain
- The two major differing philosophies with which people deal with the environment.
Chaos is an operating factor in most environmental concerns.
- Some systems are not well enough understood to allow us to make predictions about
- Some systems are so dependent on small changes in their initial conditions that it is
impossible to ever predict future scenarios.
Reversible Catastrophe and Irreversible Catastrophe
- Catastrophes that we can and cannot recover from.
Positive Feedback vs Negative Feedback
- An example of Positive Feedback is initiating the rolling of a
ball down a hill. The ball goes faster and faster and as
it goes down the hill. In positive once something starts it continues
changing on its own.
- An example of Negative Feedback is pushing a ball up a hill. As soon as you stop
pushing it will return to the bottom. Thus the system recovers.
Cyclical Processes -- The earths environmental conditions have been evolving
through geologic time. They tend to be cyclical over both long and short periods of time
and have changed character greatly and abruptly.
- Cycle through the day and night
- There are the seasons of the year
- Sunspots occur in an 11 and 22 year cycle.
- 20,000 years ago there were glaciers here. -10,000 years ago this area was somewhat
warmer than now.
We will emphasize as much as possible those aspects of environmental geology that are
particularly applicable to Long Island and metropolitan New York.
Major Areas of Concern in Environmental Geology
Population -- Is approximately 6.54 Billion now. In 2050, it may be
close to 10 Billion, which an increase at a rate of roughly 75 million
individuals per year. This results in an continually increasing need for quality
water and soil.
Soil -- In the U.S., we lose 16 tons of soil per person every year. 80%
of our agricultural land has suffered from major soil loss (this is especially
so in the Bread Basket of the United States, the Midwest).
Water -- On Long Island, each person uses (directly or indirectly)
about 160 gallons of water per day.
Waste -- On Long Island, each person produces approximately 1 ton of
garbage per year (which breaks down to approximately 5 pounds of garbage per
day). We can no longer put garbage directly into local landfills, due to leakage
into our aquifers (which are our only real source of water). Instead our garbage
is recycled, incinerated or trucked out to other states.
Global Climate Change -- With an increase in the production and
release of anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, global warming is expected.
Ozone Depletion -- The ozone layer (a layer in the upper atmosphere
enriched in ozone) is depleted by the release of CFC's (Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons)
into the atmosphere. CFC's have been principally used as refrigerant gasses in
air conditioners and refrigerators. Ozone prevents Ultra-Violet (UV) radiation
from reaching the surface. Extended exposure to ultra-violet radiation may
result in skin cancer in humans, as well as other damage in humans, animals and
Materials -- Each person in the U.S. requires the mining of 20 tons of
rock per year.
Energy -- We will essentially run out of petroleum by the year
2050. This is a finite resource, non-renewable as far as we are concerned.
Deforestation-- Increased human development leads to deforestation and
loss of natural habitats, as well as species extinction.
•Environmental Pollution is major cause of cancer
•Only 2% of fatal cancers are due to environmental pollution.
Harvard Reports on Cancer Prevention
Asbestos is dangerous
Most asbestos is harmless
(See case history "The asbestos controversy on p. 62 of text.)
water is better than tap water
•Both must meet
•Tap water is
continually monitored (EPA)
Cancer incidence is higher on Long Island
Actually breast cancer incidence is similar to that in other urban
Breast Cancer Annual
Incidence Rate per 100,000 women 1994-98
New York City
National Cancer Institute;
New York State Department of Health
A seven year, $8 million, study by the
National Cancer Institute failed to find that women who have
high levels of four toxic chemicals once widely used on Long
Island were more likely to develop breast cancer.
Link to Newsday's series on the
Breast Cancer Study
EPA assumes that even the slightest amount of a
carcinogen causes an increase in cancer
However, there scientific evidence for some
carcinogenic substances including ionic radiation that small increases
may reduce the risk of getting cancer. This called hormesis: meaning
“Whatever doesn't kill you might make you stronger”
EPA does not accept this concept.
This is a controversial subject
From Scientific American, September 2003, Vol. 289, p.
See the following
An Introduction to Radiation Hormesis
Fundamental flaws of hormesis for public health
The effect of radiation on health as a result of
Fertilizer is better than Inorganic Fertilizer for turf grass.
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