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.


The 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 number.

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 future scenarios.
  • 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 plants.

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 Myths


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.)

  Bottled water is better than tap water

Both must meet same standards.
Tap water is continually monitored (EPA)
Bottled water is not continually monitored (FDA)

Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype? 

Breast Cancer incidence is higher on Long Island

Actually breast cancer incidence is similar to that in other urban communities

Breast Cancer Annual Incidence Rate per 100,000 women 1994-98

Seattle-Puget Sound     124.4
Connecticut    121.6
San Jose-Monterey    118.9
San Francisco-Oakland    118.7
Metropolitan Atlanta    118.5
Suffolk County    118.2
Nassau County    115.6
Metropolitan Detroit    110.3
Los Angeles    104.5
New York City    97.2
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.

Tattered Hopes: 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 adaptive response

Nietzsche's Toxicology
“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. 28-29.

See the following

An Introduction to Radiation Hormesis

Fundamental flaws of hormesis for public health decisions

The effect of radiation on health as a result of Chernobyl

Organic Fertilizer is better than Inorganic Fertilizer for turf grass.


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