Archive for February, 2011

Posted by: ahowland | 24th Feb, 2011

Life Goes On

In this class we have talked a lot about the destruction and degradation of the environment by humans all over the world. From deforestation, wetland destruction, sea level rise, temperature change, more extreme storms, and so much more, its hard not to get depressed and wonder is there anything good occurring in the environment anymore?? But then a new video comes online from places such as that show two polar bear cubs who have left their den for the first time since being born and take their first steps out into the Arctic ice. Most adorable thing ever. It really shows that life, no matter what, goes on. Even with the sea ice melting and it being harder than ever for polar bears to find food, videos like this show that they survive. (If you want to watch the video again, click here).

Polar bear mother and cub

New offspring are being born all the time and BBC Earth’s website has created a great webpage based on their theme for this month: New. They show their theme through clips and pictures about new offspring and new life. Unfortunately, I cannot attach the main video that summarizes this, but you should definitely check it out on the website at:, and click Get Stared once it loads. It shows another adorable video about new offspring all over the world, and you click the sides to explore and see more animals. It’s for these exact videos that show us what’s out there in nature that we need to hold on to. With so much bad and destruction of the environment going on, there is still so much life and good out in nature. It’s this exact reason why humans shouldn’t give up hope. Yes it is true that we have already drastically increased greenhouse gas emissions and speed up climate change, and some things are going to occur as a result of human actions that we can’t stop since they have already been put in motion such as rising temperatures and sea levels, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying. There are still a lot of things humans can do to prevent further climate change, more greenhouse gas emissions, and more bad effects. And with videos and pictures such as those on the website above, it inspires us to keep fighting for saving the environment and ensuring that life goes on.

Posted by: ahowland | 17th Feb, 2011

Co-curricular Activity: Get the Dirt Out

            On February 9, 2011, the Friends of the Rappahannock gave a presentation talking about construction sites. Construction sites can potentially be very damaging to the environment. They move the soil all around and without proper practices, the soil runs off into the environment through stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff pollutes the environment, increasing the amount of sediment in waterways and is quickly becoming a leading environmental problem in Virginia. From the construction sites, stormwater runoff can also produce erosion, sheet erosion, rill erosion, gully erosion, and a less stable ground. However, in Virginia, there are two programs to control construction site erosion. They are the ETS program, which gives construction managers detailed steps to follow with a minimum of 19 standards to follow and lists Best Management Practices (BMP) to limit pollution. The other program is the State General Program. This program also gives detailed steps to follow, lists BMPs to limit pollution, standards to follow, and for them to certify SWPPP.

            The Friends of the Rappahannock also included 9 general Best Management Practices for construction sites to follow in their presentation. The BMPs are first Construction Entrances and they say that huge stones should be present at the entrance of the site with a stone pad under it laid with a filter cloth and for them to clean mud off the tires so the dirt doesn’t get onto the streets. Second is Disturbed Area Stabilization which protects erosion from occurring from rain by planting grasses or laying down mulch. The third BMP is Perimeter Controls which slows down sheet flows and prevents sediment from leaving the construction site through things such as silt fences. Fourth is Inlet Protection which prevents sediment-laden water from entering drain systems through laying down curb inlets and screens. Fifth is Outlet Protection which is like the fourth BMP but for drains. The sixth and seventh BMPs are Sediment Basins and Sediment Traps, both of which is a temporary pond area to trap polluted sediment filled water and let it settle down to the bottom of the pond. The eighth BMP is Diversion Dikes to intercept water flow and lastly the ninth BMP is Sediment Stockpiles which holds soil so it can be reused.

            The presentation ended with them saying how important it is to make sure construction sites are following the BMPs and that anyone can evaluate a site if they know what to look for. They said that “With limited resources and time, we must focus regulatory attention on violators who are impacting the environment the most.” While some construction sites are bigger violators than others, it is still important to pay attention to very site, and ordinary people can help do that. Every single person can get involved and help restore Virginia’s waterways.

            I thought that this was an excellent presentation. It was very informative, and with the provided pictures in the slideshow and in the brochure, everyone who attended the presentation knows exactly what to look for at construction sites. It is easy to tell what is a good management practice and what is a bad one. And I think that the website they gave us where you can send pictures in of poor construction sites and the date is a great idea. It allows ordinary citizens who care about protecting our environment to get involved and help out without feeling like they are getting in over their head. As the presenter said, I can’t help but now look at all construction sites I pass and look at their practices. The entire time I was listening to him, I kept thinking about our own construction site on campus where the new building is being built next to Jepson. Every time I walk by that place, I look at it taking in all the management practices enforced to prevent erosion. Through this very interesting and educational talk I am now aware of potential erosion dangers at construction sites, which is something I’ve never thought about before. I believe more talks such as this one need to be done and in more locations because how can we protect our environment if no one knows how to do it. I greatly enjoyed this presentation and was very glad I attended it.

If you are interested in this topic but weren’t able to attend the presentation, here’s the website for the program Get the Dirt Out:

Posted by: ahowland | 15th Feb, 2011

Living on Wetlands

Wetlands are a fundamental part of the environment. They provide many essential services and benefits to both humans and the environment. For instance, wetlands actually clean water that comes through it and they are used in many locations alongside wastewater treatment plants. They also act like a buffer against raging waters since they can absorb a lot of incoming water that hits them and prevent flooding; they also can store excess water for long periods of time, provide many recreational uses, and are home to 1/3 of endangered species. Wetlands are an integral part of the environment and humans are destroying them by draining them and/or converting them to other uses. In the 1600s, over 220 million acres of wetlands existed in the contiguous US. Since then, the US has got rid of over half of all of its wetlands. In 1954-1974 the US lost roughly 458,000 acres of wetlands, the worst in its history. A lot of places have been built on converted wetlands, removing their important benefits from that area (storm surge protection decreases, groundwater decreases, shoreline erosion, and increased flooding and erosion are all effects of wetland loss) and the disaster of Katrina in Louisiana definitely shows how much wetland loss effects us. Places like that all over the world are losing wetlands to keep up with the growing population. In fact, part my own neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia was built on a small wetland. Off to the side of my neighborhood, part of the wetland remains intact where it was too swampy to build on. But my own house is on top of the wetland, and you can definitely tell it’s a wetland because when it rains, it stays wet forever in my backyard. Learning everything that I have about wetlands and the environment in college has shocked me to realize that I actually live on one. Like everything else, humans have taken advantage of the environment and destroyed millions of acres and ecosystems for their own profit. But I am very happy to say that we have at least learned better than to keep draining wetlands. Not only has the US stopped draining wetlands but we have actually restored some of them and are now at a rate of gaining wetlands instead of losing them. Videos such as this help inform people about wetland’s useful effects and show that wetland restoration is a success. This just shows that we can indeed learn from our mistakes in the past and fix things, restoring them to their former potential.

Posted by: ahowland | 3rd Feb, 2011

The Tragic Tale of the Aral Sea

The Shrinking of the Aral Sea

This week in class, we have learned a lot of ways humans have degraded the environment and really, just plain completely messed it up. Take for instance the Aral Sea. The Aral Sea used to be the 4th largest sea in the entire world. Now it is completely dwarfed by the Caspian Sea and has lost 80% of its water. Why might you ask? The answer is simple: Humans. In the early 1960s when the Soviet Union owned the entire area, including the Aral Sea, the Soviet government decided to divert the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the northeast. The diverted rivers were feed into the desert to irrigate it so the area could grow cash crops, particularly cotton (“white gold”) and rice. And it worked; today Uzbekistan is one of the world’s largest exporters of cotton. However, the price for the crops was steep. By the late 1960s, the Aral Sea began to shrink. In 1964, the sea received 50 km3 of water each year with 60,000 people working in fisheries and canning industries supported by the large fish population in the sea; by 1897, there was 0 flow into the sea and by 2000, there was 0 fish and 0 people making a living off the sea. It decimated people jobs and lives.

Another factor that resulted from the shrinking sea is that the sea receded, it exposed the dried lake bed underneath with sediment that contained chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. As the wind swept through the area, it picked up these chemicals and spread them throughout the entire area and also the globe. Chemicals from the Aral Sea’s dried up sea bed has been traced as far as Antarctica in penguin’s blood. Antarctica! Which is utterly shocking. We are harming poor penguin’s lives and not to mention countless other species.

A lot of Americans scoff this off, thinking it’s not going to affect us at all since we live in a powerful, developed country. But they should be worried because it is happening right here in America too. The Great Salt Lake in Utah as already shrunk some as well as Lake Mead in California. Water is going to become a very serious problem in the future, and its time we start fixing these problems and prepare for the future.
(Picture from:

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