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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

2010 was a difficult year for most people I know, and for me personally.  I was sick, our car was stolen right out of our driveway, I lost a beloved cat to illness,  I had unexpected (and unentertaining) expenses, work has been very slow, etc.  I stopped writing on my blog early in the year, and we might as well count 2010 as a write-off in terms of blogging.  Even on my more personal journal I hardly wrote anything except to share a few links.  So here’s to hoping 2011 is better for all of us, especially all my unemployed or underemployed friends.

A couple of good things did happen, particularly my starting to teach at Humboldt State University’s Environmental Resources Engineering Department again.  I taught a Solid Waste Management class in the fall, and I was lucky to have a very good group; I really loved my students.  The days I was teaching became the days I most looked forward to in the week.  (But I’ll tell you, teaching brings in very little money for the amount of work it requires.)

Still, I enjoy it and it provides for diversity of income.  I was offered two classes for the spring semester, and I lucked out again by being offered two of my favourite topics.  I will be teaching an Environmental Impact Assessment class and a Water Quality and Environmental Health class, both of which I am very familiar with.  It’s going to be a great big load of work, but what great subjects!  I thought I would take the opportunity to blog about some of the issues we cover because I think they are of general interest.

I’m also going to try to vary my approach to lectures.  I’ve been relying a lot on slides, handouts, prepared lecture notes, etc., but I would like to try more discussion and less “bullet points”.  So I’m revising the notes I’ve used before; the material is still fine, but I want to present it more dynamically.  That said, I will still post the occasional slide presentation for discussion.

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Eureka contaminated sites

Another useful Google Earth feature today: the Contaminated Sites layer from Terradex. This company compiled, and makes available free online, a list of USEPA Superfund and RCRA Cleanup sites, and state sites including California, Oregon, Washington and New Jersey.

The layer requires the use of Google Earth 4 or later. When you click on individual sites, the description includes links to websites and a comment box to provide feedback on the sites. There are 130,000 sites shown, and zooming into regions will reveal more sites.

It’s quite interesting if you like to find out what goes on in your community and know about the quality of your environment. Alas, I don’t think it’s been updated in a while; some of the site clean-ups marked as still open may have been completed by now.

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The various stages of collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the Antarctica has been in the news over the past couple of weeks.  Now you can watch an animation of the process in Google Earth, as assembled by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

After downloading the file and opening it with Google Earth, I recommend first clicking the little clock icon to the left of the slider bar in the image, moving the animation speed slider so it is about 1/3 of the way from the left, and selecting “At end of time range, animation should stop.”  Then click “OK” and press the play button (arrow) at the right of the slider.  Repeat as needed.

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GodwitGodwit Days will be upon us April 16 to 22 — a week of birding and art in and around Arcata.

The marbled godwits arrived a little while ago already, along with American avocets, black oystercatchers, willets, several kind of plovers, etc. Birding has been good at the Arcata Marsh and along the shores of Humboldt County.

The 14th annual Godwit Days event offers over 110 bird-viewing activities regionally, many of them free and many more very inexpensive, as well as an Art Fair in Arcata.

I’ve met people who come from all over the country, paying a pretty penny despite not being rich, to fly here and see these birds for a few days. And we get to see them so often we take them for granted.

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Switzerland-Italy border
Thanks to global climate change and the resulting world-wide glacier meltdown, Switzerland and Italy now have to redraw their border. The draft law has already been endorsed by the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, and is expected to become law before the end of April; Switzewrland has already agreed to the new border.

The current border between the two countries was established in 1861, and is very convoluted as it follows the Alps’ ridgelines and glaciers. The glaciers are now retreating and that retreat is accompanied by landslides, laying havocs with reference points. The edge of glaciers would be mostly moving up, toward Switzerland, and the landslides are moving down, toward Italy.

The redrawn border may move by as much as 100 meters in some spots, but no communities will be affected as this is an area of high altitude, remote and cold. The most famous location in the affected area is the picturesque, 4,478 meter-high Matterhorn (by its Swiss name), or Cervino (as it is known in Italy).

Links of interest:

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According to the recently released U.S State of the Birds 2009 report, a study prepared under the Bush administration by 13 major agencies and conservation organizations, almost one third of the 800 species of birds found in the US are “endangered, threatened or in significant decline”, particularly due to the influence of human activity, loss of habitat, and global climate change. The problem is particularly acute in Hawaii.

“At least 39% of the U.S. birds restricted to ocean habitats are declining,” the report says. But there are some good news, as wetland birds are rapidly recovering in places where habitat has been restored.

Links of interest:

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Sea level rising…

Wednesday’s San Francisco Chronicle offered an article discussing the release of a new report by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, evaluating the effects on the California coastline of a rise in sea level resulting from global climate change. A Huffington Post article also discussed the report, which was commissioned by the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Transportation, and the California Ocean Protection Council.

The report projects an expected rise of 1.4 meters — just under 5 feet — in the mean sea level. There is a lot of variation in the estimates that have been produced in studies over the last decade, but the most generally accepted estimate I have seen is 6 meters (20 feet) by the end of the century, or even more. So the Pacific Institute’s report might in fact be underestimating the impact of global climate change and rising sea levels.

In addition to flooding wast areas of low-lying land, displacing people, and threatening infrastructure, the rising waters would also cause significant erosion to bluffs along the coast. In Humboldt, even under the 1.4 meter scenario, large chunks of places like Fields Landing, Freshwater, the Arcata Bottoms, etc. would be submerged.

One area not studied in the report, however, is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area. To have an idea of the results of various scenarios, you can consult the Pacific Institute’s report and interactive maps, and compare them to the interactive maps obtained from another projection by a British team, the Global Warming Flood Maps created by Alex Tingle (who turns out to be a friend of a friend — it’s a small world!) Even under the smallest increment (1 meter), the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta becomes a shallow interior sea.

Incidentally, both these map projection systems use Google Maps/Google Earth as their backbone. Which segues into the other piece of weird map-related California news yesterday…

Blur the map!

C|NET and CNN report that California Assemblyman Joel Anderson wants online maps and aerial photos to be blurred. The bill he introduced, AB 255 “Internet security: virtual globe technology”, includes the following provisions:

“(a)An operator of a commercial Internet Web site or online service that makes a virtual globe browser available to members of the public shall not provide aerial or satellite photographs or imagery of a building or facility in this state that is identified on the Internet Web site by the operator as a school or place of worship, or a government or medical building or facility, unless those photographs or images have been blurred.

“(b)An operator of a commercial Internet Web site or online service that makes a virtual globe browser available to members of the public shall not provide street view photographs or images of the buildings and facilities described in subdivision (a).”

Security is the reason offered. However, I have news for Assemblyman Anderson: you can get that kind of information anyway, just with a the inconvenience of going to the library or purchasing from a mapping service. No terrorist would be stopped by this measure, but it would cause considerable annoyance for those of us who use such maps daily for work. Guess what, when I prepare an environmental impact assessment, I need to know where these facilities are. But Assemblyman Anderson doesn’t appear to know that people actually work with maps and air photos. Here is a quote from the C|NET interview:

Q: But could not a terrorist just as easily plan out their attacks by using a map of a city like Mumbai? They don’t need to go up online to locate their targets.
Anderson: The level of detail is not on the maps. With a map, you cant count the number of bricks in a building, or see the elevator shafts. With this level of detail (afforded by online maps,) you can. I hear the argument that, “Yeah, I want to also ban cars because cars are used in robberies.” Look, cars have other commercial uses. There are no other uses for knowing on a map where there are air shafts. These are all red herring arguments. The fact is that I would be remiss in my job if I didn’t take this seriously. I’m not interested in censoring Google or the others, but now that we know there’s a threat, how could we not address this?

He’s grossly misstating the situation, of course. I don’t generally care about air shafts — but I might if I was working on an air quality project, modelling plumes of contaminants. And I care about a lot of equally specific details. I can charge my clients the professional rate for a team to go in the field and survey a large number of details; I can wave my hands, make a lot of assumptions about locations and hope the margin of error isn’t too great; or I can get online and take ten minutes to retrieve all the information I need. Which serves my clients better?

Services affected would include, for example, Google Maps, Google Earth, TopoZone, TerraServer, and presumably government sites like USGS’ EarthExplorer and NASA’s World Wind, as well as all the mapping applications derived from these sources.

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