“On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse.” Climate Change, Vital Signs of the Planet, NASA. For more readings, please open this link: http://www.climate.nasa.gov/causes/
In this presentation, I will try to be as simple as possible and to make this difficult and boring topic sounds interesting and more palatable to your taste. The things that I will present here is also designed not only for our followers here at Earthniversity but to the Filipino audience with whom I have a strong connection and concern as far as minimizing if not abolishing the threats to our Atmosphere. I cited authoritative ideas as well as projects that have been done in other countries, specifically the United States where I now reside.
Best Practices is what I wish to call these tried and tested activities which I hope my audience in the Philippines, our followers and readers may learn from and if they will decide, replicate these tried and tested ideas in their community by involving all the stakeholders. So, let me begin.
Definition of Atmosphere
There are a few definitions of the term atmosphere but let me focus my definition to what is applicable to our main character, the Earth.
1. Atmosphere is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “the envelope of gases surrounding the Earth or another planet”.
2. Atmosphere is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the gaseous envelope surrounding the Earth”. Origin of the word Atmosphere The word Atmosphere originated in the 17th Century. It is “Atmosphaera” in Latin. In Greek, it is atmos – for “vapor” and “sphaira” for “ball, globe”. Facts about the Atmosphere
- Earth is the only planet in the solar system that can sustain life. The blanket of gases contains the air that we breathe but also protects us from the blasts of heat and radiation emanating from the sun. It warms the planet by day and cools it at night.
- Earth’s atmosphere – 300 miles (480 km) thick. But most of it is within 10 miles (16 km) of the surface.
- Air pressure decreases with altitude. At sea level the pressure is about 14.7 pounds per square inch or 1 kilogram per square centimeter.
- At 10,000 feet (3 km), the air pressure is 10 pounds per square inch (0,7 kg per squre cm). There is also less oxygen to breathe. Therefore, when altitude increases, oxygen decreases.
- Gases in Earth’s atmosphere are the following: Nitrogen 78%, Oxygen 21%, Argon 0.93%, Carbon Dioxide 0.038. Water vapor and other gases exist in small amounts as well.
According to the Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, the following compose the Atmosphere: >Almost all atmospheric water vapor or moisture are found in the Troposphere. The first layer of earth’s atmosphere from the ground. It is the layer where Earth’s weather takes place. >Atmosphere of the Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet and is retained by Earth’s Gravity.
>Atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing Ultraviolet solar radiation – warming the surface through heat retention or known as green house effect. >Atmosphere also reduces temperature extremes between day and night – the diurnal temperature variation.
>Diurnal temperature variation is a meteorological term that relates to the variation in temperature that occurs from the highs of the day to the cool of nights. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diurnal_temperature_variation)
Five Main Layers of the Earth’s Atmosphere In this topic, we will be citing the works of Tim Sharp entitled: Earth’s Atmosphere, Composition, Climate and Weather which is available in this link: http://www.space.com/17683-earth-atmosphere.html. The article revealed that there is “no boundary between atmosphere and space but an imaginary line about 68 miles (110 km) from surface called the Karman Line. Most scientists say – this is where the atmosphere meets the outer space”.
So, in layman’s term, the Earth’s atmosphere is like a building with five levels. The building, however, has imaginary floors, imaginary walls, and imaginary roof.
Technical Terms Used to describe the Layers of the Earth’s Atmosphere
- Troposphere (“ground level”) – is the atmosphere layer closest to the earth’s surface. Simply speaking, nearest to the ground. It is 4 to 12 miles (7 to 20 km) thick and contains half of Earth’s atmosphere. Air is warmer on the ground and cooler higher up. All vapor, dust, in the atmosphere are in this layer. That is why, clouds are found here. This is where the weather is formed.
- Stratosphere (“2nd level”) or the second layer which is found above the Troposphere. It starts above Troposphere and ends 31 miles (50 km) above the ground. Ozone is abundant here and it heats the atmosphere. It also absorbs harmful radiation from the Sun. Air is thinner here than at sea level. This is where Jet Aircraft and Balloons fly.
- Mesosphere (“3rd level”) – starts at 31 miles (50 km) from Stratosphere and extends 53 miles (85 km) high. Top of Mesosphere is Mesopause the coldest part of Earth’s atmosphere with temperature averaging about minus 130 degrees F or minus 90 degrees C. This layer is hard to study. Jets and Balloons don’t go high enough. and satellites and space shuttles orbit too high. Scientists do know meteors burn up here! (Thanks Mesosphere, with you around there, meteors cannot hit us directly because you burn them up there.)
- Thermosphere (“4th level”) extends about 56 miles (90 km) to between 310 and 620 miles (500 and 1,000 km). Temperature get up to 2,700 degrees F (1,500 degrees C) at this altitude. This is considered as part of the Earth’s atmosphere but density is so low that most of this layer is thought of as Outer Space. This is where the Space Shuttle Flew. This is where the International Space Station orbits the Earth. This is the layer where Auroras of Northern Hemisphere occurs. Charged particles from space collide with atoms and molecules in the Thermosphere, exciting them into higher states of energy. The atoms shed this excess energy by emitting photos of light which we see as the colorful – Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis.
- Exosphere (“5th level”) – is the highest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is extremely thin and where the atmosphere emerges into Outer Space. It is composed of very widely dispersed particles of hydrogen and helium.
What are the Threats to the Earth’s Atmosphere?
It is easy for any hoi polloi to answer this question because all they need to say is ozone and greenhouse gases. But the nitty gritty of how these two gases – ozone a special kind of oxygen gas and greenhouse gases composed of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorocarbons, could be a threat or create havoc to the earth’s atmosphere is something that need real focus. For most of us, maybe a revisit to what these mean and how they can create havoc in the Earth’s Atmosphere. So, let’s have a look at how one author describes the Ozone and GHGs.
Shaun Taylor is the author of the book entitled: Threats To Our Atmosphere published in 2007 and this was made available in the internet through this link: http://www.readinga-z.com http://www.ecusd7.org/coolumbusstaff/rcanada/atmospherebook.pdf.
According to Taylor, there are two kinds of Ozone, the bad and the good. Each layer of the earth’s atmosphere has ozone. Ozone occurs when three oxygen unites = O3. It is a special form of oxygen gas. Different amount of ozone gas are found in the atmosphere. Greenhouse Gases comprise the following: Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, and Fluorocarbons.
On the other hand, the United States Environmental Protection Agency or EPA in their website stated the following:
- What causes Bad Ozone? Ground level Ozone is created by chemical reactions between Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight.
- Sources of NOx are a) Industrial Facilities, 17%; Electric Utilities, 22%; Motor Vehicles, 56%; exhaust, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents are some of the major sours of Nox (and also VOC)
- Sources of VOC. 1) Industrial and Commercial Processes – 50%; Motor Vehicles – 45%; Consumer Solvents – 5%
At Ground Level, Ozone is a harmful pollutant. BAD OZONE IS THE MAIN INGREDIENT OF SMOG.
4. Summer and hot weather makes Ozone a concern because of the air we breathe.
5. Ozone concentration can even reach the other cities where smog and bad ozone are plenty. These are carried by the winds.
How does “Bad Ozone” affect human health and environment?
- Breathing ozone can trigger health problems such as: chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion
- It can worsen to: bronchitis, emphyzema, asthma, reduce lung function, inflame lining of the lungs and repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissues.
- OZONE POLLUTION CAN BE IN OVERCROWDED PLACES WITH SOURCES OF NOx AND VOC
How does “Bad Ozone” damage vegetation and ecosystem?
- It leads to reduced agricultural crop and commercial forest yields, reduced growth and survivability of tree seedings, and increased susceptibility to diseases, pests and stress such as hot weather.
- In U.S. alone Ground Ozone is responsible for $500 Million in reduced crop production each year (EPA)
- GLO – ground level ozone also damages the foliage of trees and other plants, affecting the landscape of cities, national parks, forests and recreation areas.
What is being done about “Bad Ozone”? EPA, further reported that there are several approaches and strategies done to decrease the threats of “Bad Ozone”
- Clean Air Act. EPA sets protective health-based standards for Ozone in the air we breathe.
- EPA and the different states work together with programs to meet these standards.
- One of these programs is to cut NOx and VOC emissions from vehicles, industrial facilities and electric utilities.
- To reduce pollution, there is a reformulation of fuels and consumer/commercial products such as paint, chemical, solvents that contain VOC
- Communities are encourage to carpool – to reduce the number of vehicles and reduce harmful emissions.
“We live with Ozone everyday. It can protect life on earth or harm it, but we have the power to influence Ozone’s impact by the way we live” – EPA GOOD OZONE IS GOOD UP HIGH IN THE SKY
- Why? “Good Ozone” protects our atmosphere from Ultraviolet Rays radiation from the sun to directly hit the ground. Ozone is protective SCREEN.
- “Good Ozone” is produced naturally in the Stratosphere (“second floor”) but
- this good ozone is gradually destroyed by man-made chemicals referred to as ODS – Ozone Depleting Substances
- ODS are: a) chlorofluorocarbaons (CFCs); b) hydrochlorofluorocarbons; c) halons; d) mythyl bromide; e) carbon tetrachloride; f) mythyl chloroform.
- ODS are used in Coolants (air-con), foaming agents, fire extinguishers, solvents, pesticides, aerosol propellants
- Once released into the air they degrade very slowly, sometimes a year as they leave the Troposphere (“first floor”) toward the “second floor” of earth’s atmosphere – the Stratosphere – where good ozone are produced.
- Once these ODS reached the Stratosphere, they are broken down by the Sun’s UltraViolet Rays and release CHLORINE and BROMINE molecules which DESTROYS “GOOD OZONE”.
- Scientists estimate that one (1) Chlorine atom can destroy 100,000 good ozone molecules.
How can depletion of “Good Ozone” affect human health and environment?
- Ozone depletion can cause increased amounts of UV radiation to reach the earth and this can cause: skin cancer, cataracts, impaired immune systems, and melanoma the most fatal of all skin cancer can be caused by overexposure to UV Rays.
- UV Rays can damage sensitive crops like soybeans and phytoplankton which is base of ocean food chain can be stressed from UV Radiation. This can have adverse effect on human food supply from the ocean.
How can we minimize these threats to the Earth’s Atmosphere?
- The Montreal Protocol (1980) and U.S. together with 180 countries decided to phase out production and use of ODS – Ozone Depletion Substances.
- EPA established regulations to phase out ODS and chemicals in the U.S.
- Warning labels must be attached on all products
- Release into the air of refrigerants used in cars and air-con units are prohibited.
*2050 – is the target year when Ozone layer returns to normal levels once all ODS are stopped. The Atmosphere and the Global Climate Change. This report was posted by NASA on their website. If you want to view the whole article please refer to this link: http://www.climate.nasa.gov/causes
This article from NASA states that most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”1 — warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.
Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as “forcing” climate change. Gases, such as water vapor, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as “feedbacks.”
Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:
- Water vapor. The most abundant greenhouse gas, but importantly, it acts as a feedback to the climate. Water vapor increases as the Earth’s atmosphere warms, but so does the possibility of clouds and precipitation, making these some of the most important feedback mechanisms to the greenhouse effect.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2). A minor but very important component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived “forcing” of climate change.
- Methane. A hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock. On a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere.
- Nitrous oxide. A powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Synthetic compounds of entirely of industrial origin used in a number of applications, but now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement for their ability to contribute to destruction of the ozone layer. They are also greenhouse gases.
EVIDENCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. Studying these climate data collected over many years reveal the signals of a changing climate.
The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2 Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.
Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. They also show that in the past, large changes in climate have happened very quickly, geologically-speaking: in tens of years, not in millions or even thousands.3 (Source: http://www.climate.nasa.gov/evidence/)
Furthermore, NASA cited the following as evidence of Climate Change, these are:
1. Sea Level Rise
2. Global Temperature Rise
3. Warming Oceans
4. Shrinking Ice Sheets
5. Declining Arctic Sea Ice
6. Glacial Retreat
7. Extreme Events – typhoons, hurricanes, among others.
8. Ocean Acidification
9. Decreased Snow Cover
Larry West, writer of TOP THINGS YOU CAN DO TO REDUCE GLOBAL WARMING published at About.com Environmental Issues, said that “burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, oil and gasoline raises the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and global warming. You can help to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, which in turn reduces global warming, by using energy more wisely.” According to Larry West, these 10 simple actions you can take to help reduce global warming are the following:
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
2. Use Less Heat and Air Conditioning
Adding insulation to your walls and attic, and installing weather stripping or caulking around doors and windows can lower your heating costs more than 25 percent, by reducing the amount of energy you need to heat and cool your home.
Turn down the heat while you’re sleeping at night or away during the day, and keep temperatures moderate at all times. Setting your thermostat just 2 degrees lower in winter and higher in summer could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.
Wherever practical, replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Replacing just one 60-watt incandescent light bulb with a CFL will save you $30 over the life of the bulb. CFLs also last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, use two-thirds less energy, and give off 70 percent less heat.
If every U.S. family replaced one regular light bulb with a CFL, it would eliminate 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, the same as taking 7.5 million cars off the road.
Less driving means fewer emissions. Besides saving gasoline, walking and biking are great forms of exercise. Explore your community mass transit system, and check out options for carpooling to work or school.
When you do drive, make sure your car is running efficiently. For example, keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Every gallon of gas you save not only helps your budget, it also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
5. Buy Energy-Efficient Products
When it’s time to buy a new car, choose one that offers good gas mileage. Home appliances now come in a range of energy-efficient models, and compact florescent bulbs are designed to provide more natural-looking light while using far less energy than standard light bulbs.
Avoid products that come with excess packaging, especially molded plastic and other packaging that can’t be recycled. If you reduce your household garbage by 10 percent, you can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.
6. Use Less Hot Water
Set your water heater at 120 degrees to save energy, and wrap it in an insulating blanket if it is more than 5 years old. Buy low-flow showerheads to save hot water and about 350 pounds of carbon dioxide yearly. Wash your clothes in warm or cold water to reduce your use of hot water and the energy required to produce it. That change alone can save at least 500 pounds of carbon dioxide annually in most households. Use the energy-saving settings on yourdishwasher and let the dishes air-dry.
7. Use the “Off” Switch
Save electricity and reduce global warming by turning off lights when you leave a room, and using only as much light as you need. And remember to turn off your television, video player, stereo and computer when you’re not using them.
It’s also a good idea to turn off the water when you’re not using it. While brushing your teeth, shampooing the dog or washing your car, turn off the water until you actually need it for rinsing. You’ll reduce your water bill and help to conserve a vital resource.
8. Plant a Tree
If you have the means to plant a tree, start digging. During photosynthesis, trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. They are an integral part of the natural atmospheric exchange cycle here on Earth, but there are too few of them to fully counter the increases in carbon dioxide caused by automobile traffic, manufacturing and other human activities. A single tree will absorb approximately one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.
Many utility companies provide free home energy audits to help consumers identify areas in their homes that may not be energy efficient. In addition, many utility companies offer rebate programs to help pay for the cost of energy-efficient upgrades.
10. Encourage Others to Conserve
Share information about recycling and energy conservation with your friends, neighbors and co-workers, and take opportunities to encourage public officials to establish programs and policies that are good for the environment.
These 10 steps will take you a long way toward reducing your energy use and your monthly budget. And less energy use means less dependence on the fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming.
IMPLICATIONS TO OUR LOCAL COMMUNITY
In my hometown, Bacolod City, in the Visayas, in Central Philippines , there are a few industries and human activities that can be connected to the production of Oxides of Nitrogen or NOx and VOC or Volatile Organic Compounds. In Highly Urbanized Cities some industries and human activities also contribute to the production of Nox and VOC. So, with this lecture series, I hope you will be more in tune talking about protecting our atmosphere in the small corner of our world, the Visayas. With doable programs and projects suggested here in this lecture, I hope local communities and people like you could replicate the practices being done by communities mentioned here , or enhance the existing programs and projects in your locality. Let us not be ashamed of advocating to save our Earth’s Atmosphere because this is the only planet where we all live.
If you think doing the job is a bit difficult, ask the assistance of your local environment office, the local officials and community members. If you can tap the services of your friends or local expert on Strategic Planning, you may conduct the Strategic Planning Workshop geared towards promotion of healthy atmosphere. You can also start the Earthniversity Classroom in your Community now. You are the star player and you can do it. Success is sweet when everybody gets involve.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Website