Blog #10 Water Resources and Geology & Nonrenewable Mineral

Water Resources

Water is an extraordinary life sustaining chemical needed to keep us and most other life forms alive. Though we can survive a several weeks without food, we can only survive a merely few days without consuming water. Additionally, we are mostly made of water, and so is our planet. Thus, water is definitely a precious chemical. Although, freshwater is one of the earth’s most important forms of natural capital, it is a severely unmanaged. All around the world, water is wasted and polluted.

Furthermore, like access to food is needed, access to water is severely needed, but the lack of access to water has become a global health issue and economic issue. Thousands of children younger than 5 die from waterborne illnesses everyday due to a lack of clean drinking water–mostly related to poverty. Similarly, obtaining access clean water is vital for reduction of poverty and producing food and energy. Additionally, water is an issue for women and children in less-developed nations, causing women and girls to become responsible for obtaining (finding and carrying) daily water supplies if they do not have water piped to their homes.

I watched a documentary last year called ‘The Water of Ayole’. The documentary focused on less-developed tribes in the Tongo that lack access to clean drinking water. Many of the people in the tribes were suffering from an affliction they called guinea worm that was a parasite found in their drinking water. The government stepped in to help these tribes with their water supply by providing them with a pump to pump out freshwater from groundwater. In doing this, the community within the tribe prospered — the women were uplifted, disease lowered in the tribe, and the economy of the tribe rose. I like this documentary because it shows how government aid can help people rise out of sickness and poverty. And if we give them the tools (like the pump), they will use them and flourish.

Increasing tensions between nations regarding access to water has made water a national global security issue. And, lastly, water is of course an environmental issue because of the high amounts extracted from river and aquifers resulting in falling water tables, decreasing river flows, shrinking lakes, and disappearing wetlands.

All of these issues relate to population (higher population — higher poverty level — returning issues to access of water) and since our population growth is ever increasing, what will that mean for our access of water and for the environmental issues related to extracting water from these rivers and aquifers? Are we looking at an environmental water crisis so severe that it we could be left with NO access to water?

Although we continually collect freshwater, we do recycle and distribute it in the earth’s hydrologic cycle (the movement of water in the seas, air, and land). Thus far, our recycling has proven to work well, we just need to remember to maintain it by not extracting water before we can replenish it and to maintain pollution. Two important source of freshwater for us and earth’s natural capital are groundwater and surface water.  Another source of freshwater is reliable runoff, the usable surface runoff into rivers and streams that is available for human use.

According from the USGS, about one-third of the freshwater withdrawn in the United States comes from groundwater sources and other two-thirds come from rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Additionally, the same organization projected that areas in at least 36 states in the U.S. are likely to witness water shortages by 2013. These water shortages will be a result from drought, rising temperature, population growth, urban sprawl and increase wasting of water. Likewise, it is projected that the southwestern part of the US will very likely have long periods of extreme drought throughout most the the century — causing issues with water shortage in that area. What we must realize and understand is that water shortages will continue to grow. It’s projected that by 2050, around 60 countries will suffer from water scarcity, the current number at 30 countries suffering from water scarcity. Conflicts of water management by local and national governments or by private companies are rising due to the water crisis. The projection of water shortages by 2013 – did that come to pass as projected in 2007 by the USGS?

As previously stated, we obtain a large amount of our fresh water from groundwater aquifers. However, due to an increase need for water, our groundwater supplies are being withdrawn faster than they can be replenished. Water tables are decreasing in many areas of the world because the rate of pumping water from nearly all of the world’s aquifers is greater than the rate of natural recharge. The larger grain producing nations are overpumping many of their aquifers for agricultural purposes. Sadly, more than 400 million people are being fed by this unsustainable use of groundwater and that figure is only expected to grow.

An astonishing figure — each day the world pumps out enough water from aquifers to fill a tanker trucks that stretches from here to the moon! Although there are advantages for withdrawing groundwater — useful for drinking and irrigation, exists almost everywhere, renewable if not overpumped or polluted and cheaper to extract than most surface water — there are huge trade offs as well — the depletion of aquifers, sinking of land, pollution of aquifers, and deeper wells we may drain are nonrenewable.

If we continue to over pump aquifers we will see several harmful effects: limits future food production, increase gap between the rich and the poor areas, more electricity is used when we will need to use larger pumps to obtain water, and aquifers could collapse after withdrawing large amounts of groundwater. So what are our solutions? We can prevent and control groundwater depletion. We can waste less water, subsidize water conservation, limit the number of wells, stop the growth of crops in such dry areas. Additionally, we can raise the price of water so it reflects the environmental costs, tax water pumped from wells near surface waters, set and enforce minimum stream flow levels and divert surface water in wet years to recharge aquifers.

Building of dams as an answer to the water crisis comes with it’s trade offs, as well.  The goal of a dam-and-reservoir system is to capture the store runoff water, so that it may be release as needed. Also, dams help to control floods, generate electricity, recreation activities and supply water for irrigation. The dams built in recent years has increased the annual reliable runoff available for human use by nearly one-third. However, dams come with their downside. The building of dams and reservoirs have displaced 40-80 million people from their homes, flooding and impaired some of the important ecological services that rivers provide. Due to the building of dams and reservoirs, an estimated one out of five of the world’s freshwater fish and plant species are either extinct or endangered.

Transferring water is another means that we have found to obtain water, however, it is fairly obvious that it can disrupt ecosystem and can be wasteful. Another way we have tried to combat a water crisis is through converting salty seawater to freshwater, or desalination. Desalination can occur when water is treated through distillation and reverse osmosis. However, this method has too many issues for me to consider it effective. The cost is much too high, using the large pumps and chemicals requires large inputs of energy, and the desalination process causes large amounts of salt wastewater that is not easily dispersible — therefore it ends up getting dumped into coastal areas causing environmental and contamination issues.

There are many ways we can combat a water crisis by using water more sustainably. We can start by cutting our water waste. To cut down on water waste, we can increase the price of water, since water is often wasted because of its low cost. Another way to combat water waste is through irrigation. Additionally, if we slow population growth, protect aquifers and forests and other ecosystems that store and release water we can use water more sustainably. On an individual level we can use water more sustainably as well. Taking shorter showers, using water-saving toilets, using drip irrigation in your gardens are all small steps to help stand against a potential water crisis.

It’s difficult for me to image use truly reducing our water waste without heavily educating the public about how detrimental it is to waste water. I would suggest to increase the price of water, because I feel that would help people to decrease their waste of water…but it would cause people in poverty to have less of an access to water, even in the United States. So, my only answer to that is to increase water for the general public, but make water available for lower-income people and families so that we can maintain our water waste, but still provide a healthy life for our citizens.

Geology and Nonrenewable Mineral Resources

Geology is the study of the processes on earth’s surface and in its interior. The interior core of the earth is separated into three major concentric zones: the core, the mantle, and the crust. The core is the earth’s innermost zone, it is extremely hot and surrounded by a liquid core of molten or semi-solid material. Surrounding the core is a thick zone called mantle, which is solid rock. Lastly the crust is the outermost and innest zone of the earth. The earth’s crust is part continental crust and oceanic crust.

I alway think of the earth as a nonmoving form that I walk upon everyday, however the convection cells or currents move large volumes of rock and heat in loops within the mantle like gigantic conveyor belts. We can think of these plates as the world’s largest and slowest-moving surfboards on which we ride every day without noticing. These plates have split apart and joined together moving the way continents are located. When oceanic plates collide with continental plates, the continental plate usually rides above in the a process called subduction. With time the subducted plate melts and then rises again to the earth’s surface as magma. The tectonic plates can slide and grind past one another along a fracture in the lithosphere, called transform fault, mostly located on the ocean floor.

The internal geologic processes builds up the earth’s surface by pushing up the continental and oceanic crust, thus forming mountains and volcanoes. The external geologic processes, wears down the earth’s surface and moves matter from one place to another. Weathering is the processes that breaks down rocks into smaller particles that helps to build soil. This process uses wind, water and tempature to break down the rocks.

Another process is erosin, which is a result of weathering. During erosin materials dissolve, loosen or get worn away from one part of the earth’s surgace and deposited elsewhere. Glaciers, slow moving large bodies of ice, can cause slow erosin by scraping the land as they move across it.

Volcanos that are active occur when magma reaches the earth’s surface through a central vent or crack.  Volcanos form themselves around the boundaries of the earth’s tectonic plates and when magma then reaches the earth’s surface it is then called lava. Although we normally think of volcanos as destructive, they do provide benefits — they have the ability to format mountains and lakes and can contribute to fertile soils. Humans can avoid the risk of volcanic eruptions by being aware of the active areas (not living near them) and use monitoring devices to warn us when a volcano will likely erupt.

Next to volcanos, we often think about earthquakes as one of nature’s destructive tools.

From inside the earth’s mantle and near its surface is stressed ca cause the rocks to suddenly shift or break and produce a  transform fault. Seismic waves, the power we feel during an earthquake is when faults form, or when there is an abrupt movement on an existing fault. Earthquakes begin far from the earth’s surface at the ‘focus’ point. Directly above the focus point is the earthquake’s ‘epicenter’. The seismic waves move upwards and outward from the focus like ripples of water causing the trembling that we witness. We can measure earthquakes by their magnitude, the measure of ground motion caused by the earthquake. Scientist will then use the Richter scale to classify the earthquake by it’s magnitude. The effects of the earthquake include shaking and sometimes permanent vertical and horizontal displacement of the ground. Although earthquakes can be very dangerous, we can reduce it’s impact on human lives and property damage by examining historical data to map high-risk areas, similar to mapping the areas of volcanic activity.

Tsunami’s are another natural environmental danger, one that recently I have heard more about. What I did not know if that Tsunami’s are actually cause by earthquakes under the ocean floor that causes the huge waves. These giant waves move at the speed of a jet plane and once they reach a coastline the wave slow down, but becomes larger. Once at the coast, a tsuanmi wave can level buildings once it reaches land.

I remember the 2004 Tsunami mentioned in the text. This Tsunami was the deadliest of all recorded Tsuanmi’s and one of the largest and longest earthquakes recorded. What I wonder is if climate change has any impact on the amount and magnitude that these Tsuami’s and earthquakes?

The earth’s crust is mostly made of rocks and minerals. Minerals are defined as an element that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust as a crystalline solid, or one that has a regularly repeating internal arrangement of atoms. And rock is defined as a solid combination of one or more minerals found in the earth’s crust. There are three major forms of rock: sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic. Sedimentary rock is defined as rock made from sediment, which are dead plants and animal remains. Igneous rock is formed below or on the earth’s surface when magma wells up from the earth’s upper mantle or deep crust. Metamorphic rock forms when a preexisting rock is subjected to high temperature, high pressures, chemically active fluid or a combination of each. These rocks can be recycled, but a very slow rate. The rock cycle is defined as the interaction of physical and chemical processes that change rock from one type to another. The rock cycle is vital for forming concentrated deposits of mineral resources like iron and salt.

We can define a mineral resource as a concentration of naturally occurring material from the earth’s crust that we can extract and process into raw materials and useful products at an affordable cost. Some common minerals that we extract are aluminum, gold, sand and limestone. We use nonrenewable minerals in our everyday lives. There is, of course, environmental issues associated with mineral use. The life cycle of a metal is the mining, processing, using and disposing of it — this life cycle uses large amounts of energy and water and can disturb land, erode soil, produce solid waste and greenhouse gases. The extraction, processing and conversion to products are what some scientists believe to the be greatest danger in continuing our increasing consumption of nonrenewable minerals causing severe environmental damage. Strip mining is a process that personally, I cannot stand. It is the extraction of mineral deposits that lie in large horizontal beds. This mining results in huge trenches that degradation the earth’s surface. Another awful mining practice is mountaintop removal. And it is as horrible as the name sounds. Explovies, earth movers, large power shovels and other machines with huge buckets are use to remove the top of mountains and expose seam of coal which are then removed.

These forms of mining, especially strip mining and mountaintop removal are two of the many ugly and nasty impacts that we are currently doing to our beautiful earth. There are so many activist fighting against mountaintop removal in the Appalachian Mountains, sadly with little success while we still rely so heavily on coal.

Our text covers ways to use mineral resources more sustainably, but I think we need to completely shift away from using these resources entirely. I like the texts suggestion of finding substitutions to replace some of the minerals that are being heavily depleted.  And the text also states we could reduce mining subsidies, increase subsidies for recycling, reuse and finding substitutes and slow population growth (still the biggest environmental crisis to me).

Two Class Blog Questions:

    1. Since our population growth is ever increasing, what will that mean for our access of water and for the environmental issues related to extracting water from these rivers and aquifers? Are we looking at an environmental water crisis so severe that it we could be left with NO access to water?
    2. Are more frequent or larger earthquake and Tsuamis a result of climate change?
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