Every week we will put up helpful science tips that explain principles we’re dealing with in understanding our climate crisis.
The series is the creation of Olivia Baaten.
Topics covered in 1-7 are:
- What a Keeling Curve is,
- What a watershed is,
- Why the world burning,
- What PM 2.5 represents,
- Ocean acidification,
- How a beetle can lead to forest fires, and
- What a Crown forest fire is.
Crown forest fires
How a beetle can lead to forest fires
What is ocean acidification?
Read Olivia’s article on the topic here.
What is PM 2.5?
When discussing air quality, the term PM 2.5 comes up frequently. While it might sound like a complicated science term, “PM” really just stands for “particulate matter,” and “2.5” refers to the size of the particulate. Specifically, it is a particle with a diameter of 2.5 microns. PM 2.5 is a particularly pernicious particle, because humans can inhale these pollutants, exacerbating respiratory health conditions and making it harder for everyone to breathe. When the air has excessive amounts of harmful particles, the air quality is designated unhealthy, and it is safest for all groups to stay inside and limit exposure. There are multiple reasons that PM 2.5 can end up in the air. Ash from volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and vehicle exhaust can lead to high levels of pollutants in the air. While it is impossible to prevent all PM 2.5 pollution, switching to clean energy and improving public transport can limit the amount of anthropogenic emissions.
Why is the world burning?
You may have noticed that the west coast has been plagued by fires. The 2020 fire season has seen extreme devastation. In California alone, over a million acres have been consumed by fire, 3,749 structures have been reduced to ash, and seven people have lost their lives. The fire season isn’t even over — we still have two more months before the west coast is in the clear. The severity of these incidents may lead one to wonder: why is the world burning?
Essentially, climate change has caused fire conditions to intensify. For instance, climate change has caused hotter temperatures, dryer soil, drought, faster snowmelt, and gustier winds, all of which can exacerbate wildfires. Indeed, fire season is 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago, and the burns are significantly more severe, as double the acreage is burnt. Especially in rural areas, fire stations are underfunded, leading to a desperate situation. Although it may be futile to reverse damage that has already been done to the climate, conservation efforts, forest management, and divesting from fossil fuels could have a significant role in preventing the aggravation of fire season.
What is a watershed?
Many counties nationally are home to watersheds, but few understand the importance of these natural structures. Watersheds are a geographical area in which rainfall, snowmelt, and runoff converge into rivers, creeks, streams, and eventually an ocean, estuary, lake, or reservoir. These geographical areas need special attention from humans, because the pollution of these areas amount to the eventual pollution of water supply. Furthermore, we rely on clean watersheds for drinking water, tourism, agriculture, and ecological heritage. In order to protect our way of life, careful watershed conservation and conscientious resource management is essential.
What is the Keeling Curve?
The Keeling Curve is a measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, illustrating their dramatic rise since the conception of the project in 1958. This project was started in Mauna Loa, Hawaii by a scientist named Charles David Keeling. Keeling measured atmospheric carbon dioxide until his death in 2005, after which his son continued the project. The Keeling Curve is one of the most comprehensive, long-standing, and convincing representations of climate change, as it shows a yearly increase in global carbon dioxide levels. When compared with historical carbon dioxide levels from ice cores, the Keeling Curve provides convincing evidence that the carbon dioxide levels of the twenty-first century are both unprecedented and anthropogenic in nature. The Keeling Curve also captures seasonal variations in carbon dioxide levels, as seen by the peaks and troughs represented in the graph. Taken together, the Keeling Curve is one of the most comprehensive illustrations of a changing planet.