Posts in: PC431
We’ve moved on from atmospheric physics to atmospheric chemistry, and have spent our time looking at different constituents of our atmosphere and how they get there. One interesting (and complicated) reaction we have focused on is ozone formation and depletion in various layers of the atmosphere. In the stratosphere, the second layer of the atmosphere, ozone is incredibly important, and shields out UV light which can be dangerous to humans. We learned about the combination of reactions and circumstances that contributes to the ‘ozone hole’ over Antarctica. Most in our class were struggling with the material, but we all felt a little better about it after our professors reminded us that this research won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the 1990s.
While lack of ozone in the stratosphere is cause for concern, the presence of ozone in the troposphere, the closest layer of atmosphere to the ground, is equally troubling. When in the troposphere, ozone can cause health problems and contribute to the greenhouse effect. Logically, then, regulations should be in place to limit the presence of ozone in the troposphere. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. When we took a closer look at the science behind the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere, we discovered two main types of pollutants that produced ozone. Oddly, in some settings, decreasing one type of emission will actually make the air quality worse in that area. BUT, those same decreased emissions would make air quality in an area downwind better. Different emissions regulations are needed in different places, but this would require immense cooperation and huge improvements in technology. So we get into this conundrum about how we really can regulate in a way that is realistic and effective for everyone.
This wasn’t the only bit of policy we conquered as a class. We also had group projects about converting the closed Templeton Gap Landfill (right here in Colorado Springs) to a landfill gas energy production site. The gas emitted from landfills can be dangerous to us and to our environment, and converting it into energy has been viewed as a positive solution. The class divided into groups that all tackled one science, policy, or logistical issue surrounding this idea. We then presented our findings to the rest of the class, giving everyone a comprehensive view of the topic. My group looked at the feasibility of making this business, and for any entrepreneurs out there, I can tell you that it is very much doable.
We have been able to take all of the material we’ve learned and make it incredibly applicable. I think this class, more so than any other class I’ve had, has been easy to make connections and understand the importance of what we are learning. It certainly has lived up to its standard of being a difficult course, but it also has been eye opening and fascinating in many ways. That being said, we do have a daunting atmospheric chemistry final on Wednesday, so don’t expect to be hearing from me.
For our labs this week, the class is divided into different lab groups, so groups rotate between the three labs to experiment with all of them in small groups. On our first day, yesterday, my group started analyzing air pollution right on campus. Little did I know, the is an air filterer on the roof of Barnes. We placed a fiberglass filter in the odd, mailbox shaped machine, and then a vacuum pulls air through the filter. The vacuum runs overnight to get 24 hours of air filtered. The filter we placed yesterday will be analyzed by a different group today.
We analyzed filter that underwent the same process a couple days earlier. In order to do that, we had to extract all of the particulate matter that was collected from the filter and create solutions from them that could be analyzed. We diluted them and used two machines to thoroughly mix the solutions. The solutions were put into vials that can be analyzed with ion chromatography and XRF. This processes will tell us what types of ions and other elements (like metals) are in the air. One great thing about this class is how applicable everything we are learning is. Our labs don’t focus on abstract concepts, they focus on the weather and the air that is all around us. No one in our class ever has to ask “Well, when could I ever use this in real life? Why does this matter?” because we are using class material in ways that directly pertain to our lives.
Today in class, we learned how a cold front actually effects weather. Of course, watching the news or checking the weather online had given me the terminology and awareness of cold fronts, and that they typically mean clouds and perhaps storms, but now I understand how those cold fronts cause the weather that they do. All of us had a moment where it clicked, where we were able to justify what we’ve experienced in our lives with the science behind it. It seems like that’s happening more and more frequently for us these days. As an assignment over the weekend, we had to take a mindful walk (or run, hike, or ski) and really think about the weather around us. It didn’t have to be scientific or quantitative in any way, but we were supposed really absorb our environment, however we felt was appropriate. When we talked about it in the morning, many of our classmates talked about ‘nerding out’ as they had to describe to a friend why a particular weather phenomenon was occurring, or what it meant about our speed traveling around the Earth if the air was calm for a moment. So if you see us around campus, you’ll have to excuse us and our excitement about the weather, but it’s pretty incredible when all of the sudden you finally understand the world around you.
Fifth block always feels like a bit of a whirlwind, as we all frantically try to get out of vacation mode and back into our normal role as students. But never have I experienced a fifth block quite this intense. I am in what will almost certainly be the hardest class of my CC career – Air: Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry. So far the course has lived up to its (somewhat intimidating) reputation established by previous EV students.
We have had a lot of challenging work and a demanding schedule, but we are learning fascinating material and getting the opportunity to see real world applications of what we are learning. As Nicole mentioned, we launched a giant, six-foot wide weather balloon with the help of an engineer from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). And yesterday, we experienced first hand the work that goes into reporting common weather indices such as dew point and humidity. We got to take our lab outside on the quad to try out the instrumentation and methods. So even though we’re all in a grueling class, we’re still able to enjoy the outdoors – and the glorious sunny weather we’ve been having!
We continue on with physics for now, but in the next week we’ll be moving on to Atmospheric Chemistry. Word around the lab is that we’ll be performing an analysis of the particulate matter (a dangerous type of air pollution) content in Colorado Springs. As we forge on, we learn more and more about the air we’ve so casually been relying upon our entire lives.
If you were under the impression that being on the block plan means that you have class from 9AM-12PM and then you are free and wild, please be aware that, for science majors, this is rarely true. The block plan means that there is no procrastinating or class three times a week, and then lab maybe twice a week, or even class, lab and then some free time. When you are in a 400 level EV/Physics class, there is no rest for the weary. For examples, I have been working since 7:30 this morning, and am still sitting in my seat in the same classroom trying to complete last night’s homework which no one was able to finish, our lab, and tomorrow’s homework. It is inherent in the level of this course (this most difficult science course for an environmental science major) that time, energy, brain power, and possibly your soul will be called upon to solve this atmospheric physics problems, and if it wasn’t for the few mathematically brilliant, wonderfully ingenious students in this class, I would be here all night. Thankfully, I am close to completing the lab, so maybe I will be out of here by 9 and have some social interaction with normal people.
So what have we learned so far? Well by far the coolest thing we have done is the balloon launch, but I am afraid I must hold out until I find a second to upload the pictures to tell that tale. I will instead explain how difficult something we take for granted is. Temperature. You wake up, check your phone, computer, thermometer (if you are still cool enough to have one outside), weather channel, whatever to obtain the information you need to get dressed today. Well some person obtained that data and ran some incredibly complex math to confirm that they do in fact have the correct temperature outside. While I doubt they do this by hand anymore, I just did, and let me tell you it is long and there are many places to go wrong. Here are some equations:
Ph = P0 [ 1 - (mgh/CpT00] ^ Cp/R AND 1/Tb0 – 1/Tbh = (R/deltaH) ln(Ph/P0)
OK so really they don’t look that bad, and really if you have any physics or calculus under your belt (recently, this is key) you can probably figure out where we are heading. Basically solving these two equations gives us the boiling point of water in Colorado, which you should recall is above sea level so water boils faster here (do to the change in pressure). SO if you boil some water, you need to correct for this difference in boiling point. This correction is important to check that the temperatures you are measuring are correct, and some machine somewhere probably runs equations like this all the time to ensure that the weather person isn’t lying to us (with some margin of error, I mean have you experienced the wild weather of CO?!) Well that was my rant for today, hopefully some pictures and fun stories about applied atmospheric physics tomorrow when I calm down a bit.
Have a great evening.
Today was day two of EV431 Air: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. The classroom for me is a familiar one for me, and I am sure for most of the other students taking this course, since most of us are Environmental Science majors and have wandered the same rooms in Tutt Science for a few years now. This class is, however, one of the pinnacle Environmental Science courses, signified by the 400 status, and will be one of the last courses I take before I graduate this spring. Which reminds me I should probably introduce myself and not remain the mysterious blogger of EV431. My name is Nicole Gillett, and I am a senior Environmental Science major here at Colorado College. I have taken a multitude of wonderful EV classes and dabbled in a variety of other subjects here and there, but I must admit I am excited for Air (and not just because the course title sounds like we are taking some mystic elements class). I bet Professor Barbara Whitten (one of our esteemed professors for this course along with Professor Mari Lee) doesn’t remember a specific day three years ago when I was in Introduction to Climate Change, my first EV course of my CC career, and she came in to give a guest lecture on clouds. She spoke of all the different types of clouds, where they form in the atmosphere, and what their properties where. I found it all rather magical (serious nerd status alert here), especially stratospheric cloud which form higher than most clouds in the stratosphere at extremely cold temperatures and so are made of ice crystals. They form wave like, rainbow colored ice clouds, very lovely. While I didn’t know much about atmospheric physics at the time (and admittedly still do not), the idea of clouds has fascinated me ever since (even though I learned later that certain kinds of stratospheric clouds contribute to the ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect).