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.