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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Ellen Wohl, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 4 of 4
1. Passion and compassion: The people who created the words and numbers of environmental science

These are the images I carry in memory that form my understanding of passion and compassion in science: Rachel Carson waking at midnight to return to the sea the microscopic marine organisms she has been studying, when the tidal cycle is favorable to their survival; John Muir clinging to the upper branches of a tall pine during a violent storm, reveling in the power of natural forces.

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2. Are you an “earth ranger”? [quiz]

No time to plant a garden or ride your bike to work this Earth Day? Don't worry--you can still do your part to honor Mother Nature today by staying informed about our global environment. Test your knowledge of water, weather, air, sea, and soil with the Earth Day quiz below, featuring content from Oxford Bibliographies in Environmental Science.

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3. Earth Day, 44 years on

By Ellen Wohl

The 1960s are famous for many reasons: the civil rights movement, the first moon walk, the Cuban missile crisis, rock and roll. The 1960s were also a period when awareness of environmental degradation spread to society at large. Events such as the 1962 publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s expose of pesticides, the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, and the regular occurrence of smog in many of the world’s large cities helped to convince people that pollution and environmental degradation were pervasive and needed to be addressed.

John McConnell proposed a day to honor Earth at a UNESCO conference in 1969, and the first Earth Day was celebrated on 21 March 1970, the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. This was definitely an idea whose time had come. A month later, another Earth Day was started by US Senator Gaylord Nelson. The second Earth Day took the form of a teach-in first held on 22 April 1970. Earth Day went international in 1990 when US Earth Day coordinator Denis Hayes organized activities in 141 countries. Nearly 200 countries now celebrate Earth Day, and some have expanded the observance to Earth Week. Thinking of this makes me want to paraphrase the standard answer parents give to children when they ask why we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but no children’s day: Every day is (or should be) Earth Day.

Students picking up trash

Students pick up trash along roadside. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Earth Day has without question helped to increase visibility of environmental issues and promote governmental and citizen responses to these issues. One indication of this response is the increasing breadth and depth of Environmental Science. Environmental science means different things to different people. Some interpret it as the systematic study of the total environment, a broadly interdisciplinary approach that draws on knowledge from diverse disciplines. Others interpret environmental science as a collection of subdisciplines that explicitly focus on the environmental component within their discipline, typically in an attempt to minimize environmental impacts. Environmental architecture, for example, focuses on green building technology using recycled and sustainable building materials and reduced energy use within buildings. Environmental history examines the development of societies within the context of environmental constraints imposed on human actions and human attitudes toward the environment. The commonality among diverse approaches to environmental science is an explicit recognition that individuals and societies exist within an environmental context defined by the weather, topography, soils, water, and plant and animal communities that interact to create an ecosystem.

Loch Vale. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

Loch Vale by Drew Parker. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

Environmental degradation was pervasive and obvious during the early observances of Earth Day. Publication of the now-famous Blue Marble photograph of Earth taken during the 1972 Apollo mission created a stunning reminder of the limited area of the universe habitable by life. More than 40 years on, many of the issues that environmental science addresses today are much less obvious, and may therefore be more difficult to bring to public attention. One of my personal reminders of this is Loch Vale, a stunningly beautiful, high-elevation lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Visitors to the national park have to work to reach Loch Vale. The trail to the lake winds over 5.7 miles and gains more than a thousand feet in elevation. When you arrive, you feel that you have reached someplace special, a pristine mountain lake far from the noise and crowding of the urban areas at the base of the mountains. Yet, research by many scientists over the past two decades indicates that the soil and waters of the lake ecosystem are becoming acidic, largely as the result of atmospheric nitrate deposition. These nitrates originate from the feedlots and agricultural lands, industries, and tailpipes of the millions of people living at the base of the mountains, who are out of sight at Loch Vale, but not out of reach. Without the dedicated, ongoing efforts of environmental scientists such as Jill Baron of the US Geological Survey, who has led much of the research at Loch Vale, we would never be aware of the invisible but continuing acidification of this ecosystem.

For me, the lessons of Loch Vale are threefold. First, there is more to environmental degradation than meets the eye. Some of the most thorough and persistent changes are largely hidden from casual view. Second, the efforts of environmental scientists are critical to documenting environmental changes. We can only act to mitigate environmental degradation if we are aware of it. And third, we need Earth Day more than ever. Whatever form your observance of this day takes, I hope that it includes the recognition that every day is lived on Earth.

Ellen Wohl is Professor of Geology in the Department of Geosciences at Colorado State University. She is Editor in Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Environmental Science, Associate Editor of Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America. She has published several books on rivers and environmental issues, including Virtual Rivers, Disconnected Rivers, A World of Rivers, Island of Grass, Of Rock and Rivers, and Wide Rivers Crossed.

Developed cooperatively with scholars worldwide, Oxford Bibliographies offers exclusive, authoritative research guides. Combining the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia, this cutting-edge resource guides researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects.

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Image: Students pick up trash along roadside

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4. On the future of environmental and natural hazard science

The American Geophysical Union 2014 Fall Meeting begins on 15 December 2014 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center with nearly 24,000 scholars, scientists, and researchers predicted to attend. The AGU Fall Meeting brings together the entire Earth and space sciences community for discussions of emerging trends and the latest research.

Ellen Wohl, Editor in Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Environmental Science, and W. Tad Pfeffer, Editor in Chief of Oxford Handbooks Online in Natural Hazard Science, will serve as panelists alongside Susan Cutter and H.H. Shugart from the developing Oxford Research Encyclopedia program, at a talk about the future of earth and environmental science at AGU on 16 December 2014 from 4:00-5:00 p.m. in the Pacific J room of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis Hotel.

To get a short preview of this event, we touched base with Ellen and Tad to learn more about the new discoveries and investigations in these developing fields.

The disciplines that populate the Earth & Environmental Sciences have traditionally worked as defined entities with specific research trends. When faced with the multitude of issues stemming from natural disasters and environmental stressors, for example, is this model still relevant?

W. Tad Pfeffer: This is about the organization of knowledge, of course, as opposed to actual knowledge content. I think the disciplinary road map, with knowledge divided by traditional subject boundaries, is still important for the simple fact that so much of the recorded knowledge is organized and stored in that way. We need the traditional disciplinary structure to take full advantage of the existing body of scientific knowledge – but we also need linkages to the more recent (and growing) inter- and cross-disciplinary road maps, so that whatever map (i.e. knowledge structure) a user decides to follow, he or she not only gets to the right place (i.e. finds the right knowledge to apply to a problem), but can see the entire landscape along the way (i.e. is made aware of important related issues and alternative solutions).

Ellen Wohl: The model is relevant in that the depth of understanding that comes with disciplinary training and knowledge is critical to addressing complex, transdisciplinary issues. However, the issues transcend disciplinary boundaries and, to be effective, each individual must at least have some familiarity with the conceptual framework and knowledge of other relevant disciplines.

How can we best facilitate open trans-disciplinary dialogue in the Earth & Environmental Sciences, and ensure that these possibilities mature?

W. Tad Pfeffer: This probably comes about mostly through our education – what structure we experience as students when we are first learning our fields. But this can be supplemented by exposure to those linkages connecting disciplinary and cross-disciplinary ways of organizing knowledge. Fast, easy-to-use tools for finding knowledge, seeing how knowledge is organized, and comparing different organizational structures might be very powerful, and modern web-based search platforms combined with good documentation are perhaps ideal for this task.

Oxford's booth at a previous AGU conference
Oxford’s booth at a previous AGU conference

Ellen Wohl: Among the ways to do this are to (1) tie research dollars to such approaches, (2) demonstrate the relevance of such approaches by highlighting (in journal articles and other venues) successful, multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving (whether the problem is applied/management or basic science), and (3) facilitating ease of access to information across disciplines, as with Oxford’s online resources.

What strengths and weaknesses can you identify in current research in your field, and how that research relates to applications?

W. Tad Pfeffer: One great strength in my research area of cryospheric environmental change is the growing use and sophistication of remote sensing tools for detecting and quantifying environmental change. These data sources generate tremendous volumes of data and demand disciplined use of data bases and imaginative processing methods to avoid getting hopelessly lost – another job for the tools I mentioned above.

A crucial weakness in my particular area, sea level rise and environmental change, is the lack of awareness among my colleagues of the nature of the needs and concerns of the actual consumers, or “end users,” of the knowledge we produce: planners, policy makers, risk managers, etc. The scientific community, guided by traditional “pure science” principles and motivations, look for problems that are challenging, interesting, and hopefully solvable with the tools available. These criteria do not always lead my colleagues toward problems that “end users” and the public find most urgent.

This is most obvious in the disparity in time scales of future events. End users and decision makers need knowledge of environmental changes on near-term time scales of decades, while the most attractive and challenging problems for scientists studying environmental change will, in many cases, not become significant human issues for centuries or millennia.

Ellen Wohl: The literature of my field and closely related fields has expanded so rapidly that it is difficult to keep abreast of continuing research and it can be very intimidating to try to learn about a new, related field when my research expands in different directions. That is one of the great values of review and synthesis papers, as well as one of the primary services that the Oxford Bibliographies Online can supply to professional scholars, as well as to students.

Headline image credit: 2011 Flooding From Mississippi River Levee Breach. NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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