Center for Energy & Environmental Education
University of Northern Iowa
Calculating Resilience, Tipping Points, and Restoration for Lakes at Risk from Acid Rain part of Integrate:Workshops:Teaching about Risk and Resilience:Activities
In the first part, students titrate a buffered solution made from dissolving Alka-Seltzer tablets in water. They monitor the pH of the solution as drops of hydrochloric acid are added. A tipping point occurs when the pH drops sharply upon addition of one added drop of acid. By measuring the amount of acid added, they calculate the buffering capacity of the Alka-Seltzer solution. In the second part, they create a spreadsheet model for the acidification of Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Given input data for the rate of acid deposition on watershed soils and the rate of replenishment of base cations through the natural weathering of bedrock, they calculate the time trends of the acidification event. The model shows the progressive decline in the soil's Cation Exchange Capacity, and the number of years it took for acid deposition to trigger a tipping point in the Lake's pH. The model also shows the impact of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 on restoring the resilience of acid-buffering capacity in the watershed, and the estimated time it will take for complete recovery to pre-acidification levels. Students will learn about delayed and unanticipated environmental impacts of industrial pollution. They will gain insight into how trends in pollutant inputs differ from trends in the response of ecosystems to the inputs, viz. the inputs are linear while the response is strongly non-linear. This non-linearity can lead to catastrophic tipping points in the system's ability to function. They will brainstorm about how to develop the means for early warning detection of such catastrophes.
Action to Enhance Sustainability part of Integrate:Workshops:Systems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences:Activities
This assignment is a 10-hour, out-of-class project where each student designs and carries out an action plan to enhance sustainability. Students select from a large suite of alternative actions, most of which can be quantified for reductions in CO2 and energy consumption, as well as in dollar savings. Students prepare a detailed log of their work, and calculate the benefits accrued from their action using data provided by the EPA and examples from lecture notes. Students realize from this first-hand experience how significant their individual actions can be in favorably impacting the environment, and how their actions are linked to global sustainability problems. This project has proven to be very popular with the students, and they are frequently amazed by their calculated results. One of my students worked with a business in saving 14,930 kWh and almost 15 tons of CO2 per month, with a cost saving of more than $1,000 per month.
Visioning a Sustainable World part of Integrate:Workshops:Systems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences:Courses
Students will learn why the present industrial system is unsustainable, and envision key attributes of a sustainable society. The class creates a sustainable vision based on study and conversation about renewable energy systems, low-input and organic agriculture, sustainably designed cities, new sustainable products inspired by nature, emerging strategies for sustainable businesses, and restoring and maintaining ecosystem services.
The Story of Big Moose Lake: Resilience, Tipping Point, and Restoration part of Integrate:Workshops:Teaching about Risk and Resilience:Real-World Examples
Bill Stigliani, Center for Energy & Environmental Education, University of Northern Iowa Summary Big Moose Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, lies downwind from the ...
Teaching Sustainability: Students & Professors part of Integrate:Workshops:Systems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences:Essays
Bill Stigliani, Center for Energy & Environmental Education, University of Northern Iowa My approach to teaching an introductory course in sustainability is to help students envision a sustainable future they ...