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Environmental protection and social justice are deeply intertwined, and we cannot accurately communicate the environmental issues facing our state without acknowledging this relationship. In this monthly Earth to Florida segment, we will share articles and videos that help explain these connections.
Albedo is the amount of sunlight reflected by Earth’s surfaces. If sunlight is not reflected, it is absorbed by a surface or object, which is then warmed up. This means albedo is important in understanding how to keep certain areas cooler or warmer. Scientists typically measure albedo by giving common surfaces and materials on Earth a value between 0 (surface absorbs all incoming light) and 1 (surface reflects all incoming light). Snow, ice, and sand have high albedo at about 0.6 – 0.9, meaning about 60% – 90% of the incoming sunlight they receive is reflected and these areas are kept cool, having an overall cooling effect on Earth’s temperature. Forests and water have low albedo meaning most of the incoming sunlight is absorbed, and these areas are kept warm, having an overall warming effect on Earth’s temperatures. Maintaining global temperatures is a balance between surfaces with a high albedo and a low albedo. Because of this impact, albedo also plays a critical role in climate change. One of the main effects of climate change is increasing temperatures. As this effect continues to melt snow and ice, it exposes surfaces that are more able to absorb light rather than reflect it, and sunlight warms the area up. As more snow melts because of the warming, the cycle continues in a positive feedback loop called the “albedo effect” that increases climate change impacts due to increasing global temperatures. Info from PBS and University of California, Berkeley.
“Microplastics are small pieces of plastic particles that are less than 5 mm in size, which is about the size of a pencil eraser. Some are so small that they are not visible to humans! There are two ways these microplastics come about. Primary microplastics are produced as small pieces of plastic, such as microbeads used in personal care items like skincare products and toothpaste. Secondary microplastics occur when larger pieces of plastic, such as toys or water bottles, break down into smaller pieces with the help of wind, waves, or sunlight. Because there are so many sources of plastic production and use, they enter the environment in numerous ways, including going down sink drains, runoff, construction sites, littering, and industry spills. Microplastics are very common pollutants that harm aquatic life in many ways. They are mistaken for food by animals and cause serious health issues. When larger organisms consume these, the effects are carried throughout the food chain and ecosystem. Many microplastics may also carry harmful chemicals or other pollutants that enter the ecosystem. Because plastics are not biodegradable, meaning they do not decompose, these pollutants can stay and cause damage for a long time. Some things you can do to reduce microplastics are to decrease your use of single-use plastic products, participate in cleanups, and properly dispose of trash. The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project (FMAP) is a citizen-science project that aims to reduce microplastics in marine ecosystems. Volunteers collect coastal water samples, filter them, and look for microplastics. Visit the link in our bio to learn more about how you can get involved! Info from Florida Sea Grant and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Image from Florida Sea Grant and UF/IFAS, Tyler Jones (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
An environmental buyout is the purchase of land or land rights with the purpose of preventing activities that are potentially harmful to the environment from occurring on that land. The activities that buyouts intend to stop typically include potentially polluting acts, like mining or oil extraction, and land exploitation, as well as other activities that may have negative effects on the environment. These types of purchases have occurred in the United States since the 1980s, when public interest in the environment sprouted hundreds of land conservancy organizations. Currently, there is much debate over the intentions and outcomes of environmental buyouts and whether or not they are justified. Info from Environmental Health Perspectives.
Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. This can occur either through geologic or biologic processes. The latter is a natural process carried out by photosynthesis, in which atmospheric carbon dioxide is taken up by trees, grasses, phytoplankton and other plants and stored as carbon in their biomass, soils, or the ocean. Forests, peat marshes, and coastal wetlands are especially efficient at storing carbon. This natural process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere sets forth a viable strategy for mitigating climate change. By restoring and preserving ecosystems, improving ecosystem health, and using sustainable forestry and agricultural practices, biologic carbon sequestration can be increased. As a result, ecosystems are able to act as more productive carbon sinks and lower the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Information from USGS and USDA Forest Service.
A heat island is an urban area that experiences higher temperatures relative to outlying areas. As buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace natural landscapes, these surfaces absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat. Human activities such as driving vehicles or using air-conditioning units can also contribute to the heat island effect. Data has shown that the heat island effect causes daytime temperatures in urban areas to be about 1–7°F higher than temperatures in surrounding areas. Some of the impacts of heat islands include increased energy consumption, compromised human health, and impaired water quality. Info from EPA.
The maritime effect is the effect of a large water body’s airflow on the climate of the surrounding areas. Typically, the range of temperatures experienced in areas bordering large water bodies is much narrower, causing cooler summers and warmer winters! To understand how the maritime effect works, we must explore how energy from the sun interacts with water. There are four main differences in how water absorbs, distributes, and stores heat compared to land. While land can only slowly distribute heat down through the earth by conduction, oceans and other water bodies are capable of convection due to their liquid state. This process, as well as the transparency of water, allows energy to be distributed quicker and to a greater depth than on land. Similarly, currents and drifts work to move energy away horizontally, a process called advection. Water also goes through an important process called latent heat exchange. When incoming energy from the sun interacts with water, that energy can be used to evaporate water rather than heat the surface. Lastly, water has a much higher specific heat capacity, allowing it to absorb massive quantities of energy with only a slight increase in temperature. These properties all contribute to the ability of water bodies such as the ocean to warm up and cool down slower, leading to more moderate temperatures in nearby land locations throughout the year! Information from NOAA, National Marine Sanctuaries, and John E. Oliver (2005).