Wednesday, June 9, 2021

How to get kids interested in Geology




Image Source: 1 - Pexels
 2- Pexels
 3 - Pexels

It is unfortunate that geology has such a dry reputation. We know that it’s more than just studying rocks and minerals. It’s about exploring the rich history of our planet’s formation and evolution, using the landscape as artifacts that have recorded the stories of every subtle tectonic shift, and each extinction event. Yes, there is work and fine diligence involved, but this is in the service of engaging with a fascinating subject.

However, it can often be difficult to get kids over that reputation and on the path to amazing discoveries. This is a shame because as a parent, you naturally want your child to be introduced to these kinds of ideas and activities that can ignite their imagination for years to come. For geologists, you want to share an educational experience that could intrigue students, and perhaps start them on their own road to studying the subject at university or just taking it up as a hobby. In either case, one of the primary hurdles is getting kids interested in geology in the first place.  

So how can you best go about doing this? How do you break through the stereotypes to give kids that spark of interest that can tempt them down the rabbit hole into the fascinating world of geology? Let’s take a closer look.

Go Multimedia

We can all agree that books are awesome, beautiful, essential items. However, you can’t just expect the wonders of geology to take hold of all kids by throwing an academic text at them. Remember that everybody engages in learning from a subjective perspective. Various educational theories explore the best ways to educate children, and many of them accept that effective learning can be dependent upon the student’s experiences, environment, and external influences. Connectivism, in particular, posits that children learn by forming strong connections to ideas, and this can be most effective when applied to things that excite them. Therefore, it can be important to take a multimedia approach that provides opportunities for kids to connect to geology in ways that are most relevant to them.

This could include:

     Documentaries

Introduce kids to documentaries about geology. But be sure to keep these viewings short. Utilize it as a way to get them intrigued or excited about a concept, and then follow it up with a more practical demonstration. Don’t just stick to films aimed at kids, though. The BBC’s Rise of the Continents (2013) series, for instance, is still an educational and entertaining look at how ancient geology connects to our modern lives without talking down to its audience.

     Hands-On Lessons

Often, geology is best explored through the physical evidence of its impact. Provide kids with physical examples of interesting geological phenomena — geodes, volcanic rock, fossils. Take them on field trips to caves to reach out and touch stalactites and stalagmites. If you can encourage them to have a hands-on experience of geology, you can spark their interest in how the world was formed and spur them to explore the subject further. Even better, if you can introduce them to geological features in their local areas such as waterfalls, mountains, and cave systems, they can form a more personal and relevant relationship with it.

Gamify Activities

Getting kids interested in geology can’t just be predicated on passing on information. They need to be able to engage with it in fun and active ways. Whether as a parent or educator, you should be feeding their curiosity rather than trying to wrangle them into a lesson. One of the best ways to do this is by providing activities that are framed as games.

Some activities to consider are:

     Geocaching

One of the most fun aspects of geology is the potential for exploration. Geocaching gives kids the opportunity to head out on an adventure, explore the geological landscape of the area, and participate in a form of a treasure hunt. GPS coordinates provide your kids with the general location of a hidden container, and they have to explore the area to find it and enter their name in the logbook. These spots are hidden all over the world, and you can set your kids the challenge of making observations about the geological elements they notice along the way, you can even set geocache location clues based on natural landmarks. EarthCaching, a subset of geocaching spearheaded by the Geological Society of America, is also growing in popularity, and the cache includes educational information about the local landscape. 

     Minecraft

Believe it or not, Minecraft can be a good tool to get kids more engaged with geology. There are elements of volcanic activity, mineral identification, and earth development that reflect real-life geological behavior. Educators can use this as a forum through which to discuss geosciences. Set challenges for kids in the game to set about mining a certain amount and type of minerals, or to create a realistic volcanic eruption and lava flow, then talk about how this is reflected in real life. It can also be helpful to show them examples of the raw materials they use in the game — obsidian, redstone, quartz — and discuss how they’re formed.

Inspire Them

Passion can be contagious. As such, one way that you can be effective in getting kids interested in geology is by introducing them to people who not just have a passion for it, but are also talented in communicating and sharing that passion. Thankfully, our digital age provides great opportunities to find science communicators on YouTube or social media — the Smithsonian museum has posted talks with their geologist Dr. Ben Andrews, and astrobiologist Tara Djokovic has produced a TED talk on her research into how ancient rock can hold clues about the origins of life on our planet. Explore streaming services and social media to find the professionals that can inspire your kids to discover more.

Conclusion

Geology is an important field and one that has some fascinating elements. Getting kids interested in geosciences is often about finding ways to immediately help them to forge connections, and demonstrate that they can have fun while exploring the theory. Keep in mind that there are multimedia tools at your disposal, and introduce them to people and ideas that can spark their curiosity.

Contributed by Indiana Lee: Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. when she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. follow her work on contently, or reach her at indianaleewrites@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Geological Impact of Hemp Agriculture

               
                               Image Source: pixabay.com

Looking out over a field of crops, it can be hard to determine exactly what is growing if you don’t have prior experience. It could be a variety of different types of wheat, legumes, corn, or so on. It may come as somewhat of a surprise given decades of federal regulations, but the crop growing out in the field you’re gazing upon could also be hemp.

Hemp products have made a surprising entry into a marketplace they were once forbidden from. Loosening of federal regulations surrounding marijuana plants — particularly those parts and varieties that are not known for altering your mental state — has led to a boom in the market. Hemp has long been known as a highly versatile and useful material and could come to replace many of the alternatives in the market because it is cheaper and of similar quality.

Most surprising though are the potential positive impacts hemp growing could provide for the local ecology. Particularly geological features such as soils. The conversion in American agriculture back to hemp growth could play a profound role in preserving and building the health of soils across the country.  

Hemp Resurgence

Due to its association with marijuana, hemp has earned a bad rap in the past half-century. However, hemp played a significant historical role in the founding and building of the United States. The crop arrived in the U.S. with the first settlers in Jamestown, who used it to make all sorts of essential items including rope, sails, and clothing. Hemp was so important that farmers in the colonies were required by law to grow it as a part of their overall agricultural production.

 Hemp has long been known as a vastly useful product. In the early 1900s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published findings that hemp produced 4 times more paper per acre than trees and in the 1930s, Popular Mechanics determined hemp could be used in the production of over 25,000 different products. However, none of this stopped hemp from being listed alongside marijuana as a Schedule I drug in 1970.

Only in the past decade have regulations restricting the production of hemp been loosened to allow farmers to grow the plant. Only with the 2018 Farm Bill legislation did hemp become fully legal to grow in the U.S. Economists estimate that the industrial hemp market will reach nearly $36 billion by 2026 — a huge explosion in value and production.

Building Soils

Though the resurgence of the hemp market is interesting, there are many less visible benefits than the money. For instance, hemp can be a powerful means of conserving and building valuable agricultural soils. Soils are complicated and can take decades to form but they are quite easy to destroy, especially in arid or heavily utilized areas. 

 Hemp can be a wonderful rotational crop because, even though it is an annual, it puts down deep roots. Deep roots hold soils in place, preventing erosion, and break up soils which can allow for the planting of more sensitive crops in the following years. Beyond that, hemp produces an incredible amount of biomass, which can be turned back into the soil and used to increase nutrient value for the next round of plants.

Believe it or not, hemp can also be used to remediate damaged soils. The plant can typically grow in contaminated soils without any negative impacts. It can also be used as a means of reducing herbicide and pesticide usage because it is naturally resistant to most pests. This means that not only can damaged areas be put back into production over time, but fewer chemicals are leached into waterways, which would not only improve natural habitat but could increase the quality of drinking water.

Many Uses

As previously mentioned, hemp has all sorts of potential uses and stands to compete with or replace many materials that are currently used. Building construction is just one of many examples. Geological and materials considerations are significant in building projects, and hemp is entering the markets in more ways than one.

One of the most interesting ways hemp can be used in construction is through what is known as hempcrete. The material is only about 15% as dense as concrete and could float on water, yet it supports vertical loads such as wood stud framing well. Such material was used long before concrete and may even extend the life of wood structures because it allows the wood to ‘breathe’ a bit more.

Hemp also makes a great insulation material without many of the harmful side effects that some previous supermaterials such as asbestos have. While asbestos is extremely heat resistant, it causes myriad health problems. Hemp is also resistant to both heat and mold, which can protect a house or building even longer, and it heals health problems instead of causing them.

***

Hemp has had a long, significant history as an agricultural commodity in the United States. The redaction of laws that prevent growing the product has led to a boom in the market and thousands of updated ideas on how to use it in all sorts of industries. Aside from the great economic benefits, hemp has the potential to play a significant environmental role in building and rehabilitating the soils that all of us depend upon. 

Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at indianaleewrites@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Building Houses With Geological Concerns in Mind

Image Source: Pexels

When people start looking for land to build a house, the first things that often come to mind are property value and beauty. Unfortunately, it can feel like geologists often get overlooked in this part of the process. While a realtor’s job is to sell a piece of property by making it as appealing as possible, it’s irresponsible for anyone in the housing market to ignore geological warnings when it comes to building something new.

Because geologists often get ignored when it comes to home-building, far too many people make the mistake of building on land that is susceptible to earthquakes, flooding, or landslides.

So, what can geologists do to have a greater presence in the real estate industry? How can you make a difference and work with home-builders to ensure the safety and security of newly-constructed homes on the right kind of property?

Understanding the Ideal Home Location

The ideal home location in the eyes of a geologist may not be the same as the ideal location for a realtor or buyer. One of the first things you can do to get a better understanding of the risks in certain locations is to educate yourself on geologic hazards in that location. Some of the most common concerns for specific locations include:

 

     Tornadoes

     Hurricanes

     Landslides

     Tsunamis

     Earthquakes

 

Obviously, different concerns affect different parts of the country. So, it’s not enough to only understand some of the risks of your own area. That’s especially true if you want to branch out and work with contractors across the country.

The more you know about different geological hazards in different locations, the easier it will be to keep builders informed. Realtors constantly use the “location, location, location” motto when it comes to selling a piece of land or a home, but as a geologist, you can help them to find the ideal location that is as safe from disaster as it is beautiful.

Image credit Tony-Lam-Hoang on Wunderstock

Working With Contractors

If you contract your services out, you can work with building contractors or directly with those interested in building or rennovating a home to make sure they aren’t building on land with geological concerns. On top of that, any good contractor is sure to ask their clients questions about what they’re looking for in a project, including how long they plan to stay in their home and other expectations they might have — which means you as a geological contractor should be doing the same.

You should also ask specific questions and make sure they understand your concerns about the location they’re choosing. You can ask them how they plan to utilize the property while guiding them on some of the best practices to keep their new construction safe. That could include foundational changes, like using shock absorbers or making the foundation more flexible, depending on the risk of geological activity in a particular area. It’s important to emphasize that on top of everything else homebuyers should keep an eye out for when buying a new house, they should also be aware of where that house is located.

If you spend enough time working with contractors, you might even think about designing your own buildings and homes that are structurally sound and meant to withstand some geological problems, like earthquakes. The more you learn about the construction industry, the more you can do to keep people safe. The more the home-building industry knows about geology, the more they will take natural disasters seriously when it comes to laying the foundation for a new house.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, but it’s especially important for any family that wants to build a new house. Without the knowledge of a geologist in a geologically-active area, that family could be placing themselves in great danger in a very short amount of time.

Image credit Alex-Siale on Wunderstock

Working With Realtors

Another route you could take when it comes to utilizing your geological skills is to work with a local real estate office. Again, realtors want to list land that is appealing in every way possible. You can work with them by surveying their land options for things like:

     Seismic activity

     Likelihood of a landslide

     Wildfire threats

     Flooding concerns

These aren’t necessarily geological hazards that would completely prevent anyone from building on a lot. But, a home-builder needs to be made aware of these issues. It might force the realtor to lower the price of the land, but transparency can get it sold faster.

There are plenty of geology jobs to consider when you’re an expert in your field. But, working with people who are about to build a house can be an incredibly fulfilling reward, simply because you could be saving lives. The more geologists that get involved with building houses, the more people will take notice of geological concerns and potential hazards.

Find ways to work with builders, contractors, and realtors in your own neighborhood to make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to keeping homeowners safe in their new construction for years to come. Even if you start small, you can use your skills to eventually branch out across the country and help connect geology and real estate once and for all. The more geologists who take an active interest in such things, the more lives can be saved from natural disasters.

Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at indianaleewrites@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Environmental Implications of Urban Sprawl

Human activity has fundamentally altered the natural world in countless ways. Geologists and environmental scientists alike are consistently looking at the various aspects of our environment that are suffering under humanity’s watch. And although issues such as climate change and air pollution tend to get the bulk of media coverage in regards to environmentalism, we shouldn’t overlook similar topics such as urban sprawl.

                                 Image Source: Photo by Sergei Akulich on Wunderstock (license)

Today, more people live in cities than in rural areas for the first time in history. This has led to the practice of systemic urbanization, which is relatively new. While major cities certainly existed before the 1920s, it was during this decade that urbanization truly took hold. And once urban streets were literally cemented in place, it helped shape the future of urban sprawl.

 According to researchers, in fact, “once laid down, the pattern of streets determines urban form and the level of sprawl for decades to come.” This is especially interesting when you consider that sprawl predates the widespread ownership of personal vehicles. Automobile dependency is considered one of the primary characteristics of sprawl, alongside excessively large home and lot sizes.

 To some, urban sprawl might be considered somewhat of a necessary evil, or simply the inevitable product of technological advancements. Yet the expansion of cities is an inherently wasteful process, especially in regards to natural land and resources, and we can no longer afford to ignore that fact. The good news is that humans can fight back against urban sprawl, by supporting the smart growth of global cities.

Considering the Merits and Pitfalls of Urbanization

From a geological standpoint, the effects of urban sprawl are easy to spot. Urban geologists around the world have noted various environmental issues that are a direct result of urbanization. Land erosion is common in urban areas, for example. What’s more, soil erosion often causes a cascade effect wherein cities are more vulnerable to floods and potential groundwater contamination.

Urban sprawl has also left a variety of social problems in its wake, including unequal housing opportunities. As the subject of urbanization thus encompasses multiple disciplines, so do potential solutions to its negative effects. In recent years, so-called “smart growth” initiatives have gained traction as a viable means of addressing urban sprawl.

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/QQtoNkv5GNE

Smart growth focuses on securing affordable housing opportunities, encouraging neighborhood beautification while avoiding gentrification. The preservation of historic architecture is also a vital part of smart growth, alongside improving community diversity and quality of life. Of course, the environment also benefits greatly: the ultimate goal of smart growth land development strategies is to preserve natural land and conserve resources.

Realistic Ways to Combat Urban Sprawl

Mixed land usage is a cornerstone of smart growth plans. Rather than investing in areas that are zoned for single-use, whether residential or commercial, proponents of smart growth focus on mixed-use. In mixed-use zoning, apartments and other residential spaces exist alongside businesses, strengthening communities while streamlining land usage.

Yet mixed land-use and smart growth can’t exist in a vacuum. To effectively combat the negative repercussions of urban sprawl, we must also acknowledge certain economic and social factors. For starters, you pay much more to live in a city than a rural community or small town.

Food is typically more costly in urban grocery and convenience stores, while commodities such as gas, entertainment, and parking also command a higher price tag. Lower-income residents may even find that they are denied a home loan for a pricey urban dwelling, only to qualify for a cheaper rural property. Therefore, to combat the spread of urbanization, affordable housing programs should be prioritized. 

The Connection Between the Environment and Your Daily Life

Investing in affordable housing and community wellbeing can help preserve natural spaces, but other factors must be taken into account. Across the U.S., public transportation in urban areas is frequently inadequate, with cars still the nation’s most-utilized form of transportation, by a wide margin. While the numbers may have altered slightly in the wake of the pandemic, before the COVID-19 outbreak, personal vehicles were used for a full 87% of daily trips.

 

                             Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/kG71BXh8KFw

Key Takeaways

The continued dominance of personal vehicles over public transportation has a detrimental effect on the air we breathe. And make no mistake: poor air quality is as much of a public health issue as it is an environmental one. By encouraging the use of carbon-neutral forms of transport such as bicycles, especially for short trips, or public transportation, fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. Not only that, the public health of the community is cyclically increased by both exercise and improved environmental conditions.

In cities across the nation, urban sprawl and the use of personal vehicles go hand-in-hand. The resulting air pollution is just one of the myriad environmental implications of urbanization, alongside groundwater problems and land erosion. Urban sprawl also perpetuates housing inequality. As such, it’s our duty as scientists and global citizens to find viable solutions, such as smart city initiatives and improved roadways that prioritize efficient, affordable, and eco-friendly public transportation.


Contributed by Indiana Lee: Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at indianaleewrites@gmail.com