Studying the State of Our Earth by: Trent Michael

Environmental science is a field of study that looks at interactions among human systems and those found in nature. Without environmental scientists, we would not be able to determine how different human actions have impacted our environments. Environmental scientists study the effects of fracking for natural gas, as well as other human systems and natural systems, on a regional scale but they also can study it's affects on a local river's ecology.

Difference between environmentalism, environmental studies, and environmental science

  1. Environmentalism- a social movement that seeks to protect the environment through lobbying, activism, and education
  2. Environmental studies- also includes the additional subjects of environmental policy, economics, literature, and ethics
  3. Environmental science- field of study that looks at interactions among human systems and those found in nature

So basically, environmentalism is a movement that its members believe in protecting the environment. Environmental science is actually a branch of environmental studies that only focuses on the physical studies of our environments.

Differences between an environmentalist and a environmental scientist

A environmentalist is not actually a person who studies the environment. A environmentalist is actually a participant of environmentalism. On the other hand, an environmental scientist has to conduct research in the lab and in the field using the process of observation and hypothesis testing.

Abiotic and Biotic

Abiotic parts of an ecosystem are all of the non-living components. For example, a rock is considered to be abiotic. Biotic components of an ecosystem are all of the living organisms in the ecosystem. for example, a fish is considered to be biotic.

Goat- biotic Rock- abiotic
These mountains are an ecosystem

How have humans altered the environment?

Humans have altered the environment by clear cutting forests which is leading to habitat loss for the native animals that live there. Human activity such as burning fossil fuels is also thought to speed up the process of climate change.

Factors that contribute to anthropogenic environment alterations

With the human population rising, the resources needed to sustain it are now being harvested faster than ever. As web start to see more developed economies , the automobile starts to be more widely used, which emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Also the amount of meat that we consume puts pressure on meat producers to produce more meat, but eventually there's not enough meat or we have drastically reduced the animals population.

Smoky Mountains brook trout

Environmental Indicators

The 5 main environmental indicators that scientists focus on are biological diversity, food production, average global surface temperature and CO2 emission concentration, human population, and resource depletion.

Ecosystem Services

  • Ecosystem services- processes by which life- supporting resources such as clean water, timber, fisheries, and agricultural crops are produced

Role of environmental indicators

We use environmental indicators in the same way sick people use a thermometer to see how sick they are. Environmental indicators help us identify and describe the current state of an environmental system. These indicators do not tell us the cause of the changes, but they do help us understand which fields need to have more research conducted to figure out the cause.

Biodiversity as an environmental indicator

For example, when we use biodiversity as an environmental indicator, we can see that there are a large number of extinctions occurring, and the rate continues to trend upwards. If the biodiversity of an ecosystem is suddenly low, we know that we have to do more research on finding the reason why the biodiversity has dropped.


  • Biodiversity- the diversity of life forms in an environment
  • Genetic diversity- a measure of the genetic variation among individuals in a population
  • Species diversity- number of species in a region or in a particular type of habitat
  • Ecosystem diversity- refers to the number of ecosystems within a certain area
  • The difference is that genetic diversity only focuses on gene pools of one species, whereas species diversity is a measurement of the total number of different species in the habitat. Ecosystem diversity measures the different types of ecosystems in an area. That could mean measuring the ratio of swamps and forests and fields there are in a certain area.

Food production as an environmental indicator

Wheat field

Using food production as an environmental indicator can help us determine the carrying capacity of humans on Earth. Currently the outlook for food production is unclear. Scientists are unsure if food production rates will drop or rise. It's important for scientists to continue using food production as an environmental indicator because food plays such a vital role in our lives. If the food production levels drop off, scientists need to be able to rapidly figure out why because it could cause a famine for people who rely on that food.

Current trends in total and per capita grain consumption

The current trend of grain consumption in total and per capita is that the consumption is reducing.

Red line shows the trends of per capita flour use

Temperature and CO2 as environmental indicators

The global average temperature is on the rise. When scientists saw this and they observed that CO2 emissions were also at a high, they looked for similarities between the two. Eventually, scientists figured out that the increased amount of CO2 in the was fast tracking this process by acting as a greenhouse gas. Now we are understand why the Earth's temperature is continuing to rise and we know he we can slow down or stop this process.

These two factors are both trending up

What does greenhouse gases and anthropogenic mean

  • Greenhouse gases- gases in Earth's atmosphere that trap heat near the surface
  • Anthropogenic- derived from human activities
  • Greenhouse gases like CO2 created from the burning of fossil fuels create a barrier that original UV rays from the sun can mostly get through, but when they enter the atmosphere, the UV rays continue to bounce off the greenhouse gases and get thrown back to Earth, resulting in Earth becoming warmer. Earth has always had a low concentration of these gases, but now the CO2 in the atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million, almost 125 parts more than in 1600
  • This increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is thought to be anthropogenic. We believe that by burning fossil fuels and clear cutting forests that would otherwise take in some of the CO2, the CO2 is going straight to the atmosphere where it gets trapped.

Human population as an environmental indicator and the current trend of the human population

The human population can also be used as an environmental indicator. Currently the population rate is slowly starting to decline, going from 1.6% in the 1990s, to what it's currently at, 1.25%. By 2020, population scientists predict that that the growth rate will go below 1%. How is this an example of an environmental indicator? By observing the rate at the population growth rate is decreasing, scientists can conduct research as to why the population might Be starting to level off. Currently the global population is thought to be about 3,360,000,000

Resource depletion as an environmental indicator

Currently, the rate at which we use resources is much faster than the rate that those resources replenish. We can use resource depletion as a means of pin-pointing which resources are depleting the fastest and to invent alternatives to using that resource, Nuclear power is an example of using resource depletion as an environmental indicator by trying to slow down the use of resources because there are no fossil fuels lost in creating nuclear energy. Also, different groups and organizations are funding the replanting of trees where they were once all cut down in efforts to try to return the environment to normalcy.

A clear cut forest

Natural resources and their effects on the environment

  • Natural resource- something (as water, a mineral, forest, or kind of animal) that is found in nature and is valuable to humans
  • Natural resources are extremely important to humans. Without them, we would not have the fuel to run our cars or the wood to start our fires. But water has to be the most important natural resource because without water, there would be no oil or wood. The natural resource of trees play a major role in absorbing CO2 from the air and converting that back into Oxygen for animals to breathe.
The forest and and the water are natural resources

Sustainability and the ecological footprint

  • Sustainability- living on Earth in way that allows humans to use its resources without depriving future generations of the resources
  • Sustainability can be measured by using the ecological footprint. A persons ecological footprint measures how much land would be required to support just that one individual. If the total human populations need for land, which is calculated using the ecological footprint, outnumbers the amount of land on Earth, then we as a population are living unsustainably.

Easter Island

Easter Island, an island in the South Pacific, is a prime example of a population not living sustainably and the population died off. This island was originally all trees and grasses. When this island was settled upon, the human population grew rapidly due to the plethora or resources. Trees were cut down to build homes and to carve canoes for fishing. By the 1870's, most of the trees on the island were gone. Without the trees, soil erosion took place. Without soil, they could not produce crops, leading to the fall of civilization. These inhabitants did not live sustainably. They did not think about the consequences of cutting down the trees, they were only interested in the gain that came with cutting down the trees.

Requirements of sustainable living

To continue our goal of living sustainably, we have to follow three requirements

  1. Environmental systems must not be damaged beyond their ability to recover
  2. Renewable resources must not be depleted faster than they can regenerate
  3. Nonrenewable resources must be used sparingly

How sustainable development differs from sustainability

  • Sustainable development- development that balances current human well-being and economic advancement with resource management for the benefit of future generations

Sustainable development builds off of the concept of sustainability. Sustainable development is trying to come up with a way where we can still live sustainably but where we can also further our economy. Sustainable development is tricky because it takes into effect not only how much of the resource is being used, but what the resource will be used for.


  • Biophilia- love of life

How an individuals ecological footprint is measured

  • Ecological footprint- a measure of how much an individual consumes,expressed in area of land

By taking into account the type of foods we eat, how much water we consume, and the energy we use, we can calculate ones ecological footprint

A creek is an example of an ecosystem

Scientific method and its relevance to environmental problems

  • Scientific method- objective method to explore the natural world, draw inferences from it, and predict the outcome of certain events, processes, or changes

The scientific method is a very helpful tool to use when trying to solve environmental problems. This method gives researchers a step by step guideline on how to conduct research. By using the steps I've labeled below, environmental scientists can question why something in nature happens the way it does. By following the steps, a scientist can quickly and thoroughly come to results that he then can prove to other scientists because he followed the scientific method.

  1. Observe and question
  2. Form hypothesis
  3. Collect data
  4. Interpret results
  5. Disseminating findings

Null hypothesis

  • Null hypothesis- prediction that there is no difference between groups or conditions, or a statement or an idea that can be falsified

Null hypothesis's are commonly used when it would be easier to prove something false than prove it true. EX: Higher death rate of bucks than doe is not because of hunting

Importance of replication and sample size

The more times an experiment is conducted, the more data will be in the results. With more data, scientists can get more exact numbers. The bigger the sample size the area that the study effects is broader.

Difference between accuracy and precision

The accuracy of an experiment are how close the gathered results are to the true answer. The precision of the results is determined by seeing how close the results are to each other.

  • Ex of accuracy: True value-12 Results from experiment- 12.2
  • Ex of precision: 1st trial-5 2nd trial- 7 3rd trial- 6

Importance of having a control group

Having a control group in a experiment is crucial. Without a control group, you won't be able to tell if there was a big difference or a little difference between what you were conducting research on. For example, say I was trying to see how much taller a plant grew under a red light. Without a control group with a plant under normal white light, you would not be able to tell if the plan under red actually grew any taller.

Why natural experiments are sometimes needed and why they aren't always great

No environmental scientist wants to go burn down a forest just to conduct an experiment. But if that forest would happen to catch fire naturally and that scientist observed the process and recorded his findings, that is an example of a natural experiment. But because a natural experiment does not have a control group because no ecosystem will come back the same way, researchers can only compare and predict what might happen in similar circumstances.

a trout in the sIERRA nevada's

Challenges and limitations of environmental science

A few of the challenges facing environmental science are the lack of baseline data, subjectivity, interactions, and human well-being. Lack of baseline data means that there is no way to determine what the norm is in certain ecosystems. Subjectivity limits environmental science by making scientists categorize which side effect of a certain decision is actually worse. Interactions among human-driven and natural systems and determining how to put plans in place that benefit both is a downfall of interactions in this field. Lastly, human well-being is a major unique challenge to environmental science. The well being of a human will determine if they want to take part in environmental friendly practices.

Baseline data

  • Baseline data- data that an experiment is compared to to determine how drastic the results

Baseline data is crucial in scientific experiments. Without baseline data, we cannot determine if our results are normal for what we studied or if there completely off which would lead to another experiment to figure out why our numbers were off.

Subjectivity's role in environmental science

A persons own beliefs influence their subjectivity. If one person thinks that plastic is better than paper products, then that person will use plastic products, Because both paper and plastic products have negative environmental effects, people choose based on their opinions.

Interactions in environmental science

If an idea came out that was supposed to benefit the environment but that message was not relayed to the people who were supposed to put the idea into action, then that idea is useless. If people do not know or understand why or how they need to live more sustainably, then they cannot live more sustainably.

Environmental equity

  • Environmental equity-Equitable sharing of environmental impacts by a community (

Environmental justice

  • Environmental justice- the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies

Environmental justice means that just because someone may be wealthier than someone else, they should not look down on them. This also refers to people not being judgemental just because someone looks different than them or because they are from another country or ethnicity.

Works Cited

Friedland, Andrew, and Rick Relyea. "Chapter 2." Environmental Science for AP. 2nd ed. W.H. Freeman, 2015. 31-65. Print. Pages 1-24

"Natural Resource." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2017.

Doaneadvisoryservices. "A perspective on world grain demand." A perspective on world grain demand. N.p., 21 Oct. 2012. Web. 06 Jan. 2017.

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Trent Michael

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