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Introduction to Environmental Geoscience
Review for Fall 2008


These are some examples of questions asked on previous exams and finals.

Because we discuss slightly different issues each year, some of the questions below do not apply this year.

What Is A Good Answer?

  1. A good answer is quantitative. Avoid statements such as "Earth will warm up tremendously." Instead, say "Earth will warm by 2-4°C in the next century." Avoid "drastic change", "astonishing rate"...
  2. A good answer is based on accurate sources. "According to the IPCC Report, ...", "Wally Broecker, a chemical oceanographer stated in 1990 that...". Avoid vague statements such as "Scientists say..."
  3. A good answer backs up statements with facts.
  4. A good answer is not an editorial. Avoid statements such as "I think we are burning too much fossil fuel." That is your opinion. To be useful, the statement must be supported by facts, expert opinion, and analysis.

General

  1. What is meant by the Athropocene and why is it important?
  2. Explain in a few sentences, how the tragedy of the commons might lead to increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  3. Explain how the concept of the tragedy of the commons applies to any important environmental of your choice.
  4. Describe the relationship between environmental pollution and the tragedy of the commons.
  5. Why are environmental problems today much worse than they were a century ago?
  6. Several groups in their class presentations described the environmental problem facing Napa California.
    1. What was the problem, and
    2. How was it solved?
  7. You have studied a variety of environmental problems this semester.
    1. Which problem is most important for Texas?
      In answering this question:
      1. Base your answer on facts and expert’s conclusions.
      2. Explain not only why the problem is important, but also why it is more important than at least one other major problem.
  8. Give an example of a feedback influencing any important environmental problem.
    1. Use a simple diagram to explain the feedback.
  9. We discussed two important concepts in the course:
    1. Greenhouse gases and their influence on global surface temperature; and
    2. Ozone depletion in the stratosphere. Are the two related?
      1. If yes, explain how.
      2. If no, explain why not.
  10. Based on what you have learned in the class, what is the most important environmental problem facing society today?
    1. Please state the problem and give reasons for your choice.
  11. Describe two of the most important environmental problems facing your hometown (or home county) and two possible solutions for each.
  12. Why is it important that as geoscientists we consider the societal implications when making decisions regarding the environment?

Global Climate Change and the Ocean

  1. What errors might contribute uncertainties to the graph of global surface temperature over the past 150 years?
    1. Can we trust the plot?
  2. Explain how greenhouse gases cause higher average temperature at Earth's surface.
  3. List four greenhouse gases.
    1. Which is the most important?
  4. List two different types of CO2 sources that increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
  5. Give an example of a CO2 sink.
  6. How do we know if earth's temperature has changed over the past few hundred years?
  7. Give an example of positive feedback in the climate system.
  8. How do feed-back mechanisms in earth systems influence global warming?
    1. Please give one example.
  9. Describe in a few sentences how the ocean might influence global warming.
  10. Why do we care about the potential warming due to increasing methane concentration even though its concentration is about 1/200th that of carbon dioxide?
  11. Why has the government of the US not ratified the Kyoto agreement?
  12. Explain why you might not trust forecasts of global warming 50–100 years from now.
  13. Assume people continue to burn fossil fuels at the present rate.
    1. What are some difficulties that might limit the accuracy of future forecasts of earth's surface temperature 50–100 years in the future published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?
    2. Please state in a few sentences the basis for your answer.
  14. Do you trust the forecasts of earth's surface temperature 50–100 years in the future that have been published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?
    1. Please state in a few sentences the basis for your answer.

Water Resource Issues

  1. What is the largest reservoir of fresh water (not ice) on land?
  2. What are the three main uses for groundwater in Texas?
    1. Which one is the greatest?
    2. How is the proportion of groundwater use expected to change?
  3. The book Water the Fate of Our Most Precious Resource several solutions to the global water crisis.
    1. Please list the solutions.
  4. Explain in a few sentences how rocks and soils influence the ions dissolved in groundwater.
  5. Explain in a few sentences why the water in College Station is so soft.
  6. What qualities in rock bodies make them good aquifers?
  7. What are the properties of a good aquifer?
  8. What is the difference between a confined and an unconfined aquifer?
  9. Contrast the chemical compositions of waters from the shallow Edwards aquifer and deep Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer.
    1. How will they differ in natural water chemistry and in contaminant chemistry?
    2. Hint: consider the type of rocks forming the aquifer and the length of path the water takes to reach the point where the pumps are.
  10. What are some of the effects of overpumping of groundwater?
  11. What factors control the amount of water-table lowering that occurs due to groundwater pumping in East Texas by Ozarka?
    1. Be sure to consider the properties of the aquifer in your answer.
  12. What is meant by groundwater mining?
    1. Give an example of where it is occurring.
  13. Why is the precipitation pH always below that of pure water (7.0)?
  14. Why is the pH along the east coast of the U.S. lower than most other areas?
  15. What are the major sources of groundwater contamination?
  16. Are heavy metals in water always a concern?
    1. Please explain.
    2. List four heavy metals.
  17. What are the sources of arsenic in groundwater?
  18. What properties of a contaminant and a contaminant plume are important in determining the remediation strategy and why?
  19. Ground water can be remediated (cleaned up) in many ways.
    1. List four remediation techniques.
  20. What are the steps involved in remediating a contaminated aquifer?
  21. What role do microorganisms (like bacteria) play in bioremediation?
  22. True or false. Microorganisms cannot live without O2.
  23. The book Water the Fate of Our Most Precious Resource lists several solutions to the global water crisis.
    1. Please list the solutions.

Coastal Problems

  1. What is the difference between a point-source and non-point source contaminant?
  2. Give examples of a source and contaminant from each.
  3. Why is EPA now concerned about non-point sources of pollution?
  4. List at least five types of coastal pollution.
    Note, I would say insecticides are a type and Amdro and Diazinon are examples of the type.
  5. Describe why pollutants such as mercury, which is toxic to all life, might affect sharks and birds more than phytoplankton.
  6. Why are some animals at the top of the food chain more influenced by pollutants such as insecticides more than animals or plants at the bottom of the food chain?
  7. List at least five types of coastal pollution and state in a few words why each is a problem.
    Note, I would say insecticides are a type, and Amdro and Diazinon are examples of the type.
  8. Which is a bigger problem, point source or non-point source contamination?
    1. Why?
  9. Describe the annual cycle of the beaches on Cape Cod.
  10. Explain why it is unwise to build close to the coast in most areas.
    Please give an example of the problem.
  11. How does coastal development lead to the destruction of beaches?
  12. Describe the annual cycle of the beaches on Cape Cod.
  13. Some people build seawalls to protect their coastal property.
    1. Please explain in a few sentences why this helps or harms the beach environment.
  14. Your uncle is planning to buy a condominium on the beach on South Padre Island.
    1. What advice would you give him?
    2. Please state briefly the reasons for your advice.
  15. Why is over fishing a common problem in many regions of the world?
  16. What factors have led to overfishing?
  17. What technological advances have led to overfishing?

Energy and Environmental Issues

  1. Are there any sources of energy that could replace fossil fuels in the next 20 years?
    1. If there are, what are they?
    2. If there are none, why not?
  2. Is the world running out of oil or gas?
    1. Please provide a brief justification for your answer.
  3. Is the world running out of coal?
    1. Please provide a brief justification for your answer.
  4. Are there any sources of energy that could replace fossil fuels in the next 20 years?
    1. Please provide a brief justification for your answer.
  5. What is likely to be the best alternate source of energy if use of fossil fuels is restricted?
    1. Please provide reasons for your answer
  6. What factors influence the price of fossil fuels such as gasoline?
  7. Why has the government of the US not ratified the Kyoto agreement?
  8. List three reasons why the U.S. is trying to shift its energy policy away from oil and gas.
  9. What alternative energy source do you think should receive the most funding for research and development over the next 10 years?
    1. Explain why the benefits of this energy source are the greatest, and why the drawbacks are the fewest.

Air Pollution and Ozone Depletion

  1. Plot air temperature as a function of height in the atmosphere.
    On the plot label the different layers in the atmosphere.
  2. Describe what a temperature inversion is and explain its significance with respect to urban air pollution concentrations.
  3. In some areas of the country air temperature increases with height in the atmosphere.
    1. How does this influence air quality near the ground?
    2. What city commonly has this problem?
  4. How does the atmosphere over Los Angeles influence Los Angeles air pollution?
  5. Why does cloud water in unpolluted areas still have a pH less than that of pure water?
  6. Describe the difference in the properties of a cloud that forms in polluted air (high aerosol concentration) and one that forms in relatively pristine air.
    1. How might this difference impact climate?
  7. Which gas phase pollutants react in the atmosphere to form:
    1. sulfuric acid, and
    2. nitric acid?
      You do not need to write out the reactions.
  8. Cross out the chemicals that are not controlled by the federal government through the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
    1. Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
    2. Methane (CH4)
    3. Carbon dioxide (CO2)
    4. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
    5. Hydroxyl radical (OH)
    6. Ozone (O3)
    7. Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
    8. Lead (Pb)
    9. Iron (Fe)
    10. Carbon monoxide (CO)
  9. There are six air pollutants for which the Federal Government has established concentration limits (National Ambient Air Quality Standards).
    1. List five of these pollutants and briefly discuss the negative health impacts associated with any two.
  10. List four relatively short-lived atmospheric pollutants and state in a few words why each is a problem.
    1. Do not list the greenhouse gases CH4 and CO2
  11. List four atmospheric pollutants and state in a few words why each is a problem.
  12. Explain in a few sentences what causes acid rain.
  13. What is the primary source of particulates in the air?
  14. What is the difference between primary aerosols (particulate matter) and secondary aerosols?
  15. Explain in a few sentences why Houston has days when ozone concentration exceeds national standards.
  16. Explain why it is possible for the tropospheric (near the ground) ozone concentration to be higher on weekends than it is on weekdays (as is true for most of California) even though NOx emissions are highest on weekdays.
  17. What conditions are necessary for stratospheric ozone depletion?
  18. Explain why depletion of stratospheric ozone is much more pronounced in polar regions than it is elsewhere.
  19. Why does the ozone hole over the South Pole form in early spring?
  20. What role do polar stratospheric clouds play in ozone depletion?
  21. Why does an ozone hole develop each year even though production of CFCs that are the cause of the depletion has almost completely stopped?
  22. What impact does increased NOx (NO + NO2) concentrations have on ozone concentrations in the :
    1. troposphere, and
    2. stratosphere?

Land Use and Degredation

  1. What are the natural and human processes that lead to land degradation?
  2. Explain how changes in land use can influence global warming.
  3. Choose a land degradation study that you have learned about and briefly discuss the environmental issues associated with it.
  4. What is the significance of the Hjulstrom Diagram in the geosciences?
  5. Using our discussion in class on sediment entrainment, briefly discuss why dust and sand storms are common in southern Iraq.
  6. It is said that land degradation is primarily a human induced problem. Take a position on this issue and suggest your own conclusions.
  7. Write a short paragraph on the causes of land degradation in the Sahel.
  8. List some of the major factors controlling sediment entrainment (driving and resisting forces).
    1. What are their significance for the study of wind and soil erosion?
  9. Why is Owens Lake in California considered the largest single source of PM10 aeolian dust in the USA?
    1. What did the EPA and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power agreed to do to mitigate the problem by 2006?
  10. What were the causes and consequences of the Dust Bowl?
  11. What were some of the lessons learned from the 1930’s “Dust Bowl” that led ultimately to the dramatic reduction in aeolian dust and mineral aerosols in the region?
  12. What is the significance of the playa lakes in west Texas and why are they considered an environmental hazard?
  13. How did the Aral Sea become one of the major environmental disasters of the 20th Century?
  14. Where is the dustiest place on earth?
    1. Why is it so dusty there?
  15. Where is the dustiest place in the USA?
    1. Why is it so dusty there?

Revised on: 18 August, 2008

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