Geology essay

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  • Essays (200 points total).1. Discuss the issues of drinking water availability and quality in the Southwestern U.S., including San Diego County.
    In your essay, include a discussion of:
    • local climate
    • population changes, especially since World War II
    • local vs. imported water
    • “waste” treatment and recycling attitudes (“toilet to tap”)

    Your answer should be no less than 700 words. (100 points)

    2. Explain the issues of Climate Change.In your essay, include discussions of:

    • greenhouse gases, comparing Earth to Venus and Mars
    • the Keeling Curve, extrapolated back 800,000 years
    • ice ages, including the one we’re in now
    • sea level: past, present and future
    • ocean acidification
    • methane released from permafrost and ocean floor

    Your answer should be no less than 700 words. (100 points)For these questions, check the text and MasteringGeology Study Area (of course), and also study the links and videos in Blackboard.Important: know the meaning of the word PLAGIARISM – no plagiarism!

  • Content Folder

    Study materials for Assignment #3

    Look in this folder for various documents, links and videos to help you research these two tighly-linked questions.

  • Course Link

    linked itemClimate, Ocean and Water Videos

    Link to the folder containing pertinent videos for Writing Assignment #3…Keeling Curve!From our neighbors at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and others!

  • Item

    Before you turn in this assignment…

    Attached Files:

    cautionBefore you turn in this assignment, check your work – ask yourself:

    • Have you finished the Mastering homework associated with the subject matter? (if you haven’t, I won’t grade it!)
    • Did you check out the extra study material provided, such as videos and web links, etc.?
    • Did you answer all parts of the questions?
    • Are the essays of sufficient length (check the word counts in your word processor)?

    You should submit your work in Blackboard, as an attachment to the assignment.*** acceptable attachment format: Adobe Acrobat (PDF), period

Study Guide for Water Resources (revised slightly, 12 May 18)

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Coleridge

Water is the one Earth resource that all life absolutely, positively has to have to exist. We humans can (and will, probably) be able to live without fossil fuels, but we must have water.

Before you begin, be sure you have:

  1. studied the appropriate chapters (16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21) in your text, and successfully completed the homework on same.
  2. examined all of the extra materials in the Mastering Study Area pertaining to these chapters
  3. watched the Earth Revealed video #21 on groundwater (in Videos in Blackboard)

THE BIG PICTURE: History of water in the west, beginning with John Wesley Powell

John Wesley Powell was the amazing one-armed Civil War Major (arm lost at the battle of Shiloh), who was a geologist from Illinois who led the first expedition to explore the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and the American Southwest in general. There is a book that everyone in the American West should read. It is called Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, written by Marc Reisner (1986). From about 100 degrees west longitude to the Pacific Ocean, the American West has a long history of too little water to support civilizations that have developed there, going as far back as the Anasazi, more than a thousand years ago. You could buy this book from Amazon as a Kindle edition ( or at least read the WikiPedia entry at to get a general idea of the subject. I have found PDF’s of the first four chapters of the book online, and they can be found on blackboard in the same area you see this file.

Next, consider our current predicament in California. I’ll begin with a deliberately provocative statement: Southern California is a DESERT! When Cabrillo “discovered” San Diego by landing at Point Loma in 1542, the vegetation would have looked very much like the chaparral seen when you hike down the Bayside Trail. There is no similarity between that landscape and what we see in our urban and suburb and residential neighborhoods. Southern California, including San Diego, lives on imported water, brought to us via great aqueducts from Northern California and the Colorado River. The population of San Diego County has exploded from approximately 200,000 just before World War II to over 3,000,000 today.

Let’s look at some contemporary problems with our use and abuse of H2O in the American West.

Case Study A. Groundwater as a renewable resource

The Ogallala Aquifer is a body of sediments (now, sedimentary rock) that accumulated from streams flowing eastward from the Rocky Mountains from about 18 million through 5 million years ago. It is now a body of rock that ranges between 0 and 400 feet thick, and extends from the Colorado Front Range east as far as eastern Nebraska, north to southern South Dakota, and south to West Texas, near Midland and Odessa. This map, pulled from Wikipedia ( shows the extent and thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer.


Recharge of this water resource occurs at the mountain front, and the water slowly percolates to the east, where it gets pumped out of the ground relatively quickly. Much of this agricultural land used to be “dry-land” farmed – that is, they used whatever rainfall Mother Nature gave them. But advances in technology allowed the introduction of center-pivot irrigation, pumping lots of water out of the Ogallala Aquifer, greening the high plains in more ways than one.


The picture above is a Google Earth image of Guymon (in the Oklahoma Panhandle) – most of the green dots are individual half-mile diameter plots with a single center-pivot system feeding water to them.

Please study the Wikipedia article at, and then watch this video: Water Scarcity on the Texas High Plains: The Ogallala Aquifer(

Case Study B. Bottled Water

This is a subject I feel strongly about: an economic and ecological disaster on many levels. In class, I’ve been known to foam at the mouth, but you’ll be spared that spectacle. “Who owns the water?” is a question that Americans have struggled with since the early days of westward expansion. We live in a county that averages less than 10 inches of annual precipitation, which classifies it as a virtual desert. We import water from the Sacramento River Delta via the California Aqueduct and from the Colorado River via various aqueducts. Some water is captured from runoff from local rainfall. Yet we have lush lawns and gardens that require that we irrigate with this water imported at great expense.

The quality of municipal tap water is carefully monitored, and the results of testing are carefully monitored. However, many people spend considerable money on individual bottles of drinking, which costs more per gallon than gasoline, but don’t know what impurities it might contain. Three large multinational companies (Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsi) produce a substantial portion of this water.

Please study the Wikipedia article at, especially the section “Bottled water versus tap water.” Next, watch the video “Tapped” (2009), which you’ll find in Blackboard and check out the official web site for the movie at – note that there is a LOT of attempted manipulation of the information by the powers-that-be, so read everything with a jaundiced eye! Read all of “The Issues” discussed from the home page.

Case Study C. Fracking

Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking”, is a method of extracting natural gas from subsurface reservoirs that weren’t available by simply drilling and pumping. This is accomplished by drilling a vertical hole down to the rock layer of interest, then drilling horizontally within that layer, which is typically shale (an aquiclude). Then, to get the natural gas to flow, the rock is fractured by pumping various chemicals under high pressure into the deep layer. Generally, the vertical drill-hole passes through aquifers used by local citizens for their drinking water, so the gas well must be carefully lined and sealed to prevent contamination of drinking water. You may have seen advertisements from the oil industry indicating that they are being very careful in their extraction, but the results so far have been mixed, to try to be fair.

Here’s yet another Wikipedia article:, noting the graphic illustrating how it works, and consider the chemicals used which could potentially contaminate groundwater. Another documentary video: “Meet the Frackers” – it can be viewed in YouTube at or downloaded from Blackboard as an MPEG-4 file.

Case Study D. “Waste” Water Treatment

OK, so you’ve brought drinking water to your residence from hundreds of miles away, at great expense. You took showers, made coffee, made soup, washed your dishes, watered the lawn and flushed the toilet. Now what to do with the soiled water? Assuming you live in a city which is part of a sewage treatment district, away it goes to some sort of a facility to “treat” (hopefully, purify) the water to return it to the water supply. Think Hydrologic Cycle: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, etc. I live in Point Loma, near San Diego’s major sewage treatment facility, the history of which can be found at – check it out. Note what is done with the “treated” water. There is a long pipe which delivers the water into about 300 feet of water in the ocean 4.5 miles west of the plant, which you can see in the Google Earth image here.

pt. loma

This water cost a lot to procure, so why do we just throw it away? Where is “away” anyway? There have been may attempts over the years to bring this “waste” water back into the reservoirs or groundwater aquifers, but with no success thus far. Reason number one is the “ick” factor – calling the project “toilet to tap” is not a good marketing ploy. But if you watched the Earth Revealed video on groundwater you learned that Orange County has been doing just this kind of recycling for over 20 years! Further, the water we import from the Colorado River has already passed through the wastewater treatment plants of many communities along the river, including Las Vegas.

Ultimately, all water is “toilet to tap” – most of the water on Earth has been here for billions of years.


First, study the appropriate chapter (21) in your text, and study the Smart Figures and Interactive Animations for the chapter in the Study Area of Mastering.

Second, complete the chapter homework in Mastering.

Then check out the Fifth Assessment Report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

note that the Sixth AR study is underway, but has a couple more years to run…

Please skim the links on the web page of Working Group I (The Physical Science Basis) of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report ( )

•Fact Sheet is attached

Note that there are two other working groups of the IPCC, whose information you may want to look over:

•Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability( web site: )

•Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change( web site: )

There is a lot of information in the reports above, but it’s extremely important to understand that these are the results of the work of many scientists around the world.

Now let’s take a look at how climate change has been studied in my lifetime (since 1945).

The Greenhouse Effect

The ‘Greenhouse Effect’ discovered in 1824 by Joseph Fourier is what keeps the earth from being a frozen ball in space. Without greenhouse gases (GHG’s) the temperature of earth would be below freezing and incapable of supporting life as we know it. It is precisely because GHG’s other than water are such a tiny fraction of the atmosphere that adding a little more can have a large effect on the climate system of earth. Here’s a brief YouTube video which explains:

The Keeling Curve

The Keeling Curve provided the first clear evidence that carbon dioxide was accumulating in the atmosphere as the result of humanity’s use of fossil fuels. It turned speculations about increasing CO2 from theory into fact. Over time, it served to anchor other aspects of the science of global warming.

Three videos from Scripps Institution of Oceanography will help your understanding of this observed data:

•The Keeling Curve Turns 50:

•The (Ralph) Keeling Curve:

•Crossing 400: The Keeling Curve Reaches a Historic Milestone:

The official Keeling Curve web site gives the latest CO2 concentration from Mauna Loa Observatory. It is at – look at the various scales, from one week to the last 800,000 years.

•One more video from Scripps showing the role of satellite sensing of atmosphere and ocean, entitled Earth’s Outlook from Above:

Ice is nice!

Next, here’s a series of three videos from the National Science Foundation showing how we can get data from air bubbles locked in Antarctic (and Greenland) ice for millions of years:

•Ancient Ice and Our Planet’s Future:

•Life on the Ice:

•Modeling Our Future Climate:

What do they do with these ice cores collected?They bring them back from Antarctica and Greenland, and then they need to be studies in very COLD labs in places like Colorado, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Washington and elsewhere. Some videos:

•National Ice Core Lab Stores Valuable Ancient Ice:

•Science Nation – Ice Core Secrets Could Reveal Answers to Global Warming:

Note that climate studies have been going on for hundreds of years now, and there are many variables, feedback loops (both negative and positive) at work, and the laws of Murphy and Unintended Consequences always apply.Proxy data are collected by oceanographers from the ocean floor in the form of shells of tiny plankton. But hopefully, you have enough information to get started on an essay on the very broad subject of Climate Change.


All of these videos may be found under ‘Assigned Videos’ — ‘Climate Change Videos’

Links and attachments can be found there


As always, please keep in mind my plagiarism policy. Thank you!

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