Thursday, March 29, 2012

Natural Resources Lab Project

Natural Resources Lab Project:
The following lab project is intended to directly unveil the cause and effect of extracting natural resources. This lab will present information in how destructive various local and distant natural resource utilization can be. 
This lab will be displayed in two separate parts in order to show distant, as well as, local  effects natural resource utilization. 
For part one, I will use google earth to discover two different, distant areas which have been disrupted from their natural state due to resource extraction. I will compare the disturbed areas with nearby non-disturbed, natural ecosystems, as well as, discuss how particular disruptions can, and are, changing the ecosystems mentioned. 
For part two, I will display my own local natural disruption. I will provide photos of the disturbed area, as well as, describe in detail the areas current ecosystem status; what the water quality is like, what the soil conditions are, etc. I will then create my own map which extends to the surrounding undisturbed region, giving a birds-eye view of the actual disruption in detail. Lastly, I will provide photos of the nearby, undisturbed area, and complete the previously mentioned steps once more; accurately displaying a contrast between natural and disturbed ecosystems. 
Part 1:
Here we have a grassland area in Wyoming known as the Powder River Basin. This area has become known as a natural gas resource, in which methane has been produced through coal beds and is extracted through various wells. Coal and methane accumulate slowly as a byproduct of saturated plant debris in wetlands and swamps. The methane, in particular, accumulates when there is a lack of oxygen in the bed.

Here is the clearly disturbed site taken from google earth

While this grassland area was never flush with thriving forest and especially vast plant life, it should naturally contain varying spots of large shrubbery and grasses. As we can see from the extraction sites, there is virtually no vegetation present. While in a separate picture located just outside of the extraction area, there are clearly grasses and shrubbery present. While the area of direct extraction has limited plant life surrounding it, run-off from the well sites can greatly disrupt surrounding areas.

Vegetation is clearly present further from the extraction sites (also taken from google earth)

The result of this run-off in nearby streams and rivers could greatly raise the salinity present in the water way. This in turn can greatly change the pH levels in the water and kill off some of the native organisms in the water way. In extreme cases, it could completely kill of all organisms contained in the aquatic ecosystem (of course this includes native fish).
Mountain Top removal picture taken from google earth

Here is another example of natural resource extraction and it’s effect on the direct and surrounding ecosystem. This is a branch of the Appalachian Mountains located in Northeaster West Virginia. Here, miners are using a method called strip mining to remove the tops of mountains and access coal seams within. The major problem lies in the fact that unwanted pieces of land from the top of the mountain are simply pushed off the edge, allowing for this soil and rock to enter varying ecosystems below (streams, forests, etc.). Soil has the capacity to hold various components which can be detrimental to non-native land; even capable of holding disease. Non-native soil can make it difficult for native plants to maintain their healthy growth. These components will lessen the overall vegetation in the area, and, as we know, any negative affect to an ecosystem affects all components within it (e.g. if certain plant-life is exterminated, animals which feed on these plants will lessen, as well as, the predators of these animals)
Part 2:
For this second part of the lab, I chose to discuss the effects of wildlife and overall ecosystem disruption within and surrounding the Prescott National Forest. Logging and urbanization are two key factors greatly disrupting the forest areas of Prescott Arizona. I live in the Yavapai Hills area, which is a clear representation of forest reduction for purposes of urbanization. Below are pictures of housing within the forest area.

(Two pictures clearly displaying housing development in a forest area)

Housing in the Prescott forests has been growing fairly rapidly for decades now; most notably in the last 10 years. What were once natural ecosystems thriving prominently with Ponderosa pine trees and pinyon juniper trees are now neighborhoods to many in the area. These native trees seem to be the only remaining part of the disrupted ecosystem in Yavapai Hills, while the rest has been transformed into paved roads, housing, recreational centers, pools, and even tennis courts. The area is no longer a comfortable place for the native animals such as antelope, javelina, deer, raccoon, rabbits, as well as, various native birds and insects. It has been transformed to be appealing to us humans alone, with seemingly little thought having been placed on the disruption of a natural habitat. Many of the natural features are still present (e.g. hard native mountain soil), however, even though the urbanization here is not near as extreme as large cities, it still has forced out many of the native organisms and really disrupted the areas natural state greatly. Below I’ve included a map of the disrupted area. 

Excuse my lack of creative talent, however, this map shows how much the forest area has been thinned out to appease humans in the area. This map shows a fairly mountainous area with lots of housing and vary minimal natural traits. 

The very near and undisrupted Prescott National Forest is where we’ve pushed all of the lands native animals. Since Prescott is able to maintain many of it’s natural features, the undisturbed area is very much the same, yet gives native organisms an area to live naturally in their habitat. It is rich with hard mountain soils and the plant life prominently consists of vast pine and juniper trees. In order to maintain this thriving ecosystem, the Prescott National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan was put into effect in 1987. While some uncaring campers could still leave a mark on the PNF, due to protection laws, it remains largely a thriving natural ecosystem. Below is a map I’ve created of the undisrupted land. 

This map shows the undisturbed area with minimal access to humans, allowing the natural habitat and its native organisms to thrive.
It’s clear that mere human presence in an area can have a negative affect on a natural habitat. In extreme cases, its possible that humans can be the cause for large death rates of native organisms in an area. However, while we have disrupted nature to a point of no return in many cases, many protection laws are now being implemented towards maintaining natural habitats (e.g. The Prescott National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan). Raised environmental awareness is extremely important in the longevity of our species, and while there is often a lack of it, it seems to be becoming more of a priority to people all around our world. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Unit 2 Compilation

Unit Compilation 2
Chapter 6/Environmental Conservation

Table of Contents:
The Great Bear Rainforest
Forests of the World
Parks and Nature Preserves
The Great Bear Rainforest
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The Great Bear Rainforest, located off of the coast of British Columbia, is the perfect example of a healthy and unpolluted natural ecosystem. It is home to the rare, white-colored black bear, as well as, an abundance of beautiful and thriving natural landscape. It is currently the largest protected temperate rainforest in the entire world. One of the main reasons for this is due to a major canadian environmental protest, which designated particular areas to be protected, while also keeping leading logging companies from exploiting the land. 
Forests of the World
There are various types of forests throughout our world which, in all, occupy over half of the global land cover. These forests range from closed-canopy forests, whose tree crowns cover the majority of the ground, to savannas, whose trees occupy under 20% of an area. This being said, an area can be defined as a forest if over 10% of the land is covered. 

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Forests provide major essentials to our modern way of life. Some research shows that few industries don’t use wood or wood products somewhere along the line. Two major byproducts created from forests are paper pulp and fuelwood, both of which have a high demand for increased production; causing a major depletion of many forests. 
One way of attempting to curb this high depletion rate is through monoculture forestry, in which large quantities of a single species are produced rapidly. While this method provides an easier method for vast production rates, it’s also proving to be less beneficial for the environment than native forests. 
Deforestation has different meanings among different people. However, in general, it describes factors which contribute to rendering a forest no longer a forest; greatly disrupting a natural forest environment. This can be caused by natural disturbances, yet, more often is caused by human disruption. Logging is one of the primary contributors to deforestation. However, even building roads for logging kills off more trees, and also, allows an entrance from minors, hunters, etc. who may be disruptive to the natural environment. Removal of trees can also change precipitation patterns, even making a forest area more prone to fires.
Luckily, there are certain steps being taken to help lessen deforestation, and bring natural ecosystems back to their original state. One of these methods is through the REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). This program is focusing on placing great protection on current forests, while also, attempting at restoring degraded tropical land. It should be in full effect by 2013, and, hopefully, efforts to protect our forests will greatly stabilize our world climate.  
However, while tropical forests are being affected largely, temperate forests (forests which thrive and develop in moderate temperatures) are also in danger. Various old growth, temperate rain-forests are being greatly disrupted through logging. Old growth forests are described as forests which cover a large area and have been undisrupted by humans long enough to live through a regular life cycle. One primary issue in logging in these areas is that there are many species that live nowhere else. Disruption of their ecosystem through logging can majorly deplete various species’ populations, putting them on endangered species lists, or even facing them with extinction. 
One harvesting method which is a cause of environmental concern is known as clear-cutting. This describes cutting all trees in a large area; which completely alters an ecosystem; sometimes completely eliminating entire habitats. Better harvesting alternatives include shelterwood harvesting (removing in two or more cuts), strip-cutting (removing trees in narrow strips), and the least disruptive method: selective cutting (only removing certain aged trees in a 10-20 year cycle).
Yet another threat to large forest areas is the risk of wild fire. Through fire management including various small, yet controlled, burns, we are able to greatly reduce the risk of larger forest fires. Small dry seedlings and debris that has collected in an area over a period of time can make it more prone to wild fire. While loggers may disagree with this method, and believe that it is a waste of lumber, it is proving to reduce larger forest fires. 
Grasslands account for roughly 1/4 of the worlds global land cover; and also, after forests, are most used by people. Grasslands are used highly for urban development, as well as, for cropland. They may not appear to be a thriving ecosystem, but there are many organisms which have adapted to life on grassland. 

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Grazing, if monitored closely, is a great way of beneficially progressing range land. When carefully monitored, grazing allows ranchers to adjust to various conditions to better their range area. Unfortunately, over-grazing does the opposite. Over-grazing causes many negative conditions (e.g. rain water doesn’t soak into soil for plant-life) leading to a dried up range area and depleting range organisms. This process is known as desertification. As long as grazing is monitored by ranchers or pastoralists, this should not occur. In order to refrain from the the negative effects of over-grazing, some ranchers are implementing rotational grazing, in which animals are placed into a small area for a short duration of time. This allows for a more even grazing process.
Parks and Preserves
Parks and preserves are areas amongst our world which have been protected from various forms of destruction and, thus, are able to progressively allow for biodiversity and thriving natural ecosystems. There is currently about 14% of global land cover labeled as protected natural ecosystems. How much each area is protected under law depends on each particular area. 
Unfortunately, exploitation still takes place in many “protected” areas (e.g. cutting trees all the way up to protected boundaries; negatively affecting the protected area). Also, tourism takes it’s toll on protected areas. Certain national parks have gone as far as banning public automobiles from entering the park and rather bringing people in through natural burning gas buses (a form of ecotourism). 

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Through the world conservation strategy, various steps are being implemented to further protect parks and preserves in order to maintain our long-term survival on the planet (preserve genetic diversity, maintain important ecological processes, etc.) In doing so, hopefully we can keep as many natural ecosystems thriving as possible, and even allow some to grow further, in turn, allowing for various species survival and strong biodiversity.  
Chapter 10/Water: Resources and Pollution (10.1, 10.2, 10.6)
Table of Contents:
Lake Mead Concerns
The Importance of Water
Water in our World
Water Pollution
Lake Mead Concerns:
Lake Mead is a major and important source of water for large growing cities in the southwest. It became a major resource in the early 1920’s, when the surrounding cities were much smaller than they are today. Through urban development, all of the surrounding cities have grown exponentially, and thus, are needing much more water than when the lake first became a major resource. Currently, the lake is holding under half of it’s full potential, and many believe that if changes aren’t made soon, it will actually run dry. While it served its purpose for decades upon decades, we need to make a change now before completely emptying the lake.

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The Importance of Water
Water is, by far, one of our most important natural resources. Without it life couldn’t take place biologically. Not to mention that much of our daily activities rely completely on water.
Through a process known as the hydrologic cycle, water evaporates, falls as rain or snow, is consumed and passes through living organisms, and returns to the ocean. Annually, about 500,000km evaporates from the ocean, to which 90% goes straight back, the other 10% is carried onshore to join with what serves as our renewable freshwater supply (lakes, rivers, etc.). Through a process of transpiration, plants play their major role in the hydrologic cycle, releasing groundwater into the atmosphere; especially important in tropical areas which are the rainiest areas in the world. How much water is distributed to an area is based on various reasons (e.g. is it mountainous?, is it a desert climate?)
Water in our World
While 90% of the worlds biomass is contained in the oceans, the renewable fresh water that we rely on for survival only accounts for around .02% of the world’s water. Also, while around 2.4% of all of our water is fresh, 90% of this makes up glaciers, snow fields, and ice caps; which supply water to billions. While it’s amazing that these glaciers can supply water to so many, a major rising concern is in the shrinking of glaciers due to global climate changes. It is predicted that certain glaciers could be completely gone in a matter of years. 
Groundwater accounts for the largest amount of freshwater in an area; proving to be much more so than any lake or river by a long shot. A zone of saturation describes the lower area of land containing large amounts of fresh water. Above this area, where access to this fresh water is obtained, is known as the water table (e.g. source of water in most wells). Just above this area is an area of land filled with water and soil in which plants thrive on known as the zone of aeration. Aquifers, described as cracked layers of sand and rock, create a pressure which keeps wells and springs flow freely at the surface. Areas to keep the cycle going and keep the wells full through surface water can filter into an aquifer are known as recharge zones. Through all of these combined elements, we are given access to various irrigation methods and drinking water. 
As humans on this planet, one of our primary resources for survival comes through flowing surface water amongst rivers, to which sizes are compared in terms of discharge (amount of water which passes through certain areas over time). Lakes occupy the most amounts of fresh water, to which much of this is found throughout a handful of some of our largest. Worldwide, these lakes are of upmost importance in our survival. 
While the most fresh water is found in large lakes, the smallest amount of water is found in the atmosphere. However, through evaporation and traveling water molecules in our atmosphere, this small amount of water is one of the most important factors in replenishing our water supply. 
Water Pollution
 Pollution to our water can come in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, we as humans have had a major impact on polluting our water. Certain causes of pollution are easy to locate and, thus, easy to change (e.g. factory run-off points); these specific and known areas are called point sources. Less obvious locations in the cause of water pollution (e.g. run off from farm fields) are known as nonpoint sources, to which making a progressive change is much more difficult due to a lack of understanding the source point. 

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Pathogens (disease causing organisms) are known to be major contributors of water pollution and can cause such waterborne diseases such as typhoid, enteritis, polio, etc. to form. A major cause of this is improperly treated human waste. Luckily, since we live in a developed country, we don’t have to worry so much here at home (95 percent of people here have clean drinking water). However, this is of major concern in less developed countries and has been a major cause of death in the most serious circumstances. 

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Various metals can also contribute to water pollution. Certain metals including lead, mercury, and cadmium are particularly harmful. Mercury is especially harmful; it can be released into the air and then into surrounding water supplies through various power plants. Nonmetallic salts found in soil and even used to clear ice on roads in the winter can attribute to damaging aquatic ecosystems and acting as a water pollutant as well, while others can be found in organic chemicals and even natural sedatives found in flowing rivers (especially considering that urbanization greatly increases the amount of sedatives in water). Lastly, temperature change can drastically affect aquatic ecosystems and water in general.
Chapter 7/Food and Agriculture (7.1-7.4)
Table of Contents:
The Cerrado
Worldwide Nutrition Trends
Importance in Individual Food Intake
Various Foods Consumed
Importance of Living Soil
The Cerrado
The Cerrado has become a thriving area for farming both beef and soy, distributing these products all around the world. The south American location, which includes much of south american land, including parts of Brazil, has become a growing market in these areas since it started in 1975. While this has brought work, as well as, an economy boost for the area, it has also left many other farmers landless and, thus, workless; not to mention the fact that it is a growing market, which will continuously change ecosystems and habitats for various native organisms. It has, unfortunately, become the continent’s highest in clearing of forests. Is the high quality, world-wide, food distribution worth the harm done?
Worldwide Nutrition Trends
Food production has changed to a major degree over the years. Small operations have practically been rendered obsolete, while larger operations, using expensive machinery and creating genetically modified crops in vast quantities. This has greatly lowered the cost of food globally, However, a major concern is the lack of even distribution throughout the entire world. More developed countries are getting mass amounts of food at a cheap cost, while less developed and still developing areas still have hunger epidemics taking place. While the global hunger epidemic has gone down drastically in the last few decades (even with a major population increase), hunger is still a big problem in many areas. Food security, being able to provide yourself and family with daily food intake, is showing to be difficult for many (even in the United States). In extreme cases famines (major food shortages) take place; often due to political factors (small-time farmers losing land to big-time farmers). While famines are occurring less today than decades ago, it is still a pressing issue of concern.

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Importance in Individual Food Intake
Malnourishment (lack of specific nutrients) has long been a part of hunger problems throughout the world. In very extreme cases, and through major lack of protein, this can lead to a protruding belly, called a kwashiorkor. In other extreme cases, such malnutrition can even lead to blindness among children. 

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, over-eating, is also a leading problem among areas all over the world. Our global obesity percentage is growing at an alarming rate. The convenient fast food industry has attributed to such obesity. Some health concerns in being overweight can include diabetes, hypertension, and being more prone to stroke, just to name a few. 
Various Foods Consumed
High meat production accounts for a wealthier and more developed county. This is due to the cost it takes to feed and house the animals to be slaughtered. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) house large quantities of animals and feed them the right combinations of food for the quickest growth possible. Fish accounts for a large amount of our meat intake as humans, however, many fisheries are becoming unusable due to such factors as over-harvesting and damaging ecosystems. Certain factors are beginning to be implemented to focus on longevity in fish farming. While mass production of animal farming has lead to cheaper and larger quantities of meat products, some of these farms are harmful to their surrounding environment. Not to mention the fact that increased quantities for cheaper prices is linked directly to various health risks. 

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Importance of Living Soil
The one of the most (if not the most) important part of our healthy crops is the soil that they grow in. Many factors contribute to a healthy soil that is capable of creating wonderful crops on our farmland. While soil varies in types, in general, soil consists of the following: sand and gravel, silts and clays, dead organic material, soil fauna and flora, water, and air. Also with various insects and fungi, healthy soil is birthed. Our soils consists of various levels including (in order from top to bottom levels): topsoil (zone a; where we grow crops), zone of leaching (zone b), subsoil (zone c), and weathered parent material (zone d). Unfortunately, some farming techniques greatly disrupt natural and healthy soil, which takes much longer to develop than many would think. It’s important for us to keep always keep in mind longevity in growing crops and how important their soil is in order to continue farming progressively. 
Chapter 11/Environmental Geology and Earth Resources
Table of Contents:
Our Resources and Earth Processes
Economics of Geology
Negative Affects of Resource Extraction
Conserving Resources
Hazards in Geology
Our Resources and Earth Processes
It’s amazing how much we rely on natural resources to exist, survive, and even advance technologically. Even our most advanced pieces of technology are composed of the most basic natural resources. In order to come to a better understanding of how this is possible, it’s important to understand better our earth’s processes and how our resources become available to us at all. 

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While it seems that the earth is a solid, non-moving mass, it is quite the opposite. The earth is composed of various layers which are perpetually shifting and moving. The inner-most part of our earth is called the core, which is filled with a hot mass (mostly composed of iron); solid in center and more of a liquid substance towards it’s outer edges. Outside of this layer is another known as the mantle; a thick layer of rock containing oxygen and other elements. The outer-most layer is called the crust, the thinnest and most light weight layer.
Research has shown that moving pieces of mantle break pieces of above crust, causes movement of crust called tectonic plates. As these plates grind past each other and collide, earthquakes of varying magnitudes can form.  Various land changes on the outer surface (crust) are due to these shifting plates, often in addition to magma from the earth’s core being pushed through cracks in layers of our earth. Amazingly, even entire continents slowly drift and change locations over vast periods of time. 
Rocks and minerals are two prominent and important resources to us on this earth. Minerals are inorganic solids with specific crystal structure, as well as, specific chemical composition. Minerals are always a solid. Various metals that we use in everyday life come from mineral ores, yet once they have been modified into a metal through various procedures, they are no longer considered a mineral. 
Rocks are a solid combination of one or many minerals. All rocks have a unique way in which they are held together with various mineral crystals (grains) firmly holding them in a mass of varying sizes. All rocks go through a type of perpetual metamorphosis that we call the rock cycle. This process breaks down rocks in varying ways creating the three major rock classifications: igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. 

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Economics of Geology
Minerals are essentially the building blocks of our economy. By this, I mean that everything we build and use within our world, whether it be food and beverage packaging or industrial machinery, is built through the use of minerals (e.g. copper is highly used in building construction, while silver is highly important in the creation of photography and electronics).

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Various minerals are more thriving in some areas of the world than others. For this reason, global trade is implemented and important minerals are distributed throughout various parts of our world. For example, Russia has a very high amount of nickel accessibility, but a low percentage of copper; while China is just the opposite. For highly developed countries, these minerals are put to use daily and important in progressing in various ways. 
Unfortunately, some of these precious minerals hold a high dollar value and can attribute to major crime throughout the world. Gold and diamond alone have sprung wars with high death rates and also attribute to illegal trade. However, various civil rights organizations are shooting to reduce the possibility of such things in trying to reduce illegal trade through better documentation of such materials. 
Negative Affects of Resource Extraction
While we are extremely reliant on all of the varying natural resources in our world, extraction of them is highly detrimental to our environment. Land removal is a high detriment to our environment, while such extraction of resources also attributes to water pollution and air pollution. According to the EPA, on an annual basis, more than 100 toxic air pollutants are released from only mines and wells.

Our water supply is highly affected by varying mining techniques. Water can sometimes seep into a mine shaft and gain access to varying toxic minerals, it can then seep below into the ground water or be pumped up and released into our rivers and streams. Regardless of the difficulty involved, it’s essentially that we discover more innovative and environmentally friendly ways (if possible) of extracting these important resources.
Also of high concern is the ways in which we process varying minerals, causing high levels of pollution in our environment. Through smelting, metals are released through a process of roasting ore, however, it is directly linked to major amounts of air pollution. In extreme cases, this process of gathering resources can   completely and negatively change an ecosystem, to which it’s original state would be difficult to reproduce. 
Conserving Resources
In order to help save our environment from various resource extraction and processing methods, the most important thing we can do it to attempt to conserve our mineral supply. Luckily, recycling gives us the opportunity to do such a thing. Recycling materials such as aluminum accounts for only 1/20th of the energy used to gather new aluminum. Luckily this recycling rate had caught on and is only growing with time. Aluminum scrap not only has high value, but is recycled at an alarming rate (sometimes it takes as little as two months for a can to be back on the shelf completely recycled). Other common metals of great use in recycling include gold, silver, copper , etc. to which they can be recycled to birth varying important necessities of life. 
Minimills are a new type of mill which greatly help our environment in recycle materials. These mills use much less energy to operate, and are progressively becoming more popular. Some even use 90% recycled material to produce fresh material. 
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Another progressive step in conservation is discontinuing use of certain materials, while putting others to use for the same purpose, which are more environmentally friendly. With new technology we are finding ways to effectively put this idea to use. Interestingly, the new apple computers are composed of all recyclable, eco-friendly parts. 
Hazards in Geology 
While we certainly can have a strong negative affect on the world, it can have a highly negative affect on our world population. While varying natural disasters can directly kill hundreds of thousands of people, it can also limit our access to natural resources in the area. 
An earthquake is one example of a major disaster capable of happening naturally. It has been the cause of some of the most extreme geologic disasters in history. As I mentioned earlier, an earthquake is the cause of shifting plates in our earths layers; they can happen suddenly and completely destroy developed areas, while even causing a somewhat domino effect of other natural disasters. One example of this is the tsunami, which cause major sea swells capable of completely destroying areas with their impact. 

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Another example of an extreme natural disaster is the volcano. Not only do volcanos shoot large amounts of molten lava, but they can smother entire cities with ash, while also releasing toxic chemicals into the air with this ash. In major cases this ash can cover large parts of entire continents (e.g. eruption of Mount St. Helens). These mammoth eruptions even have the power of lowering the entire world climate. 
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Among other natural disasters that greatly affect our human life are floods. These disasters actually account for the largest amount of property destruction and human death. However, floods are unlike volcanoes and earthquakes in their level of mystery. We can pinpoint easily a site that would be prone to flooding. Due to various flood control possibilities, if we keep alert on the potential for flood, the disaster should be far lessened.  

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