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. 

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