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Courtesy USGS.

Courtesy USGS.

Occasionally something really eye-opening falls into your lap on a quiet afternoon that gets all your circuits humming. That was the case late Wednesday at LAM when the U.S. Geological Survey released an array of soil maps based on data it has been collecting since 2007. Simply put, the maps offer the most complete  profile of the chemical and mineral makeup of U.S. soil ever produced. It is truly significant data, and the maps produced from it should be an important tool for anyone who designs, manages, or, well, just lives on the land.

Location map of the more than 4,800 sites of the sample. Courtesy USGS.

Location map of the more than 4,800 sites of the sample. Courtesy USGS.

The USGS describes these maps and what they measure as follows:

Geochemical and Mineralogical Maps for Soils in the Conterminous United States (Open-File Report 2014-1082). The maps provide a visual representation of the national-scale geochemical and mineralogical variation in soils. In 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey initiated a low-density (1 site per 1,600 square kilometers, 4,857 total sites) survey of soils of the conterminous United States. Three samples were collected at each site from the surface down to approximately 1 meter. In total, more than 14,400 soil samples were analyzed for 45 elements and 9,575 samples were analyzed for major minerals. The maps released today were created using data sets from the survey.

The data sets, which were released in October 2013 by the USGS, provide a baseline for the abundance and spatial distribution of chemical elements and minerals against which future changes may be recognized and quantified.

The maps speak for themselves, and as you pore over the report you’ll want to dig into the data right away. But (nearly) every big data set has a person behind it, and the USGS also published a nice piece on its blog that talks about the process of collecting the data from the 4,800+ sites and some of the people who did that work. Kevin Bamber, then an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, worked on the sampling and picked up a little local knowledge along the way. “A guy in Louisiana said we could dig on his property because it was a full moon and that anytime you dig a hole when there’s a full moon, you always have more than enough dirt to fill the hole. We really picked the right day.”

Courtesy USGS.

Courtesy USGS.

All images from Smith, D. B., Cannon, W. F., Woodruff, L. G., Solano, Federico, and Ellefsen, K. J., 2014, Geochemical and mineralogical maps for soils of the conterminous United States: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014–1082, 386 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20141082. Courtesy the USGS.

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Edison Park Site Proposal: A raised circulation system embraces a contained dredge production facility. Images courtesy of Matthew D. Moffitt.

Edison Park Site Proposal: A raised circulation system embraces a contained dredge production facility. Images courtesy of Matthew D. Moffitt.

The Penn State undergraduate Matthew Moffitt won the 2013 ASLA Student Award of Excellence in General Design by showing that not all dredge is created equal. Moffitt’s project, Dredge City: Sediment Catalysis, uses dredged material from the Maumee River, a tributary of Lake Erie, to restore a brownfield site, reestablish migratory bird stopovers, and connect urban and ecological systems, all in the context of an elegantly detailed park. By processing the material dredged from a shipping channel on the Maumee, Moffitt looked at Toledo, Ohio, the most heavily dredged port in the Great Lakes, and asked how one of the lake’s greatest polluters—the Maumee dumps a considerable amount of phosphorous into Lake Erie, causing algae blooms among other problems—can become a source of lifeblood for the city. We talked with Moffitt, who now works at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, about how he conceived the project and how dredge is becoming a hot research topic.

How did you become interested in dredging as a source of remediation?
The project originally began as a studio project during my senior year at Penn State. The studio origins were in Toledo, Ohio, so that’s how it all began. My professor, Sean Burkholder, is very knowledgeable about dredge and is often working in the greater Ohio region. There are several postindustrial sites in Toledo along the Maumee River, and the river feeds into the Western Basin of Lake Erie. We were given one of several sites along the river, and the site I chose was Edison Park. The challenges of the site included [combined sewer] outfall, dumping postindustrial material, and adjacency to one of the newer bridges and the downtown skyline.

His studio prompt was very inspiring, and from there I started making the connections between dredged material and the sediment itself, and from there it blossomed. The general goal for the studio was to use dredge or sediment from the shipping channel for a park design. The assignment was pretty broad, so we had a lot of room to use our imaginations.

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Maybe you’ve noticed things have been a bit more lively here at the  Landscape Architecture Magazine blog of late, and you’d be right. In addition to cranking up our posting to twice a week (!), we’ve been thinking a bit about what we might do to expand our audience and create more of a community of landscape-minded readers.  There are many changes afoot that will be rolled out in 2014, but we’d like your help with some low-hanging fruit, namely our blog roll.

Yes, the blog roll is a venerated tradition in the webs, but often it just becomes a mutual linkfest that highlights the same five well-known news aggregators over and over. We’d like to do something more substantial, and we’d like your help, friendly reader.

Our current blog roll (over on the right—->>) is pretty good, but some of our favorites aren’t posting so much anymore and our sense is that there are a lot more landscape-oriented blogs out there than there were a year ago when we first made the list. That’s where we’d like your help.

So tell us your favorite landscape blogs in the comments below.  We’re interested in original content, rather than aggregators, and we’re curious about anything that shapes landscape, from agriculture to climate to infrastructure to policy to design theory to design tech.  

Here are some we’ve been reading lately–

Rust Wire. Always a fave. News and urban grit from the rust belt.

BakkenBlog. North Dakota oil and gas.

Big Picture Agriculture. Perspectives on ag policy, food, science.

The Prairie Ecologist. Notes on prairie ecology, restoration, and management.

Small Streets Blog. Life at a plausible scale.

Gizmodo. New life under Geoff Manaugh of bldgblog, but you knew that.

Garden Rant. Various garden-related posts with a strong point of view.

99% Invisible. Blog to accompany the excellent design-oriented podcast.

What are you reading and liking? Suggest blogs in the comments or on Twitter @LandArchMag.

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Photo by Kim Sorvig

Photo by Kim Sorvig

From the June 2013 issue of LAM:

By Kim Sorvig

Five and a half years ago, I learned we might lose our home to oil drilling. Strangers could suddenly be in control of our land, scraping, drilling, fracturing bedrock, leaving the wastes—with no legal responsibility to us. What would happen to the local economy, to services everyone takes for granted, in the Wild West atmosphere of an oil or gas “play,” when boomtown populations double overnight? So began my forced education about petroleum engineering.

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ShaMianRen / Wikimedia Commons

They make Toyotas in Guangzhou. And Hondas. And Nissans. It’s a major car manufacturing center. But it will soon be more difficult for people here to own cars themselves.

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For a while, it seemed like rising oil prices and shrinking supplies might help us kick our greenhouse gas addiction. But if recent research holds true, we won’t be able to rely on the market to rein in global warming any time soon. In a paper published by Harvard’s Geopolitics of Energy Project, Leonardo Maugeri, a former oil executive and current research fellow, concludes: “Oil is not in short supply. From a purely physical point of view, there are huge volumes of conventional and unconventional oils still to be developed, with no ‘peak oil’ in sight. The real problems concerning future oil production are above the surface, not beneath it, and relate to political decisions and geopolitical instability.”

Maugeri does a comprehensive analysis of oil resources and predicts production could increase by nearly 20 percent in the coming decade and prices could collapse, thanks in part to the new opportunities for tapping tar sands and producing shale oil by hydraulic fracturing. “The Western Hemisphere could return to a pre-World War II status of theoretical oil self-sufficiency,” Maugeri writes, “and the United States could dramatically reduce its oil import needs.” (more…)

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TRASH AND SUNSHINE

Courtesy David Connell/The Blog Aquatic

In the past day I came across two clever ways to make use of one of our most common trash items: the plastic beverage bottle. The EPA says Americans generated 31 million tons of plastic waste in 2010, only 8 percent of which was recovered for recycling (a sad statistic), so there’s no lack of fodder for inventive people who want to find ways to put plastic bottles back to work. Here you see (POP)culture, a canopy designed by students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture and featured on The Blog Aquatic by David Connell. Connell lauded it as “a beautiful example of…making trash too valuable to toss.” Elsewhere, Shea Gunther on Mother Nature Network profiled five low-tech innovations that are making a difference in the lives of people in the developing world, including an incredibly simple and inventive plastic bottle light.

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