Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Drought Update for 2018

Almost a year ago, the California megadrought was declared as being over. Now, however, it is beginning to seem like we may still be in a state of drought, going by abysmal rainfall levels in the last few months.
A visual representation of drought levels in California right now.
According to the National Drought Migration Center, approximately 92 percent of California is currently experiencing a drought. In December of 2017, about 30 percent of the state was in a state of drought. Drought conditions have rapidly spread throughout the state, leaving people feeling alarmed, as almost no time has passed since the last drought.

The current conditions are far less severe than those in 2015 and early 2016. Currently, California’s reservoirs have plenty of water, but the snowfall has been sparse so far — it is currently at approximately 20% of normal levels. While fluctuation in snowpack levels from year to year is relatively normal, California still does depend on it as one large source of water. Therefore, if lower snowfall levels persist, it could be a problem for Californians.

Thankfully, even if the drought seems like it will be continuing on for longer, most people in California are still in the habit of saving water. If you want some tips or reminders on how you can save water easily, visit some of my old blogs here, here and here.

If you’d like to continue to monitor the drought, the United States Drought Monitor updates drought conditions for California weekly. You can find this monitor here.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Air Quality Monitors

Recently, I began to work on DIY-ing my own air filter (a blog on this will be coming out soon). However, I needed a way to measure the effectiveness of said filter, so I decided to invest in an air quality monitor. In the interest of fully understanding all parts of this DIY, I decided to do a bit more of in-depth reading into how air quality monitors actually work. 

 The monitor I decided to use (linked above) claims to measure the “environment PM2.5, PM1.0, PM10” as well as “the AQI.” Well, what do these terms mean? “PM” is an abbreviation for the phrase “particulate matter,” and the numbers following refer to the diameter of the particle itself. So, PM1.0 means the level of particulate matter with a diameter equal to or less than 1.0 micrometer, and so on. 
This particular sensor uses the laser scattering principle — that is, a laser is used to radiate particles in the air, and then the scattered light is collected. 

This diagram demonstrates how exactly air monitors detect particles at a very basic level. The size of the breaks (caused by the particles) in the laser also allows for the recording of how many particles at each size are present. This classification is important because particulate matters of different sizes can have different effects on the human body. Generally, the smaller the size of the particle, the greater the risk it poses to human health. Smaller particles (such as PM1.0s and PM2.5s) tend to stay in the air longer than heavier particles, and have an easier time of traveling from the nose to the lungs, dramatically increase the possibility for respiratory illnesses and heart attacks. 

 After the level of each group of particulates is calculated, the AQI, or air quality index, is calculated. The AQI is an indicator of air quality that runs from 0 to 500 and is divided into six categories, ranging from good to hazardous. The higher the AQI, the worse the air quality is. You can read more about what each category means here.  

 Stay tuned for my upcoming blog on how to actually put together an air filter! 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Green Homes

On average, a normal house in the United States produces a whopping 8.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually [1]. In an effort to combat this, people have been turning to green architecture, in an effort to decrease their carbon footprint and save energy.

So, what is green architecture? Green or sustainable architecture is a manner of construction that focuses on minimizing negative impacts on both human health and the environment. As global warming has become a bigger issue, people have turned to this type of architecture in order to try to minimize their carbon footprint. While green homes come in a large variety, they largely share a few common characteristics.

There is generally a focus on passive heating and cooling — that is, focusing on indoor temperature regulation without the use of any additional energy. Carefully designed ventilation and large windows to let in heat from the sun are both ways in which this can be accomplished. Energy is also saved in these green homes through the use of energy efficient appliances (a list of some of these appliances can be found here).

In addition to saving energy, green homes are designed to save water as well. Greywater reuse for activities such as watering plants or washing clothes is not uncommon in these homes (greywater is water that has come from sinks and bathtubs within a household).    

A lot of consideration also goes into the actual construction process. For example, the location of the home is carefully assessed. Green homes are typically built in an area where their impact on their surrounding environment is minimal. The landscaping of a green home will likely include native vegetation, in order to minimize the disruption of the natural habitat. If possible, people constructing green homes will try to repurpose and build within the structures of old buildings and will be efficient with their space usage when constructing a new home. In a continued effort to reuse things, owners of green homes will often make an effort to reuse or buy used furniture in an effort to prevent the generation of more waste.

Additionally, the materials used to actually build the home is carefully selected. Generally, locally and responsibly sourced materials are preferable when constructing a green home. It is also necessary that these materials are non-toxic as well as non-synthetic.

Above is an example of a green home. While not clearly visible in the photo, the roof of this house is covered with solar panels, which serve as a source of energy for the home. The windows are also large and numerous, which allows for passive heating from the sun.

The term “green home” is very broad — any house in which there is an emphasis on minimizing one’s carbon footprint can be called a green home. While some of the characteristics of the quintessential green home may be hard to emulate (especially if you are on a budget or already have a house), there are still many things on this list that are not very difficult to adopt and incorporate into your home.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Bansuri

Carrying on my series of portable and easy to play woodwind instruments, I decided to go back to my Indian roots and play the bansuri. The name term bansuri actually refers to two types of flutes — the transverse flute and the fipple flute. This instrument can play notes spanning three octaves, giving it a fairly diverse musical range. It is made of a thin layer of bamboo.


This transverse flute (shown above), is a sideways blowing flute generally constructed from a thin layer of bamboo. The transverse flute is most commonly used in classical Hindustani music. This transverse flute holds a great deal of cultural significance. It is the Hindu God Krishna's divine instrument. Additionally, one of India's most renowned musicians, Hariprasad Chaurasia, is famous for playing the transverse flute. A sample of this flute can be found here.


The second type of flute is the fipple flute. While the transverse flute is played sideways, the fipple flute more closely resembles a recorder. The transverse flute is a bit more difficult to play so the fipple flute might be easier to master for beginners.  This flute is more commonly used in less classical forms of Hindustani music. A performance of this flute can be found here.

If you are interested in purchasing either of these instruments, you can buy a transverse flute here, and a fipple flute here. If you’d like to buy both, you can get the set here.
Additionally, you can find some good tutorials for playing the bansuri here, here, and here.

Friday, June 30, 2017

DIY: Tiered Planter

I wanted to start off my summer with a bang, so I decided to undertake some sort of short project. Because I just bought these seeds from Amazon, I decided to put together a planter. We ultimately decided to buy a kit (because anything else might be too time intensive) and went with this one.

Putting the planter together itself was quite easy - the design of this planter is quite simple. However, I had not considered the sheer volume of soil required to fill the planter. In total, we needed a whopping 10 40 pound bags of soil.

After we got the soil, the planter itself didn’t take very long to put together - I probably spent around 2 hours putting the frame together.

You can either plant seeds (like I did), or get plants from a nursery. Have fun!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Drought Update

Californians, rejoice. After over 3 long, dry years, the California’s megadrought was declared to be over. The 2016-2017 rainy season has been the second wettest in the last 122 years (when rainfall records began to be officially recorded). We got a whopping average of 30.75 inches of rain [1]. By comparison, in previous years, the rainfall fell at a meager average of 10.45 inches [2].   
The main contributors of this high average were the Sierra Nevada watersheds. These watersheds account for a majority of California’s water supply. As of April, these watersheds had accumulated 89.7 inches of rain across 8 stations [3].
While California is largely drought free, there are counties that are remaining under the restrictions imposed during the drought emergency period. These counties include Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolumne. Some areas of Southern California are also not quite yet out of a drought as well. This is because the drier Southern California gets their water out of aquifers, which have not quite yet gotten a chance to return to normal levels following this period of drought.
While Governor Jerry Brown did lift some of the restrictions imposed during the drought, he still urges the citizens of California to continue saving water, as the next drought may very well be just around the corner [4]. The storms this year, while they did bring us out of the drought, were a bit of an anomaly. Because of this, we cannot afford to revert to wasteful practices.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Environmental Legislation in the United States

The history of environmental policy in the United States began with the Refuse Act (put in place in 1899), which prohibited dumping of waste or contaminants into waterways. This one policy paved the way for many more pieces of environmental legislation in the United States. In this post, I’m going to go over some of the main and most important pieces of legislation in the United States today, and what they do.

  1. Clean Air Act (CAA)
The Clean Air Act, passed in 1963 and amended several times over the next 30 years, is an act to control air contamination on a national scale. This act set goals to reduce the amount of various pollutants in the air. Some of the major air pollutants identified by this act are carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone, and particulate matters. The CAA established limits on the emission of each of these pollutants for businesses and also set standards for automobile technology to reduce car emissions.
     2. Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Passed in December of 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act ensures clean drinking water for the general public. This act sets standards that water suppliers are required to meet. These standards include the concentration of suspended particles, the maximum allowed concentration of toxic chemicals, and microbiological contaminants.
     3. Clean Water Act (CWA)
This act, which is the primary federal law that governs water contamination, aims to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into bodies of water in the United States. The CWA establishes standards for factories as to how much and what kinds of contaminants they are allowed to produce and discharge as a part of their production process.
     4. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)/Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)
CERCLA, also commonly referred to as Superfund, was created to identify and provide funding for the cleanup of sites that had been contaminated with hazardous wastes. Funds are provided for both short and long-term cleanup. In addition to removal, CERCLA also emphasizes prevention of further disasters.  This act also requires industries to report their emissions regularly, and also established a national contingency plan in case of further environmental disasters.
     5. Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts (RCRA)/ Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA)
This act sets protocols for various activities that concern the environment, such as the classification of wastes, or tracking hazardous wastes. Established in 1976, RCRA established standards for things like energy and resource conservation, waste management, and the reduction of the amount of waste generated by various industries.

While this post does outline some of the major acts created to protect the environment, this is by no means a complete list. To read up on other environmental legislation, visit the EPA’s website here.