Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How Much Force Is 13 Kilotons Of Force?

An excerpt from the magazine 'Foreign Policy' describes 'Newton's First Law of Motion' as follows:

"Newton's First Law of Motion states that a body at rest stays at rest unless an outside force disturbs it.  Today, this maxim helps illuminate why people are on the move: External forces--wars, rising seas, feeble economies--have dispossessed hundreds of millions of refugees and migrants now living outside their home countries.  But what does it mean to survive an uprooting? Drawing on unique, even surprising perspectives, this issue of FP examines human endurance and how it shapes the global landscape.  ..."

What kind of force can cause the described events above?  How do we describe the force that can cause these events?  As with any description of an event, there will be associated 'units' used to put the event into context.  What do I mean by this?  Below, I will describe a couple of events or situations and use the appropriate 'units' to describe them.

What Is A Kiloton?

Recently, the unit of kiloton has been showing up to describe large amounts of energy or force released in a given event.  Whether that event be a 'nuclear test' as in North Korea last month or that be an astronomical event -- the 'kiloton' is the appropriate unit to contextualize such an event.  A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about the amount of energy contained within a 'kiloton' of energy.  Just a week ago, I got an e-mail from 'Harper's' magazine with the following factoid shown below containing a kiloton:

A meteor exploding over planet Earth with a force equivalent to that of the force given off by the explosion of 13,000 tons of TNT.  Expressed more succinctly, the force given off by 13-kilotons of TNT.

Energy and force are different but related through the concept of 'work' (taken from 'wikipedia'):

In physics, a force is said to do work if, when acting on a body, there is a displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force. For example, when a ball is held above the ground and then dropped, the work done on the ball as it falls is equal to the weight of the ball (a force) multiplied by the distance to the ground (a displacement).

If we restrict ourselves for a moment to just talk about the 'interaction' of the 'force' and the 'body' then the definition of 'force' is as follows (taken from 'wikipedia'):

In physics, a force is any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object.[1] In other words, a force can cause an object with mass to change its velocity (which includes to begin moving from a state of rest), i.e., to accelerate. Force can also be described by intuitive concepts such as a push or a pull. A force has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity. It is measured in the SI unit of newtons and represented by the symbol F.
The original form of Newton's second law states that the net force acting upon an object is equal to the rate at which its momentum changes with time. If the mass of the object is constant, this law implies that the acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the net force acting on the object, is in the direction of the net force, and is inversely proportional to the mass of the object

The application of a force over a given distance is equal to the work done.  To express the directionality and magnitude of the force requires vector quantities.  To use a simple example, here is a picture of a two different objects resting on surfaces with the relevant forces outlined (taken from 'Wikipedia') -- shown below:

Diagram by Penubag

Each of the two situations show a mass resting on a surface.  In the upper diagram, the mass (a box) is resting on a flat surface.  Whereas, in the second diagram, the mass is shown on a tilted surface or a diagonal surface.  The difference between the two represents the difference in directionality of the applied force on the surface.  Think about standing on a floor.  What happens when you try to stand on a slide at a playground?  

Here is a description from 'Wikipedia' that caught my eye shown below:

Forces act in a particular direction and have sizes dependent upon how strong the push or pull is. Because of these characteristics, forces are classified as "vector quantities". This means that forces follow a different set of mathematical rules than physical quantities that do not have direction (denoted scalar quantities). For example, when determining what happens when two forces act on the same object, it is necessary to know both the magnitude and the direction of both forces to calculate the result. If both of these pieces of information are not known for each force, the situation is ambiguous. For example, if you know that two people are pulling on the same rope with known magnitudes of force but you do not know which direction either person is pulling, it is impossible to determine what the acceleration of the rope will be. The two people could be pulling against each other as in tug of war or the two people could be pulling in the same direction. In this simple one-dimensional example, without knowing the direction of the forces it is impossible to decide whether the net force is the result of adding the two force magnitudes or subtracting one from the other. Associating forces with vectors avoids such problems.

Now that we know that force has "directionality" (vector quantity) and magnitude (scalar quantity), lets return to the example of a person standing on a surface.  The Direction and magnitude of the applied force matter when defining a system.  How about using the human body as an example to illustrate the definition of force?  When each of us wakes up in the morning and gets out of bed, we assume that the floor beneath us will hold us up right?  I weigh around 180 pounds.  That means that my weight on the floor is equal to 180 pounds multiplied by the acceleration of gravity.

We know that gravity holds us to the ground -- right?  Newton's Second Law of Motion allows us to measure the force on an object knowing that the mass is constant.  Also, we know that if the forces are balanced, we should remain standing up.  The force that I exert by standing on the ground is calculated as follows:

I am exerting a force of ...Newtons on the ground.  If I am standing straight up then the force is straight down.  Additionally, the ground is pushing up ...Newtons to hold me up.  Otherwise, I would fall into or onto (depending on the angle of my body to) the ground.  Here is a video showing the terrible situations that can arise in the construction world if the forces are not balanced.  Check part of the video out.  (It is long -- around 8 minutes):

In each of the cases in the video above, the forces were not balanced and the disaster was for the objects (trucks, tankers, tractors, etc.) to fall toward equilibrium.  Now that I have provided a few background examples and information into the concept of force, lets return to the question at hand (the subject of the blog post): How much force is in a 'kiloton'?

To answer the question, we need to convert the mass of a kiloton to kilograms -- a unit conversion.  The conversion is shown below:

These units are expressed for a mass.  In the above diagram, the downward arrow has small writing next to it showing the following: "m x g is also considered to be the weight of an object." When discussing the concept of force, to distinguish between the two -- one must ask: "What units are weight expressed in?"  If the unit is 'N' for Newtons, then the weight is being expressed as a force.

Therefore, in the above statement by NASA, is the force kiloton's of Newtons or kilotons x force (another unit).  Statements can get confusing pretty easily.  That is the importance of specifying 'units' of a measurement.  Lets assume for a moment that the force is NOT expressed in Newtons.  In order to calculate the force of a kiloton we would multiply the mass (a kiloton) by the acceleration of gravity as shown below:

The force of a kiloton is N.  How can we better understand that number considering what has been explained above in terms of force and energy?  In the video above, a number of situations were shown were the forces of the objects were not balanced properly.  The imbalance resulted in the object being tilted or tipped on its size or sliding down a surface.  Eventually, the object (tractor or trucks) came to an "equilibrium" state of rest where the forces acting in all directions were "balanced" out.  This is an important concept to understand.

Another way to view balancing forces is to imagine yourself standing up.  Behind you is a bed.  As you fall back onto the bed there are forces acting on yourself to eventually land on the bed.  Given that the bed is underneath you.  Eventually, as you land on the bed, the bed will exert a force upward (to hold you up) of your weight (mass x g).  Force can be distributed in a variety of ways.

Pressure Wave Expressed As A Force

In the video above, the examples all indicate the imbalance of a force to stabilize an object.  Whereas in the Harper's excerpt with the factoid of an asteroid bearing down upon the Earth with a force of 13,000 - kiloton is a distributive (pressure force).  Upon an explosion, a wave of pressure (force over an area) is generated that exerts a force on any object in its path.  Force is expressed as a function of pressure:

The pressure wave given off during an explosion is a force distributed over a given area.  The magnitude of that force is representative of using the commonly found expression (or unit) of a kiloton.  Whenever an explosion or a force has a tremendous amount of force or energy, the common unit seems to be expressed in kiloton(s).  When force is distributed over the entire planet Earth, the result may by small.  A major example in history is the dropping of a nuclear weapon over a small city -- Nagasaki, Japan -- in which the destruction is large as shown below:

Source: Wikipedia

The weapon that was dropped on the city of Nagasaki exploded from 1800 feet above ground.  The weapon did not reach the ground before exploding.  Still, as is shown in the images collected online, the damage was devastating to say the least.  Today, great measures in diplomacy are taken to steer clear of the threat of "nuclear warfare" since the effects or aftermath are too devastating.

The point has been made.  Force can be distributed in a variety of ways.  We could ask the simple question: Could the force of a nuclear weapon lift the ship "Queen Mary"?

To answer the question without too many calculations, we would just need to know the weight of the ship.  Here is a picture of the ship below:

Source: By David Jones

According to "Wikipedia," the Queen Mary weighs around 81,900 tons.  Without performing a calculation and taking account the definition of "weight" from above, we could say NO.  Again, how force is distributed is critical to answering the question.


The amount of force generated by a nuclear weapon may not be enough to lift up (off of the ground) the ship -- "Queen Mary" -- but is sufficient to level a small city.  Directionality of a force can help define the magnitude of the resultant force.  Concentration of pressure waves can also determine the extent of damage that a force can do.  According to the equation for pressure above, a large force over a small area will exert a large pressure.  Whereas a force distributed over a large area will be nearly not noticeable.  Here is a closing picture to illustrate this point taken from "Wikipedia" that is somewhat familiar to each of us:

Source: http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/circus-arts/bed-of-nails.htm

The next time that you are challenged to consider the force of an object, consider the calculations in the post above.  Further, think of how much force that you are exerting by standing on the floor at the current moment?  The force coming from the asteroid is negligible due to the surface that the force was spread over.  These are critical concepts to consider when forming a reaction to a situation.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Humans Affinity For Junk Food Rubs Off On Bird Population

By now, each of us is used to reading in the popular news about the 'unhealthy' eating habits of humans around the world.  In some countries, the obesity problem is progressing more quickly compared to others.  Regardless, generally speaking, the eating habits of humans around the world is not great.  Wow, did I really just say that generalization?  Yes.  Whether the eating habits can be defined as consuming too much fat based food, or whether that means consuming too less food (food sources are scarce), the problem is still present.  Now that we have this broad definition, you might be wondering why I speak of eating habits that are really amplified in the popular news on a daily basis (over and over again - right?).

Birds Take On Bad Habits?

The reason why is that our eating habits have now caused a certain bird population in a given geographical region to take on the same bad behaviors.  Yes, we are used to reading the same typical headline like the following from ScienceDaily news regarding health titled "US Adults Get Failing Grade In Lifestyle Behavior."  As conveyed in the article, health is not just attributed to keeping a 'healthy diet.'  There are more components along with the expected message:

In this study, researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Mississippi examined how many adults succeed in four general barometers that could help define healthy behavior: a good diet, moderate exercise, a recommended body fat percentage and being a non-smoker. It's the basic health advice, in other words, that doctors often give to millions of patients all over the world.

According to the study, only 2.7 percent of participants actually scored 'good' in all four areas.  Which means that only 2.7 percent were 'non-smokers' who kept a good diet with moderate exercise and have a body fat percentage that falls within the range of 'healthy' -- according to their weight and height.  This should be alarming to say the least.  Time for a wake up call.  No wonder there are such terrible cardiovascular disease statistics throughout various populations.

Against this backdrop is the emerging health issues with a specific bird population.  Yes, a bird population (specific bird) -- Storks.  More specifically, the European 'White Stork' -- whose picture is shown below:

Photo by Thomas Bresson

According to an editorial in 'The New York Times' titled "Elegant Bird Discovers Junk Food," a study was conducted by Dr. Aldina Franco, of the University of Anglia in England, into the changing migration pattern of storks  -- due to the existing 'dumps' in the flight path.  Here is an excerpt from the article in the 'Times':

A new study shows that the glorious annual migration of white storks from Europe to Africa is being disrupted by the birds’ growing addiction to junk food in the garbage dumps below their flight path. Thousands no longer make the crossing for the winter, preferring to build year-round nests at rubbish pits in Spain and Portugal where they conserve energy and have an easier time breeding and defending their nests.

The storks have learned to feast on readily available hamburger fragments, pizza scraps and assorted leftovers from overfed humans, rather than fly thousands of miles more for their traditional diet of frogs, beetles and grasshoppers in sub-Saharan Africa.

I was quite amazed upon my first read.  Then, I started thinking about previous trips to the dumps in the past by myself.  I do remember seeing birds swirling looking for food.  This is natural for them -- given the opportunity.  What stands out is the observation in the study that the overall migration pattern changed due to the dumps.  Again, from the article:

The change in storks’ migration was pinned down by GPS devices attached to four dozen birds, showing how upward of 14,000 of them now stay all winter at Portuguese dumps where there were none 30 years ago.
The birds preferred the Iberian Peninsula route because there are stronger updrafts over land than over the Mediterranean, making the long flight to Africa safer and less laborious. The trip became a good deal less arduous for those birds that spotted fields of fast food en route.

Not only are they changing their migration pattern, they are literally accumulating at the waste sites.  There must be good 'scraps' of food that are enticing them to stay for the entire duration rather than move on.  Although, based on our own eating habits, cheap and easy (fast food) is the path of 'least resistance' (low barrier of energy toward eating).  Therefore, who can blame them.

Birds Don't Distinguish Between Healthy And Unhealthy Food!

What is fascinating to me about this article and study was that the implication that the storks could distinguish between health and unhealthy food.  Actually, the availability of food was the major motivation in the case storks and their flight path.  Why travel thousands of miles to get food, when there is some food along the way?  Why would I wait to get to my mother's house to eat (which is an hour drive) if I could eat along the way?  Well, in that case, the second question would be -- why am I going to my mother's house?  Maybe I am going there to eat a family meal.

In the case of the birds, there could be a follow up study regarding the types of food eaten by the bird? I guess that I should read the study further and see if the answer to my question resides in the results.  I suspect that the food choices of the storks resemble that of my 8 year old Poodle/Maltese dog - Edna.  When she was small, she would escape our apartment and run directly for the trash dumpster.  She would then consume as much leftovers as she could before either of us (my wife and I) could catch her.  Then, she would throw up the food consumed upon entering our apartment.  What lovely memories.  We are glad those days are over.


Birds will flock toward the closest food source.  The fact that the birds do not complete their migration trip is disconcerting and of concern from a health standpoint.  The last result of such behavior that is needed is to pick up a disease from the decay within the dump.  Therefore, the action on behalf of the European Union to change protocol of storing trash at a dump site makes sense.

Who would have thought that such a parameter would arise in the equation of planning the construction of a dump site?  I guess, based on scientific research -- a new parameter has to be taken into account.  From now on, each planning committee will not only have to have a traditional 'Environmental Impact Report (EPI),' but now an EPI with the inclusion of bird flight paths due to migration patterns.  One more concern to include into the planning stages.

The next time that you go to throw food or waste away, think of the potential impact of the birds flying over you.  There is more to consider than just your health -- that of the storks.  Be mindful of nature.  Maybe just move toward 'composting bins'?  Have a great day!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Where Is That UPS Package?

You are probably wondering why a blog post has not appeared in nearly two weeks.  Maybe you are not wondering for that matter.  In any case, I have been working on starting a 'non-profit' organization -- which I will write about in the upcoming weeks.  The tax paper work is demanding -- especially if you are not a professional.  I am back though.  Additionally, I have been pondering while on a short vacation the content of a good book called "Driving Change: The UPS Approach To Business."  I will not spoil the book, but I recommend the book for a short read.  The UPS business model has been extremely successful over many decades.

Beyond that insurmountable list of information that is required to send a package is an inconceivable system in which your package circulates to arrive at a final destination.  This blog post will be short.  I just wanted to check back in after stepping away.  I have been working on blogs -- which will be published in the next few days.  I just wanted to insert a thought to hold the reader (you) over til the next post.  A piece of mental candy if you will to think over the next time that you are frustrated with sending a package with UPS.

As with other large companies like Amazon, FedEx, USPS, etc.--the vast network of 'nodes' or 'shipping centers' is almost inconceivable.  Here is an excerpt from the book that talks about a major 'express hub' that will really throw the complex operation into perspective:

UPS, in close cooperation with Louisville's city fathers, has carved out a large piece of the airport's cargo facilities, call Worldport, for its global air express hub.  Every minute or two between 11:30 pm and 2 am at Worldport, a UPS-owned or -leased aircraft--the company uses MD-11s, 757s, 767s, 747s, Airbus A300s, even Lear jets--lands on a runway.  On a typical night, more than 100 UPS planes from all around the world converge on Worldport.  With UPS as its biggest cargo customer, Louisville ranked fourth in cargo handled at U.S. airports in 2005.
Between 11:30 pm and 5 am, UPS unloads, sorts, and reloads onto the outgoing Browntails (UPS lingo for its air fleet) somewhere between 800,000 and one million domestic and international air packages.  By dawn, the fleet will be airborne, planes weighed down once again with the stuff of world trade.  UPS calls this drill the sort, and it constitutes one of the marvels of modern commerce.

With the help of 5,000 employees working throughout the night, the sort is accomplished.  While we are sleeping, packages are moving.  Something about all 800,000 to 1 million packages being airborne by dawn just blew my mind away.  I had to see a picture of this facility.  Below is a picture that I found of 'Worldport' from 'wikipedia':

Source: Wikipedia

In the picture, the planes look small compared to the 'express hub' -- package center.  Wikipedia offers more information on the actual dimensions and total employees at the facility:

Worldport is the worldwide air hub for UPS (United Parcel Service) located at the Louisville International Airport in Louisville, Kentucky. Although UPS has had a hub at Louisville since 1980, the term was not used officially by the company until 2002, after a $1 billion, five-year expansion.[1] Previously, the project was named Hub 2000. The facility is currently the size of 5.2 million square feet (48 ha; 80 football fields) and capable of handling 115 packages a second, or 416,000 per hour.[2] With over 20,000 employees, UPS is one of the largest employers in Louisville, and in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The facility mainly handles express and international packages and letters. Worldport serves all major domestic and international hubs.

The description mentioned in the book above was before the renovation in May of 2006 and April of 2010.  The dimensions mentioned in the excerpt above taken from 'Wikipedia' are current after both of the expansions by UPS.  Can you imagine the organization/sorting optimization that had to be perfected to make the day to day operations run smoothly at Worldport?  I wonder how much money was spent in the design and renovations at Worldport (including all of the planning meetings).  Probably on the order of hundreds of thousands of 'man hours'.

Of course, according to the book, none of this infrastructure was built over night.  Many decades have been spent optimizing the business operations in order to get to the operational capability that we (as the customer) see today.  Quite amazing -- is it not?

In conclusion, the inconceivable is conceivable when built over time.  Although, the next time that you feel constrained when filling out a 'package shipping form' when sending off a package using the service UPS, think of this facility.  Additionally, the next time you are frustrated that UPS cannot find your package, think about this operation.  I am not trying to make excuses, but with a facility the size of 80 football fields, mistakes are bound to happen.  Especially, when moving around 416,000 packages an hour -- Wow.  Until next time.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What Was The Daily Magnitude Of Methane (That Leaked) Out Of Aliso Canyon?

In the aftermath of the leaking methane well at the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility, questions are still being asked about the damage done both to the environment and the citizens that live within the area (Porter Ranch).  Recently, in the science news, there was a statistic reported regarding the leak near Porter Ranch of methane.  Specifically, the amount per day was reported by comparison to filling up a known volume -- the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in California -- with gas.  Here is a quick post to verify that amount.  Additionally, the intention is to bridge earlier posts with an upcoming post on the bill SB 380 -- requiring the Aliso Canyon Facility to be inspected before resuming operation.

How Much Methane Leaked Per Day?

The calculated answer from a previous blog is 25 million cubic feet of methane gas.  The more complicated (and long) answer to this question is not easily answered due to fluctuating conditions underneath ground.  Normally, I would not rely on such an immediate answer like this.  But the reality of the situation over the course of months (in which the well leaked), the reports are 'averages' and have significant variations.  Why?

In my earlier posts on the gas leak near Porter Ranch (Post 1 and Post 2), there was a comment by a reader who had previously worked at a gas facility in Wyoming.  I do not claim to be a person with personal experience in such matters.  I only went off of the popular news accounts of the leak.  In the popular news, there were reports of fluctuations in the flow rate as the pressure of the 'reservoir' changed over time (due to the corresponding volume change).

Part of me agrees with this idea.  Although, only in the approximation of a large reservoir.  According to the reader who commented, the pressures are pretty high.  Here is what he wrote:

Think about it, the natural gas is naturally occurring, it will only build up to the point the reservoir can contain it. After that point the gas would migrate to another reservoir pocket, or, of it finds a way, to the surface and atmosphere. 

After working with the Department of Environmental Quality on Wyoming for several years, I have seen natural gas reservoirs that naturally hold pressures from 350psi, all the way up to 13,000psi.

The premise of the comment was that I made a gross approximation of the 'void space' of the underground gas reservoir -- 87 billion cubic feet.  Reports in the news stated that the amount of gas stored underneath ground was 87 billion cubic feet.  Of course, in my last post on the volume, the actual volume stored is much greater.  The reader was simply stating that the volume is much smaller than I led the readers of the blog to believe.

Part of that is true.  But only to the extent that I was illustrating the volume (magnitude) of the amount of gas stored underneath ground.  I was referring to the volume as if the amount I was speaking of was equivalent to the space underground.  That could not be true taking into account the reported pressures that the reader speaks of.  With an increased pressure (such as his), the volume would be much smaller (in order to drive up the pressure -- the two are inversely proportional to one another).

Realistically, I was referring to the volume of gas under the conditions of 'standard temperature and pressure' -- which are more comparable to the flowing gas that the public saw coming out of the ground represented by 'infrared imaging.'   Therefore, I am completely comfortable with my representation.

Especially, after reading the following statistic from a website 'Laboratory Equipment.'  The title of the brief was "California Gas Blowout Well Caused Nation's Largest Methane Leak" and the statistic regarding the daily amount of methane leaked from the broken well was stated as follows:

The University of California, Irvine joined the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, UC Davis and others to show that during the peak of the Aliso Canyon disaster, enough methane poured into the air every day to fill a balloon the size of the Rose Bowl.

I am continuously surprised at the amount of readers who read such articles and blow right past these statistics.  In my previous blog regarding the amount of gas stored at Aliso Canyon, I calculated on the side that the amount of methane leaked out of the well in 1 hour would fill 4 Goodyear Blimps.  The calculation is shown below assuming that a 1 Goodyear Blimp would hold a volume of 250 thousand cubic feet of gas:

That is the amount of blimps which could be filled in a single hour with the reported flow rates from the Environmental Protection Agency on the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.  The flow rates varied with the pressure adjusting underneath ground.  I pulled the value for the flow rate from the table shown below provided by the EPA:

The flow rate used was recorded by the EPA and reported for the 21st of January 2016.  Given the flow amount of gas for an hour to be 1.05 million cubic feet, for a 24 hour period of time, the total volume would be equal to 25 million cubic feet.  In order to calculate the percentage of volume occupied by the gas (in this case the volume is the Rose Bowl), the volume of the Rose Bowl needs to be known.  I had trouble finding the dimensions for the height.  In the end, I asked a search engine and the answer I received was from the website 'answers.com' given as 20 million cubic feet.

If this answer is correct, which we can take it to be (supposedly for now), then according to the volume of gas that is known over a 24 hour period of time, 120% of the Rose Bowl will be filled.  At least 1 Rose Bowl will be filled along with 20% of the second Rose Bowl.  This raises a couple of questions:

1) What volume was being used in the calculation which resulted in the reported value?

2) Can we guess to see if we come close to the approximation?

What do I mean by the last statement?

How would a person check the calculation?

I stated earlier that I had trouble finding the dimensions of the Rose Bowl on line.  Which raises questions as to the assumed dimensions to arrive at the reported values.  I was able to find an area of the 79,136 square feet for the Rose Bowl.  Using the approximation of a cylinder, we can write the volume as a product of the area and height of the Rose Bowl as follows:

Does the answer make sense?  We could divide the answer by 100 yards (300 feet) to get 84%.  This means that the height of the surrounding walls of the Rose Bowl stadium are 84% the length of the field.  Take a look at a picture of the Rose Bowl below:

Clearly, the height of the wall is not equal to 84% of the length of the field.  In order to compensate for the change, we need to revisit the equation above.  One of two possibilities can be changed to correct the value.  Either the volume is smaller than 20 million cubic feet or the area reported is much greater than 79 thousand square feet.  I would go with the volume being smaller.


Either way, the amount spilled or spewed of methane from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility was large and possibly the worst ever.  Hopefully, a leak of this magnitude is the last.  In order to ensure that is the case, the California government should enact SB 380.  I did not have much time to go into that in this post.  That can be for another post.

We (Southern California residents) should not forget the magnitude of this disaster.  We should demand more from our elected officials to demand more in turn from SoCalGas.  At the very least, every well should be inspected before operations resume at the storage facility.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Where Does Your Tap Water Come From?

There have been numerous videos and documentaries made by various agencies to illustrate the importance of treating our environment well and the impact of not doing so.  Some of the videos have strong language, some have graphic images.  I am always looking for simplicity in a message.  Based on the crisis over the last year with the drinking water in Flint Michigan, water has been on my mind.  Specifically, where the water originates from to get to our tap.  Below are a few initial thoughts along with a simple animated video to illustrate the basic notion -- that every one can grasp: How you treat your environment will loop back to you in some manner.  Read on -- enjoy!

Water Sources?

Who cares about water sources?  Each of us should.  Although, the majority of consumers probably take for granted the luxury of walking into their kitchen and turning on the faucet to see water appear.  Water that is drinkable and usable for preparing their food, for hygienic purposes (baths, showers, brushing teeth, washing hands, etc.).

As I mentioned above, simplicity is sometimes the most effective way to convey the importance of taking care of the environment around us.  Also, I pointed out the crisis in Flint, Michigan with the drinking water.  What a disaster?  Right?  Depending on your geographic area, the source of your drinking water might be as close as a nearby river.  Examples, include -- Animas River (Colorado), Flint River (Michigan), Elk River (West Virginia).  Each of these river closures were due to either disaster or mismanagement (Flint, Michigan) which resulted in the loss of usable water at the tap for a considerable period of time.  Or in the case of the Flint River, the water was tainted for a while until the city officials mismanagement was exposed.

Why do I bring this up?

The other day, I was surfing my Facebook 'home' page where all of my contacts post random thoughts and videos.  I came across this simple video that really touched me.  Here is the video below.  I imagine that you can take 36 seconds out of your busy life to watch this simple illustration of the water chain from 'river to tap':

Posted by Anis Chaaya on Saturday, July 19, 2014

Amazing right?   I mean amazingly simple.  Not complex, just straight simple: what is dumped into the river is brought back to your shower.  Videos such as the one above are powerful since the viewer is not challenged by considering a 'magnitude' or 'volume' of waste water that must be treated.  The idea is to challenge the viewer to focus on the simple cyclical nature of how the environment is treated will loop back to the consumer eventually.

Are we really consumers of water?

Yes, We Are Water Customers!

Sounds like a rather simple, irrelevant statement - right?  But think about the simplicity of the video above coupled to the complexity that is required to get the water to your tap.  Yes, we pay the local Department of Water and Power to supply us with clean water to use in the examples cited above.  As consumers, we might require (or assume) a certain standard of cleanliness -- for example, I do not want my tap water to be brown!   I would like to be able to drink my tap water without further filtering the water!  I would like consistent water to flow out of my tap!

What ever your requirement might be, there will be a corresponding cost associated with that desire.  Furthermore, as more and more of the environment is destroyed (by dumping, etc.), the job of the utility company might be greater, which will result in higher payments for the same service.  In the case of the water pouring out of the tap in Flint, Michigan, work will be needed to clean the water up.  Here is an image of a comparison of two bottles of water (one from Flint, one from Detroit) taken from the website 'dogonews.com':

Source: 'dogonews.com'

Would you like to see the tap water emerging from the sink look like the water in the bottle on the left hand side of the picture above?  I certainly would not.  Upon first seeing such a discoloration, I would bring up the difference in color immediately to authorities.  Of course, complaining from a distance in hindsight and after the fact is easier said than done.  In the above case, the contaminants are from corroded infrastructure.  I would hope that city officials would have more integrity and clean up the mess before the nation has heard about the problem.


The message is pretty clear in my mind.  The water that emerges out of the tap or shower head or sink is directly related to the water that we pollute in our rivers.  Therefore, treating the environment in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner is in our own best interest.  The effects of not doing so are completely apparent (the visual) and in some cases not yet realized.  Longterm effects are not known.  I will close with a short story that was told to me at a wedding by a professor on my graduate committee -- a chemist.  Below is a picture of the planet Earth:

I was standing on a balcony in Santa Barbara after a wedding having a few beers looking off into the ocean while talking to a professor.  I was still in the graduate program at UC Riverside at the time, he was on my graduate committee.  He said looking off onto the horizon regarding 'environmental waste' the following:

Whenever I see a picture of the planet Earth taken from space, I am often reminded of my curiosity about those who dump or litter on beaches or throw trash into the ocean.  I think to myself, if we trash that planet, where else do we have to go?

He is right.  In the past, I have written about the water running off during a storm into the ocean.  Couple that thought to how we damage those water ways.  Could that water be usable?  I am not asking you to change everything about yourself.  I am asking that you relay the message to your friends and family to be more cognizant of the connection between the river flowing by or through your town and the drinking water.  Start to consider the connection of waste to drinking water.

In a post next week, I will discuss plastics that are thrown into the ocean to accumulate into large waste piles.  Specifically, from the measurement standpoint.  What do I mean by this?  Wait and see.  Have a great evening!