AP Project- Future Techniques to Prevent Destruction, and Personal Carbon Footprint

My Applied Project focuses on the destruction of recent hurricane events by looking at the case study of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico from September 2017 and focusing on what new ways we can use to minimize the destruction from major hurricanes in the future. It focuses on the disciplines of Meteorology, Environmental Science/Engineering and Civil Engineering which will help describe the root of the problem, the effects on the environment and people and new plans for the future. This is both on a small scale and large scale. The small scale will be looking at carbon dioxide and why its contributing to climate change. On the small scale, I have asked a few students to calculate their carbon footprints to show how much their lifestyle may be impacting the planet. Then on the large scale, I interviewed civil engineers and looked up research on the topics of how climate change is impacting infrastructure in places that hurricanes are most common. The purpose of this was to figure out the problem that we have in regards to the destruction from hurricanes, and what we can do to minimize this destruction and plan for a less costly future from major hurricanes.

The first part of my project was to read articles and journals online to better understand the professional mindsets when it comes to climate change, weather events, infrastructure damage and ways that we could improve early warning systems, take more precautions before these types of storms make landfall and cause destruction, and figuring out what ways we can prevent this damage in the future.

The first thing I asked students to do was to calculate their carbon footprints. Carbon footprints are essentially the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc. We all have one. Some of us are better at managing it than others and the only way we can bring down the size of our carbon footprint is to become more sustainable so that we do not contribute to anthropogenic carbon change and hopefully we can see a reduction in the affects of climate change on the planet. 

I took a couple of students from different parts of the country and looked at how their carbon footprints were in comparison to the global average and what we hope to have in the future in the world. I didn’t get as many responses that I would have liked but I got 2 students— one from New Hampshire and one from California and their carbon footprints are below.

The first example is from a student here in New Hampshire. In total they produce 9.90 Metric tons of CO2 a year. Most of that comes from their car, flights and secondary sources. As you can see from the chart, this person is far below the country average, but the world target is much smaller than their carbon footprint. If we make a comparison of this person to the average in the US. Their carbon footprint is 9.90 metric tons per year while the average in the united stated is 16.40 metric tons. The U.S is much higher than most countries and it would be nice if we could find better ways to reduce our carbon footprint even if we take small steps such as using rainwater in our homes, buying electric cars, going to farmers markets, etc. There’s plenty that can be done and people just need to make an effort.

Carbon footprint size can differ in location throughout the country. People that live in cities actually have a smaller carbon footprint than people that don’t because people in the city will ride public transportation instead of take cars, live in closer apartments with people rather than own big houses on large amounts of land, etc. The second person that sent me their carbon footprint actually lives in LA, California.

While this photo is a little difficult to read on this post, their average carbon footprint is only 1.40 metric tons per year of CO2. This is a big difference from our friend here in New Hampshire. Most of their carbon footprint comes from secondary sources. This person tends to take the subway and public transportation and drive their car as little as possible. California however is also notorious for trying to become a more sustainable state. Some states, such as California promote the idea of carbon footprint reduction by giving their citizens tax breaks for using more sustainable sources of energy. This includes sources like solar and wind energy, as well as buying cars that run on electricity rather than gas.

I feel as though my household uses almost the average for their carbon footprint. While we live in the city, we do rely on public transportation. We live in a 2 story house that uses a lot of energy and electricity. Out of everyone in my house I use the most in gas because I drive around the most. I think the best way to reduce my carbon footprint would be by buying a more sustainable electric car instead of a car that depends on fossil fuels. That would help to reduce my carbon footprint immensely.

So what does a carbon footprint have to do with the big picture of climate change? The answer is simple. The greater our carbon footprint is, the more we contribute to climate change and the more we will damage different environments and affect different parts of the planet. As I explained in my RA, carbon dioxide has been increasing mostly in the last few decades and it is because a lot of people are producing CO2 more than ever before. This contributes to climate change because of the greenhouse effect. I explained how the greenhouse effect traps in heat and energy in the earth due to the rising number of greenhouse gasses. This contributes to the overall warming of the globe.

The problem is that because the earth is heating, this allows for more intense/major hurricanes to form. Hurricanes love warm, moist weather and will form under those conditions. As of the most recent decade the number of major hurricanes has increased and this has left devastating effects on places such as Puerto Rico, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands. The reason for this is that power outages happen more frequently due to high winds, Flooding happens faster because roads are only build to withstand a certain number of events, and buildings do not have the strongest foundations to combat the erosion that happens from these storms.

Part of this project was to interview Civil Engineers in hopes that we may be able to find a way to prevent the damage and destruction from these hurricanes in the future. Senior Project Manager Daniel J. Wilk of Parsons Civil Engineering Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts gave some insight to what we might be able to do for the future. He gave insight to the issue of power lines saying that “A lot of our problems come from overhead utility lines. Even in MA (Boston) when we have high winds (in the winter) water town had utility poles crashing over. I think we need to design utility poles and overhead wires with deeper foundations and more wires to support the utility lines because once they go down there’s power outages all over—its important here and down in hurricane areas—wherever possible we might want to but it in underground conduits but if we had to put them above ground we need better support so they can withstand high winds”. As someone who studies Environmental Science/Environmental Engineering, I fully believe that putting utility and power lines under ground would be a step forward to preventing damage from power outages from future major events. Then I asked him what should be done about infrastructure and he responded by saying “Pavement design is several layers of surface—base, sub-base, etc. I think we need to do better with the materials. Super pave is a more durable pavement, I think we need to come up with better pavement structures to withstand flooding. For example if a road over tops, if the top is saturated, it can crumble and deteriorate. Stronger pavement structures and maybe ways to keep the pavement dry—scientists need to help come up with better pavement material—maybe even recycles plastic or other materials that we haven’t’ used so we can withstand the events more so than what we have today”. I think as scientists, we need to look for better materials we can use in order to make pavement and buildings stronger so they will be able to withstand damage from major hurricanes.

So what exactly is this project and why does all this matter? This project is a data-collection project that is designed to help me understand the issues, educate others, and come up with solutions for the future. I have included everything in a power point that I hope to present to other students so that they can be more educated on the issues and I hope to inform them of what can be done in the future. Based off of my research and my collaboration with the engineering members at Parsons Corporation, I believe that we can prevent damage, destruction and death by implementing the following:

  • Better Forecasting/Early warning systems for meteorologists to use to let the public know exactly what to expect—This would be able to let people know what they can do to prepare for these storms, and if possible when they would need to evacuate.
  • Finding new materials so that we can build better roads and buildings so they would be less affected by the major hurricanes that could affect those areas
  • Power lines would be better served underground so that they would not be damaged by the strong winds and unable to give people access to power. If people do not have power, they will not be able to know what to expect from the storm or when the storm will pass through.

I think that if scientists, engineers and inter-disciplinarians can work together to implement these new solutions for the future, it would help them to minimize the impact that storms have on places that are affected by these storms and it would cost countries much less in damage so they would be able to use the money to prevent damage in these areas for the future.

project link: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/18XHPJ2P7EJ12XTojGYnsBIrK5Ui_iPs4CXm8xDwlAzk/edit?usp=sharing

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One comment

  1. Hi, Julie, interesting work on carbon footprint, it’s certainly got me thinking of ways to step more lightly, but having to sometimes drive longer than I’d like to from point A to point B living in more rural/remote areas creates a challenge! I hope you continue to figure out solutions regarding this important topic. This looks great!

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