What Is Biodiversity?

Learning Activity:

Part I: How biodiversity can vary with respect to different climate regions.

Part II: Explain the difference between extinct and endangered species.

Part III: Touch on where extinction of species are more likely to occur (from a geopolitical standpoint).

Part I: As was mentioned in the module, biodiversity can vary immensely depending on where your location is among the planet. You will find more biodiversity along the equatorial axis of the Earth, as the tropics have consistent weather patterns year round. For instance, tropical and subtropical regions, such as far southern Florida and the Florida Keys, have the same climate year round: Very warm and humid. It does not get excruciatingly hot due to the influence of air off the oceans (believe it or not, 90+ degree Fahrenheit days are rare for the city of Miami!). Because the climate is “stable” year round, a diverse network of species are able to thrive, from mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and so on. Now if you were to travel into the polar regions, such as the remote town of Nome, Alaska, you will likely find minimal biodiversity as the climate is harsh. Usually dry, extremely cold, and exposed to all sunlight and darkness for season portions of the year, only the toughest of species (plant and animal) are able to survive, such as the Alaskan wolf, Russian snow geese, polar bears, etc.

Part II: Extinct animals, such as the recent black rhinoceros, are animals that no longer exist on the planet. Whether or not it was from natural extinction, or influence of man by over harvesting, destroying land, etc., they will never return. Endangered animals are categorized as species that are on the verge of extinction. A very recent example of endangered species are located near my home area in the Delaware Bay. This species is the horseshoe crab. At one point, decades ago, the species was on the endangered list and very, very close to extinction. However, after strict implementations for the conversation of wildlife, the population has increased one hundred fold, and there are over 1,000,000 horseshoe crab in the Delaware Bay. It is home to the highest concentration of horseshoe crab in the world.

Part III: Tying Part II into this section, I think biodiversity has a greater chance of becoming extinct from a human influence perspective where ecocentric points of view lack, as well as government regulations. The United States has done a pretty good job when it comes to animal conversation, as protecting wild life is one of the key interests for our economy (such as hunting, etc.). Other nations; however, that may not have harvesting and/or hunting regulations, such as the illegal whale hunting in the southern Pacific, may result in a decrease in species population, which may eventually become endangered or extinct. I think that while hunting, fishing, and harvesting food is important, it is exceptionally important to not over harvest and consume juvenile life. By not harvesting juvenile life, animal species will be able to reproduce, keeping the food web and biodiversity network stable.

U.S. Manipulation of the Climate Accord

First, as someone who deals with climate as a form of study, the word “climate” is an extremely dangerous word to say around politicians. This article unveils, through WikiLeaks, how the United States conducted surveillance, and how they also bribed and/or threatened other nations, particularly smaller ones, to adapt to the Copenhagen Accord which would inherently benefit the United States.


Climate change graph/diagram showing the interconnection between climate, politics, and big money.

“The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that commits State Parties to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, based on the premise that global warming exists, and man-made CO2 emissions have caused it.” It also states that restrictions are made on a global level for emissions. The Copenhagen Accord states that nations are responsible for their own emission control. This sparked a huge fire between large, economically sound nations versus those whose economy has yet to have enough support to sustain major mitigations to adapt to controlling their own emissions.

Since the United States conducted bribes and particularly, and I emphasize the usage of particularly, conducted surveillance to see what other nations were going to do in response to the Accord, it was later exposed by WikiLeaks to the world. Thereafter, over 100 nations are in support of the Copenhagen Accord, which is a good thing. I highly, highly disagree with the U.S. conducting bribes and threats, as well as surveillance (despite climate change posing a very high threat to national security, but it will happen regardless of human induced emissions).

These cable leaks really put a sore on the United States, I think. They were highly unethical and served a great injustice towards smaller nations such as Ethiopia, for instance. What throws me to this day is that the U.S. is one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world, despite a near 200% debt to GDP. The fact that U.S. was not in this case looking to help developing nations and rather spied sets a precedence unlike any other, especially since the U.S. is not the only nation dealing with climate change. Climate change has transpired for millions of years, and is a global issue that needs to be resolved from a perspective of humans enhancing global warming, increased salinity in the oceans, etc.

Natural Hazard Potential(s) in my Hometown

My hometown of Reading, PA, located 50 miles west of Philadelphia, has not really experienced any true “disaster” so to speak. The World map of natural hazards however, indicates longer term impacts such as increases in heavy rain. In June of 2006, we had a significant flooding event that caused the Schuylkill River to swell from its banks and flood six blocks into the city of Reading, as well as onto Highway 422 westbound. Climate projections indicate that rain may become more frequent during the summer, which puts the area at risk for more major flooding events. The potential for severe weather, including hail and tornadoes, as denoted by the map, is on the lower part of the spectrum, as are wildfires. However, on 22 May 2014, there was a significant thunderstorm that produced baseball sized hail that fell through the city of Reading. The chances of that happening again are rare. Overall, my hometown is in a safe area from extreme weather and/or natural disasters.

One disaster I chose was a reported earthquake in Colombia, South America. The magnitude was a 3.0 at a depth of 14.91 miles (mi). The potential impact from that earthquake is/was minor, as the ground barely shook given the depth of the quake. However, my hometown is at risk for earthquakes, but not on a frequent scale. In March of 2006, my hometown experienced a magnitude 6.1 that last four seconds. The epicenter was four miles from my house (it sounded like a bomb exploded). The Reading, PA, area is right along the Ramapo fault line, one of the oldest fault lines in the nation. My home area is much more developed than it was 10 years ago when the magnitude 6.1 occurred. The bridge network across the Reading area is one of thee worst in the nation, of which two major thoroughfares were closed due to chunks of concrete falling off the bridges into the Schuylkill. Another earthquake, even if it is a moderate magnitude, may cause some of the bridges in the area to collapse – it is of great concern but the area is very, very poor, so funding to repair the bridges is not applicable. I think if new bridges are built, or the old ones are repaired to modern day engineering code, it will reduce the risk of structural failure of the bridges from an event such as an earthquake. It’s an interesting, and quite scary thought to think about, but it is indeed a real issue.

Sustainable Cities: My hometown to other cities

My hometown is Wyomissing, PA, a suburb of the city of Reading located one hour west of Philadelphia. Wyomissing is an upper tier neighborhood in regards to houses, as there are a lot of wealthy people that live in the neighborhood. It is definitely an automobile suburb, as the closest grocery stores are a few miles down the highway, or you drive through the neighborhood to get to it as they are too far for walking distance. In the area alone, there is about 88,000 people living in the Reading area (that’s as of 2013). Reading is one of the poorest cities in the U.S., and a lot of people have moved out of the county as unemployment continues to rise in the county albeit abundant low wage jobs. I grew up in Wyomissing, and the only thing truly sentimental to me was the house my family use to have when I was a kid. Not much has changed there, and the neighborhood is not as safe as it used to be.

The first city I chose was Copenhagen, Denmark. The city has taken exponential measures to become a more environmentally friendly and pedestrian friendly city. Whereas, the use of cars has dropped drastically and city commerce is done through mainly walking and cycling. This transportation mode has resulted in a more friendly city to the people, where many can congregate in common areas such as markets — this is/was where perhaps the location of a parking lot once was, for instance. My hometown area is far from this. People hardly find common grounds to congregate on and would rather drive to their destination and keep to themselves. Nor are they conscientious of their environment. I think, however, some measures have been taken to improve transportation in my area as buses are transitioning to natural gas — a cleaner burning fuel. Given the vastness of the Reading area, I do not think we will see a transition to a pedestrian or cycling friendly transportation mode anytime soon.

The second city I chose from the module was Detroit, Michigan. The idea of urban farming has actually had an uptick in frequency, if you will, in my hometown of Wyomissing. A lot of people have started to grow their own vegetables again in their backyard, as I do the same (when I am home, that is). Suburban farming in this case, provides a sustainable source of vegetables albeit the work involved. Not to mention that you can get it fresh off the plant versus having to get it from a store where it sat for a few days before consumption. While the magnitude of “suburban” farming is not as high as the urban farming in Detroit, I think it has potential to evolve as more local markets start to infiltrate the area once again.

Food and Agricultural – The Societal Norms

An odd situation occurred last summer while I was working at a grocery store part time. It is a paradox when it comes to “healthy” food choices, as brands that have the healthy name are not exactly healthy. Today’s social world is all about whole foods and organic foods. Having worked at a grocery store during my first two years of college, last summer I witnessed people purchase the “organic” grapes that were five to six dollars more versus the regular grapes that were half the price, and were no different than the organic grapes. I said to them that they were the exact same thing but they insisted the “organic” grapes were better. I still scratch my head at that today. Today’s norm(s) when it comes to food, I feel, rely heavily on labels than what the actual healthiness of the food can deliver.

Some prominent societal issues today encompasses the anti-GMO movement. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are actually, contrary to popular belief, a way to preserve the food surplus. And, as long as the surplus remains greater than that of the human population, then the use of GMOs will continue until another source is found to sustain food. Think about it: A decade ago, you would not be purchasing exotic fruits year round, but only when they are in season. Grapes, as mentioned in my first paragraph, some of them that come to the stores are evidently huge compared to what they used to be. The quantity of fruit has increased exponentially, and the quality has become safe despite the use of pesticides and GMO. Without the use of GMO on crops, the human population would suffer detrimental consequences, perhaps to the point of widespread famine. I think we as a society take GMO engineering for granted because the norm(s) tell us think about it otherwise.


The use of GMO in commercial food products to sustain the human population of the world. Notice there is a consistent circulation between Human Consumption, to Nutritional Value, to Sustainability. That is a crucial part of the GMO cycle.

Air Quality Pollution – How has it improved and can it improve?

The first case study I chose was the air quality control that the United States first implemented in 1970 through enacting the Clean Air Act (CAA). I retrieved this case study through the Colby – Sustainable Development link that was provided on the course site, and the topic can be found here: http://bit.ly/1Q9JKWS. This case studies essentially focuses on the improvement of air quality across the contiguous United States, of which it was a major problem until the CAA was initiated. Through a few amendments of the act, the most prominent amendment in 1990, the reduction of hazardous air quality increased ten fold. For example, vehicles used to use gasoline that was lead based, which was extremely dangerous for human health. The underlying issue of this act was the overall cost; however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that the cost of controlling air quality will far outweigh the result of the improvement of human health, such as the reduction for risk of cardiopulmonary symptoms among population.

My second case study that I looked up was/is the air pollution crisis ongoing in China, particularly in Beijing, China. I found the study from a well written article by the New York Times, and it can be found here: http://nyti.ms/1Nv4BRY. On an annual basis, the fatality rates from dangerous air quality in China is a staggering 1.6 million deaths. Given the lack of air quality standards in China, nearly one half of the Chinese population experiences air quality that is in the unhealthy range in the U.S. (Air Quality Index: http://bit.ly/1T2gqFk). Scientific research analyzed that Beijing was not the centroid of the pollution; rather, areas hundreds of miles away where energy production occurs, such as coal, results in the poor air quality. Measures are being taken to clean the air, and the Chinese government is now releasing the data to the public in efforts to clean the air. General public involvement will aid in the short term and long term improvements of air quality in China.

Living in State College, our air is very clean. Given our geospatial location between the I-95 corridor from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia to our east, and Pittsburgh to our west, very seldom do we have air quality above the moderate range. Upwind transport of air from various geographic locations is usually always clean, and the State College area is not a hub for releasing pollutants into the troposphere. Think about it. Our public transportation system uses buses that operate off natural gas, a cleaner source than unleaded gasoline or diesel fuel. And, the university has heavy involvement in environmental care and improvement. Back in 1948, Donora, Pennsylvania, had a catastrophic air quality disaster due to a stagnant air pattern that caused pollution from steel to set into the valley. Since the CAA, and more recently since 2010, the area has not had an unhealthy air quality day since. Air quality regulation in the U.S. has had significant impacts on making the air cleaner, particularly areas such as State College that are encased around mountain ranges.

Water Systematics of my Hometown

The water supply for my hometown of Wyomissing, PA, comes from Lake Ontelaunee, located just to the northeast of the city. Lake Ontelaunee is fed by Maiden Creek, of which the creeks forms from spring water runoff from the mountains and hilly terrain in the vicinity. From the creek, it enters the Schuylkill River. The water is then pumped into one of many water treatment facilities throughout the Reading area. It is then pumped with ozone (O₃) as the ozone will remove any fine particulates in the water. Thereafter, the water is coagulated and fluoridated (fluoridation of water is a controlled addition of fluoride to the water supply to reduce decay of teeth; another aspect of public health). After the water goes through rigorous filtering processes to reduce sediment concentration, it enters corrosion filters to remove harmful substances, and a balance of the pH also occurs. Before being sent out to neighborhood water towers, slight additives chlorine (Cl) are added to clean the water once and for all. It then heads to homes and/or water towers and is ready for use. After the water is consumed, it heads toward a refinery plant located on the south side of Reading. The storm and waste water is then treated and dumped into the Schuylkill River. There has been some problems recently with the dumping of the treated water in the Schuylkill as the treated water is warmer than the water in the river, harming wildlife.

Throughout the day, Monday, February 8th, I used quite a bit of water that was already stored (bottled water). Though, having just getting over a very bad illness, I washed my hands practically every hour throughout the day Monday. I consumed four bottles of water, or four pints which is equivalent to a half gallon of water. Now, I am uncertain as to how many gallons per minute the showers in the dorm pump out, but I took a steaming hot shower for about 20 minutes last night. Perhaps there was well over 100 gallons of water usage from that shower alone. I draw that conclusion because the average house sink pumps out roughly two gallons per minute. As per taking care of business in the restroom, I think about 6 gallons of water were used as the bathroom systems are pretty conservative on campus (again, the university does fairly well with water conservation for their sink and bathroom systems). My overall water consumption ended up being about 30 gallons less than the average family household — my 20 minute shower hiked up the water usage exponentially. Otherwise, the rest of the usage was on a minimal usage amount.

If I was limited to only two gallons of water for one day, I would assume conditions were perhaps on the extreme level. I would keep a full gallon of water for consumption; no less than 0.75 gallons as the human body can burn through liters of water on the order of hours depending on the conditions outside. The other 1 to 1.25 gallons of water would be used to cook food. A small portion would be kept to boil food, if needed, and to clean myself up after cooking. If it came down to it, I would not bathe if things were extreme enough as dumping water on myself so I can feel “clean” is not the best way to use water. If it were hot, I would actually wet my clothing with it, particularly around my core and head to keep my core temperature normal. A small portion, perhaps a pint if that, would be used. If the environment were cold, then that water to keep my core temperature down would be salvaged and used for more cooking, or cleaning of the catch of the day, etc. It is a pretty coarse situation when you have two gallons of water to deal with. It can really put into perspective just how much water we frequently use on a daily basis without thinking about it.


Hello, everyone,

I found this previous section to be rather thought provoking in many ways. The questions I chose were as followed, and I will discuss all of the answers in the paragraph that subsequently follows:

1) Is it more important to be a good person or to perform good acts (virtue vs. action ethics).

I think it is important to be a good person, as well as performing acts of good as well.

4) Do ecosystems matter for their own sake, or do they only matter to the extent that they impact humans (ecocentric ethics vs. anthropocentric ethics)?

Ecosystems do matter for their own sake. The majority of ecosystems i.e. rainforests, oceans, have been around longer than humans have been, and have spawned lifeforms that eventually evolved into humans.

6) Is my own life worth more than the lives of others, the same, or less (selfishness vs. altruism)?

This is a tricky question, of which my answer is the same to an extent. We are all the same, species wise that is.

I think it is very important to be a good person, but to also carry out acts of good deeds. Preaching the welfare of who you are is one thing, if you will, but helping people who are in need, whether it be on an assignment, holding the door for someone carry a bunch of books, or walking someone home at night, the actions help define who you are as a whole. Having good intentions does not always pay off in the appropriate direction, as doing what is right sometimes is not always easy. Segueing into ecosystems, I feel strongly that ecosystems matter for their own sake. Here is why. The majority of ecosystems, whether they be at a macro scale or micro scale, have helped result in a quasi-sustainable way of life for our species, and others, for tens/hundreds of thousands of years. Think about it: If we were to, say, harm a particular plant species or a water supply (Flint, Michigan, for example, is a micro scale phenomenon as it covers an entire city population), that would exponentially result in detrimental loss for humans. These days when technological advances are high, I feel sometimes the fragility of our ecosystems are undermined. Is my own life worth more than the lives of other? We are all the same. We breathe the same air, we venture and seek out the commodities of life that make living comfortable and our careers succeed. Can I help sustain other peoples lives so they can live longer? Not directly, but indirectly, I think it is possible. Studying meteorology, I have grown very fond of understanding how phenomena in the atmosphere functions. If I can understand and predict say, what causes large tornadoes to form during potent storm systems, then hopefully we can get the necessary information out for people in a large geospatial area to seek the appropriate shelter and/or plan for hazardous weather further in advance. That, in turn, can save lives in a non-direct, altruistic way. You cannot put a price on that.

Cheers, everyone,

Harrison Sincavage

Biogas in India

This diagram depicts the socioeconomic and economic benefits of biogas usage in India. Prior to the introduction of biogas in India, wood was widely used across the country as a source of fuel for cooking and power. The high use of wood resulted in mass deforestation, which resulted in poor and loose soil content. When flooding occurred, the soil was usually washed away and was unable to replenished as fast as areas where soil remained in tact. This made an impact on rural areas — a hard impact. With the implementation of biogas generators, it uses natural resources already made available that do not have as significant of an impact on the environment than the use of wood. By the use of animal dung, the dung sits out during the day and eventually begins to produce methane. It is place into a slurry underground and the methane is then used as a source of gas in the rural households. The slurry is then recycled into rich fertilizer for farm fields. Of which, this fertilizer is sold on the market to farmers. Therefore, poorer households have doubled their income, if not greater, and are able to support their families and or kids’ studies.



As for my diagram compared to the figure in the reading: “What is Human Ecology?”, there are similarities on a relevant scale. The scale on the Marten reading shows two different diagrams depicting the social system and ecosystem. Within each are networks interconnected with respect to their significance of impact on society and the ecosystem. These two diagrams are then interconnected by the use of energy, material, and information from both systems. The diagram I devised integrates both social and ecological systems into one. You cannot have impacts solely on one system without impacts on the other, whether it is good or bad. I think in this case, it is a positive and negative feedback depending on the subdivisions within this diagram are connected to one another.


Harrison Sincavage

Getting to Know You

Hello, everyone. My name is Harrison Sincavage, a junior here at Penn State University main campus. I am majoring in Meteorology with a minor in Geography, and may also dual-minor with an additional minor in Geographic Information Systems. I currently live in State College, PA, but am originally from the small town of Wyomissing, PA, just outside the city of Reading, PA, located about two hours east-southeast of State College. I intend on pursuing graduate work in Meteorology or a related STEM field to study mesoscale meteorology (severe weather) and become apart of NOAA or NASA. Ultimately, my goal is to become a qualified astronaut with NASA to study space weather such as solar wind from our Sun, and weather on other planets. Besides taking this course for completion of my Geography minor, I took this course with interest in the correlation between human and environmental interactions on a geographic spectrum. I previously took a human geography based course that helped me develop an understanding of the different cultures around the planet and how they interact with their respective environment, and wanted to dig a little deeper as to how natural phenomena affects their populations and/or lifestyles on a time scale from a daily basis to annual, and beyond. When I am not studying my coursework, I usually spend my time working on independent research that I conducted in the Great Plains last Spring. I am currently interested in researching lightning within severe convective storms. Besides the scientific realm of my life, I enjoy acting, live theatre performances and am a fan of British actor Ralph Fiennes.

A concept that is often misunderstood by the general public in some ways is climate change. I try to emphasize to people that they need to understand the climate of which they live before they can understand climate change. The atmospheric is chaos; it never stops moving. One problem that does not receive as much attention as it should is the air quality around the globe that has had an uptick in the frequency of its concentration over the past couple of years/decades. For example, the 2008 Beijing Olympics were likely to be under the influence of dangerous air quality with thick smog and haze. However, the upper air patterns changed in time for the poor air to clear, resulting in a more pleasant experience for athletes and spectators. Penn State actually did some research on the aerosol content of the Beijing Olympics. I think more provisions to better or air across the planet are needed, similar to the Clean Air Act of 1971 in the U.S., but on a global scale.


Harrison Sincavage