Climate Detectives Projects 2019-2020

Project topic: Air pollution

Project title: The Tree of Life – Action for Reduced Pollution

Team: ESP Environment Club

2019-2020   The International School of Geneva (LGB)   Geneva   Switzerland   6 Student’s age: 14-15

Summary of the project

We, the Extended Support Programme (ESP) students, during our Environment Club (once a week for 40 minutes) investigated how air pollution, which is incidentally linked to climate change by affecting the ambient temperature, could potentially be reduced by having more trees/vegetation in the city of Geneva (Switzerland), and in its surroundings. It is said that a tree of average size removes approximately 12 kg of CO2 from the air which is, nowadays, mainly produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. Building on this interesting statement, we first gathered yearly satellite data on the cover of pollutant gases such as CO and SO2 found above Geneva, using the Sentinel Hub EO browser (with the Sentinel 5P satellite); then we investigated, using chemistry acid-base techniques, the effects of acid rain (when emitted SO2 and NOx react with water, oxygen and other chemicals to form sulfuric and nitric acids which mix with the water and falls to the ground) on buildings and using biology cloning techniques, the effects of dissolved CO2 on basil shoot growth (cuts taken from our hydroponic garden). We used microscopes to observe and learn about gas exchanges through a leaf’s stomata. Finally, from there, with the help of other participants in our community, we explored elements and questions about the impact of our carbon footprint on Mother Earth.

Main results

Air Pollutants The results show that the abundance of pollutants in the air such as CO and SO2 found above Geneva, Switzerland, generally rose from January 2019 to January 2020; specifically with a greater number of areas over the city with 0.0375 mol/m^2 or above of CO and with 8.75E-3 mol/m^2 or above of SO2 (total area of approximately 1152 km2). Interestingly, we noticed that during the Covid-19 period, February to April 2020, the abundance of greenhouse gases diminished. The correlation between the reduction of vegetation due to new construction sites or agricultural lands and increasing air pollution is difficult to establish. On the other hand, the Swiss phenology network reports that since 1808, the official Geneva horse chestnut tree’s timing of budbreak as well as other vegetation blooming are earlier and earlier in the year (April in 1808 and Mid-March in 2020) indicating that temperatures are rising, consequently suggesting evidence of climate change. Basil Shoots The results from our experiment show that basil shoots grow faster and longer in pure tap water compared to when they attempted to grow in carbonated water (water with added bubbles of CO2). Note that all other conditions were kept constant so that any effect from these could be eliminated. Carbon Footprint A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emitted by the consumption of energy and raw materials by an individual, organization or process. It is measured as the volume of CO2 emitted by an entity. But to be completely accurate, this measurement actually includes the emissions of three greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The carbon footprint of a French household represents 16.4 tons of CO2 per year. To investigate this further, we created a responsible actions questionnaire and asked members of our ESP community to respond. The answers show that 46.7% of them eat little meat, 53.3% take showers of approximately 5 minutes, 66.7% always recycle plastic, 53.3% take public transport or walk, and that 60% are surrounded at home by over 10 trees of average size. These answers suggest that everyone can continue to reduce their carbon footprint by taking small daily actions.

Actions to help lessen the problem

Below are the actions that we all can take to reduce air pollution and/or increase vegetation: -Plant trees, hanging gardens and flowers along the many roads and pathways of the city. -Avoid cutting down trees or picking flowers if it is not needed. -Grow gardens at home; this can be a soil or hydroponic garden for example, like we have at school. -Buy and eat (Swiss) local organic products such as fruits and vegetables. -If possible, walk or bike to your destination. -Continue to recycle, mostly plastics and compost if possible. -Save water: reduce water usage at home and do not pollute waterways or basins. -Save energy: turn off the lights, computers and other equipment/machines when not in use. -Go and enjoy fresh air provided by the forest and the mountains of Switzerland! It is said to have medicinal powers.

Projects are created by the teams and they take the full responsibility of the shared data.
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