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Potential Research Topics: ENVIRONMENT

This guide will help with settling on a research topic for class.


ENVIRONMENT: California Water Issues
The California State Water Resources Control Board is planning to reinstitute many water
restrictions that had been temporarily imposed during the state’s 5-year drought and make them
permanent. What would these restrictions involve and why are they being reconsidered now?
What has been the public reaction to this news in California? Where around the globe are the
places that drinking water is most under threat, why and what are people doing about it?
SEARCH TERMS: water AND California

ENVIRONMENT: Commercial Fishing’s Reach
Scientists used fishing vessels’ emergency beacons, which transmit their location to
satellites, to track global fishing from 2012 to 2016. The scale of the commercial fishing industry
stunned them. What five countries dominate the industry? How many miles did the fleets cover in a
year? What percentage of the oceans do they cover? Can this data be used to help endangered
SEARCH TERMS: commercial fishing AND emergency beacons

ENVIRONMENT: California Debris Flows
Southern California has suffered a series of deadly debris flows. What is a debris flow and
what was the cause of them in Southern California? What was the damage caused by these debris
flows and what recovery efforts have taken place?
SEARCH TERMS: Southern California AND (debris flow OR mudslide)

ENVIRONMENT: South African Drought
Cape Town, South Africa, is facing Day Zero, the day its supply of water runs out. It is thought that day will come in two months. Cape Town’s response to this will be hindered by the fact its mayor, Patrician de Lille, may face a vote of no confidence in the city council. What could prevent Day Zero from arriving? What water use restrictions have been imposed due to this crisis? What demographic changes in over the past quarter century have contributed to this drought?
SEARCH TERMS: Cape Town AND water AND Day Zero

ENVIRONMENT: Keystone Leak
A serious leak in the Keystone pipeline has formed in a field near Amherst, South Dakota.
How big is this leak and what is the plan to repair it? What could have caused this leak and how
many other leaks have there been in this pipeline?
SEARCH TERMS: Keystone AND leak

ENVIRONMENT: Bali’s Mount Agung
Bali’s Mount Agung is throwing ash over 5 miles up in the sky. It forced the closure of the
international airport and upset the travel plans of thousands of people. What happens if the volcano
continues with its current eruption pattern? What would be the worldwide impact of a major
explosion of this volcano? What other volcanoes is it being compared to?
SEARCH TERMS: Bali AND Mount Agung

ENVIRONMENT: It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humidity
A new study combines heat, humidity and human’s ability to shed heat through
perspiration to set a wet bulb temperature and predicts that parts of India, Pakistan and
Bangladesh will become impossible to live in through the effects of global warming. When the wet
bulb temperature exceeds 95F, the human ability to cool down is lost, leading to heat stroke and
death. How was this study conducted? Do its results seem plausible to you? Did the paper’s
authors discuss other regions of the globe as being at risk?
SEARCH TERMS: temperature AND wet bulb

ENVIRONMENT: Monsoon Deaths
Seasonal monsoon rains have brought flooding to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Over
1,000 people have died. Mumbai has been particularly hard hit. What creates the seasonal rains
and how important are they to this area of the world? Why has Bangladesh been prone to flooding?
SEARCH TERMS: monsoon AND floods AND (India OR Mumbai OR Nepal OR Bangladesh)

ENVIRONMENT: Hurricane Harvey
Houston and surrounding areas in southeastern Texas have suffered extensive flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. What kind of hurricane was Harvey and how did it form? What is the level of flooding and how is Texas and the federal government responding to help the people affected?
SEARCH TERMS: Hurricane Harvey

ENVIRONMENT: Southwest Heatwave     
TOPIC:  Flights to Phoenix, Arizona have been cancelled as the U.S. Southwest suffers an extreme heatwave with temperatures approaching 120 degrees, the highest in over 20 years. How has the heat impacted the airplanes that made flights so dangerous?  What are some other ways the extreme heat has altered the way things are done in the southwestern U.S. states that have been hit the hardest?  
SEARCH TERMS: (southwest OR Phoenix) AND heat

ENVIRONMENT: Fires in Portugal  
TOPIC:  Portuguese forest fires raged out of control and killed over 60 people, many of them in cars that were fleeing the fires.  Why were these fires so quick to spread? How difficult were they to put out? Why were there so many fatalities?
SEARCH TERMS: Portugal AND forest fires

California’s Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States but has recently suffered a
bad break in its spillway during heavy rains. How was the damage repaired and what were the
risks? How did the area prepare for the flood risk when they noticed the break? What are some of
the most important dams in the country and how well have they been maintained?
SEARCH TERMS: Oroville Dam AND spillway

Fall armyworms, a nonnative species, have arrived in Southern Africa and are devastating
many crops. An international effort must be made to eradicate the armyworms. Their destruction of
crops will exacerbate food insecurity in the region. What are fall armyworms? Where are they
prevalent? How is it thought that they arrived in Africa?
SEARCH TERMS: Africa AND fall armyworms

President Trump has ordered a freeze on all new contracts or grants from the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ordered a media blackout for the agency. What is his
reasoning behind these actions and what has been the reaction from the public? How was this
policy discovered and why wasn’t it made public? What scientific policies at the EPA are being
reviewed by President Trump and why?
SEARCH TERMS: (Environmental Protection Agency OR EPA) AND (media blackout OR freeze
OR scien*)

ENVIRONMENT: Peatland Discovered
Scientists have discovered a huge, 145,500 square kilometer peatland in the Congo. This
is a larger area than England. What is peatland and why is it associated with northern climates?
Why are peatlands important in controlling global warming? What threatens the Congolese
peatland and what, if any, steps are being taken to conserve and protect the discovered peatland?
SEARCH TERMS: Congo AND peatland

Giraffes are in danger of extinction as their population has fallen over the past 40 years
and they have been added to the Red List of Threatened Species. The Red List tracks species
worldwide. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains this list. How
many species are currently listed and, of those, how many are threatened? What other species
were highlighted in this year’s release of the list?
SEARCH TERMS: Red List of Threatened Species

ENVIRONMENT: EPA Fracking Report
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a report that investigated a process of using liquid pressure to extract natural gas from rock, called fracking, as a potential hazard to local drinking water. What are the specifics of the fracking process that contaminate local drinking water? What were the conclusions of the report? What aspects of the research remained inconclusive and why?
SEARCH TERMS: fracking AND EPA AND drinking water

ENVIRONMENT: Air Pollution
Air pollution is on the rise across Africa. Both outdoor and indoor air pollution contribute to
a rise in premature deaths between 1990 and 2013. What factors have contributed to the rise in
outdoor air pollution? Why is Africa having to deal with types of pollution that the developed world
previously dealt with? What other major environmental issues are found across Africa?
SEARCH TERMS: air pollution AND Africa

ENVIRONMENT: Dakota Access Pipeline Protests
: A large group of Native Americans, mostly the Sioux tribe, are protesting the proposed oil pipeline called the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Sioux say that the pipeline could endanger the water supply to those in its path as well as destroy tribal gravesites. What similar pipeline was vetoed by President Obama, what was its proposed route and what were the concerns about it? What are the best arguments for and against having this Pipeline built? What sacred sites have already endured some destruction according to the protesters?
SEARCH TERMS: Dakota Access Pipeline AND protests AND Bakken

ENVIRONMENT: Keystone XL Pipeline Aborted     
TOPIC:  The Keystone XL Pipeline has been rejected by the Obama administration.  What are the reasons for this, and what have been the major controversies?  What Keystone pipeline currently exists between Canada and the U.S., what states does it travel through and what problems has it had?

ENVIRONMENT: Global Warming Summit
TOPIC: A summit meeting on global warming is happening in Paris. Attending nations have already submitted their individual plans on reducing emissions over time. Should there be higher expectations for a positive outcome from this meeting than from the previous ones in Kyoto and Copenhagen? What went wrong with those two meetings? What recent events give cause for hope for this one? Do you think it likely that this meeting will come up with a mechanism for enforcing the plans nations have submitted?
SEARCH TERMS: global warming AND (meetings OR conferences) AND Paris

ENVIRONMENT: Midwest Flooding     
TOPIC:  The American Midwest is having severe floods especially in Missouri and Illinois.  What was the cause of these floods and what is being done to help the people affected by them?  What are the best ways to prepare for a flood?
SEARCH TERMS: (Midwest OR Illinois OR Missouri) AND flood*

ENVIRONMENT: Paris Summit on Global Warming
TOPIC: The Paris Summit Meeting on global warming has concluded with an agreement to limit the warming of the Earth to under 2 degrees Celsius. What else was agreed upon? Are there enforcement mechanisms in place in this agreement? Will this be effective in the long run to slow global warming?  
SEARCH TERMS: (global warming OR climate change) AND Paris Summit Meeting

ENVIRONMENT: License Ban in South Africa     
TOPIC:  South Africa has announced that it will issue no licenses to hunt leopards in 2016.  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) allows South Africa to issue 150 licenses to hunters who are seeking trophy animals.  What is it about the way leopards live that make keeping track of their population difficult?  How important to the South African economy is hunting?  Do you think this ban makes sense?
SEARCH TERMS: South Africa AND hunting AND leopards

ENVIRONMENT: Flint Water      
TOPIC:  Corrosive water from the Flint River has caused contamination of the drinking water of Flint, Michigan when lead from the pipes leached into the water supply.  What are the mayor of Flint and the governor of Michigan doing to resolve this problem?  Why are Flint's problems a good warning to many other cities with aging pipes and what can other cities do to prevent the same thing from happening?
SEARCH TERMS: Flint AND water AND pipes

ENVIRONMENT: East Asian Cold Snap
TOPIC: A cold snap hit East Asia, causing deaths in China, Japan and Taiwan. Subtropical places experienced their first snowfall in decades, and northern Japan had heavy snow. How did people cope with this radical weather change? Why were the fatalities blamed on the weather? Do they know what caused it?
SEARCH TERMS: cold snap AND Asia

ENVIRONMENT : Quake Warning System     
TOPIC:  A quake warning system called ShakeAlert is having its new technologies for early sensing of major earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest tested by University of Washington researchers.  What is the technology behind it, and how does it work?  What are the indicators that the Pacific Northwest is vulnerable to a major earthquake?
SEARCH TERMS: ShakeAlert AND earthquake

ENVIRONMENT : Indonesian Forest Fires  
TOPIC: Haze from forest fires in Indonesia has forced schools in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to close temporarily for health reasons. Why were the forest fires set and who is profiting from them? How often have the schools had to close? How frequently are Singapore and Malaysia impacted by pollution from Indonesian fires?  
SEARCH TERMS: (Singapore OR Malaysia) AND Indonesia AND fires

ENVIRONMENT: Hurricane Joaquin Floods     
TOPIC:  South Carolina suffered terrible floods from Hurricane Joaquin.  What was the level of flooding, what was the extent of damage and what recovery measures were taken to clean up and repair the damage?  What are some effective precautions that can be taken before a flood?
SEARCH TERMS: Hurricane Joaquin AND South Carolina AND flood*

ENVIRONMENT: Earthquake in Afghanistan
TOPIC: A massive earthquake has hit Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan. Hundreds are dead and many more either injured or homeless. How frequently do earthquakes occur in this region and what causes them? What disaster relief efforts are underway? How will weather impact these efforts? How far away was this earthquake felt and what happened in those more distant locations?
SEARCH TERMS: (Afghanistan OR Pakistan) AND earthquake

ENVIRONMENT: Hurricane Patricia
TOPIC: The most powerful hurricane ever seen in the Pacific, Patricia, made landfall in Mexico. How powerful was it? What was fortuitous about its place of landfall? What role did the mountains play in its storm path?  
SEARCH TERMS: Mexico AND Hurricane Patricia

ENVIRONMENT: Carbon Emissions Rule     
TOPIC:  President Obama’s carbon emissions rule has been halted by the United States Supreme Court while lower courts hear state challenges to the rule which had been enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  What are the general carbon emission rules and what specifics are different states challenging?  What are best legal and scientific arguments supporting each side of this case?
SEARCH TERMS: emissions AND Supreme Court

ENVIRONMENT: Cyclone Disaster
TOPIC: In Fiji, Cyclone Winston has been recorded as the worst storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. Thousands are homeless, a number of villages have been completely wiped out, and many deaths have occurred as a result of the storm. What category was the storm? How are categories of storms determined? What aid organizations have responded, and what are the fears about health issues that can develop after a storm such as this?
SEARCH TERMS: Fiji AND cyclone

ENVIRONMENT: South African Drought
TOPIC: South Africa is currently suffering a severe drought.  How is this impacting their economy?  How is the country handling the water shortages and the impact on their food supply?  What has been the effect on power utilities?  What has caused the drought?  What are some solutions being investigated or implemented?
SEARCH TERMS: South Africa AND drought

ENVIRONMENT: Scott Kelly Returns to Earth
TOPIC: Scott Kelley has spent 520 days in space, more than any other American. Most recently, he spent a year in orbit. Along with the findings about his travels, scientists will be looking at the prolonged effect that space travel has on the human body by running twin tests on Scott Kelley to his identical twin brother, Mark (who stayed on Earth last year). What are the genetic factors that will be compared? What are some of the essential questions that the researchers are studying? What are some of the independent and dependent variables that will be utilized in the research ahead?

ENVIRONMENT: Stay at Home Storks
TOPIC: Storks from the Iberian Peninsula traditionally flew to Africa or India in the winter. Recent research has shown that many now stay put, as there is enough food in the landfills of the countries of Spain and Portugal to support them through the season. What other ways have landfills caused storks to change their behavior? Will the closing of landfills cause storks to resume their migratory ways or will they adapt in other ways?
SEARCH TERMS: Storks AND landfills

TOPIC:  Lake Mead, a lake which serves as a major water source to Nevada, California, New Mexico and Arizona, has been recently measured at its lowest level since it was created in 1935 after the construction of the Hoover Dam. What are some of the reasons why these low measurements are causing concern? What are the surrounding states that would be impacted by these problems doing to address them?
SEARCH TERMS: Lake Mead AND level? AND lowest

ENVIRONMENT: Coral Bleaching   
TOPIC:  Researchers have found that corals at the northern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are either already dead from the effects of bleaching or are dying.  Bleaching happens when the water temperature rises.  What weather event helped cause this? What prevented the bleaching from happening at the southern end of the reef?  How common worldwide are bleaching events?
SEARCH TERMS: Great Barrier Reef AND bleaching

ENVIRONMENT: Canadian Forest Fire
TOPIC: A massive forest fire in the oil sands region of Alberta has swept through the city of Fort McMurray, Canada. It has forced the temporary evacuation of Fort McMurray and some surrounding communities, about 88,000 people in all. What may be some underlying conditions that may have helped the swift expansion of the fire? What was the damage from the fire in Fort McMurray? What is the status of the fire now?
SEARCH TERMS: Fort McMurray AND forest fire OR wildfire 

ENVIRONMENT: Houston Floods
TOPIC: Houston, Texas has suffered the worst flooding in 15 years after being hit by a brutal storm. How do urban areas handle heavy flooding? What is some of the worst damage suffered in Houston and what are some of the key processes of recovery after the storm?
SEARCH TERMS: Houston AND (flood OR flooding)

TOPIC: Southern Africa is in the midst of a drought. In addition to its impact on water supplies, it is thought that the drought is increasing food insecurity throughout the region. What is the role played by El Nino in this weather event? How are people surviving this?
SEARCH TERMS: Southern Africa AND drought

ENVIRONMENT: Tigers Population
TOPIC: The number of tigers in the world has risen for the first time in a century. It is thought there are 3,890 of them in the wild. Where do tigers live? How were they counted? Does this rise in numbers mean their long-term survival is assured?
SEARCH TERMS: tigers AND (census OR population)

 ENVIRONMENT: Toxic Substance Regulations
TOPIC: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has expanded the regulation of toxic
chemicals. What are the primary changes that have been made and why? How often are toxic
regulations updated by the EPA and what makes this the biggest change in 40 years?
SEARCH TERMS: (EPA OR E.P.A.) AND toxic AND regulation?

ENVIRONMENT: French Floods
TOPIC: The meteorological phenomenon known as an omega block was the cause of the recent
flooding in France. This happens when a high pressure area remains stationary, forcing the jet
stream to split around it. How bad were the floods in France? How high did the River Seine rise in
Paris? Did global warming have anything to do with these floods?
SEARCH TERMS: (France OR Paris) AND (Floods OR flooding)

TOPIC: This summer has brought a strong heat wave that broke records in Arizona, parts of Nevada and California as well as uncomfortable highs throughout the Midwestern states. What are some innovative ways that communities have been adapting to extreme heat? What causes heat waves and how do meteorologists try to predict them?
SEARCH TERMS: heat wave AND (U.S. OR United States)

ENVIRONMENT: A Different Partnership
TOPIC: The Yao people of Mozambique have forged a partnership with the honeyguide, a bird. By using the right vocal sounds, they get the bird to lead them to hidden bee hives. Then they harvest the honey, leaving the beeswax for the birds to eat. Are there any other similar relationships between wild animals and humans? How did this evolve over time? Why do the birds need humans in this task?
SEARCH TERMS: honeyguide AND Yao

ENVIRONMENT: New Zealand Predator Extermination
TOPIC: New Zealand’s government has announced an ambitious plan to exterminate rats, stoats and opossums over the next 33 years. These predators are particularly dangerous to the native bird population. How do they propose to do this? What are the arguments against it? How is this plan of 33 years going to be executed and managed?
SEARCH TERMS: New Zealand AND rats

ENVIRONMENT: Historic Flooding in Louisiana
TOPIC: An epic flood has devastated Louisiana and is considered to be the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Hurricane Sandy. How are cleanup and recovery efforts managed after a natural disaster? What kinds of associations are being made between the flooding and climate change?
SEARCH TERMS: Louisiana AND flood*

ENVIRONMENT: Anthropocene Arrival
TOPIC: The International Geological Congress recently met in Cape Town, South Africa. An expert group has recommended to it that it change the name of the era from the Holocene to the Anthropocene to show the impact humans have had the world. The Holocene is about 12,000 years old, since the last Ice Age. Why are they calling for the name change? How would they date the beginning of the new age? Do any of these dating suggestions make sense to you, why?
SEARCH TERMS: International Geological Congress AND Anthropocene

ENVIRONMENT: Earthquakes
TOPIC: Both Italy and Myanmar suffered earthquakes that were over 6 on the Richter scale of earthquake magnitude. Hundreds died in Italy with communities totally destroyed, while the damage and fatalities in Myanmar were much smaller. Given that the earthquakes were of almost equal magnitude, what accounts for the differences in damages? What is the Richter scale and how is it calculated? What criminal activity may have acerbated the damages in Italy?
SEARCH TERMS: (Italy OR Myanmar) AND earthquakes