Topic 6: Atmospheric Systems & Societies

Atmospheric Systems and Societies

In comparison to the 2010 ESS Guide this topic is largely a sub-set of the old topic 5 on pollution. I like the inclusion of a brief introduction to the atmosphere as a system. This overlaps with topic 7.2 and the essay question in November 2015 when students were asked to consider if the climate, or perhaps, the atmosphere in this case, are open or closed systems.

If you have time, there are a lot of practical activities and student centered learning experiences which can enhance understanding of this topic. It also lends itself to a larger scale Independent Investigation.

The topic includes an introduction to the atmospheric system, stratospheric ozone pollution, photochemical smog and acid deposition. I would be careful to distinguish photochemical smog from other types of smog but there is a need to consider the major urban air pollution problems challenging large cities in both the developed and developing world. These are not all directly photochemical smog but do all relate to the burning of fossil fuels in some respect.

Significant Ideas:

  • The atmosphere is a dynamic system that is essential to life on Earth.
  • The behaviour, structure and composition of the atmosphere influence variations in all ecosystems.
  • Stratospheric ozone is a key component of the atmospheric system because it protects living systems from the negative effects of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.
  • Human activities have disturbed the dynamic equilibrium of stratospheric ozone formation.
  • Pollution management strategies are being employed to conserve stratospheric ozone.
  • The combustion of fossil fuels produces primary pollutants that may generate secondary pollutants and lead to photochemical smog, the levels of which can vary by topography, population density and climate.
  • Photochemical smog has significant impacts on societies and living systems.
  • Photochemical smog can be reduced by decreasing human reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Acid deposition can impact living systems and the built environment.
  • The pollution management of acid deposition often involves cross-border issues.

Recommended Teaching Time (not including practicals): 10 hours

6.1 The Atmosphere as a System

Depending upon which order you have taught the course, you might be able to save some time in this sub-topic. I have already taught topic 1 and 7 at this point and so students already know about albedo...

6.2 Stratospheric Ozone

I am taking the approach to have this topic as a self-study unit and so students can work through the material and tasks then check their understanding with the questions at then end of the sub-topic.

6.3 Photochemical Smog

There are some subtle differences between this topic and the 2010 version of "urban air pollution" and this needs careful consideration. This topic links back to 1.5 Humans and Pollution and 1.5 The...

6.4 Acid Deposition

Acid deposition was a major environmental problem in the 1970s and 1980s and continues to be a problem as long as fossil fuels are burned. This is one of the reasons why it is still a large part of the...

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