Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Green Room

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Green Room

Article excerpt

October 2014, Making Your Teaching More Environmentally Friendly

Measure Your Community's Smog Levels

A sunny, hot summer day in a medium-sized city choked with traffic presents ideal conditions for making photochemical smog. Smog is a smelly, brown secondary air-pollution mixture that can block visibility and irritate the lungs. Smog forms from photochemical reactions among ultraviolet radiation, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides--all of which are present on a sunny day in a city. Reactions in the troposphere then produce other chemicals such as ozone, peroxyacytyl nitrate, and volatile organic compounds; watch the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) animation for clarification (see "On the web"). Ozone, a major component of smog, is one of six pollutants regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. In fact, recent recommendations suggest that the EPA should further strengthen the air quality standards for ground-level ozone.

Most cities suffer from smog, but those with sunny, dry climates and plenty of cars have the most pollutants (see the brown sky in San Francisco, pictured). Cities in California, particularly Los Angeles, are notorious for their smog.

Classroom activities

Assign some background readings about smog. The Encyclopedia of Earth's smog article provides an in-depth summary (see "On the web"). Here, photochemical smog is referred to as summer smog. The education portion of the National Geographic website provides good information as well. Students can explore the California Air Resources Board's pages about air pollution, including an 11-minute video. Also see the EPA brochure entitled "Smog--Who Does It Hurt?"

Either individually or as a class, send students to Smog City (see "On the web"). In this online game, students can manipulate a fictional city's weather, population, and emissions and watch the resulting levels of smog. Extend this simple, interactive explanation of the causes of smog with lesson plans from the Cornell Science Inquiry Partnership (CSIP). Downloadable teacher and student documents are available on the CSIP website as well. The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) also has lesson plans centered on Smog City. …

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