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Top Questions About the Environment

Q: What are a few ways we can fix global warming?

From Kira in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Hi Kira, In order to "fix" global warming we need to first be able to fully answer the question "how exactly is it broken"? This is a question that scientists around the world are trying to address. Some scientists believe that global warming is part of a natural cycle the earth has gone through many times. If this is the case, then there isn't a whole lot we can do to stop nature. However, most scientists believe that even if there are natural ups and downs to the climate that human activity is affecting global temperatures on a scale never before seen. Most data suggests a relationship between temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (more carbon dioxide = higher temperatures). Currently carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have even been and are expected to continue to rise. This being said, one way we could help do our part would be to reduce our carbon footprint (lower the amount of carbon dioxide we are producing) Here is a short list of ways to reduce your carbon footprint:

1) Write a letter to your local congressional representative encouraging them to support clean renewable energy such as wind, solar, or hydroelectric, geothermal
2) Encourage your family to ride bike or walk if the trip isn't all the long or take a bus or other mass transit if the trip is a little longer
3) Around the house you can encourage your parents to switch your light bulbs to compact fluorescent and install a programmable thermostat (and have the house be colder in the winter/warmer in the summer when no one is home)
4) Research other ways to lower your carbon footprint. For example google search of "ways to reduce carbon footprint" top result http://sustainability.publicradio.org/consumed/tips.html

Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Bryon Upton


Q: How deep is the middle of the ocean?

From Luis in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Hi Luis, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the deepest measured part of the ocean is approximately 11,030 meters (36,200 feet) deep - that's almost seven miles! This area is called the Challenger Deep and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean. On average the oceans around the world are 4.3 kilometers (2.65 miles) deep, which is about the same distance as it is from Hiatt Middle School to the State Fair Grounds on E University Ave.

Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade


Q: How high can the temperature get to in Iowa?

From Henry in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: The highest recorded temperature in Iowa is 118 degrees Fahrenheit. This happened on July 20, 1934 in Keokuk, IA.

Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Brandon Jeffrey


Q: Why do leaves turn colors and 'die' in autumn?

From Terry in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Leaves are normally green due to a substance called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a green pigment that helps plants absorb sunlight and convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen in a process called photosynthesis. Other pigments called carotenoids also help the plant/leaf absorb light and help protect chlorophyll from breaking down. Carotenoids can be yellow, orange, and brown and are found in many plants. Chlorophyll and carotenoids are made during the growing season (spring and summer), but we only see the green of the chlorophyll. As the days get shorter (fall and winter) chlorophyll production slows and then stops. We can then see the carotenoid colors. In addition, as chlorophyll production slows down, another set of pigments called anthocyanins get produced. Anthocyanins can be red, purple, or blue. Anthocyanins help protect the plant from too much light during times of low chlorophyll. Leaves fall off the tree because they are no longer supplied water by the tree and no longer produce chlorophyll. The tree removes most of the food and nutrients from the leaves in order to store for the winter.

Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Brandon Jeffrey


Q: How are fire rainbows formed? Is it like a regular rainbow or does it have to do with how the wind and clouds form around it?

From Karlos in Des Moines, IA - 7th grade

A: A fire rainbow is an interesting phenomenon. It has nothing to do with fire and is technically not even a rainbow. Rainbows come from refracting and relection light out of raindrops. The "fire rainbow" or more appropriately called "circumhorizon arc" is formed when sun refracts through ice crstals in sirrus couds high in the sky. This only happens around noon, and typically in the summer because the sun has to be high in the sky in order for the angles to be right.

Question answered by: Symbi Engineer, Peter Hondred


Q: Why are there sometimes two rainbows?

From Kalani in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: To understand the reason for a double rainbow, we must first understand how rainbows are formed. Rainbows are produced when light from the sun shines into a raindrop and is refracted and reflected back out. So, what is refracted and reflected? Refracted means the light going through the drop changes direction slightly but still goes through the material. Reflected means the light is bouncing off the material at the same angle that it comes in at. In the instance of a rainbow, the rain drops are acting like a prism, a transparent optical element that refracts light. Sun light, or white light, is made up of many different colors, each with a different wave length. When the white light is refracted, then the light separates at different angles because of the different wavelengths of the light. This effect, called dispersion and since blue light has shorter wavelengths it refracts at a greater angle then red light with a longer wavelength. That is why red is always on the outside of the rainbow arc and blue/violet is always on the inside of the rainbow arc.


(Reference: Wikipedia)     (Reference: P. Hondred)

So, what about a double rainbow? Well, the difference is the number of reflections. In a single rainbow, there is refraction as the light enters the drop, then the light reflects off the back, and then the light is refracted further as it exits the drop. This causes the large bands in the rainbow. However, in a double rainbow, the second rainbow is formed by two reflections in the raindrop. The light refracts going into the drop, reflects once, then reflects twice, then the light refracts further on the way out. This second bounce changes the angle in which the rainbow is seen, roughly 42° and 50° for the first and second rainbows respectively. So, it shows up further out from the first rainbow. It also changes the color. If you look closely at a second rainbow the next time you see it, the inside of the arc is red instead of blue and the outside is blue instead of red. This happens because of the second reflection in the raindrop.

(Reference: P. Hondred)

Question answered by: Symbi Engineer, Peter Hondred


Q: Does bacteria grow on lava (fresh out of the volcano)?

From Layne in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Archaea bacteria are extremophiles that live in harsh environments, like volcano vents and volcanic hot springs. An article from National Geographic News states that tiny bacteria-size filaments and tubes have been found in 3.5 billion-year-old lava deposits from South Africa. Always remember that bacteria are constantly finding ways to adapt to different types of temperatures and environments.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Joy Jackson


Q: Why is the sky blue?

From Andy in Des Moines, IA - 8th grade

A: The sky usually appears to be blue in color because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Ben Lewis