Research Proposal: Global Change Science the Negative Effects

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Global Change Science

The negative effects of road surfaces on local, regional, and national ecosystems is empirically evidenced and a large contributing factor to the increasingly large carbon footprint of developed nations (Switalski, et al. 2004). The use of primarily asphalt and tar-based paving techniques though providing an effective road surface is damaging not only in the retention of solar radiation which raises the internal temperature of the earth, but also in the associated chemical run off, and necessary disruption of existing vegetation and animal life (Forman, 1999). The impact of human manufacturing and agricultural business on the climate is seemingly an inevitability of civilization. However, there are areas of waste which can be limited or repurposed granted initially at an expense, but ultimately beneficial in the long-term not only for individual nations, but also for the global environment as well (Switalski, et al. 2004).

Road surfaces are composed primarily of tar and asphalt-based pavement. This static substance leaches harmful toxins such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the soil and ground water not only as a result of asphalt's inherent chemical makeup but also as a result of the interaction with vehicles and their associated waste (Kosson, et al. 2002). Further, when road surfaces must be replaced approximately once every ten years, there are large tracts of road material which must either be reused or disposed of spreading the effects of such toxins further than road ways and surrounding areas but into landfills and playgrounds where it may potentially come in direct contact with community water tables or even children and family pets.

Using alternative paving materials, while still utilizing the highly inorganic and ecologically disruptive method of "paving" is counterproductive in that the inherent problems with road surface is as much its construction as its chemical composition (Reid, 2000). There is enough paved roadway in the United States alone to drive to the moon and back again. This incomprehensibly large space serves no other purpose than the conveyance of human beings and goods from one point to another (Reid, 2000). While transportation is vital to the successful continuation of human progress, the method by which that transportation is achieved is constrained only by efficacy and imagination.

Currently, there are technologies in development which will allow for the collection of heat energy from paved roads not only for the purposes of contributing to the national grid (through thermoelectric generation) but also for the purposes of preventing ice forming within the road beds during winter (Switalski, et al. 2004). Additionally, piezoelectric devices can convert the pressure of cars driving over the road surface directly into electricity. Finally there is also a great deal of research going into the use of alternate materials which can be used to minimize the negative effects of leaching and ecological disruption (Forman & Deblinger, 2000).

This research independently may aid in the attainment of energy efficiency and environmental protection goals. However, each of these projects is being conducted independent of each other. What this study proposes is a combination of existing and yet to be developed road surface technologies and construction techniques which would capitalize on the inherent energy transfer between both cars and the road surface, as well as the sun and the road surface. This in combination with a more effective and dynamic containment matrix may ultimately not only have a long-term positive impact on the environment but also on the immediate ecological systems surrounding the road surface. I propose to test heat sensor receptor panels utilizing both solar and pressure energy in combination with a reclaimed rubber pellet bed and in a natural vegetation matrix.

Introduction

The need for improved road surface and road construction is apparent not only in the sheer number of automobiles passing along those roads but also the extremely negative environmental effects of inorganic structures which cover an area roughly equivalent to the size of South Carolina (Forman & Alexander, 1998). Agriculture and manufacturing are necessary industries and currently the dependence on oil which is no longer abundant in North America makes disasters like the BP oil spill and the Exxon Valdez oil spill which devastate the ocean ecosystem and severely disrupt carbon cycling through marine ecosystems an inevitability. Though altering the construction and surface of the road is a somewhat indirect approach to addressing global change, the tangential effects of making even small changes in this huge system will have highly significant positive consequences in the pursuit of developing planetary homeostasis where human needs as well as environmental concerns are equally balanced .

The road surface and bed design itself will be divided into three discrete sections. The base layer which is typically ash or other waste material will instead be tightly packed reclaimed rubber pellets. These pellets will be held in place by hard rubber barriers laid along the length of the road. The use of reclaimed rubber in place of ash, slag, or broken concrete will allow for more effective drainage as well as allowing for the natural thawing and freezing cycles without resulting in the characteristic stress fractures in static materials such as concrete and asphalt. Further, rubber will allow for less negative effects of the leaching of harmful chemicals as well as the effect of natural vegetation forcing its way up through static asphalt.

The second layer will comprise of the various electrical conduits connecting each individual tile energy collection points along the length of the road surface. Though this will entail a disruption of the ecological system by building charge stations at intervals along road surfaces (ideally, fitted within existing highway service stations) the more environmentally friendly materials will ultimately work in concert with eco systems developing road works which actively work towards fuel independence as well as a healthier ecosystem. Waterproofing of the conduits and individual tiles will be necessary to ensure the integrity of the various electrical components. The conduits though more so than conducting collected heat and energy will also fix the tiles in place ensuring that when bearing the at times unevenly distributed load of vehicles they will not move or shift in unsafe manners.

The final component of this system is the actual road surface. This will be composed of solar and pressure heat collection tiles separated by a matrix of organic vegetation. Though vegetation in the road surface is extremely problematic in terms of traditional road surfaces, in the context of this new and innovative roadway solution it will provide a dual purpose. Using small sections of organic matter such as moss between the tiles will allow for carbon scrubbing from the exhaust of vehicles as well as allowing for more effective draining of the road surface as well as making it relatively impervious to freezing thawing cycles.

The entirety of this new road structure would be bounded on either side by hard rubber walls which would force the rubber pellets to remain tightly packed beneath the conduits. The use of rubber again as opposed to a more static substance again addresses the issue of a road surface needing to be able to shift, expand, and contract sometimes significant distances. In the heat of summer, bridges with a great deal of road surface have been known to expand as much as an entire kilometer in either direction. While this kind of shifting and expansion would be devastating to a static material, rubber would simply flex allowing the expansion without any perceptible change in the integrity or stability of the road itself.

The proposed new road structure would not only contribute to the national grid as well as furthering the realistic proliferation of truly electric cars, but it would also contribute to the national grid allowing the United States not only to reduce its carbon footprint but also reducing it's dependence on foreign oil. The global change implications of conversion of all U.S. roadway to roadway such as that proposed above are enormous.

In the United States and Canada people drive more than any other continent. North America as a continent also has more road surface than any other continent on earth. The carbon emissions alone from the United States motor vehicles are an estimated 268 grams per kilometer (Grimmond, 2007). That is higher than any other country in the world. Incorporating organic CO2 scrubbing materials into the road surface may greatly reduce the impact not only of individual vehicles but may also put the solar radiation which asphalt and tar absorb to better use.

The impact of road systems on the environment is larger simply than the contribution to the human carbon footprint. Road ways, and the methods by which they are constructed result in far reaching consequences for ecosystems both in the immediate vicinity of the roadway and even those tangentially connected via streams and food chains (Forman, 1999). In order to lay a road, land must be cleared of vegetation and wildlife. This disruption to the homeostatic balance of an environment affects all living organisms within that environment (Forman & Deblinger, 2000).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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