How Are You, Mother Earth?: We're Taking You to the Doctor!by Gordon Hunter
Sitting in the waiting room of my family doctor, I started wondering about who doctors the Earth? Her health is of the utmost importance to us as she provides us with the basic requirements for life.
- Trafford Publishing
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- Age Range:
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How Are You, Mother Earth?
We're Taking You to the Doctor!
By Gordon Hunter, Marvin Alonso
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Gordon Hunter
All rights reserved.
AGE AND WEIGHT
When you go to the doctor for a checkup, the first thing that happens is that a nurse has you step on the scales to check your weight. Slight weight gains or losses from one examination to the next are normal. However, larger changes in weight are signs that medical attention may be needed.
When Nurse Re Corder sees Mike, Katie, and me coming with Mother Earth to get her weighed, she becomes frantic and won't let us into Dr. Ec Sam's office because she does not want her scales ruined. We are not discouraged. Leaving Mother Earth in the care of Nurse Corder, we turn to Professor Waite to help us with our problem. He teaches physics at We Know University, a couple of blocks from Dr. Sam's office.
Professor Waite explains, "Weight is dependent on a relationship between the mass of two bodies, each attracted to the other by gravity, the weakest of the natural forces. On Earth, if your weight is one hundred pounds, on Mars, a much smaller planet than Earth, you would weigh just thirty-nine pounds, and on the moon, even smaller than Mars, just twenty-four pounds."
He continues, "Your weight depends on the mass of the celestial body on which you are being weighed, but your mass remains the same. This is true because the force of gravity between two bodies is dependent upon the mass of each body and the distance between their centers of mass."
When he starts to solve the formula for us on the board, we interrupt, "Sir, we thank you very much, but we need to get back to the doctor's office for the rest of Mother Earth's appointment. Would you please just tell us the weight of Mother Earth?"
"Yes, of course," he replies. "Her mass has been calculated to be 10.6 septillion pounds. One septillion is one followed by twenty-four zeros."
We return to Dr. Ec Sam's office, assure Nurse Corder that we don't need to use her scales, and give her Mother Earth's weight, which she records as 10.6 septillion pounds. Then she asks Mother Earth, "Have you been aware of any recent significant changes in your weight?"
Mother Earth replies, "I'm not sure if it's significant, but meteorites rain millions of pounds of dust and fragments on me each year. It's certainly not nearly as bad as the bombardment by huge asteroids and comets I lived through during the first billion and a half years of my 4.5-billion-year life."
Nurse Corder dutifully records Mother Earth's reply for the doctor.
The second thing the nurse checks for the doctor is blood pressure with a device called a sphygmomanometer. It was invented after two discoveries—the first was that to clear water from the bottoms of mines, the water could be pumped with a vacuum pump no higher than thirty-three feet above its natural level; the second, in 1644, was that mercury, a liquid with over ten times the density of water, could be raised only thirty inches by a vacuum. The mercury column, much shorter than that of water, led to the development of instruments such as the barometer to measure air pressure and the sphygmomanometer to measure blood pressure.
A sphygmomanometer has three essential parts: an inflatable cuff, a pump in the shape of a hollow ball, and a gauge consisting of a glass tube containing a reservoir of mercury. These are connected together by leakproof tubes.
To take your blood pressure,
1. the nurse puts the cuff on your arm just above the elbow;
2. with the ball, she starts pumping air simultaneously into the cuff and gauge;
3. she places her stethoscope on your arm just below the cuff to listen for the blood to stop flowing in the brachial artery;
4. when it stops, she carefully opens a valve on the pump to release pressure in the cuff and gauge;
5. she intently watches the gauge and listens for the first blood flow, signaling a contraction of the heart, systolic pressure; and
6. she continues to watch the gage and listens for the second blood flow, signaling the relaxation of the heart, diastolic pressure.
By this procedure, the nurse measures your blood pressure in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). She records your blood pressure as a fraction such as 120/80, which is considered normal for humans. In inches, 120 millimeters is close to 4.75 inches of mercury, and 80 millimeters is equal to about 3.1 inches of mercury.
Nurse Corder looks at Mother Earth and exclaims, "How am I going to take her blood pressure? She doesn't have any arms!"
"She doesn't have any blood either," Katie replies, "but she does have pressure. If it weren't for her atmospheric pressure, we wouldn't breathe. When we inhale, we relax the muscles of our diaphragm and the muscles of our chest, and Mother Earth's atmospheric pressure pushes air into our lungs. To exhale, we have to contract the muscles of the chest and diaphragm."
"We can check Mother Earth's atmospheric pressure with a barometer!" I say. "Nurse Corder, do you have an aneroid barometer in the office?"
"What's an aneroid barometer?" she asks.
"It was invented back in 1843 and looks and works something like a tiny evacuated metal accordion," I reply. "Push on the ends, and it gets shorter. Release the pressure, and it gets longer. Anchor one end and connect the other to an arrow, and with an appropriate scale, and it can measure atmospheric pressure.
"They are much less expensive, smaller, and less dangerous than mercury barometers and are often sold to the general public as household items with two additional aneroid meters—one, a thermometer to measure air temperature, and the other, a hygrometer to measure air humidity."
"We have one of those in the office," says Nurse Corder. "I'll go get it."
"While Nurse Corder is getting the barometer for us, can either of you tell me, on this nice day with a few clouds in the sky, what you think Mother Earth's atmospheric pressure is?"
"I believe it is about thirty inches of mercury," declares Mike.
"What makes you think that?"
"You told us that mercury could be raised only thirty inches by a vacuum, and if I understand correctly, a vacuum is a place where there is nothing. How can nothing pull? Something has to push the mercury up the evacuated tube or push on the outside of an evacuated aneroid barometer and even into our relaxed lung cavity."
"Here comes Nurse Corder."
She eagerly shares, "The barometer reads 29.85."
"Wow!" I exclaim. "How much closer can we get?"
You may be interested to know that 30 inches of mercury is equivalent to 14.7 pounds of pressure per square inch. That's almost 15 pounds of air pressure pushing on every square inch of our bodies, and we don't even notice it.
Also, I need to explain that air pressure is not the same all over the earth or even close to the same all the time. Mountains and prairies, continents and oceans, deserts and jungles—all have their effect on local air masses. And those air masses do not hover over the same geographic location all the time, nor do they remain at the same altitude. Furthermore, the movement of these air masses is responsible for weather changes.
The highest barometric pressure ever recorded was thirty-two inches of mercury, on December 31, 1988. It was midwinter in Siberia, Russia.
The lowest barometric pressure ever recorded was 25.69 inches of mercury in a reconnaissance aircraft on October 12, 1979 during a typhoon in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Nurse Corder takes her notes on age, weight, and pressure to the doctor while we wait outside with Mother Earth for the obvious reason that there is no way we can get Mother Earth through the office door.
RESPIRATION AND AIR QUALITY
Dr. Ec Sam soon joins us with a perplexed look on his face. "This examination is the most unusual one in which I have ever been involved. Mother Earth's age, weight, weight gains, and pressure have set records in this office.
"I have brought my stethoscope for the next part of the examination, respiration and air quality, but I am bewildered about how to conduct this part of the examination. Usually, I listen to the patient breathe in and out with my stethoscope and ask a few questions about smoking and how the patient feels about the quality of the air inside his or her home, where they work, and where they live."
"My stethoscope is useless, and I have no instruments to examine the quality of Mother Earth's air. Maybe there is somebody at We Know U who can help you with this part of Mother Earth's examination too."
"Thank you, Dr. Sam. We'll be back. We hope to have a complete examination of Mother Earth on your records before we're through."
"Mother Earth, would you mind staying on the lawn outside Dr. Sam's office while we seek help?"
"Of course not," she replies.
We return to Professor Waite's office at We Know U to see if he can help us with Mother Earth's respiration and air quality exam. He explains that he has no experience in these areas but that Dr. Breth in the Biology Department might be able to help us. Professor Waite leads us to Dr. Breth's office, introduces us, and leaves.
"Dr. Breth, we are concerned about Mother Earth's health and are trying to take her through a complete medical examination. We have completed the weight, age, and pressure parts of the exam but ran into a roadblock. Our medical doctor cannot check Mother Earth's respiration with his stethoscope. Does Mother Earth breathe?"
"She definitely does breathe," Dr. Breth replies. "She is quite regular in her breathing. She takes one breath per year, inhaling in the spring and summer and exhaling in the fall and winter. Look at this copy of the Keeling Curve, a fifty-five-year record of Mother Earth's breathing, and see for yourself. See how the level of carbon dioxide decreases in the spring and summer and increases during the fall and winter. Notice how regular her breathing is."
"I should tell you this too: Dr. Charles David Keeling began recording the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere in 1958 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The importance of that record is verified by its continuation in spite of Dr. Keeling's death in 2005."
"What about air quality? Can you give us any information about that?" asks Mike.
"Industry, coal-fired electrical production, and transportation dump pollutants into the air. These include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur compounds, and others that ultraviolet light transforms into corrosive acids that aggravate pulmonary problems."
Look at the Keeling Curve again. It tells us not only about the regularity of Mother Earth's breathing but also about the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the air. In only fifty-five years, it has risen about one- third higher than at any time in the last four hundred thousand years.
The Keeling Curve not only tells us about Mother Earth's respiration but also shows how rapidly carbon dioxide concentration is rising in the atmosphere. It is nearly one hundred parts per million higher than the previous four hundred thousand years.
He continues, "Added stress from these pollutants on the lungs of the aged took the lives of thousands in Donora, Pennsylvania, in 1948 and London, England, in 1952. Industry has been successful in reducing some pollutants from its fumes and its fuels since these disasters, but human population growth with increasing demands for more energy adds to the problem."
"Are you saying that Mother Earth's air quality is dangerously poor?" queries Katie.
"No, I am saying that it was dangerously poor, but governments responded by putting limits on the release of pollutants that industry could produce. The problem has improved, but we need to keep a watchful eye on it."
Mike asks, "With what words would you describe Mother Earth's air quality?"
"Adequate for life, but it could be improved significantly if we used alternatives to fossil fuel for our energy."
"Thank you, Dr. Breth. We appreciate the time you took to help us. Now we need to get your analyses back to Dr. Sam's office. Have a good day."
When we arrive, Nurse Corder greets us at the door with the question "Did you find out anything about Mother Earth's respiration and air quality?"
"Yes," I reply, "Dr. Breth at We Know U showed us a copy of the graph called the Keeling Curve, revealing the steady breathing of Mother Earth at one respiration each year, inhaling in the spring and summer and exhaling in the fall and winter. He also described her air quality as 'adequate for life.'"
Nurse Corder records our report in Mother Earth's record.
Then, showing us a hypodermic needle, she says, "Now we need a blood sample for analysis, and, Katie, you have already told me she has no blood. I guess you're going to have to go back to We Know U."
CIRCULATION AND FLUID ANALYSIS
When we stop at Dr. Breth's office with our problem of blood analysis for Mother Earth, he suggests that we go to Dr. Blud, the Biology Department's environmentalist whose office was across the hall. "Let me introduce you to him."
He walks across the hall and into Dr. Blud's office. "Dr. Blud, I have some people here who need some help on a blood analysis of Mother Earth. Do you have some time to help them now?"
"I'm not sure I can help them," he says, "but I'll try."
"Dr. Blud, we thought it important to get a complete medical exam for Mother Earth, and we have successfully completed about half the exam. We took Mother Earth to Dr. Sam's office for the blood examination.
"Nurse Corder was waiting outside Dr. Sam's office with a hypodermic needle for the blood analysis, but we all realized that it would be impossible to draw blood from Mother Earth, and we hope you can help us with this part of her medical exam."
Dr. Blud leans back in his chair with his hands behind his head, looking at the ceiling, and says, "This is a problem. I'm an environmentalist, not a hematologist. Let's see—blood is mostly water and, in the circulatory system of humans, provides transport for oxygen, food, hormones, disease antibodies, etc., to tissues and organs. It also transports carbon dioxide and other wastes and poisons away from tissues and organs. Does this ring a bell for anybody?"
"Water!" says Mike excitedly. "It has to be water. Water is the basis of Mother Earth's transport system. Evaporation, rain, rivers, lakes, groundwater, ponds, oceans—we need an analysis of Mother Earth's waters."
"Now that's right up my alley. Water quality is my research area," responds Dr. Blud. "Except for oceans, I have analyzed water of every one of the kinds you have mentioned with varying results. And unfortunately, most of my research has been on water tainted with some unwanted substance or some undesirable organism."
Katie interrupts, "Are you implying that most of Mother Earth's waters are polluted?"
"Oh no," replies Dr. Blud, "sometimes I am employed by the state to check on freshwater sites downstream from a manufacturing or processing plant to make sure they are meeting state water-quality standards. If my work shows that they have not met standards, they can be subject to fines or closure.
"I'm seldom called on to analyze water that is not tainted. Furthermore, most of my limnological [freshwater] research is local, generally no farther than a hundred miles from the campus, and includes only freshwater analyses. The only time I get to the ocean is when I'm on vacation, and my wife makes sure that I don't take my analysis kit. She and I need to spend that time with each other and the kids.
"You are asking me a question that is global in scope, so to answer your question, I must rely on research that others have done in other parts of the world. Fortunately, a few of my fellow professors and I developed a course called The World's Environments that we began teaching last year. It is one semester long, and of course, I volunteered to teach the three-week section on water environments.
"My preparations to teach about water and its environments were real eye-openers. Do you have time for a short course in water circulation and water quality?"
"Can you be concise and still be accurate?" I ask. "Dr. Ec Sam and Nurse Corder are waiting for us at their office."
"I'll try. It's obvious how important this is to you."
"Mother Earth's circulation is threefold. It consists of (1) the water cycle, (2) continental circulation, and (3) ocean circulation.
"The water cycle can be described as the constant cycle of evaporation of surface water into the air, rising into cooler atmosphere, where it condenses, and falls as rain or frozen precipitation.
"Winds are important in water circulation. Condensation occurs along a path where the winds carry it. Some of the water may evaporate from where it falls, but much, if not most, makes its way to creeks, rivers, and streams, eventually returning to the lakes and oceans."
Excerpted from How Are You, Mother Earth? by Gordon Hunter, Marvin Alonso. Copyright © 2013 Gordon Hunter. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Gordon Hunter is an award-winning professor of biology with forty-two years of experience in the sciences as a radar instructor in the US Air Force, a public school general science teacher, and a science teaching consultant for public school teachers.
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