Apr
16
2010

Is your home a hotspot?

Is this house a biogeochemical hotspot?
Is this house a biogeochemical hotspot?Courtesy monkeyc.net
To ecologists who study the environment, cities and suburbs are fascinating places. For one thing, they're full of people, and people take-up space, consume materials and energy, and create waste every single day. When people do this together in concentrated areas like cities and suburbs, they create what scientists call "biogeochemical hotspots" - places where chemical and energy reaction rates are much faster than in surrounding areas.

Individual houses are also hotspots. A group of scientists at the University of Minnesota, led by researchers Sarah Hobbie and Kristen Nelson, are trying to understand more about urban ecosystems and how chemicals and energy cycle through different people's homes.

They've begun to study a small group of people whose homes are here in Minnesota - asking them questions about their behavior and taking surveys and samples on their property.

What they've found might surprise a few people. It turns out that not everyone uses energy and chemicals the same way. Small numbers of individuals and families consume and waste much more than others - creating a bigger footprint in their ecosystem.

So who are these disproportionate polluters? There is a lot that scientists still don't know, especially about why people make the choices they do, but one thing seems to be clear - generally speaking, the more money that a family makes, the bigger their ecological footprint.

These bigger impacts come from a few behaviors that wealthier Americans tend to exhibit more than their less-wealthy counterparts. Flying in airplanes, buying a much larger home, having more pets and driving a car more often all contribute to a family's impact on their ecosystem.

While studying the role individuals play in urban ecosystems, another thing these scientists found to be true was that small individual actions - for example, turning down the thermostat in the winter just a few degrees, or using less chemicals on lawns, did have a significant impact on the environment.

You can see a recording of two of the researchers involved this study .

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