Chemistry in the EnvironmentWhat a big topic. The field of environmental chemistry calls on organic chemistry, biochemistry, and a heck of a lot of biology. We'll focus on the chemistry of the Earth right now.
Environmental chemists study the chemistry of the biosphere. They often focus on the effects of the modern world and technology on our environment. What do they study? Consider them to be the planet detectives. They look at the fingerprints and figure out what went down at the scene of the crime. They look at the chemical compunds and figure out what could have made a child sick, or a forest die, or a healthy river poisonous.
How are Elements Moving?With all of the molecules and compounds floating around our world, someone needs to study the reactions they have with each other. It could be as simple as seeing red rocks and figuring out that they have a high level of iron (Fe). At the other end of the spectrum, scientists could be studying holes in the ozone (O3) layer. Then they might try to answer the question, "How are aerosol cans involved in the destruction of the ozone layer?"
Where Do the COmpounds Go?The Earth is a closed system (basically). While energy may come in and leave the planet, most of our mass stays right here. That means all of the elements are constantly recycling through our environment. A free oxygen molecule (O2) that was floating around the atmosphere yesterday might be a part of someone's hamburger next week. It's up to the environmental chemists to study those cycles and watch the elements in motion. When you lear about erath science there will be a lot of talk about bio-geo-chemical (BGC) cycles.
Organic Carbon and the World Around Us (USGS Video)