Study Guide

Environmental Chemistry

Environmental Chemistry Introduction

Where there are atoms, there is chemistry. This guide will discuss a small fraction of the chemical processes that make everyday life function. These reactions are what environmental chemistry is all about.

Environmental chemistry answers a lot of questions that kids might ask. Questions like: Why is the Earth this temperature? What's in rain? Why is ozone the worst? What are those crazy lights near the North Pole? We'll leave the chicken or the egg question for another day.

In addition to answering burning questions, environmental chemistry is like a scientific decathlon without the sweat. It's a little bit of biology, a little bit of physics, a little bit of environmental science, a little bit chemistry, and a little bit rock and roll. Environmental chemistry uses a lot of the stuff you learned in chemistry. Oxidation reactions explain atmospheric chemistry, dissociation reactions explain the chemistry of rain and ions help explain everything.

Environmental chemistry is just as tough as any chemistry topic, so there will be equations, there will be stoichiometry, and there will be tears. Well, maybe not tears, but definitely equations. In this chapter, we will have to apply many of the skills that we learned in all of the other chemistry topics we've discussed.

Topics touched on in this chapter include the Jekyll and Hyde nature of ozone, the tendencies of aerosols to cause problems wherever they go, and the super-villains of the greenhouse effect. Hint: It's not just carbon dioxide. Most of the reactions that take place on earth are multi-stepped and complicated. What else is new?

Environmental chemistry is a big picture science. This chapter will provide us with all the necessary details to help understand the unsung heroes of every day life: super complicated, hundred-step chemical reactions. This chapter might have some moments of reaction overload, but we can still understand the process basics.

Environmental Chemistry Resources


Very Fast Death Factor
We didn't make that up; that is actually the name of the molecule. A mini-lecture on a toxin created by cyanobacteria.

Scary Mary Magnesium
A clip showing what Mary Poppins would look like if Wes Craven directed it. (Extra credit if you can figure out how this relates to magnesium.)

Bring Out Your Dead (and We'll Bring Them Back)
Is it ethical to bring extinct species back to life?

An End to Extinction?
Another video on bringing animals back.

Professor Bean Creates an Aurora in the Lab
Mr. Bean performs a "chemistry experiment."

Games and Tools

Element Hangman
The site includes six element games, including hangman, memory, and balancing equations.

Match the Atmospheric Species
The type of memory game a chemist might play.


Tracking Fashion Trends by the River Colors
Illegal dumping dirties the waters of a river behind a primary school in Bangladesh.

Hot, Hot, Hot
National Geographic takes us on a photographic journey highlighting the effects of heat on earth.