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Japanese(JP)English (United Kingdom)

Course Report: Practice in Environmental Monitoring

Bai Yingjiu, Associate Professor

Class outline:

In this class, the students will obtain genuine environmental data and understand the mechanism of environmental loads. At the same time, the class helps the students acquire an analytical capability of such environmental data, including how to apply Japan’s leading ITC technology. The students will also learn scientific perspectives and ways of thinking towards the environmental data and their countermeasure methods.
In particular, the class will perform the environmental measurement relating to basic environmental quality, data handling and analytical experimentation using ITC technology. They also carry out the fabrication of measurement tools, as well as the environmental scientific experimentation using such tools.

Class characteristics:

In this class, the students will practice the environmental measurement and scientific experimentation in real life by using measurement devices.

Unique environmental and network-related features of this class

The class is held in cooperation with external institutions (Tokai University, Kanagawa Environmental Research Center). The cooperative activities include the support for measurement and examination, as well as the lease of their facility and devices.

Atmosphere of the class / Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC)

An outstanding feature of this class is that the students are able to learn the environmental measurement and scientific research by actually using the measuring devices in internationally diverse surroundings.
In addition to the students from Japan, a total of 20 students from around the world are taking the class, including China, U.S., Jordan, Israel, U.K. and Mongolia. As such, the class is carried out both in English and Japanese, which helps the students acquire a global mentality while studying the measurement of the environment. This way, it allows the students to share the unique situations of their own countries.

The scene was from the 12th environmental measurement session with the theme: (3)‘soil’ related issues. The class started by reviewing the previous session (the 11th environmental measurement session with the theme: (2)‘temperature’ related issues). There are 3 indicators to measure ‘temperature’ data, namely: surface temperature, wind chill factor and WBGT (Wet Bulb Globe Temperature). Out of these indicators, the ‘wind chill factor’ requires different calculation formulas depending on climate conditions, such as no wind with high temperature & high humidity, or no sunlight with low humidity. This means that in Japan the calculation varies for each season, whereas in Mongolia, the same equation can be used throughout the year due to its climate with constantly low humidity.
After the review, the class proceeded on to the contents of the 12th session. In this class, measurements are performed every month in groups. Thereafter, written reports are submitted based on their results.
Regarding the submitted measurement reports for‘6/June – 7/July (one month group project),’ one group obtained a positive evaluation by writing a relevant research plan (e.g. the consideration for scale, measurement elements and monitoring methods, etc.), while other groups either failed on their measurement process or had a problem with their monitoring method.
On this point, the professor advised that it was necessary to set their research objective prior to performing the environmental measurement and monitoring, to select relevant measurement elements, and to clarify which data to obtain that are suitable for the research objective. In detail,
1. To clarify measurement items and what type of data to obtain, by using two methods called “Forecasting” which sets up a future target, and “Back-Casting” which goes back to the present based on the future target.
2. To understand what kind of errors are there, why they occur and how such errors can be minimized at the time of the measurement (e.g. perform the correction of instrumental errors in advance so as to eliminate any measurement errors).
3. To scientifically understand the meaning of “In statistics, an error is not a "mistake"” especially for statistical data.
The explanation on the above 3 points were given both in English and Japanese.

Afterwards, the lecture started in regards to the theme of this session: (3) soil related issues, focusing on the pH level of soil. Active discussions in Japanese and English started from a simple question, “why are there various colors in hydrangea?” Different opinions were raised by the students, such as a possible relationship with the nutrient content in soil. The answer from Professor Bai was that it was due to the pH level in soil. If there are different pH levels in soil, the colors also vary. That is to say that if you want to change the color of hydrangea, all you have to do is to adjust the level of pH in the soil. If you want pink hydrangea to bloom, for instance, all you need to do is to slightly increase the alkali level in the soil. From the topic of the color of hydrangea, the discussion moved on to the main theme. Since plants grow by absorbing the nutrition and moisture in soil, the soil composition and its pH level affect the growth of the plants. Therefore, in the field of agriculture, it is possible to improve the growth of agricultural crops by understanding appropriate levels of pH for each crop and making the best soil environment. For example, the pH level 4 – 5 is the most suitable for blueberries, whereas asparagus and artichoke prefer alkaline pH. Furthermore, the knowledge of soil can be also applied to landscape design. As mentioned in the hydrangea case study, the colors of certain plants can be controlled by adjusting the pH level in soil, which helps to create richer landscapes. Another point worth noting is the application of this characteristic as a countermeasure to the recent acid rain problem. The acid rain influences the pH level in soil. Thus, by measuring and analyzing such levels of pH values, it allows us to analyze the source origin of acid rain as well as its distribution. Incidentally, regarding the soil issue in Mongolia where the amount of rainfall is low, what is affecting the level of the pH level in its soil is actually the use of pesticides, instead of acid rain.

After this lecture, the students were divided into 4 groups and measured the pH levels of soils around the classroom, using soil acid hydrometers called “soil tester.” Following what we learned in the previous session, it was required to do more than 6 measurements, taking into account any instrumental errors. The measurements were performed by the 4 groups, out of which 1 group had the pH level 5 at one location, whereas the other 3 groups observed the level 7 at 3 different locations. After returning to the classroom we discussed why we observed these different results. We argued that the differences might have been because the locations which measured the level 7 were quite deserted, while there was some pedestrian traffic in the location with the pH level 5. The alternative argument was that a mandarin orange tree planted at the location with the level 5 could have affected the pH value somehow. However, we could not come to any definite conclusion, and as a result, analyzing its cause became the assignment for the next session.

In this manner, the students learn by not only studying theories, but also actually measuring with their hands, validating its results and doing in-depth research on the cause of any unexpected values. In addition, having a number of discussions in a multinational environment helps the students notice new facts and find out new global perspectives in what may be considered conventional in their own culture. The class indeed offers learning opportunities for internationally discussed “environment” related issues, in “global” surroundings, by incorporating both “theory and practice.”

Lastly, the following is the summary of an interview with an exchange student from China, Ms. Sha Syutan

Q: Could you please describe the atmosphere of the class, and explain how each session is carried out?
A: It is usually quite similar to today’s session. The class is always held in English and Japanese. In addition to lectures, the students perform scientific experimentations, and often discuss about & validate the data obtained by using various measuring equipment.

Q: Could you explain why you are taking this class?
A: In addition to the fact that it is a compulsory subject for the Environmental Innovators course, I was very interested because it is a brand new class. One of the largest attractive features of this class is that we can learn both lectures and experimentations. Although there is no direct relation between the experimentations and my research theme, I believe what I learn in this class can be applied to my Ph.D. research.

Q: What is the field of your research?
A: It is the water-supply related risk management in cities around Lake Tai, China. In Lake Tai, a major algae bloom has occurred due to eutrophication, which worsened water quality and has been causing water deficiency in the surrounding cities. I would like to focus on resolving this issue, and therefore this class, especially the water measurement session, is very interesting and considerably beneficial for my own research.