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Tutor profile: Natalia M.

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Natalia M.
Environmental Scientist (PhD)
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Questions

Subject: Writing

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Question:

I want to be able to convey my message in a clear way and make sure my readers will learn something useful from my texts. How can I make sure this will happen?

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Natalia M.
Answer:

The first thing to remember when aiming for writing clear, informative pieces is: always get rid of "fancy" words and those that don't serve any purpose in a sentence. Many texts, including academic papers, are unable to portray their key messages because of the unnecessary use of difficult words and long sentences. Be concise and precise. William Zinsser - author of "On Writing Weel" - provides different examples of what he calls "clutterers" - words/constructions that should not be in the text. Some of these examples are: 1) Words used to inflate what needs no inflating: “with the possible exception of” (except), “due to the fact that” (because), “he totally lacked the ability to” (he couldn´t), “until such time as” (until), “for the purpose of” (for). 2) Unnecessary preposition appended to a verb (“order up”), or the adverb that carries the same meaning as the verb (“smile happily”), or the adverb that states a known fact (“tall skyscraper”), or the little qualifiers that weaken any sentence they inhabit (“a bit”, “sort of”), or phrases like “in a sense”, which don´t mean anything. 3) Words that qualify how you feel and how you think and that you saw: “a bit”, “a little”, “sort of”, “kind of”, “rather”, “quite”, “very”, “too”, “pretty much”, “in a sense”. Zinsser also says that a text can become clearer and more remarkable when the writer tweaks words and sentences in order to gain variety: "reverse the order of a sentence, or substitute a word that has freshness or oddity, or alter the length of your sentences so they don´t all sound as if they came out of the same machine. An occasional short sentence can carry a tremendous punch. It stays in the reader´s ear." Please remember that a sentence should never be longer than three lines - it is better to break long sentences into smaller ones. It is also important to know what you want to say and check if each sentence and paragraph you write is serving the purpose of explaining what you aim to explain. Make sure that these sentences and paragraphs are well connected to each other. Each new paragraph should expand the one the preceded it and the last sentence of a paragraph should make the reader want to move on to the next one. Research is key to ensure a text will be good. Collecting more material than you will use is a good practice. Read various types of publications on the subject you want/need to write about and always take notes of the most important things you learn. Make sure to pick and work well on the one point you want to make, something that you want your reader to remember well. Even if your text touches upon different aspects of a subject or different subjects, make sure that the reader will be left with one important message. The last sentence of your text, as well as knowing when to write it, is as important as your first sentence. Acclaimed authors usually recommend that this last sentence echoes what you have written in the beginning, bringing the text full circle. Of course, correct use of punctuation, right spelling and excellent grammar knowledge are essential and there are several resources to help you with these.

Subject: Environmental Science

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Question:

A Dutch Company has stated that its vegan, soy burgers are a sustainable choice. Why might this statement be false?

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Natalia M.
Answer:

Although a vegan diet has been increasingly associated with more sustainable food systems and consumption habits, plant-based produce must be carefully examined. In the case of the Dutch Company, associating the soy burgers to sustainability is not correct if the patties are made from produce grown in, for example, monoculture plantations. Let us say that the soybeans utilized have been imported from Brazil.* The expansion of soy plantations throughout the Brazilian Amazon and other national biomes - such as the Cerrado, Mata Atlântica and Pampas - has been intense, leading to critical land-cover change dynamics. While the expansion of croplands in Brazil might occur across areas that have been previously utilized as pastureland, the direct conversion of natural vegetation to monoculture plantations is common. Importantly, natural vegetation loss in the country has led to and continues to cause severe social-ecological disturbances. This land-cover change process reduces plant and animal diversity, the latter by way of loss of habitats and disturbances in the equilibrium between predator and prey species. Habitat fragmentation is also a result of these transformations, which causes discontinuity in the distribution patterns of species, affecting dynamics and the genetic structure of populations. Additionally, significant amounts of pesticides and herbicides are applied in croplands, the toxicity of which damages pollinators, as well as the soil and watersheds; it is also considered a peril to human and non-human health. Moreover, the application of fertilizers results in the release of nitrous oxides (NOX), which are indirect greenhouse gases - through the production of tropospheric Ozone (O3) - and affect the global climate. Carbon dioxide (CO2) releases also occur in the replacement of natural vegetation by croplands, further contributing to global climate change. The loss of vegetation also leads to decreased evapotranspiration, altering local precipitation patterns, and affects water quality, morphology and watershed hydrology. Soil degradation and erosion, an increase in temperature due to albedo modifications and a rising number of heat fluxes also result from the expansion of croplands. Processes of land-cover change in the region have also had direct socio-cultural and politico-economic impacts. Rural inhabitants in the Cerrado have experienced land grabbing, violent conflicts, and the further socioeconomic marginalization of powerless actors. Inequalities in land distribution and income generation are striking in Brazilian rural areas. In spite of several land reform attempts, agribusiness farmers detain 75% of the total agricultural area in Brazil. Small-scale farmers possess only 25% of the national agricultural land, despite their key role in producing roughly 70% of the food Brazilians consume. In the process of cropland expansion in the country, rural inhabitants and communities have been deprived from access to land and other natural resources, which affects their socio-cultural practices and contributes to the erosion of their identities. Finally, it is important to state that even if soybeans were grown in areas that had been previously deforested and used as pastureland, the presence of croplands impedes ecosystem restoration in vast areas across the countries. Notably, ecological restoration in Brazilian biomes is key to correct and counteract the severe social-ecological impacts listed above. These facts make clear that produce advertised as sustainable can be associated with severe impacts. * Note: Brazil is currently the world's largest exporter of soybeans; countries in Europe, including the Netherlands, and China have been progressively importing Brazilian soy for diverse purposes, including the making of plant-based food.

Subject: Environmental Engineering

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Question:

Wastewater from certain activities (e.g. farming and restaurants) usually contains an excess of nutrients such as Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorous (P). The removal of excess N and P from these effluents is key, so as to avoid eutrophication of waterbodies (a process that can cause the deterioration of the water quality; especially important is that eutrophication might lead to low-oxygen – or hypoxic – waters). Certain effluents (like those from textile industries), however, do not contain very low levels of or no N and P in their composition. Why is it important that such deficiency of nutrients is corrected and how can this process occur in the biological reactors where effluents of this kind are treated?

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Natalia M.
Answer:

Correcting N and P deficiencies is key, as these nutrients are fundamental to sustain the activities of microorganisms responsible for degrading organic matter present in effluents. Such correction requires adding nitrogen- and phosphorous-based fertilizers to the biological reactor in which these effluents are treated. Commonly used fertilizers are urea (percentage of N in urea = 47%), ammonium sulfate (percentage of N ammonium sulfate = 20%), simple superphosphate (percentage of P in simple superphosphate = 18%), phosphoric acid (percentage of P in phosphoric acid = 32%). In biological treatment systems – such as stabilization ponds, conventional activated sludge, aerated ponds, anaerobic systems, etc. – it is common to estimate the amount of nutrients through the following relationships: - BOD aerobic systems: N: P = 100: 5: 1 - COD anaerobic systems: N: P = 350: 5: 1 Considering these proportions and relationships, we can calculate the amount of fertilizers necessary to treat N and P deficiencies in a given effluent. The example below* explains such calculation: *Calculate the amount of urea and phosphoric acid to be added, on a daily basis, to the aeration tank of a conventional activated sludge system, with an average flow rate (FR) of 80m3/h. The biological oxygen demand (BOD) of the industrial wastewater = 1400mg/L. The wastewater does not contain nutrients. The BOD removal efficiency is 90%. Solution: - Gross Organic Load (OL) OL = FR (m3/h) x BOD (kg/m3) OL = 80 m3/h x 1.4 kg/m3 OL =112 kg/h OL = 2688 kg/day - Removed Organic Load (OLrem) OLrem = 0,90 x OL OLrem = 0,90 x 2688 OLrem = 2419,2 kg/day Note: 0,90 = BOD removal efficiency (90%). - Amount of Urea (Ur) to be added: DBO : N = 100 : 5 100 __________ 5 2419,2 _______ x x = 121 kgN/day Because the percentage of N in urea = 47%: 121 ___________ 47% Ur __________ 100% Ur = 257 kg/day Note: 121 = the amount of N derived from the calculation explained in the previous step. - Amount of Phosphoric Acid (PA) to be added: DBO : P = 100 : 1 100 __________ 1 2419,2 _______ y y = 24,2 kgP/day Because the percentage of P in phosphoric acid = 32%: 24,2 ___________ 32 PA __________ 100 PA = 76 kg/day The urea and phosphoric acid must be diluted in water and the flow rate of the dispenser must be regulated to consume the solution within 24 hours. The minimum amount of water used for diluting must be sufficient for the urea to be completely dissolved.

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