"The planet is in distress," according to Al Gore, and his statement reflects our abiding responsibilities for the care of the environment and the viability of our water supply. There is perhaps no more important task than grounding our students in these responsibilities. Research papers that create student ecological awareness are therefore essential, and the topics for those papers should create and encourage concerned citizenship about our natural resources.
Global Warming: Hoax or Truth?
The debate over global warming is still one of the most contested topics in recent years. Is it real or based only on seasonal or anecdotal observations? A valuable research paper topic can address this question, attempt to prove global warming as a viable concern or debunk it as a "Chicken Little" fear. Either way, your students will find a spectrum of evidence that supports either view and good research material for their essays.
Water Pollution is Still with Us
Water pollution, once thought a vanished concern of the 1970s, is still very much with us, and the groundwater quality of various locations is still of great concern to experts. Student research essays can select water quality as a topic, researching the current extent of water pollution as well as our efforts to overcome it. For instance, what challenges are present in municipal water systems built near businesses that pollute, such as factories or agricultural corporations? What is being done to control this problem? How might local water supplies or private wells be impacted by this situation?
Environmental research often uncovers the idea that man-made intrusions reduce the viability of the ecosystem. Wetlands areas were cut in half by man's building and "civilizing" the land, and dams have intruded on the natural water flow in areas where they are constructed. One good research topic would take a single structure, such as Three Gorges Dam in China, and research its ecological impact or compare and contrast that structure with another such as Hoover Dam. Similar topics could address how other man-made structures impact the land they are built on or damage the raw materials used to build them.
Natural Healing of the Environment?
There is fascinating new evidence that Al Gore's "distress" quote may not be entirely accurate. Recent studies indicate that oceanic oil spills, both of recent memory and historically significant events such as the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, are actually cleaning themselves naturally. The Exxon site, for example, is believed to have cleaner water now than before the spill occurred, and human cleanup efforts may have done more harm than good. These would make fascinating research topics and perhaps give a more balanced view to mankind's role as ecological damage controller.