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Artificial Wetlands

Artificial Wetlands Photo Credit: Clipart.com

Golf courses are known as places of recreation. But some of them could someday double as water treatment facilities. You'll hear how in this Science Update.


Transcript

Cleaning water on the back nine. I'm Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update. Water hazards on golf courses can be used to control environmental hazards. That's according to Purdue University soil microbiologist Ron Turco.

He and his colleagues studied man-made ponds on the Kampen Golf Course at Purdue. The plants and microbes in these artificial wetlands filtered out a variety of pollutants and pesticides. Building more of them could clean up runoff from nearby roads, farms, and lawns.

Turco:

So, if it's an entrance point to a surface water condition—a lake or a stream or such—a wetland can really serve as a good biological filter for water moving into that water body.

He says the artificial wetlands can also control flooding in surrounding communities, by collecting excess water. I'm Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.


Making Sense of the Research

Although it's about artificial wetlands, this report highlights the need to protect natural wetlands and how wetlands benefit the environment.

We need wetlands now more than ever. Aside from providing a habitat to countless species, wetlands serve two big purposes that directly benefit humans: First, wetland plants soak up chemicals from the groundwater that might otherwise wind up in the human water supply. And second, wetlands serve as reservoirs for excess water, which controls flooding.

Obviously, there are many more chemicals in the groundwater today than there were hundreds of years ago, before the Industrial Revolution. These chemicals, which include metals, chloride, ammonia, and phosphorus, come from a variety of sources, including trash, roads, cars, fertilizers, and pesticides. As rainwater washes over towns and farms, it picks up these chemicals and carries them into the ground, and eventually to rivers, lakes, and streams. The upshot is that animals, including humans, end up consuming these pollutants somewhere down the line. Many species of plants that live in wetlands can break down or eliminate these chemicals as part of their natural life cycle.

Our human activities have done more than just create more pollutants, however. By paving over grass to make roads, parking lots, homes, and shopping malls, we've made it harder for the ground to soak up excess water after a heavy rainfall. All that water has to go somewhere—even if it means turning Main Street USA into a canal in Venice. In other words, the more we build and pave, the greater our risk of flooding. Wetlands help offset this problem by collecting the excess water in a place where it can be put to use.

Unfortunately, wetlands are disappearing. Many have been drained to make way for new farms or construction projects. Some wetlands have also been drained because they were suspected breeding grounds for mosquitoes. In fact, draining a wetland can actually make a mosquito problem worse. That's because wetlands provide habitats to birds, frogs, and other animals that eat mosquitoes. When wetlands disappear, these animals disappear too. What's more, losing wetlands creates flooding, which leads to standing water, which leads to—guess what—mosquitoes! Only now there aren't any predators to eat them. Despite this, many people still misunderstand the relationship between wetlands and mosquitoes, and the pressure to drain them can be intense.

Creating artificial wetlands like these is no substitute for protecting natural wetlands. However, they could help offset the damage already done. And, in the case of a golf course, they fit right in with the landscape.

Now try and answer these questions:

  1. What are the benefits of wetlands?
  2. Why do we need artificial wetlands?
  3. Why do you think wetlands have been an easy target for destruction?
  4. Why is it important to look beyond the appearance of a natural environment before changing it?

Going Further


For Educators

In the Access Excellence activity Project Wetlands, one group of students proposed to construct a wetland to solve the problem of nutrient imbalance in a local lake.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Wetlands site describes the ecological functions of wetlands and strategies for protecting them.


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