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What Is Thermal Pollution?

what is thermal pollutionSince about 71% of the Earth’s surface is water, it’s important to ensure that we take care of the oceans when improving the environment. Beyond littering, thermal pollution is a serious issue that people need to be aware of and fight against.

But what is thermal pollution, exactly? What are its impacts and how can you combat them? Read on to learn about pollution solutions for the eco-conscious.

What Is Thermal Pollution?

Thermal pollution is a type of water pollution that happens when water temperature changes unnaturally.

This change often happens in oceans, but it also can be a problem in lakes, rivers, and streams. Even small ponds can fall prey to thermal pollution.

This temperature shift almost always makes the water much warmer than it otherwise would be. This change decreases the level of oxygen in the body of water as a whole.

What Usually Causes Thermal Pollution?

When an industry or organization takes water from a natural body and uses it, those working there will heat it up for their own use. They then put the water back into the natural body of water at its new temperature.

This usually happens because industrial or manufacturing facilities use the water to make their machinery operate. The leading culprits of thermal pollution are usually plants that produce many different products. Wastewater facilities also frequently cause thermal pollution.

Are There Other Causes?

In addition to industrial negligence, thermal pollution can also be caused by soil erosion. When soil erodes, bodies of water rise and get more sun exposure. The sunlight makes them hotter.

Deforestation also can cause bodies of water to get more direct sun and heat exposure. This is because there no longer will be trees covering them and shading the natural areas. The water will absorb heat and have a higher natural temperature.

Thermal pollution also happens when water runs off of paved surfaces. This is because dark pavement gets really hot because it’s constantly exposed to the sun, and water that lands on it gets extremely hot, too. When it flows into water bodies either directly or via the sewer network, it can change the water’s temperature over time.

The common denominator here is that the issues are man-made.

Soil erosion is a result of deforestation and the use of harmful agrochemicals for fast farming. Deforestation happens when humans cut down trees in large quantities. Pavement is also set by humans, and people are not always careful about what areas they pave.

Effects of Thermal Pollution on the Environment

Many people shrug off thermal pollution because they think that water temperatures fluctuate throughout the year anyway. While this is somewhat true, natural fluctuations don’t have the immediate or widespread impacts that a mass arrival of unnaturally-temperatured water produces.

One big impact of thermal pollution is significantly lower dissolved oxygen (DO) levels. Warm water holds less oxygen than cold water, which means that there will be less oxygen in the water after thermal pollution has heated it up. Plants and animals suffocate.

Another impact of thermal pollution is an increase in toxins within bodies of water. This can cause aquatic life to go into something called thermal shock. Thermal shock is deadly for fish, amphibians, marine plants, insects, and sea mammals.

When these organisms are gone, there is less biodiversity in aquatic systems. Animals will struggle to find enough food when plants and animals that are lower on the food chain die out. This leads to a cyclical effect that proves disastrous for the entire ecosystem.

Thermal shock isn’t the only problem that sea life faces. When the water becomes unsuitable hot or cold, marine animals will migrate to new areas that can sustain their lifestyles. This also creates issues in the food chain and can cause even more death when animals cannot find a suitable place to live.

However, not all life forms die as a result of thermal pollution. Some natural algae that are helpful in small to moderate quantities thrive. Too many of these algae grow and overtake other natural life forms, acting as pests inside the ocean.

Basically, thermal pollution has a massive ecological impact in many different capacities.

Pollution Solutions: How to Combat Thermal Pollution

The fact that thermal pollution is a man-made problem may sound disheartening, but it also can provide us with hope. If we created the issue, there are ways that we can take action toward fixing it.

Educating yourself on environmental issues is the first step toward progress. Look online, watch videos, and listen to podcasts about environmental pollution. Check out books about the ecosystem from your local library to learn the ins and outs of how your actions can impact the world around you.

On a big scale, cooling ponds are the simplest way to stop thermal pollution. Those who heated up the water would release it into these reservoirs instead of into the ocean. The heat would dissipate into the air, the water would cool down, and it could then be put back into the natural bodies nearby.

Cooling towers are another option that works much the same way. They act as temporary places for water to cool down again, but they’re designed for temperature control via a condenser. This makes the process more effective, though it is slightly more expensive.

Water recycling that circulates industrially-treated water outside of oceans also is impactful. It will work well for domestic use or industrial heating.

On a small scale, you can help those around you to understand thermal pollution. Share posts about it on social media.

Make sure that you also research sustainable companies and support their products over less-sustainable competition. If people take a stand and stop giving money to companies that cause excessive pollution, we can create a better world one person at a time.

Learn More About Protecting the Ecosystem

So, what is thermal pollution? In basic terms, it’s a type of pollution that stems from drastic temperatures in bodies of water. In reality, it’s one of the most overlooked serious issues that our climate contends with daily.

Now that you know the ins and outs of this environmental pollution, it’s time to begin looking for answers and solutions. A Climate Change with Matt Matern is a weekly podcast that talks about environmental issues and what concrete steps we can take to make a difference.

Check out our podcast and subscribe today to learn more about how you can combat climate change.


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