When writing research papers about the environment and water, the most salient topics are those which study how humans have impacted the environment via manipulating the water cycle and aquatic environments. These types of topics are always currently relevant and open for new insights into existing knowledge. When choosing a specific research topic, focus on one in which you can add to the present conversations being held about that subject.
Watersheds are often massive areas of land that funnel water into a single body of water. For example, the Chesapeake Bay watershed expands for nearly 65,000 square miles across the states of New York, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. For your paper, you could choose a particular section of a watershed and investigate how land development -- such as the construction of parking lots and shopping centers -- has reduced the ground's ability to soak up water and carry it to the basin, forcing other waterways and grassy areas to take on potentially damaging levels of additional water.
Wetlands are places that exist at the borders of land and aquatic habitats -- such as saltwater and freshwater marshes. When Europeans first arrived in the United States, the area of wetlands was estimated at more than 200 million acres, but that acreage is currently estimated at around 104 million acres, according to the Department of Soil Science at North Carolina State University. For your paper, you could research the ways in which governments and organizations are working to restore wetlands or the benefits of draining them for use as agricultural land. You could also investigate the types of endangered and endemic species that live in wetlands or how wetlands help to soak up flood waters.
Bays provide another area for exploration and research for a paper that focuses on water and the environment. Bays are unique bodies of water because they are predominantly marine environments that are only exposed to the sea at their mouths. Because of their rich habitats and because they are so easily accessed, bays attract all types of human attention: fishing, clamming and recreation. For a paper you could study the general effects of humans on bay environments -- such as the pollution and effects of dredging -- or investigate a specific phenomenon, such as how formerly abundant flounder are now inbreeding in Long Island's bays.
Dams are another human perversion of the natural water cycle that provide a rich opportunity for discussion in an essay. However, your focus doesn't have to be negative; you could investigate a particular dam -- such as the Hoover Dam -- and how its construction has improved the lives of those who live in that region. You could also explore the environmental impacts of dams. For example, you could research the sacrifices made by the Chinese government when deciding to construct the Three Gorges Dam, which has displaced more than one million people and permanently flooded more than 600 kilometers of land.
- Indiana: What is a Watershed?
- Chesapeake Bay Program: The Chesapeake Bay Watershed
- Almanac of Policy Issues: Wetlands Issues
- North Carolina State University: Wetland Issues
- World Wildlife Foundation: Threats to Wetlands
- Environment New York: Protect Long Island Sound
- Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program: New Study Shows Inbreeding in Winter Flounder in Long Island's Bays
- History: Hoover Dam
- International Rivers: Three Gorges Dam
- World Wildlife Foundation: The Problems with Dams
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