Thermal Pollution – Concept, causes, effects and examples

We explain what thermal pollution is, its causes, consequences and examples. Also, other types of pollution.

thermal pollution
Thermal pollution is caused mainly by industrial activity.

What is thermal pollution?

When we talk about thermal pollution, we mean the artificial alteration of the temperature of the environment, in such a way that it is detrimental or undesirable for the physicochemical balance of nature. Generally, this type of pollution is produced by various industrial activities, both directly and indirectly.

Just as there is a chemical balance in nature, there is also a physical one, which involves environmental factors such as temperature. For example, heat facilitates certain chemical reactions, serving as a catalyst, and therefore a sudden and considerable increase in temperature (or a decrease, in the same way) can modify the composition of matter unexpectedly, bringing with it drastic consequences for life such as we know it.

In fact, global warming and its dire consequences on a planetary scale is a perfect example of thermal pollution.

Causes of thermal pollution

The causes of thermal pollution lie in industrial activity, in its great majority, although certain natural phenomena, such as volcanic activity, can also contribute in a natural way with the radical and violent alteration of the temperature of an ecosystem. But these events are rather rare, sporadic.

Industrial activity, on the other hand, is daily altering the environmental temperature on a small, medium and large scale. The release of substances into the environment capable of triggering exothermic reactions, or the return of water used with temperatures much colder or much warmer than they initially were, have a continuous local effect, day by day, the consequences of which accumulate over time. over time.

Consequences of thermal pollution

The consequences of thermal pollution are, in different ways, the alteration of the physical-chemical balance of the environment, which brings unpredictable effects.

Modification of the chemical composition of matter, due to the continuous injection of heat, for example, can do it less suitable for local ways of life, especially those that are not endowed with mobility (plants, microorganisms) and whose disappearance implies an impoverishment of the biodiversity of the region, as well as an imbalance in the local trophic chains.

On a global scale, on the other hand, thermal imbalance leads to the production of unstable, extreme climates, with frequent catastrophic phenomena, which have a significant cost not only for the local fauna and flora, but for humanity itself and its economic processes.

Global warming, for example, the result of the accumulation of carbon gases in the atmosphere, has a generalized impact on the level of the sea, the duration of the climatic seasons and the intensity of the hurricane and monsoon seasons.

Examples of thermal pollution

thermal pollution examples
Many industrial activities release greenhouse gases.

Some examples of thermal pollution are the following:

  • The release of heat in thermal power plants. Electricity production plants normally generate large amounts of heat as a result of chemical energy that cannot be converted into electricity. Said surplus energy is then released into the environment, usually through the water used to dissipate heat and prevent the plant from overheating. When that liquid returns to nature, it does so with much more heat than it should, and then alters the temperature gradient of the water in the region, causing a decrease in the concentration of oxygen, and therefore, impoverishing the life around it.
  • The release of cold waters by liquefying gases. To bring natural gas to the liquid state, large amounts of water are usually used to eliminate heat, and this water is returned to the environment at very low temperatures, altering the temperature gradient of the water in the region. This sudden rise and fall in water temperature makes it less fit for life.
  • The release of greenhouse gases. In factories, certain aerosol products, certain refrigerators and other applications in our daily lives, gases with a strong presence of carbon are used or produced, such as methane, propane or butane, or their derivatives after combustion. These gases, upon reaching the atmosphere, prevent the natural release of the solar heat retained between the atmosphere and the earth’s surface, since they are much heavier than they should, and thus lead to an increase in world temperature, which gradually melts glaciers. and perpetual snow, raising the sea level, and altering the global climate making it less predictable and more extreme.

Other types of pollution

Apart from thermal pollution, we can talk about other types of pollution such as:

  • Radioactive pollution. Product of the circulation of chemically unstable materials or particles, which release subatomic particles in the form of ionizing radiation, causing genetic mutations and irreversible damage to the DNA of the species.
  • Noise pollution. That which consists of the dispersion in the environment of inharmonic sound waves, or at levels of intensity incompatible with life, which especially affect the fauna.
  • Light pollution. It is produced by the excessive incorporation of lights and sources of brightness in the environment, affecting the behavior of local species and impoverishing the natural landscape.
  • Water pollution. Produced when one or more toxic, harmful substances or substances that chemically and significantly alter the properties of the liquid are introduced into the natural water deposits and flows, making it harmful to life.
  • Soil contamination. That which is a consequence of the introduction into the soil of toxic or non-natural materials, such as certain types of garbage, and which in the long run impoverish the nutritive capacity of the soil, destroying the plant life of the region.
  • Air pollution. As its name indicates, it consists of releasing gases and solids in suspension in the atmosphere, impoverishing the very air that living beings breathe, and causing diseases in those who breathe it.