The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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Planet Earth, the only speck in the Universe confirmed by humans to have evolved higher forms of life. Watch NASA's phenomenal movie summarizing Life on Earth.

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community_biochar-reduced.pngCommunity biochar production in Boone.  Appalachian State Energy Center

Appalachian State University research helps farmers and crop yield

This article was provided by Appalachian State University. Hei-Young Kim is laboratory manager and research assistant with the Appalachian Energy Center.

BOONE The Appalachian State Nexus Project experiments continue to advance agricultural innovations with biochar to help local farmers. Biochar is a charcoal-like material produced from plant material such as grass, agricultural and forest residues that  produce carbon-rich material used for agriculture and horticulture purposes. 

Adding biochar to soil increases surface area, pH, plant nutrient availability, and enhances water-holding capacity, according to Appalachian State researchers. It also can sequester carbon in the ground for extended periods of time, which may otherwise find its way into the atmosphere as CO2 or methane.

The qualities of biochar vary depending upon the material it comes from — timber slash, corn stalks or manure. 

Fall in to the Ring of Fire on Oct 14

74_annular_eclipse_detail.jpg“Ring of Fire” annular eclipse.  NASA

While most people associate “Ring of Fire” with the great Southern country singer Johnny Cash, it will feature a different beat on Oct. 14 when the “Ring of Fire” annular eclipse will cross North, Central and South America. 

The moon will pass in front of the sun, and an annular eclipse will be visible over much of the United States and Central and South America. Unlike a total solar eclipse, the moon will not completely block the sun and make day appear like night. It will, however, make the sun appear like a thin ring of fire. The difference between an annular and a total eclipse is that the moon’s orbit varies slightly in it’s distance from Earth. If an eclipse occurs when the moon is at a farther point during its orbit, it will appear slightly smaller and not large enough to cover the sun completely. 

All eclipse-watchers on Oct. 14 will need to use special eye protection — such as eclipse glasses or a specialized solar filter — or an indirect viewing method to safely watch. Such safety measures must be used throughout the entire eclipse, no matter a viewer’s location, as even the small ring of sun visible at the peak of the annular eclipse is dangerous if viewed directly.

Live coverage of the eclipse will air on NASA TV and the agency’s website from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Oct. 14 The public may also watch live on social media accounts on Facebook, X, and YouTube. 

Published in Feedbag, Events, Earth

Public Lands Day looking for volunteers

Big South Fork celebrates National Public Lands Day Saturday, September 23 with a Volunteer Trails Event


Oneida, Tennessee — Take part in the National Public Lands Day celebration at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area on Saturday, September 23, 2023.  

On this day, the park is looking for volunteers to help build out the last section of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. Interested volunteers should meet at the R.M. Brooks General Store (2830 Rugby Parkway, Robbins, Tennessee 37852) on Saturday the 23rd at 8:30 am ET. Please wear long pants and sturdy footwear.

Established in 1994 and held annually on the fourth Saturday in September, National Public Lands Day celebrates the connection between people and green space in their community, inspires environmental stewardship and encourages use of open space for education, recreation and health benefits. More information can be found online at

For more information visit the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area website or call 423-569-9778.

Public can learn more about distilled Knox Urban Forest Master Plan Sept. 13


KNOXVILLETrees Knoxville and the city will update citizens on progress on the Urban Forest Master Plan. Trees Knoxville, an organization dedicated to preserve and increase the urban tree canopy on private and public lands in Knoxville and Knox County, will host an open house from 5:30-7 p.m. Sept. 13, at the Public Works Service Center (3131 Morris Ave.) to discuss the latest Urban Forest Master Plan.

Trees Knoxville and city urban forester Kasey Krouse will share recommendations from Urban Canopy Works LLC based on public input.

“We have taken everything we’ve learned over the last year and developed draft goals, as well as strategies and action steps to meet those goals,” Trees Knoxville Steering Committee said in a release. “While the plan is not yet fully developed, we would like to update the community on the direction the plan is headed, providing an opportunity to give feedback before the final draft is produced.”

This forum will update the planning process Trees Knoxville and city staff have been working on with a consultant from Urban Canopy to learn about the public thoughts, opinions and goals for the city’s urban canopy — tree cover in public places and on private property.

The hope is a successful forest plan will help the city preserve, grow and care for trees, which play a significant role in public and environmental health.

Public meeting about solutions to remove solid waste in downtown Knoxville is set for Sept.14

KNOXVILLE — On Thursday, Sept. 14, the city, MSW Consultants and DSM Environmental will present findings from the 2023 Downtown Solid Waste Study. The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. at Lox Salon, 103 W. Jackson Avenue.

Members of the public are welcome to attend and learn about how downtown solid waste and recycling is currently being collected, costs involved, and a look at future collection options.

The Downtown Solid Waste Study was launched to address concerns about downtown growth and increased solid waste production. The city currently spends more than $550,000 each year for downtown trash and recycling services.

— City of Knoxville

Guided Bird Walk with Dr. Chuck Nicholson, September 16 at Big South Fork


Oneida, Tennessee – This September 16, at 8:00 AM (ET), don’t miss the unique opportunity to explore the lush landscapes of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, guided by Dr. Charles Nicholson. The walk will begin at the Bandy Creek swimming pool at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and promises to be an easy, enjoyable experience for all ages.

Dr. Nicholson is not just an experienced birder; he’s an authority on the subject with over 35 years of specialized experience in the Big South Fork area.  A committed member of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, Dr. Nicholson has served multiple roles within the organization, including president and journal editor.

Dr. Nicholson holds a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a focus on birds.  He is the author of the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee, a seminal sourcebook for bird enthusiasts, and served as adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Nicholson has led numerous birding field trips and even offers a course on birdwatching.

This bird walk serves as the perfect prelude to the 31st Annual Haunting in the Hills Storytelling Festival, inviting everyone to connect with nature before diving into the rich tapestry of stories that the festival has to offer.

For more information about this special event as well as other events, call 423-569-9778, or visit online:

Published in Events, Earth
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IMG_7610.jpegJimmy Groton, a Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning board member, clears invasive plants at Worthington Cemetery in Oak Ridge during a volunteer work party in July.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press 

Volunteers nurture life in an Oak Ridge cemetery

OAK RIDGE — The northern corner here is a small place teeming with treasures, including the Worthington Cemetery Ecological Study Area.

Elza Gate Park off Oak Ridge Turnpike, also known as Tennessee Highway 95, is the starting point for walking trails taking visitors through a cedar barren, a somewhat open habitat including eastern red cedars. The barrens include plants more similar to a prairie than many East Tennessee forests. The trail reaches a cemetery dating before the founding of Oak Ridge.

Woven together in this small area there is a natural mix of wildlife and historical preservation. Visitors to the loop trail will encounter a pine forest and a wetland area complete with a boardwalk to observe birds. Tennessee Valley Authority designated the land as both an Ecological Study Area and Small Wild Area.

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ORNL plastics 1ORNL polymer scientists Tomonori Saito, left, and Sungjin Kim upcycled waste plastic to create a stronger, tougher, solvent-resistant material for new additive manufacturing applications.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Thanks to an East Tennessee science powerhouse, recycling might become easier 

This is the first in a series about ORNL’s Technology Innovation Program 2023

OAK RIDGE — Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed a catalyst they say can break down a range of plastics, including polyesters, polycarbonates, polyurethanes and polyamides through a low-energy green process. In lay terms, the process can recycle many plastic-based carpets, ropes, other textiles, bottles, mattresses, protective equipment, car components and other things that weren’t previously easy to recycle into valuable chemicals.

Tomoronori Saito, a researcher at ORNL’s chemical sciences division presented some results of research at ORNL on July 14 as part of a symposium highlighting commercially valuable work that takes place at one of the country’s main science laboratories. Saito and fellow researcher Arif Arifuzzaman showed off plastics in varying levels of disintegration using their catalyst. It was part of the lab’s Technology Innovation Program 2023, promoting the lab’s research for possible business partnerships.

Completed Walker Sisters Cabin renovations secure moments in Smokies time

Walker Sisters fireplace The fireplace at Walker Sisters Cabin is among many historical features refurbished by the National Park Service.  Courtesy National Park Service

GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the Walker Sisters Cabin is once again open to the public. The park closed the two-story cabin in late 2021 while the park’s Forever Places crew addressed safety concerns and completed renovations. The crew, a team of skilled carpenters and masons, replaced the roof and portions of the wall timbers, stabilized the foundation, added new floorboards, and restored the fireplace.

“We are proud of the expert work our dedicated Forever Places team did to restore the cabin,” said Deputy Superintendent Alan Sumeriski. “And we are grateful to the Friends of the Smokies for their generous support to help us preserve such an iconic piece of Smokies history.”

The Friends of the Smokies, the park’s philanthropic partner, provided funding for this critical work as part of the Forever Places campaign. Forever Places protects and preserves the historical resources in the park by hiring skilled preservation crew members and supplying materials and tools.
Visitors may reach the Walker Sisters Cabin by hiking about 1.5 miles along the Little Brier Gap Trail located near the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. The cabin dates to the 1800s and the Walker sisters lived there until 1964.

National Park Service

Help protect an Oak Ridge graveyard dedicated to the study of life


OAK RIDGE — Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning will for the second year host a group of volunteers from Transformation Church on July 15 at the Worthington Cemetery Ecological Study Area to remove Dahurian buckthorn and other invasive species. This is the second year of help at the site from church members, and is one of several service projects church members will conduct throughout the Knoxville area. Volunteers will also help pick up litter and do some trail work.

Additional volunteers are needed to work with the Transformation Church group. We’ll meet at Elza Gate Park in Oak Ridge at 10 a.m. and plan to work until 2 p.m.; a pizza lunch will be provided. Bring bug spray and loppers and/or clippers, and wear sturdy shoes and clothing. Minors will need a parent’s/guardian’s signature on a waiver form (to be provided) in order to participate. For additional information, contact Jimmy Groton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

— Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning

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