Since January, we have experienced a number of geological events that have caused havoc and misery to many people around the Earth. On January 12, Haiti was rocked with a magnitude 7 earthquake causing the destruction of the many cities and towns including the capital, Port-au-Prince. Then, on February 27, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake occurred off the coast of the Maule region of Chile, causing enormous damage to property and life. In late March, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted for the first time in 200 years, and volcanologists predict that the activity could last for months. We all know the havoc that was created when European airspace was shut down stranding thousands of people. Then on April 20, the catastrophic explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon occurred resulting in the death of eleven platform workers and injury to many others, and to perhaps the worst oil spill in U.S. history. A month later, and the oil is still gushing out (link to a live cam of oil spill) of the Gulf at rate that probably exceeds the estimated 210,000 gallons/day.
In each of these cases, the destruction to property, and the loss of life varies from one disaster to the other, but they all have impacted the environment of vast regions of the earth and millions of people. In the case of the earthquakes and volcano, students’ understanding of theory of plate tectonics will help them understand how these geological events occurred. The geology of the Haiti and the Chile earthquakes provide students with a deeper understanding of plate tectonics, and how the earth’s crust works. Iceland’s volcano occurred along the interface between two tectonic plates, where new crust is moving to the surface from deeper in the crust of the earth. It is at this interface that these two huge tentonic plates are moving away from each other. Quite different from the compressional activity of the tectonic plates that come into play in the case of the Haiti and the Chile earthquakes.
A few month’s ago the Governor of Louisiana wondered why the EPA had funds in its budget for “volcano monitoring.” He lashed out at this as an example of government funding gone amuck. In a post I wrote after that entitled Volcano in your backyard, the mayor of Vancouver begged to differ with the governor. Because of the BP’s horrendous oil spill, the governor now finds himself in the middle of a very significant environmental disaster.
The U.S. produces about 9 million barrels (1 barrel = 42 gallons) of crude oil per day, and imports about 13 million barrels of crude. The BP oil spill is spewing 5,000 barrels (view this Youtube clip) of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico per day (210,000 gallons). These are BP estimates, and there many geologists who think the spillage is much greater. Nevertheless, this is a huge amount of oil that is being pumped into the Gulf, and is threatening the entire Gulf Coast, and some fear that the oil could move up the East Coast of the U.S.
The Gulf Oil spill provides the context for a powerful STS teaching and learning experience for middle and high school students. To help students understand the oil spill, you might explore the visualizations shown on this website including what a 5,000 barrel/day oil spill looks like, how oil is explored beneath the ocean, how big is Deep Horizon oil spill, and many other questions.
A recent paper by Bulunuz and Jarrett in the Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education explored the research on teachers’ understanding about Earth and space science concepts. The paper has implications for us as teachers, and also science teacher educators.