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The many travels of carbon through ocean systems
10/07/2010 | Medea Steinman, (Ocean Systems)
Tags: carbon cycle, ROLE Model webinar, 10.06.10 webinar

Biogeochemist Larry Mayer spent the last few weeks dreaming about genies. Last night he talked to an online audience of 36 people from 12 states about what he calls the “genie in the bottle,” also known as sequestered carbon. Former educator and current graduate student Beth Campbell also shared her insights as an educator on just how useful concept mapping can be – both for her previous students and for her current research.

“Genie in the Bottle”
Larry prepared assiduously for the presentation, working through many iterations to develop a series of concept maps that offered participants a practical and enlightening picture of carbon cycling. Click on any of the maps below to see a larger version.

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Map 2 - Dr. Larry Mayer
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Map 1, the “Cast of Characters,” depicted the various “pools” in which carbon exists in earth systems, from air to sea to ocean sediment, in all its organic and inorganic forms. Map 2 asked “How Much Carbon?” and quantified the “standing stock,” or inventory, of carbon in each of those locales and forms. In Map 3, “Moving Around,” we got a look at best estimates of the gross and net rates at which carbon is cycling through these systems. Larry closed his presentation with Map 4, asking the question, “How Long Does it Stay?,” which illustrated the residence times of carbon in each of these pools. It turns out that, overall, carbon spends about 100 times as long in seawater (350 years) as it does in the atmosphere (3 years), but the same residence time difference exists for carbon in surface (4 years) vs. deep waters (400 years). This explains why many researchers have begun experimenting with “fertilization” methods to try to get carbon into deep ocean waters. On the other hand, if it were to get buried in ocean sediment, it could remain there for hundreds of millions of years—-think of all the carbon in the Cliffs of Dover! But then also think of oil drilling, and how we’re letting the “genie” out again.

Secrets in the mud
In her presentation, Beth Campbell asked a simple question: “What do you think of when you think of oceans? Do you think of waves and sunbathing and marine mammals and seashells…or do you think of worms and mud?” Beth is guessing probably NOT the latter. She is a former high school teacher, now graduate student in marine sciences at the University of Maine, who is researching injury and regeneration in polychaete worms. What in what, you say? These worms are plentiful and varied and live in ocean sediments and have a huge impact on the rate of carbon going in and out of the sediments. These worms are easily and frequently injured but their biology enables them to regenerate, even regrow a severed head!

Beth’s presentation focused on the benefits, challenges, and the unique value of concept mapping as a teaching and learning tool, for learners of any age in any setting. She described how important it was to her in her teaching career and how useful it’s been in thinking and planning her graduate research. Beth says that in order to create a concept map, you really have to understand the topic, because of the higher order thinking skills required to conceptualize and organize the map. But if concept mapping is new to you, she encourages you to start simple, and then keep working at it. You might be amazed by how much you learn in the process!

Map 2 - Dr. Larry Mayer
Want to keep copies of the maps presented in this webinar?
  • Download a pdf copy of this map here (PDF, 589 KB)
  • To view the interactive version of this map, click here. When asked for a visitor's password, choose ROLEModel as the username and 2010 as the password.
  • To share the map to your own profile, login to the Concept Map Builder with the username of ROLEModel and the password 2010. Open the map and click "share" to send a copy of the map to yourself (if you have already registered for a COSEE profile.)

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