Scientist-Educator Collaborative Workshop
Where Do POPs Come From and Where Do
They Go in the Coastal Environment?
Held at the University of Connecticut Avery Point Campus, Groton, CT
Thursday, October 8, 2009 through Saturday, October 10, 2009
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Original concept map created by Penny Vlahos
Digital concept map created in the COSEE Concept Map Builder
Consensus concept map created using the COSEE-OS Concept Map Builder
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Presentation Videos & Maps

About this Workshop:
For this workshop, 15 educators from the New England area, Texas, and Illinois were matched with ocean and climate scientists from the University of Connecticut to improve their collective understanding of Earth's major ocean - climate systems. [more]

About this Scientist:
Penny Vlahos' research interests are in the geochemistry of carbon and nitrogen. Her training is in chemical engineering and chemical oceanography. She is particularly interested in understanding and identifying the processes that control the global cycling of carbon, with an emphasis on organic carbon. The cycling of carbon on our planet is of critical importance to the biosphere, our climate and is directly related to the cycling of other elements. [more]
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Who Worked on this Concept Map
Karen Beitler
Grace Jacobson
Penny Vlahos
Scientist Penny Vlahos explains the concept map and its development:

There are many different types of chemical contaminates, but my initial map for educators focused on how Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) behave and move through the atmosphere, ocean and the biosphere. Chemicals that are classified as POPS can remain in the environment for a significantly long time and can become stored and concentrated in plant or animal tissue (i.e., bio-accumulate). Even though some POPs make our lives easier, they can have a negative effect on the natural environment.

On my "To Educators" map, color-coding showed how these compounds are pulled out of global circulation either through biodegradation or through photo-degradation by sunlight. What can happen to POPs once they are released into the environment? If they enter the biosphere they may bio-accumulate, photo-degrade or biodegrade, or they can go into the soil for burial. If released into the atmosphere -- where they travel much faster than in water -- POPs can be: "dry deposited" as dust back to land or ocean, photo-degraded, precipitated as snow or rain (i.e., "wet deposited"), or evaporate/vaporize back to the atmosphere. For example, POPs can evaporate when ambient temperatures are warm, get moved by wind until temperatures are cooler, and then condense (a.k.a. 'global distillation effect'). If POPs are deposited in the ocean, they may be associated with dissolved organic carbon (DOC) or particulate organic carbon (POC) in the water column, but eventually a portion of these compounds can settle into the sediments where they remain for thousands of years.

Here's a specific example: when we use non-stick pans that are coated with Teflon, heat from cooking causes the release of toxic compounds that can get into your food as well as float up into the atmosphere. The global atmosphere mixes on time scales of one year, so if a compound (such as Teflon) persists in the environment for longer than one year, it can move to Earth's poles. Indeed, we have found these compounds concentrated in whale blubber and in tissues of animals that travel to the Arctic or Antarctic.

Our education team decided to refocus the map to help students and teachers understand where POPs come from in our society (e.g. cosmetics, cleaning agents, packaging, etc.). They also felt it was important to show how these compounds travel through the coastal environment, where most of the U.S. population lives. The revised map also shows how humans and wildlife are affected (e.g., allergies, developmental problems, etc.) by the consumption of POPs. Even though the revised map doesn't show the entire "life cycle" of POPs, I think it is more accessible to middle and high students. It also builds on the coastal and urban water cycle -- rivers, runoff, storm sewers, groundwater, estuary, etc. -- that is already taught extensively in schools. Thus the revised map still has the important point but is now set in a familiar framework!
View All Concept Maps Created at this Workshop
Concept map