Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tidal two-step

For Foundations of Environmental Education, I was given an assignment to visit and critique a museum or zoo exhibit, to see whether or not it would have an impact on the general public in raising their ecological literacy or environmental values. I chose to visit the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire, which is part of Odiorne State Park. The Seacoast Science Center is an environmental education center in the park which integrates historical and ecological learning about the area, and hands-on programs for children of many age levels.

One notable exhibit was located on a corner of the hallway, was L-shaped and featured two large screens, recessed into a display that was flat so that you looked down upon them. The screen on the right showed a map of the Great Bay Estuary system, including Portsmouth Harbor, the rivers that input into the system, and the open ocean. On the right of the screen were several colorful buttons which could be activated by touching the screen. The question above the buttons was, “Where would you like rainwater to enter?” The choices were each points along the watershed such as Portsmouth Harbor, Odiorne Point, Great Bay, The Oyster River, and the Upper and Lower Piscataqua rivers.

When you touched one of these points, the map created a red area which represented a high concentration of rainwater. The map then showed the tidal movements and distribution of that rainwater. In each scenario, though most were slightly different from each other, the rainwater danced in and out of the inlet, never all being washed out to sea because of tide timing and strength. The rainwater stayed mostly where it was. I was surprised by this. In the Portsmouth Harbor Scenario, where I thought for certain it would all be drawn out to sea, the opposite was true. The rainwater was sucked into the estuary on the next high tide.

The display was based on a complex computer model developed by Dartmouth College, but it was impressive. As the tides cycled and you watch the red rain disperse but still stay centrally located.

The open-ended questions at the end would allow for some kind of group discussion or interaction. I wished I was there with someone else so I could have showed them this exhibit!

The screen on the right had a similar demonstration, only it was more zoomed in on the Great Bay area. On this map, you could point your finger anywhere in the watershed, as many times as you wanted, and a yellow dot would show up and track up and down with the tides where the “pollutant” you just put in the area eventually ends up. Again it reinforced the idea that these systems are complicated, and the idea that all water leads to the sea can be misleading. Especially the idea that things will just "go away" if you dump them into a river or stream.

I think I learned the most from this exhibit out of all the ones in the center (I am a little biased because I have a degree in Marine Biology) but I think it was a good way to illustrate a point. While the exhibit didn't directly say “Don't throw bad things into the waters around here,” it could easily lend itself to that connection. It was interesting, interactive and indirectly brought home a point about water pollution in the area. I think that was very well done.

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