Teach the Earth > Public Policy > Classroom Activities > Plume Busters

Plume Busters

P. Allen Macfarlane
Kansas Geological Survey
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Apr 18, 2006


Students take on the role of a consultant to solve an environmental problem that could have dire consequences for a nearby community. This activity can be used to initiate discussion on a range of public policy topics ranging from the impact of technology on environment to land-use practices.

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undergraduate environmental geology or hydrogeology course for majors or non majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Map reading skill and at a minimum a conceptual understanding of ground-water flow principles

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity could be a capstone exercise following a segment on ground-water contamination in an environmental geology course or hydrogeology course or as a segue into environmental policy


Content/concepts goals for this activity

1) application of ground-water principles to a practical problem
2) introduction to the world of the environmental consultant
3) The impact of technology on the cleanup of environmental problems

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The student must directly apply the principles/concepts of ground-water flow to problem solution where there is significant uncertainty in the some of the data. This requires the student to make predictions based on estimated values of parameters.

Other skills goals for this activity

PC or Macintosh computer skills

Description of the activity/assignment

Environmental and earth science students seldom have an opportunity to apply what they learn in class to the solution of real-world problems. With NSF support we have developed the prototype Plume Busters software, in which students take on the role of an environmental consultant. Following a pipeline spill, the environmental consultant is hired by the pipeline owner to locate the resulting plume created by the spill and remediate the contaminated aquifer at minimum monetary and time cost. The contamination must be removed from the aquifer before it reaches the river and eventually a downstream public water supply. The software consists of an interactive Java application and accompanying HTML linked pages. The application simulates movement of a plume from a pipeline break through a shallow alluvial aquifer towards the river. The accompanying web pages establish the simulated contamination scenario and provide students with background material on ground-water flow and transport principles. To make the role-play more realistic, the student must consider cost and time when making decisions about siting observation wells and wells for the pump-and-treat remediation system.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Two modes of evaluation are possible: (1) students produce a screen of the Map View screen (the game board) at the end of each phase of the simulation and report the number of days and the amount of money spent for each phase of the game; or (2) students write up the simulation in the form of a consultant's report to the client pipeline owner.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

The Teachers Guide to Plume Busters PDF can be downloaded from the Plume Busters web site. http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Hydro/GWtutor/index.html

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