GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 249-5
Presentation Time: 9:05 AM


RIEMERSMA, Peter E., Department of Geology, Grand Valley State University, 1 Campus Drive, Allendale, MI 49401

Groundwater supply and contamination issues are of inherent societal importance but the subsurface nature of groundwater, among other things, makes it a challenging topic for educators to teach and the public to understand. As educators, recognition of misconceptions and preconceptions helps us design approaches that best inform our audience and improve scientific literacy. A review of the literature, experience teaching college courses, and examination of news articles on groundwater issues are used to highlight faulty understanding of groundwater processes. One well documented public misconception is that most groundwater flows in underground rivers. In addition, I have found that many college students have a poor understanding, often at the conceptual level, of such groundwater topics as aquifer water storage, groundwater-surface water interactions, and groundwater flow velocity. What are the implications of these misunderstandings? Significant. For example, without an appreciation of the slow rate at which groundwater flows, it is hard to understand how groundwater contaminated by spills decades old is still present today or why groundwater cannot be cleaned up in a more timely manner.

The limited research on groundwater misconceptions has mostly focused on how students learn about groundwater in a classroom setting. In my hydrogeology courses, I have used newspaper articles on nearby groundwater contamination problems to not only demonstrate the importance of the topic locally but also to highlight inadequacies in how groundwater issues are explained. Given the accessibility and appeal of online news, an analysis of groundwater articles for content, combined with data analysis of text (i.e. common words, phrases), should provide insight into how journalists address groundwater issues. In addition, application of google trend analysis can provide information on the relative search interest of words over time and thus highlight how the public seeks to inform themselves about groundwater issues. For example, peaks in google searches for the term PFAS coincide or closely follow peaks of the word frequency in online news articles. In this age of the internet, it behooves us to consider how the public is educating themselves about groundwater issues and identify any shortcomings in that approach.