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Performing Science: Experiments in Collective Visualization of Water Pollution

Sat, September 2, 9:00 to 10:30am, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Beacon A


Could field sciences be redesigned around the model of collective witnessing as occurs in laboratory settings? Exploring the possibility of real-time visualization of environmental hazards by exposed communities, this paper reports on experiments developing and testing a method for collectively mapping thermal pollution. Thermal water pollution is produced by many industrial sources, particularly nuclear and conventional power plants that intake water for cooling. The heating of water reduces its oxygen content and effects ecosystem composition. Reduced oxygen can harm fish and amphibians. Increases in water temperature can change organisms’ metabolic rates, hence affecting their feeding behavior and plant growth rates. Using a low cost device developed by the Perovich, Wylie and Public Lab, called a thermal fishing bob, we have organized experiments where community residents gather to perform and witness a public experiment. A thermal fishing bob is comprised of a thermometer and a light that changes color based on the temperature the thermometer senses. Using long-exposure photography, thermal fishing bobs can be used to create data-rich images of thermal plumes from industrial sources such as power plants. This paper explores how involving communities in the process of the experiment, fishing off a local dock with such a device, and creating a collective experimental process that renders a hazard visible change A) an individual participant’s perceptions of the hazard? B) the efficacy of community advocacy? C) the participant’s understanding of science? D) the ability of communities to represent their own experiences?