Intentional Small-scale Disasters: Simulating Oil Spills to Develop Hands-on Remediation Experience

Simulation Australasia
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Citation:, 2016, pp. 518 - 521 (4)
Issue Date:
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Megan Phillips - Aust Sim Congress 2016.pdfAccepted Manuscript version6.64 MB
Oil spills pose substantial threats to ecosystem structure and function, and remediating ecosystems can be both time consuming and labour intensive. Crude oils contain hazardous heavy metal compounds, can be odorous, sticky and viscous, and may adhere easily to sand, rocks and biological tissues. Such properties make crude oil contamination immensely difficult to clean from shoreline communities. In order to provide an effective and memorable learning experience for university students enrolled in the subject 91159 Environmental Remediation, a laboratory simulation experiment was developed to realistically recreate both the impacts of an oceanic oil spill and the procedures required to remediate ecosystems at a microcosm scale. Students were tasked with creating their own miniature coastal ecosystems, complete with seawater, rocks, sediment, plants, small-scale model animals and a model shipping vessel. A small quantity of crude oil was then spilled from the model ship’s location and tidal forces were mimicked. Students were provided with an arsenal of remediation equipment in order to enact their own realistic management strategies for cleaning and extracting oil from their ecosystems, as well as protecting natural and assets. At the completion of the simulation, students were asked to reflect on their experience and to extrapolate their microcosm experiment to real world, full-scale oil spills. Learning and teaching educators noted a high level of enthusiasm and engagement from students. The Student Feedback Survey at the end of semester also revealed high student satisfaction and strong positive feedback from students in regard to managing the simulated oil spill. This laboratory simulation proved to be a very effective educational tool which also created a fun and memorable experience for university science students.
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