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The Plume: movement and mixture in subterranean water worlds

Authors: Andrea Ballestero*, Rice University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Social Theory
Keywords: subterranean space, water, Costa Rica, depth, volume, models
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 1:45 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Virtual Track 4
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As hydrogeologists convey fluid dynamics to publics, they resort to a variety of models: physical, conceptual and mathematical. Often organized as public exhibitions, these events are carefully staged and give experts the opportunity to manipulate artifacts, compose stories, and invite their audiences to speculate about what happens below the surface. This paper examines how one conceptual model, “the plume,” emerges as a prominent figure to understand the fragility of aquifers in the context of water exploitation and saline intrusion in coastal Costa Rica. By focusing on the history of the plume as a scientific figure and on its social life among everyday citizens, I make three points. First, I examine the peculiar mixture that the plume is, a fluid moving through another, mixing, but at a scale that keeps the difference between the two alive. Second, I show how subterranean structures are inflected with movement, thereby challenging the static imaginaries that dominate our investigations of the underground’s “inhuman” character. Finally, by noting mixture and movement, I show how subterranean water disrupts dichotomous oppositions between above and below the surface histories.

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