Conceptual Diagrams: A Work in Progress

When I am writing a manuscript for hopeful publication, I have my go-to style of tables and figures! But, as I have learned, it sometimes makes sense to transform the information contained in those figures into an illustrative diagram to help captivate an audience. This can be especially true for public talks.

Figure 1: The Annual Geological Society of America conference is in the Chesapeake region this year!

The annual Geological Society of America conference is in the Chesapeake region this year!

For me personally, I love when a speaker first shows a conceptual diagram to illustrate the problem being investigated. Then, when the figures and findings come later, it makes perfect sense!

Next Sunday (November 1st), I will be presenting a portion of this project at the Geological Society of America conference in Baltimore, MD. That got me thinking: would a conceptual diagram be helpful for this talk?

At the minimum, I thought trying to make a conceptual diagram would be a worthwhile exercise!

My Experiments with Conceptual Diagrams

I used images and symbols from the Integration and Application Network (University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science) to create a diagram conveying why we care about submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) diebacks.

I will be showing two versions, both of which have flaws!

Figure 1: My try at creating a conceptual diagram to illustrate why we care about SAV diebacks caused by heat-related events.

Figure 1: My try at creating a conceptual diagram to illustrate why we care about SAV diebacks caused by heat-related events.

In my first example (Fig. 1), I used a “before and after” ecosystem image to demonstrate that prolonged warm events can cause SAV beds to suffer losses.

In the left-hand panel, my goal was to demonstrate a few of the ecosystem services SAV provides for us! A healthy SAV ecosystem can be a nursery for juvenile fish and molting crabs, offers a plethora of food sources for waterfowl, can trap sediments that could otherwise cloud the water, and can help reduce dissolved nutrients during photosynthesis.

However, when we have a high percentage of warmer-than-normal days in the summer, SAV can suffer a dieback event, which I represented with a red X in the right-hand panel.

The main problem with this diagram: the “after” panel makes it look like SAV becomes a barren wasteland (no more organisms), but the SAV abundance still looks fairly dense.

 So I made a second version!

Figure 2: My second try at creating a conceptual diagram to illustrate why we care about SAV diebacks caused by heat-related events.

Figure 2: My second try at creating a conceptual diagram to illustrate why we care about SAV diebacks caused by heat-related events.

In this diagram (Fig. 2), I doubled the ecosystem services in the “healthy” panel.

That way, in the “after” panel, SAV is still demonstrated as a home to organisms, but there will likely be less room due to the warm-event dieback.

The problem with this figure: it is so busy! I bet someone could spend a minute looking at the image before they got the important information out of it. That is not optimal for a 12 minute talk!

I could say this information in one sentence: “Warm events reduce SAV abundance, which reduces its ecosystem services.”

Maybe this “busy” image would be okay for a printed article. I am still thinking it over!

Final Thoughts

I am not sure if I will be using a conceptual diagram for this GSA talk, but it was a worthwhile exercise! These conceptual diagrams, with some alterations, will be helpful for future presentations or printed articles.

For example, this conceptual diagram could be effective for the Smithsonian-style audience I interacted with this past summer!

Unfortunately, this talk is steadily approaching, so I must focus on putting together a solid presentation before I can experiment more with illustrative science!

 

Kari Pohl

About Kari Pohl

I am a post-doctoral researcher at NOAA and the University of Maryland (Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory). My work investigates how climate variability and extremes affect the diverse ecosystems in Chesapeake Bay. I received a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island (2014) and received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Chemistry from Roger Williams University (2009). When I am not busy being a scientist, my hobbies include running, watching (and often yelling at) the Boston Bruins, and taking photos of my cat.
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