NAGT > Teaching Resources > Volcano Exploration Project: Pu`u `O`o > Activities > VEPP: Part 1: Volcanic Hazards and Risk; Part 2: Monitoring an Active Volcano

VEPP: Part 1: Volcanic Hazards and Risk; Part 2: Monitoring an Active Volcano

Brittany Brand
University of Washington
Earth and Space Sciences
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This page first made public: Dec 12, 2013


This is an exercise that is in development and has not yet been fully tested in the classroom. Please check back regularly for updates and changes.

Please contact the author if you have questions, concerns or suggestions.

Brief three-line description of the activity or assignment and its strengths:

This is an applied in-class exercise designed to have students evaluate monitoring data. The students, broken into groups of 4, will describe, evaluate, and synthesize several monitoring datasets. They will come up with hypothesis for the data, which will be the basis for a class discussion.

Full length description:

I am developing an exercise for my 100-level "Living with Volcanoes" course at the University of Washington. The students are at the introductory level (no pre-reqs for the class). There are up to 200 students per class, so the exercise must be self explanatory and relatively straight-forward.

The exercise I have come up with includes two back-to-back homework assignments. The first addresses style of volcanism, volcanic hazards, and perception of risk. This particular assignment does not include data from the VEPP website, but will be using case studies of Hawaiian perception of hazards and risk (i.e., Kalapana). This will provide a smooth transition and justification for understanding and predicting the behavior of volcanoes such as Kilauea.

To prepare for the in class exercise, the instructor should have already covered Hawaiian style volcanism and recent activity at Kilauea. By winter quarter (2011) I will upload these lectures, lecture notes, and homework assignments to this site. At this time I include the reading assignments and potential questions that could be part of a homework exercise or in class discussion.

Part I: Hazards and Risk

The students will read:

Chang, M. 1992. Human Decisions and Natural Hazards: A Case of the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano on the Island of Hawaii. In Natural and Technological Disasters: Causes, Effects, and Preventative Measures.Edited by S.K. Majumdar, G.S. Forbes, E.W. Miller, and R.F. Schmalz. 1992. The Pennsylvania Academy of Science. PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 875kB Jul30 10)

This is an easy and interesting read that does a great job outlining the hazards of Hawaii Volcanoes. In includes location maps of the most recent eruptive episodes, an island hazards map, and the perception of risk of Hawaii residents and their justification for living with them.

The following types of questions will be addressed (either via a class discussion or as part of a homework assignment):

1. What type of magma is most commonly erupted to form shield volcanoes?

2. How does the type of magma erupted influence the morphology of a volcano? For example, whether it forms as a low, broad shield or a tall, steep volcano, like ones in the Cascades.

3. A shield volcano often has a summit calderas and elongated rifts running down its flank. What is a caldera, and how does it form? What is the significance of the rift zones? Do eruptions always erupt out of the caldera? Why or why not?

4. What is the difference between a volcanic hazard and a volcanic risk? Use an example of each involving Mt Rainier.

5. What are the main reasons people choose to live in areas at high volcanic risk for natural hazards?

6. Take the island hazards map (Figure 4 in Chang, 1992) and circle or shade in the more populated areas around the island (use to locate towns and subdivisions). Based on your reading, how do the natives of Hawaii justify their choice of living within a high hazard zone?

Part II: VEPP web site

The second part of the exercise is to understand how scientists monitor volcanoes to predict eruptions. The students will first be asked to answer (during an in class discussion) the following questions:

Based on our in class discussion, answer the following questions:

1. What are the main signs of volcanic unrest?

2. What techniques are used to monitor volcanic activity?

Important: Before conducting the in class assignment, it would be good to have the students complete a reading assignment and series of questions using the VEPP and other useful websites or papers.

Student Instructions:

The first step of this exercise is to access the VEPP website and read descriptions of several monitoring techniques. The website can be found at VEPP website. There are a variety of monitoring techniques described under the techniques tab. You will focus on understanding Global Positioning System (GPS), Tilt, Seismic, and the Webcams (we will not go into the others at this time). Once you read each description, go through the examples the website provides (last option under techniques). Based on your reading and our in class discussion, answer the following questions.


1. What two types of deformation occur at volcanoes? Why?

2. How do GPS stations work, and what do they record?

3. Tilt meters are less sophisticated then using GPS, but are still incredibly important for volcanoes as active as Kilauea. How are they different than GPS? What makes this an ideal monitoring device for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory?


What are the various ways that earthquakes occur in volcanic regions?

How is a seismogram different than RSAM?

Why is RSAM often used rather than seismograms for real-time volcano monitoring?


What are the benefits of using a webcam in combination with other monitoring techniques?

**In Class VEPP Exercise**


I will introduce the exercise using a PowerPoint presentation (PowerPoint 4.8MB Jul30 10). Additional notes are available in the notes section of the PPT (found at PPT (PowerPoint 4.8MB Jul30 10)

Task 1:

The students will break into groups of 4. Each group will choose a seismologist, a GPS expert, a tilt expert, and one who is the scientist in charge of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory. One student will be given GPS data (and map), one tilt data (and map), one seismic data (and map). The fourth student will be given an update on the activity that has been occurring over the past week or month.

Each participant will take 5 minutes to quietly read and describe their dataset or history. (Optional: Tell them they will hand in their observations at the end of class. It should make them be detailed).

Task 2:After 5 minutes, each of the three people with datasets will take turns describing their observations to the rest of the group. The scientist in charge will record these observations.

  • GPS observations:

  • Tilt observations:

  • Seismic observations:

Task 3:As a group, identify any trends or correlations between the data sets. The scientist in charge should record these (to be handed in at the end of the assignment)

Task 4:As a group, hypothesize what may be happening to cause the signals recorded in the monitoring data.

Task 5:As a class – go through the datasets using PowerPoint, allowing the students to discuss the observations as a group (see PPT).

The students will brainstorm and hypothesize interpretations for the data.

The instructor will then ask if there are any other datasets that might help figure out what is going on at Pu'u O'o. Hopefully the students will remember the webcam from their previous homework assignment.

The instructor will then pull up webcam images in the next few PowerPoint (PowerPoint 4.8MB Jul30 10) presentation. The students will see that the lava lake in Pu'u O'o drains on July 21st. Is this consistent with what they hypothesized was happening? They will be given a few questions to discuss in their groups:

  • What signal would you expect from a lava lake draining?

  • How would the draining of a lava lake correspond to an inflation event?

  • Where might the lava be going?

The instructor will then ask the groups to share their thoughts. The helicopter has now arrived. The next few slides show what we see from the cockpit. A new rift has opened east of Pu'u O'o! The instructor will finish by leading a discussion of using and interpreting monitoring data to understand volcanic activity.

Task 4:Additional Homework (still under construction)

This will be followed by a homework assignment where the students will generate their own dataset and complete a similar exercise.

Learning Goals

Briefly describe the content/concepts goals for this activity (e.g., those involving pure vs. simple shear, deformation mechanisms, kinematic analysis, accurate description of samples):

The first portion of the exercise is intended to help the students gain a better understanding and appreciation of volcanic hazards and perception of risk. Using Kilauea as a case study will allow the students to apply this knowledge to people living near potentially dangerous Hawaiian volcanoes. It will also remind the students of the processes, eruptive style, and hazards associated with shield volcanoes, thus providing the background and motivation for taking the next step to understanding the importance and challenges of volcano monitoring.

The goal of the in-class exercise is to allow the students to study, synthesize monitoring data by identifying trends, interesting features, and correlations among datasets.

Briefly describe the higher order thinking skills goals for this activity (e.g., those involving analysis of data, formulation of hypotheses, synthesis of ideas, critical evaluation of competing models, development of computer or analog models):

The students will be challenged to refine their observational skills. They will have to convey their findings to group members, and work together to identify any trends in the dataset as a whole. They will then have to develop hypothesis on what the data is showing based on their observations.

Briefly describe any other skills goals for this activity (e.g., those involving writing, operating analytical equipment, searching the WWW, oral presentation, working in groups):

This project allows the students to work in groups, thus increasing their communication skills.

Context for Use

What is the type of activity (a problem set, classroom activity, lab activity, project, field activity, and/or a writing activity)?

This is a combination of reading/homework and in-class activity.

What is the class type (small intro lecture, large intro lecture, or UD/grad course; disasters, hazards, field course, or intro geology; with or without computers; community college)?

ESS 106 Living with Volcanoes; 200 intro-level students with (assumed) little to no background in geology.

Briefly describe the type(s) and level(s) of course in which this activity or assignment could be used (e.g., undergraduate required course in structural geology, introductory physical geology course for non-majors, graduate level seminar on geochemistry):

This could easily be modified for smaller intro-level courses or upper-level non-major science courses such as a natural hazards or national parks course.

Briefly describe or list the skills and concepts that students must have mastered before beginning the activity:

The students should already have a good understanding of Hawaiian volcanism, signs of unrest, and monitoring techniques. This will be gained via lectures and reading assignments.

Briefly describe how the activity is situated in your course (e.g., as a culminating project, as a stand-alone exercise, as part of a sequence of exercises):

This is part of a sequence of exercises, as described above.

Description and Teaching Materials

The students will read:

Chang, M. 1992. Human Decisions and Natural Hazards: A Case of the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano on the Island of Hawaii. In Natural and Technological Disasters: Causes, Effects, and Preventative Measures. Edited by S.K. Majumdar, G.S. Forbes, E.W. Miller, and R.F. Schmalz. 1992. The Pennsylvania Academy of Science.

They will also utilize the following website:

VEPP website

The PowerPoint version of the in-class assignment can be found here:


Additional materials can be found at:

USGS website on volcano monitoring

IRIS volcano Monitoring page

Chang, 1992 PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 875kB Jul30 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Accessing the VEPP Web site ( requires a password, which can be obtained by sending an email with your name, affiliation, and intended use of the site to mpoland "at"

Please describe any helpful examples of this activity, as well as any potential variations on this theme:

This could also be developed into a homework assignment.

What tips might you offer to other educators planning to use this activity?

Make sure to carefully cover Hawaiian volcanism and monitoring before beginning the exercise. Encourage the students to fully describe the data BEFORE attempting to interpret it.


Describe briefly how you determine whether students have met the goals of this assignment or activity.

The assignment will be turned in and graded. We should be able to assess their ability to complete the assignment based on their answers. The students will also be given an anonymous survey asking them to critique the exercise and provide feedback/suggestions for improvement(s).

References and Resources

Please list any supporting references or URLs for this activity:

Chang, M. 1992. Human Decisions and Natural Hazards: A Case of the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano on the Island of Hawaii. In Natural and Technological Disasters: Causes, Effects, and Preventative Measures. Edited by S.K. Majumdar, G.S. Forbes, E.W. Miller, and R.F. Schmalz. 1992. The Pennsylvania Academy of Science.

VEPP website

USGS website on volcano monitoring

IRIS volcano Monitoring page

Chang, 1992 PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 875kB Jul30 10)

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