VEPP: Monitoring Pu'u O'o

Karen Harpp, Colgate University
Author Profile


NOTE: This activity has NOT been attempted yet in class, and therefore still needs significant refinement. It will be updated once it has been developed further.

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

This is a two-part exercise. Part I is designed to train students in the technical use of the VEPP website and to train them to use observations from multiple datasets (GPS, tilt, seismic, physical behavior) to draw conclusions about the volcano's physical behavior. Part II involves a month-long monitoring exercise using real-time data from Pu'u O'o followed by interpretation of those data.

Full length description:

This is a two-part exercise. The main goal is to provide as realistic a volcano monitoring experience as possible given classroom constraints. Part I is designed to provide students with the ability to work with the VEPP website to generate plots of GPS, seismic, and tilt data, as well as access webcam images and make movies from them. In the process, they will be interpreting data from the July 21 2007 dike injection and eruption event and focusing on deformation concepts.

Part II is an exploratory exercise, with the goal of reproducing the monitoring process a volcanologist would use for this volcano. The students are going to be responsible for monitoring the behavior of Pu'u O'o for one month. This process entails gathering data on a daily basis (all available data sources: GPS, seismic, physical observations, tilt), so as to accumulate a month-long record of the behavior of the volcano. Each week they will have to produce a report summarizing the behavior of the volcano, including plots of all measurements with time and correlations between different variables (e.g., seismic events vs horizontal movement from GPS). At the end of the month, the final report will also include calculations about changes in magma volume and comparisons to estimates of erupted volume. Students will also address several interpretive questions, including: a) how does magma storage volume (calculated from deformation data) compare with eruptive volume over the same period; b) how do the various monitoring parameters relate to each other; c) how does the behavior of Pu'u O'o during the month they observed it compare to the July 2007 behavior they analyzed in Part I; and c) comparison of the fluctuations and magnitudes of Pu'u O'o measurements to other types of volcanoes.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Part I is a guided inquiry into accessing and interpreting previously collected monitoring data from Pu'u O'o. Part II is designed to be exploratory, with discoveries coming as students investigate the data in detail over a month's time.

Primary goals of Part I are:
a) Develop expertise in navigating the VEPP website, including the ability to make time series plots and vector maps (where applicable) of GPS, seismic, and tilt data, as well as webcam image movies, for use in Part II.
b) Develop preliminary inter-relationships between different monitoring data types (GPS, tilt, seismic, physical observations).
c) Synthesize GPS, tilt, seismic, and physical observation data into an internally consistent hypothesis for the dike injection and fissure eruption event that occurred in July 2007 (July 20/21).
d) Gain preliminary experience deducing the physical processes responsible for (c) and therefore develop an understanding of how volcanoes work physically.

Primary goals of Part II are:
a) Reproduce the monitoring process utilized by volcanologists on an active volcano such as Pu'u O'o.
b) Refine the inter-relationships between the different monitoring data sources.
c) Quantify magnitudes and define patterns of variations with time of the different monitoring data sources at an active ocean island volcano.
d) Further deduce the physical processes responsible for (c) and therefore develop an understanding of how volcanoes work physically.
e) Compare the magnitudes of monitoring data at Pu'u O'o during "average" behavior (Part II) to a major dike injection/fissure eruption event (July 20/21, 2007, from Part I).
f) Compare the physical behavior of Pu'u O'o to other volcanoes around the world to gain a sense of perspective on eruptive style, frequency, and changes in monitoring parameters.

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

Part I:
a) Develop the ability to summarize and interpret different types of observational and measured monitoring data in an accurate and concise manner.
b) Define the relationship between magmatic injection events and their physical manifestations as measured by tilt, continuous GPS, kinematic GPS, seismic activity, and physical changes at the surface of the volcano.
c) Gain expertise in applying a graphical model to estimate dimensions of an injected dike using deformation data.

Part II:
a) Refine ability to summarize and interpret different types of observational and measured monitoring data in an accurate and concise manner.
b) Refine definition of the relationship between magmatic injection events and their physical manifestations as measured by tilt, continuous GPS, kinematic GPS, seismic activity, and physical changes at the surface of the volcano.
c) Develop skills at performing basic calculations (eruption rate, deformation rate) and ability to estimate some parameters to achieve an order of magnitude estimate when necessary.

Briefly describe the higher order thinking skills goalsfor 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):

Both parts:
a) Develop ability to interpret datasets based on multiple parameters in an internally consistent manner.
b) Formulate a hypothesis and develop a schematic model to explain variations in multiple datasets and justify conclusions with data.
c) Develop the ability to make approximations and assumptions to carry out calculations to achieve order of magnitude estimates.
d) Gain experience using graphical models to predict otherwise unmeasurable physical parameters.
e) Integration of graphical and observational data into coherent interpretations.

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

Both parts:
a) Develop expertise using the VEPP website to make plots, maps, and movies (as applicable) of real time and archived data.
b) Refine spreadsheet skills for plotting and archiving data.
c) Refine writing skills, with an emphasis on developing and communicating hypotheses and supporting interpretations with data and the scientific literature.

Context for Use

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

Part I is a lab activity designed to last three hours (in the presence of instructor supervision) as well as some individual time outside of lab to complete the assignment. Students learn how to use the VEPP website in lab, then use their findings to answer specific questions about each type of monitoring data. Answers are submitted in written form with plots and maps to support conclusions.
Part II is primarily a writing and interpretation assignment, done individually outside of class.

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)?

This is a small, 200-level elective class (20-30 students) at a liberal arts college that has a weekly 3-hour lab period. Students either bring their own laptops or use a computer lab; each student needs access to their own computer. The course is taken primarily by 1st and 2nd year students (no seniors or juniors admitted) pursuing or considering pursuing geology majors; all are required to have taken one introductory geology course or more to enroll.

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):

See above. This is not likely to be appropriate for an introductory course because it requires too much time dedicated to one topic (volcanoes) and is more appropriate to a subject-specific class. The level of required interpretation can be varied according to the abilities and backgrounds of the students up through graduate level.

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

Students should have completed several weeks of study on topics related to volcanoes, including some examination of magma and its behavior prior to eruption, ocean island systems, effusive volcanism, and the eruptive products of such eruptions. Students should also have rudimentary spreadsheet skills (Excel).

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 activity would come near the end of the effusive volcanism section of the course and/or in the earlier part of the monitoring section, both in the second half of the semester.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity requires access to the VEPP website ( during a 3-hour lab period and access to spreadsheet and plotting software (e.g., Excel). Teaching materials consist of a single handout for students that includes all necessary information.

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:

Part I should be used prior to Part II, so that students know how to use the VEPP website independently and have practiced interpreting data during a volcanic event. Nevertheless, the detail in the questions in Part I can be reduced significantly, and individual datasets can be removed (e.g., kinematic GPS, calculation of dike dimensions, etc.), according to the level of the class. The length of time for Part II monitoring of Pu'u O'o can be varied, as well as frequency of summary reports. Part I could also be edited down to be used as instructions for using the VEPP website exclusively (just remove the questions) if that's useful.

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

This activity has NOT been attempted yet in class, and therefore still needs significant refinement.


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

Part I: Students need to answer a series of questions (in the handout) in a single document, supported by plots and maps produced using VEPP and Excel. This will be handed in individually and graded for its accuracy, organization, and sophistication of interpretation.

Part II: a) Weekly short papers are handed in individually by students and graded for primary characteristics listed above.
b) Final summary interpretive paper will be handed in individually and graded for primary characteristics listed above.

References and Resources

Please list any supporting references or URLs for this activity:

The handout for students and an answer key will be provided once they are completed.

Comment? Start the discussion about VEPP: Monitoring Pu'u O'o