VEPP: Volcanic activity and monitoring of Pu`u `O`o, Kilauea volcano, Hawaii

Lizzette A. Rodriguez, University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez Campus,
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: December 12, 2013


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

This is a 10-week group project for a Volcanic Hazards elective course, for undergraduate geology students. Students will access and analyze data from the current eruption of Pu`u `O`o, Kilauea volcano, Hawaii, and make interpretations of the activity. They will use data (mostly near-real-time) from a number of monitoring techniques, including seismic, deformation, observational, gas, and thermal. The activity will culminate with a written report and an oral presentation.

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Learning Goals

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

By the end of this activity the students will be able to:

-Identify volcano monitoring datasets (i.e. seismic, deformation, observational/geological, gas, thermal) available through the VEPP web site and other web sites with data from Pu`u `O`o eruptive vent, Kilauea volcano, Hawaii.

-Analyze data (time series, photos, maps) from a number of volcano monitoring techniques (i.e. seismic, deformation, observational/geological, gas, thermal).

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):

By the end of this activity the students will be able to:

-Interpret what Pu`u `O`o is doing throughout a period of 10 weeks, based on data trends and comparisons with data obtained during significant events in recent years (i.e. July 17, 2007).

-Discuss the significance of the monitoring and data analysis for the assessment and mitigation of volcanic hazards.

-Predict what the volcano is going to do next.

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

By the end of this activity the students will be able to:

-Justify their results and discuss their interpretations with the rest of the students in the class.

-Write a final report, which summarizes and synthesizes the results of the activity.

Context for Use

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

The activity will last 10 weeks, finishing at the end of the semester. It is a project, to be worked on both inside and outside the classroom. The students will write a final report and give an oral presentation at the end of the semester.

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)?

UD course on Volcanic Hazards or Volcanology for geology majors, with computers (personal computers or using a computer laboratory)

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):

UD course on Volcanic Hazards or Volcanology for geology majors, with computers (personal computers or using a computer laboratory)

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

-Content: Types of volcanoes, Magma migration, Kilauea volcano is currently erupting, Characteristics of lava flows

-Computer skills: accessing the internet, Microsoft Office

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):

The activity will last for 2/3 of the semester period, finishing at the end of the semester. It will be complemented by the class itself, with the discussion of all volcanic hazards, volcano monitoring, hazard assessment, and mitigation of activity. It will also be complemented by class discussions of significant eruptions in history, including, for example: Soufriere Hills, Montserrat (1995-Present), Pinatubo (1991), Mount St. Helens (1980 and 2004-Present).

Description and Teaching Materials

Full length description:

The students in this course are advanced undergraduate students, who have had an introduction to Volcanology in their Introductory Earth Sciences class and other courses, such as Geomorphology and Mineralogy.

The general objectives of the activity will be to learn about volcanic activity (from the example of Kilauea volcano), volcano monitoring, and about the different techniques used. With this they will access and analyze data from different techniques and make interpretations of the activity. The image below shows a geologist from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory sampling a lava flow ( The bottom frame is a thermal image, which is a tool used to determine the high temperatures of the flows (~1000 oC).

Lava flow sampling and thermal image

The students will form groups of ~2-4 students (based on maximum of ~15 students in class), and each group will be assigned a monitoring technique or method, among the following:

1. Seismic: Real-time Seismic Amplitude (RSAM) data from the Pu`u` O`o (STC) and Kupainaha (KUP) stations. Both will have short period and broadband components. An example of data is included below.

Example-RSAM Plot

2. Deformation: using continuous Global Positioning System (GPS) data. This group will also use data from kinematic GPS campaigns, which are not conducted in real time or near real time. An example of data is included below.

Example-GPS Plot

3. Deformation: using tiltmeter data, recorded at 1-minute intervals from 3 stations (POC, POO, POS). An example of data is included below.

Example-Tilt Plot

4. Observations: using webcam's image displays and movies, as well as maps of lava flows. An example of a lava flow map is included below.

Lava Flow Map through 2009

5. Gas/environmental/thermal monitoring: not real time or near real time. Will be used by all groups in order for the students to be able to describe the significance of these monitoring methods. The image below shows a Fourier Transform Infrared spectrometer (FTIR) at the crater of Pu`u `O`o. This instrument is used to measure ratios of a number of gas species, including SO2, HCl, HF, and others.

FTIR measurements

These represent the techniques included in the Volcanoes Exploration Program: Pu`u `O`o (VEPP) website (, plus other techniques, which will be discussed based on the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS, websites. All groups of experts will relate their findings to the recent and current activity of Kilauea volcano, and the importance of their specific type of monitoring.

1st Task*:

- The instructor will give a 2-hr introduction and demonstration of the VEPP website ( and the VALVE3 software, specifically related to the different applications that the students will use. A tutorial in the VEPP website will be used during this part of the activity.

- The introduction and demonstration should include the following topics:

(1) Monitoring techniques: General details on the monitoring techniques used at Kilauea volcano, Hawaii, are found in the Techniques section of the VEPP website (see snapshot of Techniques page, included below). For the volcano deformation techniques (GPS and tilt), details are found in:,, and For the seismic techniques, details are found in: For monitoring using webcams, details specific to Kilauea volcano are found in: For the other monitoring techniques information will be supplied by the instructor in class and also can be found in other websites, such as the USGS Volcano Hazards Program ( and from volcano observatories worldwide, such as the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (

Techniques page - VEPP web site

(2) VALVE3 software: Demonstration on how to acquire data from different techniques, using VALVE3 (see figure of initial screen included below). This should include explanation about the different options in each of the VALVE3 screens, using the tutorials available through VEPP and examples from different dates.

VALVE3-Initial Screen

(3) Webcam and Kinematic GPS data: Demonstration on how to access the webcam ( and Kinematic GPS ( data through the VEPP site.

2nd Task*:

-Students will use the VEPP and HVO websites to familiarize themselves with the history of Kilauea volcano, especially its recent eruptive history.

Kilauea zoom map

-Students will use the VEPP website to describe the volcano monitoring techniques and how to analyze the data from them. For this task the students:

(1) will each use the VALVE3 software to access the data from dates assigned to each by the instructor. They will download graphs, maps, or images, print them and write a short description of what they see in the data. This is in order to assure that each student is ready to work in the groups and contribute.

(2) will be presented with data from a specific event during the Kilauea eruption, for which data are available and have been interpreted. The event will be the June 17, 2007 eruption, better known as the Father's Day eruption, when an intrusion and a small eruption during the night of June 18/19 ocurred just north of Makaopuhi Crater, uprift of Pu'u 'O'o ( An example of the tilt data obtained in the period from June 16-22, 2007 is included below. The students will analyze the data from different techniques and make interpretations in their groups of experts. Following this, they will be presented with the actual interpretations, with the objective of being able to use it as an example for their own interpretations in the following weeks.

Tilt Data - Father\'s Day - POC

3rd Task**:

-At least weekly, depending on the group:

---Acquire data, in the form of time series, maps, videos, and images

---Identify trends in the data, based on data from past events that have been significant in the recent years of eruption (i.e. Father's Day event - June 17, 2007)

---Summarize what happened in the week. This summary is not to be turned in to the instructor. It is part of the group's reports (Tasks 4 - 6).

4th Task:


---Meet in computer laboratory or in the classroom (if there is an available laptop in each group and if there is internet in the room) to work together in the analysis and interpretation of the data, with the support of the instructor.

---The instructor will bring data from other erupting volcanoes, which are monitored with the same techniques as Kilauea. This will give them access to other examples and possible interpretations of the data.

5th Task:

-Biweekly (not same week as 4th task):

---Report on the progress of the exercise. Each report should include examples and interpretations and last for about 5 minutes. The members of each group will need to present the progress report at least once.

---These presentations will be group discussions and they will get feedback from the other students in class and the instructor. The other groups will use the reported data to compare and contrast with the results their own techniques.

These opportunities to discuss the project, either in the computer lab or in the classroom, have also the objective of making sure that the students are actually doing something and not waiting to the end of the semester to work on the activity.

6th Task:

-At the end of the semester the groups will compile their findings and turn in a written report. The written report should specify the responsibilities each group member had in it. They will also give a final oral presentation, where all members of the group will participate.

7th Task:

-Wrap-up volcano monitoring exercise: Compiling the results and interpretations from different monitoring techniques (based on the oral presentations from each of the expert groups), the students will participate in a 1-hr discussion and will report on what they think will happen at Kilauea in the near future. There is no written report for this part of the exercise.

*There is no specific timing for the first two tasks. They could be done in a week or two weeks, depending on the class time. If the course has a laboratory session, these tasks could be done in one week.

**In the event that the Pu`u `O`o eruption ended, the activity can be modified to be based on any 10-week period in the eruption, for which data can be accessed through the VEPP web site.

(1) VEPP website:
Main tool for the activity. Students will use the site to access information about the volcano, volcano monitoring techniques, and to access and download the data from each of the monitoring methods.

(2) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory:

Web site will be used to access eruption updates, maps, images, videos, that might not be accessible through the VEPP site.

(3) Recent earthquakes in Hawaii:

Web site contains the locations of earthquakes in the Big Island. It also gives access to the most recent seismograms from the seismic stations.

(4) Volcano Hazards Program:
Web site contains information about volcanic hazards and all the different volcano monitoring techniques. The information will complement what is available through VEPP.

(5) Montserrat Volcano Observatory:
Web site from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, who are in charge of monitoring the current eruption of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. It will be used as an example of monitoring done in a different erupting volcano, with similar techniques.

--Students will also use their class notes and presentations.

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:

The activity can be modified to include data from other volcanoes, as long as the data are available from the volcano observatories or government agencies.

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

The activity requires a lot of instructor time and discussions with the members of each group, especially for the analysis of the data. At least 1 class period every 2 weeks should be dedicated entirely to these discussions, plus the 2-hr introduction before the beginning of the activity period. Office hours should be available for these discussions, if needed. Each student also needs to get a login and password for the VEPP site, for which the instructor needs to contact the administrators of the web site (Michael P. Poland, to arrange it.


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

Students will be evaluated based on the following:

1. Individual assignment (Task 2) (For example: 0 points - not turned in, 1 point - turned in)

2. Group participation (For example: 0 points - no participation, 1 point - partial participation, 2 points - full participation)

3. Progress reports and discussion (For example: 0 points - no participation, 1 point - partial participation, 2 points - full participation)

4. Written report (evaluation will be based on the format included below)

5. Oral presentation (evaluation will be based on the format included below)

6. Final wrap-up exercise (For example: 0 points - no participation, 1 point - partial participation, 2 points - full participation)

Format for written report

  • One report per group
  • Spacing: double-spaced, Font: Times New Roman 12, Margins: 1" in all sides
  • Sections:

Ø Cover page (include title, group number, names of students in group, name and course number)

Ø Introduction: Describe Kilauea volcano and its current eruptive activity. This should include figures and maps.

Ø Discussion: Describe the monitoring technique assigned, synthesize the results and the interpretation of the results obtained for the 10-week period of monitoring. Discuss the significance of the monitoring and data analysis for the assessment and mitigation of volcanic hazards.

Ø Conclusions: Summarize the main results of the activity. This part should include a 1-page critic of the activity, by each of the members of each group.

Ø References (including web sites used): Remember to always include the references (cite everything, including figures). Plagiarism is not accepted.

Ø Figures should be copied or scanned with good resolution. They need to be labeled with a number (i.e. Fig. 1) with a caption or description and in order. All figures have to be cited in the text, in the correct order, and included in the body of the report.

Ø Tables need to have a number (i.e. Table 1) and a title.

  • Assessment: Cover page-5%, Introduction-15%, Discussion-45%, Conclusions-25%, References-10%

Format for oral presentations:

  • Duration: 15 minutes, including questions
  • Should be interactive, with questions from students and instructor during the presentation.
  • All members of the group should have equal participation and should be ready to answer questions about all aspects of the exercise
  • Power Point
  • Remember to use as many plots, maps, photos, movies as possible, to justify the interpretations
  • Assessment: Power Point Presentation-20%, Oral presentation-30%, Questions/Discussion-50%

References and Resources

Please list any supporting references or URLs for this activity:

Volcanic activity at Kilauea and its monitoring, compared to other active volcanoes in the world (prelim title-Volc Haz); Group project on volcano monitoring:using the VEPP website to understand techniques applied at Kilauea (prelim title-Intro Volcanoes)  

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