VEPP: Determining the relationship between the summit and Pu'u 'O'o on Kilauea

Karen Kortz, Community College of Rhode Island
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This is an exercise that is in development and will not be fully tested until Fall 2010. Please check back regularly for updates and changes.

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

Students first learn about several volcanic monitoring techniques. Given three hypotheses on the movement of magma in the plumbing between the summit and Pu'u 'Ō'ō on Kilauea, students make predictions about what they would expect to see for each hypothesis in the data. They then analyze the data and test each hypothesis.

Full length description:

In this activity, students learn, using a balloon experiment and sketches, how the monitoring techniques of ground tilt and ground motion (using GPS) illustrate magma chamber inflation and deflation. Students also are briefly introduced to the varying composition of basalt lava.

Three hypotheses about the movement of magma between the Kilauea summit and Pu'u 'Ō'ō are given to the students. For each hypothesis, students make predictions about what they would expect to see with each monitoring technique. After making predictions, students are given handouts with the data from each technique, they analyze the data to evaluate each hypothesis, and they make a conclusion about the movement of magma beneath Kilauea.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

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):

Students will be able to:
1) summarize the physical events that produce the data geologists use to understand volcanoes
2) predict the physical response of the Kilauea system for each scenario given
3) test the given hypotheses and determine the most likely scenario based on the data

The given hypotheses are:
1) Magma first rises into the summit region and then travels underground to the Pu'u 'Ō'ō magma chamber.
2) Magma first rises beneath the Pu'u 'Ō'ō region and then travels underground to the summit magma chamber.
3) Magma rises separately beneath both the summit and Pu'u 'Ō'ō magma chambers.

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):

analysis of data, evaluate different hypotheses using different data sets, consider multiple working hypotheses

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):

working in groups, appreciate the scientific process

Context for Use

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

lab activity, but it can probably also be used as a classroom activity or homework

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)?

small intro physical geology; community college; without computers

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):

introductory physical geology course for non-majors

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

basic understanding of hotspot volcanism and volcanoes; ability to read simple graphs

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):

stand-alone exercise

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity can be downloaded, copied, and distributed to the students. It was designed for students to complete in groups, although they could also do it individually. After students make their predictions, then they are given the handout with the data.

Additional materials needed to fully complete the activity are (for each group): balloon, ruler, sticky note, sharpie (for writing on the balloon). For some of the additional extension activities, students need a computer with an internet connection.

Images in the student handouts are also given in a PowerPoint file if the instructor wants to display them for the entire class to introduce the activity (although an introduction is not necessary).

(Materials: Student Activity Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 564kB Jul30 10))

(Materials: Student Data Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 187kB Jul30 10))

(Materials: PowerPoint with Images (PowerPoint 3.9MB 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:

There are several variations or extentions that can be made to this activity:

1) The balloon experiments can be deleted (questions 1, 2, 7, 8) if desired.

2) Students can go to the Volcanoes Exploration Program: Pu'u 'Ō'ō (VEPP) webpage ( and collect the ground tilt and ground motion (GPS) data for Pu'u 'Ō'ō themselves. The website contains data for Pu'u 'Ō'ō but not the summit, so they would need to still use the data given for the summit.

3) Students can view the current activity on Kilauea on the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatories website ( In addition to a summary of the volcanic activity, students can access a graph of the tilt at the summit and Pu'u 'Ō'ō (similar to the one given in the activity) for the previous week.

4) Students can calculate the speed of the lava between the summit and Pu'u 'Ō'ō.

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

There is an animation of magma movement in the plumbing system in Kilauea on the VEPP webpage: This animation would be nice to show the students after they come to their own conclusion.


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

The entire activity can be graded. In particular, the final questions in each section tend to assess overall student knowledge of the learning concepts.

References and Resources

Please list any supporting references or URLs for this activity:

Volcanoes Exploration Program: Pu'u 'Ō'ō (VEPP) (

USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatories website (

Determining the relationship between the summit and Pu'u 'O'o on Kilauea --Discussion  

Animation of inflation-deflation event


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