VEPP: Will it Erupt? - Predicting Volcanic Events at Kilauea - Preparing the next generation of DISASTRONAUTs

Wendy Bohrson, Central Washington University
Brian Hausback, California State University-Sacramento 
Jennifer Wenner, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh


This is an exercise that is in development and will not be fully tested in the classroom until Spring 2011. Please check back regularly for updates and changes.

Using data available from the VEPP website, students will examine time-series geophysical data (seismicity, tilt, GPS) to evaluate Kilauea during June, July and August of 2007. Based on plots of the geophysical data, students will develop hypotheses about geologic events that occurred during the time period indicated. Students will test their hypotheses by using online and library resources to find relevant geologic data. Student products include graphs, data descriptions, correlations of geophysical data sets and a final written or oral report.

A second optional part of this exercise examines data from 2010 that illustrates smaller scale magmatic events and challenges students to recognize the importance of scale. Students should also recognize the implications of smaller magmatic events on the lives of the residents of Hawaii and the monitoring of Kilauea by HVO staff.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  1. Assemble, plot and describe relevant GPS, tilt, and seismic data for events in the East Rift Zone for time period(s) specified in the laboratory.
  2. Correlate time series of GPS and tilt monitoring data for Pu'u 'O'o during the dates indicated.
  3. Identify deformational events illustrated by the time series data sets.
  4. Develop a hypothesis about the variety of geologic events that could result from geophysical patterns illustrated by the time series data.
  5. Evaluate patterns in geophysical data from summit stations and document connections with Pu'u 'O'o.
  6. Test, revise and extend their hypotheses using geologic data (maps, updates, HVO website, webcam, etc).
  7. Synthesize the deformational and geologic history for Pu'u 'O'o and the summit during specified time period(s)


Students will develop/enhance skills in:

  1. Communicating (either written or oral) scientific findings
  2. Mining websites for relevant data
    • distinguish between professional geologic information and Wikipedia, etc.
    • distinguish between relevant and irrelevant (e.g., old maps and data) material for this exercise
  3. Constructing relevant scientific graphs (optional: using VEPP, Excel or equivalent)
  4. Interpreting graphical data


Context for Use

This activity is a project that can be executed in lecture or laboratory setting and is intended for use with geoscience majors.The entire activity (including Parts 1 and 2) is likely to take at least two lab periods. Much of it (exploration of the web resources) can be assigned as homework. It can also be adapted to fit into a shorter time period.

Intended for a combination of student levels: Sophomore and above.

Originally designed for use in the following courses:

  • University of Wisconsin Oshkosh; Field Course in Hawaii; typically 10-20 students; every 2-3 years (majors, post-Mineralogy sophomores and above)
  • California State University Sacramento; Volcanology course; typically 15-20 students; every other year (majors, junior and senior).
  • Central Washington University; Volcanology course; typically 25 students; every other year (majors (senior) and graduate students)

This activity can be adapted to a variety of courses with large variations in experience.

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

  • Short introduction to Excel or equivalent
  • A lecture in the uses of deformational and seismic data in volcano monitoring
  • A short introduction to the magmatic system at Kilauea (under development: A PowerPoint that can be used by instructors to introduce Kilauea to students to be posted by Spring 2011)
  • (optional) A short introduction to the VEPP Site and how to use it

This is a stand-alone exercise that can come at any time during a course.

Description and Teaching Materials

We have designed this exercise in two parts: The first is the major component dealing with June-August 2007 events at Pu'u O'o and the summit, the second deals with more minor events in 2010 and is optional for upper level and field courses.

Part 1

Students will examine and plot geophysical (VEPP) data from June-August 2007 in order to construct a hypothesis about events during the time period indicated. These activities will be followed by on line (and library) research to test and refine hypotheses. The culminating experience will be communication (either written or oral) of findings by students.

Draft outline for lab materials:

This is under construction in a word file for download

Data analysis and hypothesis development

Geophysical data for 2007 ** click the plot above for a larger image **
Be given or acquire data for June through August 2007

  • Tilt data at station (channel) POC (tangential and radial)
  • GPS line length between stations (channels) NPOC and JCUZ
  • GPS Vectors for stations (channels) NPOC and JCUZ
  • Seismic (RSAM) for stations (channels) STC EHZ (short period) and STC BHZ (broadband)

Plot the data using time on the x-axis and the measure of deformation on the y-axis. (Vector plotting will be done on VEPP or maps will be given to students). If plotting in excel, please make sure your x-axis is the same size to facilitate data comparison.

Describe patterns in each of the time-series data sets. Take particular note of major changes in deformation parameters.

What correlations are present in the three different datasets?

Using the geophysical data provided, in a paragraph summarize one (or more) hypotheses about the variety of geologic events that may have occurred during this time period.

Hand in all the material above for grading.

Hypothesis testing and synthesis

From your instructor, obtain plots of geophysical data (GPS) from the summit of Kilauea (Halemau'mau) to be used to extend your hypothesis. You should be thinking about how the summit patterns relate to Pu'u 'O'o in order to understand the magmatic system at Kilauea.

The following activities should be developed into a written (or oral) report that uses appropriate style and grammar.

Test your hypothesis by examining geologic data (geologic maps, images, movies, webcams, etc.). We recommend the following websites:

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

VEPP website (password protected website, see instructor for access)

Based on your research, revise your hypothesis about the links among geophysical patterns and geologic events. Make sure you make connections between the summit and Pu'u O'o data. Explain how your hypothesis changed (or didn't); cite data examples to support your final hypothesis.

Synthesize all of your information into a reasonable chronology of geologic and geophysical events in the Kilauea magmatic system during June-August 2007.

Your written report should include the following:

  • Introduction: summarize what you intend to present
  • Geologic background: General information about Kilauea, location, maps, etc.
  • Data presentation: plots, descriptions of data patterns, etc.
  • Interpretive chronology: concisely summarize/synthesize the geophysical and geological events that occurred on Kilauea between June and August of 2007.

Part 2

Students will examine geophysical (VEPP) data from May-July 2010 in order to compare events that occurred in 2007 and 2010. These activities will be followed by on line research to develop a chronology for the smaller scale events documented during 2010. The final product will be several paragraphs contrasting deformation, eruptions and hazards during the summers of 2007 and 2010. 

2010 tilt data

The following information will be available for instructors:

  1. a key
  2. images of:
    • tilt (POC) and GPS (both vector and line lengths) for June-July (give actual dates)
    • Seismic data
    • maps (network of sites)
    • geologic maps
    • photos/movies
  3. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
  4. VEPP website(password protected website, see VEPP sample for more 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:

Also in development is a Part 3 that uses real-time data as an exercise for a field trip.

The authors envision this exercise as one that could be used as an individual or small group exercise.

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

This is a project under development and has not been tested in the classroom. By the end of Spring 2011, the three authors will have implemented this in their classes - please check back in Summer 2011 for more information and tips about what worked and didn't.


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

Goals 1-4 will be assessed when students hand in their hypotheses/lab sheets. These activities will be graded on completeness, accuracy of plotting/description and appropriate supporting evidence for the hypothesis.

Goals 5-6 will be assessed in the culminating communication of the results of students' research. A rubric is provided for the grading of the assignment.

References and Resources

Please list any supporting references or URLs for this activity:

Will it Erupt?--Predicting Volcanic Eruptions in Hawaii--Geophysical tools for the DISASTRONAUT --Discussion  

This post was edited by Rachel Teasdale on Oct, 2010


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