VEPP: Monday Morning Meeting at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Michael Poland (USGS - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory); Rachel Teasdale (California State University, Chico); Kaatje Kraft (Mesa Community College)
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Initial Publication Date: December 12, 2013


This jigsaw groups students as volcano monitoring data experts, and then regroups students into interdisciplinary teams. The teams will discuss volcano monitoring data collected within the past week from Pu'u 'Ō'ō, with the purpose of developing hypotheses about recent volcanic activity. The structure of the activity mimics the weekly staff meetings held at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity:

By the end of this activity, the students will be able to interpret a multidisciplinary dataset for monitoring volcanic activity and use that data to make a forecast for a potential eruption.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

All students will evaluate authentic data sets, formulate hypotheses about what those data might mean, evaluate different hypotheses in light of other data sets, consider multiple working hypotheses, and develop a conceptual model for volcanic activity based on the combined data sets.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Students work in groups, negotiate the meaning of various datasets, jointly interpret a recently-collected or real-time dataset, and, as a group, develop and present an oral report to the rest of the class. As an affective goal, students will develop an appreciation for the ambiguities inherent in scientific research of natural systems.

Context for Use

Types(s) and levels(s) of course in which this activity or assignment could be used:

The MMM activity can be used in an introductory course, or an upper division or graduate level volcanology or natural hazards course, as long as the class can be subdivided into working groups of about 3-5 students per group. The total duration for the activity can be lengthened or shortened to fit the time available by providing more or less data for discussion.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered before beginning the activity:

All students should have a basic background or introduction to the following topics:

- basic properties of a shield volcano

- magma movement in the subsurface can create seismicity and ground deformation

- since 1983, KÄ«lauea Volcano, Hawai'i, has experienced persistent cycles of eruptive activity

- changes in gravity are indicative of variations in subsurface mass and elevation change (i.e., an increase in gravity implies subsidence or increased subsurface mass, and a decrease in gravity implies uplift or a decrease in subsurface mass). Note that not all classes will use gravity data, so this background knowledge may not apply.

How the activity can be situated in the course:

The activity is a stand-alone exercise that can follow or introduce class sessions on how volcanoes work and volcano monitoring.

Description and Teaching Materials

Activity Description

Every Monday at 9 AM, the staff of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory gather to discuss monitoring data and geologic observations collected over the past week from KÄ«lauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. These "Monday Morning Meetings" serve several purposes, including: 1) bringing the observatory staff (and National Park Service rangers who also attend) up-to-date about recent activity, 2) providing a forum for discussions and interpretations about volcanic activity (taking advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the gathering), and 3) allowing for the formulation of a consistent message about recent activity for use in public outreach. The "Monday Morning Meeting" educational exercise follows this format as a means of illustrating the nature of both volcano monitoring data and how scientific interpretations are formulated.

The exercise below is broken down into 6 phases and is organized on the basis of a 75-minute class period (although it can be expanded or contracted as needed for shorter or longer periods).

Phase 1: The "hook" (5-10 minutes).The exercise should start with the instructor telling the students that they are all employees at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and that the instructor is the Scientist-in-Charge of the Observatory. Then, the instructor should introduce the Monday Morning Meeting concept and its purpose at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (a brief background about Kīlauea and the Pu'u 'Ō'ō eruption could also be included if the students have not been exposed to that information previously). A few photos and information about Kīlauea are provided in a PowerPoint file (MMM_intro.ppt (PowerPoint 6.9MB Jul25 10)) can serve as a "hook" that will jumpstart the exercise. The phase ends with an outline of the exercise, and the students will be informed of their responsibilities.

Phase 2: Discipline expert groups (15 minutes).Following the introduction, the instructor will divide the student population into five "expert" groups: 1) tilt data, 2) GPS data, 3) seismic data, 4) gravity data, and 5) Webcam data. Each member of each group will be given a worksheet relevant to their data type (Discipline Worksheets (Microsoft Word 50kB Jan9 14)). Questions on the worksheets will drive the discussion and exploration in the first part of the exercise. Each group will need access to the Internet, and should utilize the VEPP Web site to examine the data and time period indicated on their worksheet (i.e., tilt data over the last two weeks, GPS data over the last two months, etc.). The groups will discuss the worksheet questions, using the VEPP Web site as a resource as needed (for example, the Web site provides background on all of the data types that can help the students answer some of the worksheet questions), and each member of each group will record answers to the questions on the worksheet. By the end of the time period, each group should have formulated hypotheses about the current and possible future behavior of Pu'u 'Ō'ō based on their specific data.

Phase 3: Interdisciplinary groups (20 minutes).Following the meeting of the disciplinary groups, the instructor will again divide the student population into interdisciplinary groups, with each new group containing at least one member of each previous disciplinary group (in other words, each new interdisciplinary group will have a tilt expert, GPS expert, gravity expert, seismic expert, and Webcam expert). The interdisciplinary group discussion will begin with each discipline "expert" taking ~1 minute to tell the rest of the group what their data are used for, the advantages and disadvantages of that data type, and their interpretation of the data based on the conclusions of the disciplinary group. After all the discipline experts in the interdisciplinary groups have presented to their colleagues, discussion should focus on developing an interpretation of what is happening at Pu'u 'Ō'ō that satisfies all data types. A new worksheet (Interdisciplinary Groups Worksheet (Microsoft Word 37kB Jan9 14)) will be given to all students and will drive the discussion. At this stage, each small group is essentially holding a mini-Monday Morning Meeting. Each student must fill out a worksheet.

Phase 4: Report-back (varies depending on class size and report-back format).Each group will present their findings to the rest of the class, and to the Scientist-in-Charge (i.e., the instructor). This could be done in several ways, for example: the first group could present their interpretation, and each subsequent group could build on the hypotheses of the previous (explaining whether or not they agree and why, presenting alternative viewpoints, and pointing out aspects of the data that might not otherwise have been covered); or, each group could interpret a different time period within the dataset.

Phase 5: Wrap-up (15 minutes).The class period ends with an instructor-led discussion of the activity that is occurring at Pu'u 'Ō'ō, the value of multiple independent datasets for geologic investigations (using the advantages and disadvantages that were discussed in the groups as a means of demonstrating that there is no "magic bullet" in geologic investigations), the process of scientific investigation, and the challenges in using and interpreting real-time data. If no written report is required, each student will turn in their two worksheets at the end of the class period. If a report is required, the students will take the worksheets home to aid with the report writing.

Phase 6: Written report (optional, outside of class).Each student will write a report as if they were a volcanologist at the observatory summarizing their interpretations of the activity at Pu'u 'Ō'ō for the Scientist-in-Charge (i.e., the instructor). The text of the report should include a summary and interpretations of each data type, figures supporting those interpretations, an overall hypothesis about volcanic activity at Pu'u 'Ō'ō for the time period explored. Grading should follow the example rubric (report_rubric.doc (Microsoft Word 35kB Feb1 23)).

Activity Materials

- Discipline worksheets (Discipline Worksheets (Microsoft Word 50kB Jan9 14)) This file contains a worksheet for each data type, each student gets 1 worksheet for their specific discipline (e.g. only GPS)

- Group interpretation worksheets (Interdisciplinary Groups Worksheet (Microsoft Word 37kB Jan9 14)) This file contains one worksheet for each student, in which they compile all data types in their mixed groups and then develop their interpretation of all data

- Introductory slides about HVO, Monday Morning Meeting, and Pu'u 'Ō'ō activity (MMM_intro.ppt (PowerPoint 6.9MB Jul25 10))

- Rubric for written assignment (report_rubric.doc (Microsoft Word 35kB Feb1 23))

- Data to be distributed to the class for the non-real-time version of the exercise (July21.ppt (PowerPoint 3.4MB Jul25 10))

- Poland et al. (2008) EOS article describing activity on and around Pu'u 'Ō'ō in mid-2007 (EOS_article.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE 607kB Jul25 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:

Non-real-time version:

Although the exercise is designed to take full advantage of the near-real-time aspect of data provided on the VEPP Web site, in some cases access to such data may not be possible (or important instruments may be down, or other problems may exist), or the instructor may wish to simplify the exercise for an introductory class by using a time period in which a major event occurred and not taking on the challenge of interpreting contemporary data streams. In these situations, it might be better to have the students focus on a distinct time period of Pu'u 'Ō'ō's history, when activity was changing rapidly. Such a time is the two-week period prior to July 21, 2007, when a small fissure eruption occurred on the east flank of Pu'u 'Ō'ō. All VEPP data types show spectacular changes during this time period. The data may be accessed directly via the VEPP Web site, or the data can be distributed via hard copy (July21.ppt (PowerPoint 3.4MB Jul25 10)). Note that for the July 21 exercise, no gravity data exist so there can only be 4 disciplinary groups. If the instructor needs background information on the July 21, 2007, eruption, refer to the Poland et al. (2008) EOS article summarizing mid-2007 activity (EOS_article.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE 607kB Jul25 10)).

Small classes:

In classes with less than 15 students, the instructor may wish to exclude the gravity data from the exercise in order to make sure there are at least 3-4 students in each discipline group (with the same number in each subsequent interdisciplinary group).

No written report:

If the exercise is only meant to take up a class period with no outside work, or is meant for an introductory class with the primary goal of exposing the students to the challenges of working with real datasets and the importance of multidisciplinary approaches, then the written report can be dropped as an assignment.

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

1) If using the VEPP website for the real-time version of this activity, the instructor should examine the recent data from the VEPP Web site before attempting this exercise. If the data are confusing or no noteworthy activity has occurred, it may be better to use the non-real-time version from July 2007 (see above). Recent data could be examined as part of the follow-up discussion to the exercise.

2) The instructor should also probably be ready to use the July 21, 2007, example in case the VEPP Web site is down or the Internet is inaccessible on the day the exercise is to be attempted (in other words, have a backup plan in case the Web site cannot be accessed).

3) If using the July 21, 2007, example without the writing assignment, an in-class wrap-up can include a "reveal" in which the instructor describes the activity that occurred in the weeks and months following the July 21, 2007 fissure eruption (see the Poland et al. (2008) EOS article summarizing mid-2007 activity, (EOS_article.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE 607kB Jul25 10))).

4) The instructor should plan ahead for how to group students, perhaps specifically assigning students to expert and interdisciplinary groups ahead to time to minimize confusion and accommodate different levels of student competency. In addition, the instructor should have a plan to make group transitions efficient. One suggestion is to have each student draw a piece of paper upon entering the classroom which randomly assigns them to both expert and interdisciplinary groups, or writing an interdisciplinary group information to the disciplinary worksheet, so when it's time to move to the interdisciplinary group, students know where in the room to meet the rest of their group.

5) If students are making predictions about possible future activity at Pu'u 'Ō'ō, the instructor should revisit the VEPP Web site about 1 week after the exercise to check on what has happened since the "Monday Morning Meeting" was conducted, and report this activity back to the students (or assign a student this task, or conduct it as a short exercise during class).

6) For instructors who are unfamiliar with the VEPP data types, the following offers a brief background for the VEPP data types with a Web link that contains more information (this information can be provided to the students if needed):

- tilt: excellent method for resolving small-magnitude, short-timescale (i.e., minutes to hours) surface deformation manifested as ground tilt. Longer timescales (i.e., more than a few months) of deformation cannot be resolved due to instrument drift.

- GPS (Global Positioning System): Daily GPS solutions are excellent for resolving surface motion of a few centimeters or greater that occurs over timescales of weeks to years.

- gravity: The main purpose of gravity data is to detect changes in the distribution of subsurface mass. Gravity is also affected by changes in elevation. An increase in gravity therefore implies subsidence or increased subsurface mass, and a decrease in gravity implies uplift or a decrease in subsurface mass. It is therefore important to always interpret gravity data in conjunction with surface elevation data (generally from the vertical component of a co-located GPS station).

- seismic: Seismic monitoring is the root of most volcano monitoring networks. Because we only have one seismic station near Pu'u 'Ō'ō, we express seismicity in terms of RSAM (Real-time Seismic Amplitude Measurement), which is a measure of the average seismic amplitude averaged over a certain time period (usually 1 minute). Increases in RSAM imply increased tremor or earthquake activity, and decreases the opposite.

- Webcam: Webcams are an inexpensive but powerful volcano monitoring method, especially given that many Webcams have low-level infrared capabilities. Webcam imagery provides 24-hour visibility during good weather, and can track changes in activity and even large-scale surface motions.


There are multiple opportunities for assessment. The instructor will evaluate the Phase 4 report-backs to identify areas of poor understanding where more explanation or discussion may be needed during the phase 5 wrap-up. If no written report will be required, the instructor can collect and review the worksheets submitted by each student. The written report, if assigned, will provide direct evidence of whether or not individual students are able to interpret a multidisciplinary dataset in terms of volcanic activity. Data from the July 2007 events can be incorporated in exam questions for summative assessment.

References and Resources

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