VEPP: Using volcano deformation data for lava flow hazard assessment and decision making, Part III: Putting it all together

Prajukti Bhattacharyya
University of Wisconsin, WHitewater
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This is an exercise that is in development and has not yet been fully tested in the classroom. Please check back regularly for updates and changes.

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

This is the third part of a loosely linked three part activity. Each part can be used as a stand-alone activity with slight modification.

This section of the activity depends on the availability of archived lava flow maps for the current eruption (2010-)

This part focuses on lava flow hazards, and the human costs associated with it. Students will work in small groups to assess the risks to specific houses and other structures in the path of the current lava flow, and based on the personality profiles of imaginary homeowners provided by the instructor, will compose letters to the owners of those houses advising them about the best course of action open to them in view of the current situation.
Full length description:
  • Students break out in small groups. Each group is provided with a printout of a Google Earth maps showing the location of houses in the path of the ongoing lava flow.
  • Each group selects a specific house.
  • Each group is provided with most recent lava flow maps (and at least two previous maps. Not sure how frequently these maps are updated, but I'm hoping to provide map information for the last two weeks)
  • Each group receives the GPS and tiltmeter data for the same time period (about two weeks). They should have one map for the beginning of the two-week period, at least one during that time, and the most recent map.
  • Each group locate and plot "their" house on each lava flow map using the Google Earth printout as a reference.
  • Instructor provieds each group with an imaginary character as the "homeowner". The character sketch includes the age, financial situation, occupation and other information to make the character more realistic
  • Based on the deformation data each group predicts whether "their" house is in danger of being engulfed by the lava flow.
  • Each group composes a letter to the imaginary house owner advising them about the best course of action considering the overall situation. In their letter they have to summarize the deformation data and the criteria they used to determine the risk level and for their prediction.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Learning goals for this part of the activity

  • Students will interpret topographic maps and identify possible paths for a lava flow based on topgraphy of an area
  • Students will synthesize past and current lava flow map data (as and when available on the VEPP web site) and predict the likelihood and potential path of a lava outbreak in the immediate future in the Kalapana area
  • Students will analyze different types of geophysical data (tiltmeter data, continuous GPS data, and webcam images) available through the VEPP site that were recorded before, during and after specific lava outbreak events, and identify any existing trends or specific characteristics of the data set that can potentially be used for predicting when a lava outbreak will occur.
  • Students will synthesize their observations and relate the implications of their findings in a letter to an imaginary resident in the Kalapana area Skills
content/concepts goals for this activity
  • Hazards of lava flow
  • Different factors (scientific, political, human) that come into play while dealing with lava flow hazards

Briefly describe the higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Analysis of real geophysical data for identifying volcanic activity
  • Synthesis of data collected by different instruments like tiltmeters, GPS, and webcam, and use them for predicting volcano behavior
  • Synthesize maps showing a continually changing lava flow field
  • Synthesize the geophysical and map data and their implications in terms of hazard assessment

Briefly describe any other skills goals for this activity

  • Collaboration skills for working in small groups
  • Quantitative skills such as graph reading and vector addition
  • Spatial/map reading skills
  • Decision making skills
  • Written communication skills

Context for Use

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

This is a studio type activity with a combination of brief lecture/overview/case study, small group activity and large group discussion, followed by an in-class group presentation

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 lecture (20-24 students) in a 2- year or 4 year college

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):

Lower division undergraduate natural science courses for non-majors (such as natural hazards or volcanoes). This activity can also be used as a module in introductory physical geology course.

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

At this point students should be familiar with how to interpret and make predictions based on geophysical data, and the uncertainties associated with such predictions. They should also be familiar with hazards associated with lava flows.

Description and Teaching Materials

  • Lava flow maps for the ongoing eruption
  • Access to Google Earth on a computer in the classroom and printout of Google Earth map showing the location of the houses near the active lava flow.
  • Deformation data (tiltmeter and GPS) for the last two months for Puu Oo.
  • Character sketches for imaginary residents in the path of the active lava flow

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"


Each group writes a letter to their imaginary character and a representative from each group reads their letter for the whole class. The letter is graded according to a rubric.

References and Resources


Using volcano deformation data for lava flow hazard assessment and decision making, Part III: Putting it all together --Discussion  

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