Teaching about Volcanic Hazards

You’ve probably heard that Redoubt, a volcano 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, has been erupting intermittently since March 22. I used to live in Anchorage, so I’ve been keeping up with the volcano’s activity via the Alaska Volcano Observatory web site. I’m thankful that I’m not there to deal with the major hazard – ash.

redoubt.jpg
View to the east of the summit crater of Redoubt volcano, heavily covered with deposits from recent eruptions. The near ridge, right of the notch, is the upper reach of the Crescent Glacier on the southwest flank. March 31, 2009. Photo courtesy of Game McGimsey and the Alaska Volcano Observatory/U.S. Geological Survey.

Volcanic ash consists of tiny jagged pieces of rock and glass. These hard, abrasive particles are spread by wind and impact communities in a variety of ways – including damage to planes and cars, ventilation systems of buildings, water pollution, and possible respiratory problems.

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Scanning Electron Microscope image of ash particles erupted by Redoubt volcano on March 22, 2009. Image courtesy of Tom Kircher and the Alaska Volcano Observatory/University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

In Alaska, Redoubt’s ashfall has led to flight cancellations, school closings, disruptions to the oil industry, and even delays in seafood shipments.

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Volcanic ash fall out in Nikiski, AK from Redoubt volcano. Photo courtesy of Kristi Wallace and the Alaska Volcano Observatory/U.S. Geological Survey.

Other volcanic hazards include aerosols, lahars, pyroclastic flows, lava flows, and landslides. Some of the most well-known eruptions have caused a great deal of damage – think of the mudflows after the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo or the explosion and ash cloud of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Scientists are trying to better understand the inner workings of volcanoes to predict eruptions and minimize damage. During an eruption such as Redoubt’s current activity, mathematical modeling of atmospheric currents helps predict which areas will be most affected by ashfall.

While volcanoes are almost always part of a broader study of plate tectonics, we don’t always take the time to focus on the impacts of eruptions on humans. The following resources take this approach to studying volcanoes and thus align with the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Volcanoes – Local Hazard, Global Issue
http://missiongeography.org/58mod1.htm
This module allows middle school students to explore two ways that volcanoes affect Earth: by directly threatening people and environments adjacent to them and by ejecting aerosols into the atmosphere. Through three investigations, students explore issues of volcano hazards at different scales, from their local environment to the global effect of volcanic aerosols on climate and aircraft safety.

Mount Pinatubo: The Aftermath of a Volcanic Eruption
http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/ess05.sci.ess.earthsys.lahar/
This video (3:30) shows the ash fall and mud flows triggered by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. Questions for discussion lead students to consider the effects of volcanic eruptions on humans and how communities near volcanoes can protect themselves in the future.

Volcano Hazards Program
http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/
The USGS web site provides information about the 169 active volcanoes in the United States, teaching resources, information about volcanic ash, and volcano webcams.

Volcanoes and Climate Change
http://eob.gsfc.nasa.gov/Features/Volcano/
This article from NASA explains how volcanic eruptions impact global climate.

Seismic Signals
http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/ess05.sci.ess.earthsys.seismic/
This interactive activity from NOVA Online illustrates some of the clues seismologists are using to better understand activity within a volcano and predict eruptions.


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Math Starters: Projects to Begin the Year!

If you want to “hook” your class on math right from the start, you may want to consider one of these real-world projects. Students deal with real data in these investigations—collecting, presenting, and analyzing their findings. As they work on the NCTM Data Analysis and Probability Standard, they apply school mathematics in contexts arising outside of mathematics, as recommended in the NCTM Connections Standard.

Down the Drain: How Much Water Do You Use?
In this Internet-based collaborative project, students collect data from their classmates and their household members about water usage. The goal is to determine the average amount of water used by one person in a day. They can share that information with other classes online and compare the average amount of water used per person per day in other parts of the country and the world. The project goes beyond merely collecting data to considering some real questions on wasted water. Information on how to set up the project, how to share data online, and how to publish student findings is included.

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble: The International Boiling Point Project
Which do you think has the greatest influence on the boiling point of water: room temperature, elevation, volume of water, or heating device? To answer this question requires input from people all over the world, and this online collaboration allows your students to enter the investigation. They will boil water, under controlled conditions, record information, and post it online. They can analyze the data sent in by others worldwide and reach their own conclusions on what makes a pot of water boil.

Musical Plates: A Study of Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics
In this series of lessons, students use real-time data to solve a problem, study the correlation between earthquakes and tectonic plates, and determine whether or not there is a relationship between volcanoes and plate boundaries. The science and data analysis are more demanding in this project than in the first two, but still within the range of the upper-level middle school student. Four activities, each designed to be used in a 45-minute class period, teach students how to access and interpret real-time earthquake and volcano data. “Real-time” actually does mean data on volcanic and earthquake activity that is going on during the time of your class investigation! Three enrichment lessons follow in this teacher-friendly unit.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/28/2011.