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.

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.

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.

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
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
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
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
This article from NASA explains how volcanic eruptions impact global climate.

Seismic Signals
This interactive activity from NOVA Online illustrates some of the clues seismologists are using to better understand activity within a volcano and predict eruptions.

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 12/07/2011.

Hot Spots (Even in Cold Places)

Did you know that there’s an active volcano in Antarctica?

Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano, is located on Ross Island, just off the coast of Antarctica in the Ross Sea. Part of the Ring of Fire, Mt. Erebus is located along the boundary of the Scotia and Antarctic tectonic plates.

Students may be surprised to learn that an active volcano can be found in such a cold location. Yet the heat of a volcano and its lava has nothing to do with weather and climate and everything to do with Earth’s internal structure and the theory of plate tectonics. The connection between plate movement and volcanic activity is part of the typical middle school curriculum and included in the Earth and Space Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards for grades 5-8.

Too often, students’ experience with volcanoes comes in the form of baking soda/vinegar models, which can actually lead to the formation of misconceptions. Instead, use the following resources to help your students more accurately model and visualize volcanic activity.

http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/ess05.sci.ess.earthsys.lp_volcanoes/NSDL Annotation
In this multi-day lesson, students investigate the processes that build volcanoes, the factors that influence different eruption types, and the threats volcanoes pose to their surrounding environments. After exploring these characteristics, students use what they have learned to identify physical features and eruption types in some real-life documented volcanic episodes. The lesson includes the use of many multimedia resources from the Teacher’s Domain collection.

Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory
The MEVO web site provides background knowledge, video, photos, and other resources about the world’s southernmost active volcano.

Five lessons from the Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium provide opportunities for students to learn about magma’s movement inside volcanoes, the stratigraphy of lava flows, structures formed by lava, how particle size affects the angle of a volcano’s slope, and how to measure a liquid’s viscosity. Each lesson includes separate student and teacher pages.

Exploring the Environment: Volcanoes
http://www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/volcanoes/volcano.htmlNSDL Annotation
A problem-based learning module in which students use online information to make decisions regarding four well known volcanoes. Designed for students in grades 7-12, but could be used with younger students needing additional challenge.

Plate Tectonics: Moving Middle School Science
http://msteacher.org/epubs/science/science1/science.aspxNSDL Annotation
The study of volcanoes at the middle school level is incomplete without a connection to the theory of plate tectonics. Discover background information, animations, activities, and standards alignment.

We Need Your Help

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. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School Portal science publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.