Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Volcanology Teaching Resources

- Janine

I am excited about an upcoming set of Google Hangout sessions with 6th graders talking all about volcanoes, why they erupt, why some erupt more violently than others, what their hazards are, and what we, as volcanologists, are doing to try and help people that live near them. So I sent out a request to the world of Twitter and volcanologists (links to their twitter feeds included, also full of information and resources - many more twitter volcanologists can be found) from around the world got back to me with great ideas and resources, and here they are!

This is an open blog, I will add more resources as they come to my attention, so if there is something missing please contact me and I will add it for everyone to enjoy.

Volcanologist @kenhrubin has put together a list of Twitter volcanologists, volcano watchers, and volcano-related organizations so you can keep an eye on the latest activity and volcano news. You can watch the list Here.

This looks like a lot of fun if you have access to dry ice, suggested by @lavabombs

"The Soufriere Pyroclastic Flow is a type of granitic explosive eruption where the pressure of an eruption cloud fails to hold up the ash and it collapses as a pyroclastic flow. This experiment is easy to create, just put some dry ice and water into a bowl, soak a strip of cloth in dishwasher detergent, and contain the CO2 into one big bubble."

Professor David Pyle and the team at Oxford Sparks have put together a great video taking you through an underwater volcano disaster. The bottom of the page also has links to other resources you can use in the classroom.

The team at Volcanoes Top Trumps (Volcanologists and geologists with STREVA: Jenni Barclay, Anna Hicks, Jon Stone, David Pyle, Paul Cole and Iain Stewart) have done a great job putting together this Top Trumps edition where you play with volcanoes and the proceeds of the game even go to help people affected by volcanic activity - how great is that! The game combines categories of explosivity, deadliness, wow! factor, unpredictability, and devastation potential, showing your students just how much volcanic activity can vary. They have an Educator's Materials section with posters, information leaflets, and activities, and even an online game. Thanks @VolcanoJenni and the team at @VolcTopTrumps (who also tweet some great articles on volcanoes). 

Volcanoes Top Trumps. Image courtesy of the Volcanoes Top Trumps website, links are above.
If you really want to blow your classroom out of the water, the @LondonVolcano team took things to the extreme! They actually built a volcano - a 3 meter tall replica of Soufrière St. Vincent volcano, and they take it on tour! Check out their activity on twitter, and their website.

The London Volcano eruption! Courtesy of londonvolcano.com.

Earth Learning Idea is a website with a range of ideas for teaching Earth science topics, including natural hazards, geological time, evolution of life Earth in space, energy, and other Earth systems. They include information sheets, lists of resources, useful links, questions to ask, videos, and more. Thanks @Volcanologist!

Closer to home for me, all the way from New Zealand, is the GNS Science Volcanoes page. They have a collection of videos (like the one below), lesson plans, recommended reading, and links talking about volcanoes, monitoring, hazards, and what to do during an eruption. Thank you GNS Volcanologist @Eruptn.

Also from New Zealand is the Geonet webpage that looks more into volcano monitoring, Volcanic Alert Levels, a series of great videos, and information on New Zealand's volcanoes, sent by @Eruptn who is a volcanologist at GNS Science, New Zealand (in the video below).

A good resource (In Spanish) by SERNAGEOMIN in Chile gives hazards maps of their volcanoes - and there are a lot of them, geological maps, a glossary of volcano terms, the ranking of the 90 - yes 90! active volcanoes in Chile. Thanks @aficientifico.

Volcanologist @volcanoclast spent two years with Rutgers University in a laboratory on wheels. Some of the experiments and demonstrations they performed included bazookas to show how materials of different densities settle from a volcano, beans and seeds to show sorting of volcanic debris, and sand and water to demonstrate how a volcano grows - check them out here. You can contact him on twitter for more information, and check out his 3D Volcano project which also shows how 3D volcano models can help volcanologists and public officials with investigating and communicating volcano hazards.

Volcanologist @eruptionsblog writes the Eruptions blog on Wired. He has a list of webcams around the world that can show you real volcanoes erupting, in real time! The Colima volcano webcam run by Webcams de Mexico below shows you one of the most active volcanoes, where you can almost guarantee a few eruptions on any given day (for now) like the one below. You can have a webcam up in the background and have a glimpse of what it's like to be near a volcano waiting for it to erupt.

There is of course the classic Mentos-and-Coke eruption experiment which is usually the first to come to mind when someone wants to make a volcano. Using different candy types you can explore how gas is dissolved into a liquid, and how explosive it can be when it all comes out at once! Here and here are two websites with resources and instructions to carry out this experiment, and an explanation as to why this explosive reaction occurs (there are others if you Google it)

Another great experiment is one that explores viscosity - an important factor in controlling what type of eruption you get. Looking at liquids of different viscosities you can blow bubbles into them, and add sugar crystals to look at how gas bubbles and mineral crystals affect the viscosity as you have them flow down a slope, looking at the times it takes for different liquids to reach the bottom. An example of this set up can be found here.

A cake batter version of this experiment from the University of Hawaii can be found here along with data tables that the students can fill in. The University of Hawaii also has experiments to look at how particle size affects the angle of a volcano's slope (Piles of Fire), and using Gelatin Volcanoes to understand how magma moves inside a volcano. A list of other resources and classroom activities can be found here.

Stromboli online has a list of virtual excursions that you can take for a rage of volcanoes, including some of my favorites Tongariro and Mount St. Helens. Click on the 'Adventure Starts Here' link for each volcano to see photos and explanations, a view into what field work can be like. They also have maps, photos, panoramas and information on eruptions and monitoring. You can also learn how to make your own 3D model of Stromboli Island! (use Google translate for English)

The below video links viscosity and gas content to real volcanoes:

Another (slightly) less messy version is having different viscosity liquids in cups, and having students blow bubbles into them to see the different effects. If a build up of gas in magma causes pressure to form, how do you think the different viscosity liquids would change the way a volcano erupts? A video example is below:

And a version with Alka-Seltzer to make a small rocket also shows how gas works!

Here's a version with ducks!

If you have a spare trash can and a thermal camera (and lots of safety measures!) you can make a trashcano - thanks @volcaniclastic for this awesome idea! On this page you can find the instructions for the outside experiment making eruptions with balloons, pop rocks candy, and a plain old trash can, plus more neat FLIR (thermal camera) videos of the 'eruption'.

If you want to stay completely dry and clean, an online activity looking at different viscosities is online by the University of Rhode Island. This shows the internal structure of the atoms that affect the viscosity and how they change for the different magma types.

USGS has an Education website that has resources for a huge range of subjects, from volcanoes, to maps, satellites, biology, ecosystems, rocks, plate tectonics, etc. They include references, videos, animations, online lectures, and even a section on Citizen Science where you can help scientists collect real data! They link resources into Grades K-6, Grades 7-12, and Undergraduate.

USGS video showing the dome growth at Mount St. Helens on September 23, 2004. Other videos on a range of topics can be found here.

USGS also has a Predict an Eruption Interactive Scenario where you look at monitoring instruments, ground deformation, earthquakes, and learn about Kilauea and Mount St. Helens volcanoes.

If you want to know about most things to do with volcanic ash, USGS just released a new Volcanic Ash Impacts and Mitigation website. This website has information on the effects of volcanic ash on buildings, power supply, health, agriculture, water, communications, etc. and what you can do if you if you find yourself under an ash cloud.

Impacts and clean up of different ash depths from the USGS Volcanic Ash Impacts and Mitigation website.
The Smithsonian Institute Global Volcanism Program is a great place to go to learn about individual volcanoes and their past eruptions, as well as reports on the current activity of the volcanoes and a map of where they are. They have descriptions of the types of volcanoes and the activity they produce here, as well as some videos explaining processes. They also host a Dynamic Planet Map where you can look at the world's volcanoes, different plate tectonic boundaries, impact craters, and earthquakes. You can learn about Geologic Time with this interactive page.

Discovery Kids has a Volcano Explorer page where you can play with viscosity and gas settings to make your own eruption. The Magic School Bus also has a simple volcano game where you can drive the bus all the way from the Earth's inner core up to a volcanic eruption.

SEAS: Student Experiments at Sea has a set of units looking at mid-ocean ridges that includes reading maps, building a 3D model of the East Pacific Rise, looking at lava flows, plate tectonics, organisms of the deep, and more. If you do manage to make a 3D model of a volcano, you can combine the viscosity experiments to show where a lava flow/lahar/pyroclastic flow would travel down the volcanic flanks, and how this is controlled by the shape of the volcano - volcanologist @lava_ice has poured syrup over 3D maps of the big Island of Hawaii - a lot of fun!

NASA has an activity with worksheet online that can guide students to identify the basic volcano types - cinder cone, composite, and shield.

SERC has a long list of assignments and guides covering a range of volcanoes, processes, and eruptions.

A video touching on the different signs a volcano may display when heading towards an eruption - or not! A volcano may look like it is going to erupt, then for some reason nothing happens.

Living With a Volcano in Your Backyard—An Educator’s Guide with Emphasis on Mount RainierThe USGS Volcano Hazards Program (USGS-VHP) and the National Park Service have put together a fantastic resource with a range of activities for the classroom (or at home!). You can download the individual chapters and activities that include an overview, learner objectives, teacher background, materials, and a whole lot of information to get the most out of the lessons. This great project is coordinated by Coordinated by Carolyn Driedger, Anne Doherty, Cheryl Dixon, and Lisa Faust
Some fun examples are (with explanations and images straight out of the online document):

Lahar in a Jar : 'Explore how small amounts of water can mobilize loose rock to form lahars by making a small lahar within the safety of a beaker or jar and analyzing it using scientific methods.'

Shoebox Geologist: 'Model depositional processes from volcanically active areas using sediments in a shoebox. Interpret geologic events from layers in a classmate’s shoebox model and draw a stratigraphic column graphic.'

Shoebox Geologist result.

Magma Mash: 'In an exploration of magma behavior, students role play minerals that are cooling at different rates, and then examine rock sample.'

Play-Dough Topo: 'Students make a clay model volcano, and then create a topographic map of it.'

Tephra Popcorn: 'Students measure the volume and mass of popcorn before and after popping in an exploration of how expanding gas bubbles inflate and fragment magma during a volcanic eruption. They study the physical characteristics of tephra using samples or photographs.'

Learning about volcanic tephra using popcorn.
Fire and Ice: 'Students use ice cream glaciers and hot wax lava flows to simulate the interaction of glaciers and lava flows.'

Learn about lava and ice using ice cream!
Riding the Magma Elevator: 'Examine the processes leading to a volcanic eruption, including mantle melting, magma formation, and magma ascent. During this activity, the students will ride an imaginary elevator from the subduction zone to volcanic vent.'

Rock Stars: 'Students identify the characteristics of rocks in samples or photos and then tell a story about where and how each formed.'

The Next Eruption of Mount Rainier: 'In this activity, students use Mount Rainier as an example, while they explore a variety of themes associated with future volcanic activity. Students make a timeline of Mount Rainier volcanic events, interpret hazard maps, investigate potential effects on people and infrastructure, learn how scientists watch for signs of volcanic unrest, and create a warning statement. All products created during this activity can be included in a “school volcano museum” for students and parents to view.'

There are many more activities and resources for all aspects of volcanology in the classroom, so go check out the whole program here.

@ExplosiveEarth (the Cambridge Volcano Seismology group) has put together a great online activity where you can put in your postcode and see how much of your local area would have been covered by the Iceland Holuhraun lava flow. Check it out here.

This is the extend of Pittsburgh, PA, that would have been covered by the Holuhraun lava flow.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Global Volcanism Program has released a great new interactive tool for exploring earthquakes, volcanic activity, and sulfur dioxide emissions from 1960 to 2016. You can click on the event for more information, or look more into a single volcano with links to the volcano information pages.

The interactive Eruptions, Earthquakes, & Emissions map. Click on the map to go to the Smithsonian page.

This page will be updated as I come across new resources, so check back if you are learning about volcanoes in the classroom. Also check out our other blog posts for information on volcanoes, experiments, eruptions, monitoring, and wrapping your head around some of the complicated aspects of eruptions.


  1. Some videos about Volcano Warning Sign, IDN if they are too advanced for 6th grade:

  2. Thanks! That's a great video, I have added it to the list.

  3. Janine, we are so excited! These resources are fantastic! We are doing the viscosity experiment today!

    1. That's great! Let me know how it goes. Have fun!
      - Janine