Alaska GPS Analysis of Plate Tectonics and Earthquakes
This activity introduces students to high precision GPS as it is used in geoscience research. Students build "gumdrop" GPS units and study data from three Alaska GPS stations from the Network of the Americas. They learn how Alaska's south central region is "locked and loading" as the Pacific Plate pushes into North America and builds up energy that will be released in the future in other earthquakes such as the 1964 Alaska earthquake.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
,Learners should be familiar with plate tectonics and earthquakes. The instructor should definitely give a brief introduction to GPS systems at the start of the activity if the students are not already familiar.
How the activity is situated in the course
This activity would probably be best midway or late in a unit on plate tectonics and earthquakes or geoscience and hazards.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Students will be able to:
- Diagram and describe the basic components of the GPS system and a GPS station
- Construct a small model GPS station
- Interpret high precision GPS data
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Calculate tectonic velocities from GPS time series data and graph resulting vectors
- Synthesize results from three GPS stations to determine the implications for future earthquakes in south central Alaska.
Other skills goals for this activity
Description and Teaching Materials
Overall this activity has five sections. The first two are relatively faster hands-on demonstration activities to introduce learners to GPS. The next three steps learners through measuring, plotting, and interpreting GPS data.
- Building a GPS 'Station'
- Pinpointing a Location with GPS
- Measuring Alaska GPS/Tectonic Movement
- Plotting GPS Station Motion
- Analysis of GPS Station Motion
- Alaska-GPS Instructor Information (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB May28 20) - educator notes, NGSS alignment, and links to supporting resources
- Alaska-GPS Student Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 2.6MB May28 20) WORD version (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 6.2MB May28 20)
- Alaska-GPS presentation (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 16.4MB May28 20) - optional presentation that includes background information on GPS as well as slides that might help with a discussion about the activity during/afterwards (excerpt from Alaska Earthquakes & Tsunami Presentation)
Two similar activities featuring Pacific Northwest GPS data are available from the Cascadia EarthScope Earthquake and Tsunami Education Program (CEETEP)
Teaching Notes and Tips
- See also the Instructor Notes document above.
- If an instructor wishes to shorten the exercise and concentrate just on the vector and math portions of the exercise, the first two sections could be skipped and just replaced (if needed) with a brief introduction to what GPS is.
- If instructors wish to update the data in the activity, they can download it from the GPS station pages.
Access Data from Your Closest GPS station (Acrobat (PDF) 590kB May28 20) - 1-page document that walks through how to access GPS data from any of the stations in the Network of the Americas (NOTA). Stations used in this activity are:
Formative assessment of student understanding can be gathered from classroom observation and discussions with individuals or small groups.
The student exercise serves as the summative assessment for the activity. Some questions have clearly correct answers. Teachers can develop a simple grading scheme for open ended questions such as:
- 2 points for thorough and correct answer
- 1 point for partially correct
- 0 zero for incorrect
References and Resources
- ANGLE presentations on this topic from which instructors could draw background information if needed are:
- Animations related to GPS and Alaska plate tectonics and earthquakes
- Videos on teaching about GPS
- GPS Velocity Viewer allows viewers to explore GPS motions around the world, including in Alaska.
- Tectonics Motions of Alaska poster by UNAVCO
- How GPS Works
- The activity was presented as part of the EarthScope ANGLE Educator Workshops.
- This activity is part of ANGLE Curricular Pathway 1: Instrumentation.
- Contact ANGLE with questions or comments.