Volcanoes around the Globe (Beta test copy)

Mark Abolins
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Undergraduate non-majors use the Arcview geographic information system (GIS) to explore volcanic hazards and the geochemistry of volcanic rocks. Students explore geochemical data from the GEOROC global database and maps, satellite images, and NAVDAT geochemical data for the Mount Hood, Oregon area.

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Introductory Earth Science for non-majors at a regional comprehensive public university

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need a basic familiarity with computers, and they need to know how to interpret a histogram. They also need basic (Earth Science 101) knowledge about volcanic rocks and hazards. Students do NOT need any prior experience with geographic information systems (GIS).

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is a stand-alone exercise completed individually outside class time. Students complete the activity in a computer lab equipped with Arcview software. Students can complete most of the activity without help, but an undergraduate lab assistant is typically available to answer questions. In the past, the activity has sometimes been assigned in conjunction with SAGUARO curricula developed by Michelle Hall-Wallace and others. The activity has also been used in conjunction with the Discovery Channel Virtual Volcano interactive web site.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Felsic, mafic, and intermediate volcanic rocks contain different amounts of silica.
  • Many volcanic rocks having different names (e.g., rhyolite and basalt) contain different amounts of silica.
  • The silica content of molten rock strongly influences associated volcanic hazards.
  • On average, volcanic samples from continental crust and those from oceanic crust differ in silica content.
  • On average, volcanic samples collected near convergent plate boundaries differ in silica content from those collected elsewhere.
  • Scientists learn about some volcanic hazards by studying satellite images.
  • A Geographic Information System (GIS) includes computer mapping, database, and statistical analysis capabilities.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Students mentally connect the silica content of volcanic rocks, rock names, tectonic setting, and volcanic hazards.
  • Students interpret histograms.

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Students manipulate a simple geographic information system (GIS).

Description of the activity/assignment

Before completing this computer-based activity, students need to learn basic (Earth Science 101) information about volcanic rocks and hazards, and they also need to learn how to interpret a histogram. Students complete the activity individually outside class time in a computer lab equipped with Arcview3.3 geographic information system (GIS) software. They do not need any prior experience with GIS because the activity text includes step-by-step instructions accompanied by numerous screen shots. Students use the GIS to investigate geochemical data from the global GEOROC database and, for the Mount Hood, Oregon area, the NAVDAT database. Students also use maps and satellite images to learn about volcanic hazards at Mount Hood. Through all of these investigations, they learn about the connections between the silica content of a melt, volcanic hazards, and plate tectonics. Hundreds of students have successfully completed the activity at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN, but the activity is still considered a "beta test copy" and the author welcomes feedback. Funding has been provided by small grants from the NASA Earth Observing System Higher Education Alliance ("GeoBrain"), Tennessee Space Grant, and NSF.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The activity text contains questions, and students write answers to the questions on a sheet of paper. I generally do not score their answers (because of the large number of students). Instead, students complete related multiple-choice questions on a lecture exam taken some time after they complete the GIS-based activity.

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