Panum Crater Geomorphic Mapping

Sarah R. Hall, College of the Atlantic

Calla Schmidt, University of San Francisco

Becca Walker, Mt San Antonio College

Initial Publication Date: August 31, 2020 | Reviewed: March 12, 2023


Based upon field observations and aerial imagery, students generate a geomorphic map of Panum Crater and use their field data to make an interpretation of the eruptive history of Panum Crater.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Content/Concept Goals:

Students will...

  • Create a geomorphic map illustrating the locations of the plug and ring of a volcanic feature and including all necessary elements of a geomorphic map.
  • Make inferences about the eruptive history of a field site using igneous compositions, textures, and field relationships between different igneous lithologies.

Higher Order Thinking Skills Goals:

Students will...

  • Gain experience locating oneself on an aerial image.
  • Formulate and evaluate hypotheses about the association of pumice and obsidian in the field.
  • Select field sites that are appropriate for meeting the content/concept goals.

Context for Use


This activity was completed during the 2-week summer E-STEM Field Course with ~20 undergraduate students interested in environmental science.

Prerequisite Skills and Concepts:

E-STEM students already had field experience with geomorphic mapping, but because we provided students with an aerial image rather than a topographic map, it isn't necessary that students have geomorphic mapping experience before doing this field exercise. Students should have basic igneous rock identification skills. A general understanding of volcanic processes (i.e., significance of glassy and vesicular igneous rocks, effusive vs. explosive volcanic eruptions, igneous compositions) would be helpful but is not required.

How the Activity is Situated in the Course:

This activity follows other geomorphic map activities. View the E-STEM field course timeline for more information.

Description and Teaching Materials

Student Handout

Panum Map Student Handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB May14 20)

The necessary materials:

  • Printed topographic base map (topographic and aerial image)
  • Printed aerial image of base panumaerial.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 6.6MB Jun25 20)
  • Tracing paper or vellum paper
  • GPS (optional)
  • Colored pencils
  • Hand lens
  • Pencil/eraser
  • Mapboard

Teaching Notes and Tips

We started this exercise with a student presentation on young volcanics in the Mono Basin (as part of the Field Presentations activity). If you want students to come up with an interpretation of the eruptive history of Panum Crater based on their field site data, it would be prudent to have a faculty member or TA conceal the interpretive sign at the trailhead.

The hike to the top of the ring and (then into the plug on the plug trail) is relatively short but has some steep switchbacks, and the trail is composed of unconsolidated material, so slow-going. Once in the plug, one can stay on the well-worn trail or climb carefully over loose boulders. Students should be mindful of boulders moving, sharp rocks, and shards of volcanic glass being inhaled or getting shards in their eyes. No sample collecting is permitted. There is very little shade.

In evaluating students' geomorphic maps, there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion in the location of the crater ring. Many students did not identify the ring borders and instead just drew a single line (maybe illustrating where they walked?), rather than annotating their aerial image to illustrate the location of the tephra ring. It is important to be explicit about drawing the borders of the ring on their aerial image. Because there is so much obsidian at this site, this is also a nice opportunity to eliminate the misconception that many of our students had that obsidian has a mafic composition because of its color.


Assess this activity with the rubric used for the Mapping Badge.