Natural Hazards on the Island of Hawai‘i

Andrew R. Greene, Hawai'i Pacific University (
Michael O. Garcia, University of Hawai'i at Manoa (
Nathan Becker, NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (
*Michael Poland, USGS-HVO, provided comments and input (
Initial Publication Date: March 21, 2018


In this jigsaw activity, students discover four different aspects of natural hazards on the Island of Hawaii. The goal for students is to design a hazard zone map that combines these four topics and that could be used for making land-use decisions before future natural hazards occur.
  • Students will first be assigned to one of four Hazard Specialties (lava flows, explosive eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami), where they complete an exercise and make a preliminary hazard zone map with their specialty group from a single hazard map.
  • Then the students will reorganize into Hazard Assessment Teams, with one student from each of the four Hazard Specialties, to develop a final hazard zone map based on information on all four hazards. Each Hazard Assessment Team will make a recommendation about the risks of natural hazards to existing and future development in Hilo, Kailua-Kona, and Kalapana on the Island of Hawaii.

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This jigsaw exercise is designed for an undergraduate course in natural hazards, geology, environmental science, or oceanography. The activity will require 2 to 3 hours to complete. The lab activity requires the use of 4 large posters with maps that will have to printed by the instructor. The exercise promotes building skills in communication, observation, and interpreting data from multiple sources. The exercise does not depend on student access to computers. The exercise can be adapted for a graduate level course in disaster management, volcanology, seismology, or oceanography.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This activity does not require any prior knowledge of natural hazards, geology, or oceanography.

How the activity is situated in the course

The jigsaw exercise can be done early in a course before covering earthquakes, volcanoes or tsunamis, or is an excellent introduction to Hawaiian geology or hotspot volcanism.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This jigsaw exercise is designed around the use of four large posters with maps and data about: 1) Lava Flows, 2) Explosive Eruptions, 3) Earthquakes, and 4) Tsunamis. Students will learn to evaluate data sets from these four processes. They will communicate new observations, interpret data to design a hazard zone map, synthesize information from multiple disciplines, and present a summary of their collaborative work.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This unique map-based jigsaw activity uses higher order thinking skills in learning through:
  • interconnectedness of a variety of scientific fields and phenomenon for understanding natural hazards and volcanism on ocean islands
  • exploring and making discoveries using maps, measurements and scientific data
  • analyzing and problem-solving
  • reflecting and verbalizing
  • synthesizing and presenting information

Other skills goals for this activity

Making measurements on maps, plotting scientific data, performing simple calculations, working collaboratively in groups, and teaching fellow students.

Description and Teaching Materials

Files available for downloading:

The first four files are the large posters (and suggested printing size) with maps and data to be printed by the instructor to use in the jigsaw exercise.

For documents below, standard letter page size is sufficient for printing.
  • Hazards-Hawaii-directions.doc (Microsoft Word 47kB Sep7 13) - This is a word document with the student instructions for the jigsaw exercise; 2 pages at 8x11 inch size.
  • Topographic-map-Hawaii-8x11.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 1.5MB Sep7 13) - This is a basemap of the Island of Hawaii for students to use to draw their preliminary and final hazard zone maps on. Two copies are necessary for each student.
  • Lava-flow-velocity-exercise.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.5MB Sep7 13) - This an exercise and map for the Lava Flow Hazard Specialty group only. One copy (1 page) is required for each student in this group, about one quarter of the class. The map is for students in this group to use to calculate lava flow velocity of several Mauna Loa flows.
  • Isopach exercise.doc (Microsoft Word 884kB Sep7 13) - This an exercise and map for the Explosive Eruption Hazard Specialty group only. One copy (2 pages) is required for each student in this group, about one quarter of the class. The map of the KÄ«lauea summit area is basically the same as the Keanakākoʽi Tephra map on the Explosive-eruptions-map.pdf poster. The map is for students in this group to use to draw isopachs on the map, and then answer the questions for their specialty in the directions.
  • Seismic-cross-section-exercise.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 4.8MB Sep13 13) - This map is for the Earthquake Hazard Specialty group only. One copy (1 page) is required for each student in this group, about one quarter of the class.

Colored pencils or crayons are necessary for drawing the preliminary and final hazard zone maps on the Topographic-map-Hawaii-8x11.pdf.
Blank white 8x11 paper should be available for answering questions in the exercise.

There is no separate exercise for the Tsunami Hazard Specialty Group because the questions in the exercise directions will take time to complete.

Teaching Notes and Tips

No teaching tips are currently available for this exercise.


No assessment strategies are currently available for this exercise.

References and Resources

  1. Volcanic and Seismic Hazards on the Island of Hawaii -
    This website has information on natural hazards and hazard zone maps for the Island of Hawaii.
  2. International Tsunami Information Center, Hawaii Runup Maps -
    This website is the source for the tsunami runup map on the Tsunami-map.pdf.
  3. Trusdell, F. A., Wolfe, E. W., and Morris J. 2006. Digital Database of the Geologic Map of the Island of Hawai'i, U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 144 -
    This website is the source for the Lava-flow-map.pdf and Explosive-eruptions-map.pdf that are used in the lab.
  4. Mullineaux, D., D. W. Peterson, and D. R. Crandell (1987), Volcanic Hazards in the Hawaiian Islands, in Volcanism in Hawaii, edited by R. W. Decker, et al., pp. 599-621, U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1350. -
    This is an excellent paper on natural hazards in the Hawaiian Islands and is the source for the current hazard zone maps.
  5. The Pacific Disaster Center website has a great deal of information and data about natural hazards in the Pacific Ocean Region. -
  6. The U. S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website is an excellent source for information and current updates about volcanism, earthquakes and other hazards in Hawaii. -
  7. Fletcher, C., Grossman, E. E., Richmond, B. M., and Gibbs, A. E. 2004. Atlas of Natural Hazards in the Hawaiian Coastal Zone. U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Investigations Series I-2761. -
    This map presents hazard history and estimates the potential for intensity of hazards in coastal areas of Hawaii.
  8. Fletcher, C., Boyd, R. Neal, W. J., and Tice, V. (2010) Living on the Shores of Hawaii: Natural Hazards, The Environment, and our Communities. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii. 371 p.
    This book is a fantastic overview of hazards and environmental issues in the Hawaiian Islands.