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Unit 5 Hazards and Risks at Convergent Plate Boundaries (Day 1 of activity)

Rachel Teasdale (California State University, Chico)
Peter Selkin (University of Washington, Tacoma)
Laurel Goodell (Princeton University)

Summary

In this two-day activity, students monitor an evolving volcanic crisis at a convergent plate boundary (Cascadia). Using monitoring data and geologic hazard maps, students make a series of forecasts for the impending eruption and associated risks. By the end of the activity, students will have learned the outcome of the eruption and assess the impacts of the eruption of Mount Rainier on specific locations around the volcano.

This unit begins by having students examine past volcanic eruptions at Mount St. Helens, associated with the Cascadia convergent plate boundary, through firsthand accounts by United States Geological Survey (USGS) personnel who describe their work monitoring the geologic activity and some associated impacts. During class on the first day (Unit 5), students will begin working in small groups to interpret one of three data sets used to monitor volcanic activity (seismic, gas and ash emissions, and tilt). During prework and in-class activities for day 2 (Unit 6), students will update their predictions by combining information from all three data sets in mixed groups in which students act as "experts" for a particular data set. The exercise culminates with students assessing the impacts of a simulated volcanic eruption at their assigned locations.

Learning Goals

Unit 5 supports the following overarching module goals:

  1. Use qualitative and quantitative information to assess risk due to geological hazards associated with plate boundaries.
  2. Develop strategies to mitigate risk due to geological hazards.

Unit 5 addresses several overarching goals of the InTeGrate program including analyzing a geoscience-related grand challenge facing society (impact of natural hazards), developing students' ability to address interdisciplinary problems and use authentic geoscience data (use of real data sets from the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption), and improving students' geoscientific thinking skills (interpretation of multiple data sets and developing multiple working hypotheses).

Unit 5 Learning Objectives (including areas in the unit where objectives are addressed)

  1. Students will work in groups to interpret authentic eruption precursor data from multiple sources to develop hypotheses and forecast the potential impacts of increasingly frequent geologic activity prior to an eruption (classwork during Unit 5 and Unit 6).
  2. Students will model the scientific process by drawing conclusions from changing data sets. (Unit 5 classwork and assessment).
  3. Students will evaluate the vulnerability of geographic locations to volcanic hazards based on topography, proximity to volcano, and other geological and geographic factors. (Unit 6 assessment).
  4. Students will inform non-scientists of the impacts of potential volcanic hazards and make recommendations for future mitigation (Unit 6 assessment).

Context for Use

Units 5 and 6 are designed for introductory-level geology courses, including courses in physical geology and geologic hazards, but are also appropriate for any course studying plate tectonics. Units 5 and 6 introduce students to the use of multiple data sets that evolve through time (in 3 time steps) to forecast hazards associated with the eruption of a major volcano at a convergent plate boundary. This unit is best used following Units 1-4, but can be used in a different order or even on its own if students are familiar with general information about plate boundaries and seismic and volcanic data sets. One suggested activity is Using Google Earth to Explore Plate Tectonics, by Laurel Goodell.

Units 5 and 6 are designed for one 50-minute class period each, with associated pre-class assignments. Students can turn in assigned pre-class work electronically or can print worksheets to submit their results in class. This unit can be adapted for most class sizes. If used for a longer class or lab period, both Units 5 and 6 (and the pre-class assignments) can be completed in one session (internet access is required for pre-class work), or discussion of individual data sets or sites can be extended.

Description and Teaching Materials

Pre-Class Work

(approximately 30 min)

Students will watch videos of interviews with USGS geologists (videos are also linked within the prework assignment sheet below):

Students will also read short excerpts about the hazards associated with eruptions at Mount St. Helens on the USGS website:

Prework Files:

For instructors only:

  • and as a

Classwork

The instructor can use the PowerPoint file (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 2.3MB Apr27 15) (and as a PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 935kB Apr27 15)) to guide the first day of this unit:

  1. (5 min) Recap question #5 from prework on the benefits to society that monitoring provides (slide 2; Instructor can choose to review prework more thoroughly if class time allows).

    Possible responses: The instructor should incorporate ideas of the 1970s-1980s being a time in which volcanology gained a lot of scientific growth in terms of monitoring volcanoes, but also through the Mount St. Helens (and subsequent eruption crises), volcanologists learned how to deal with the media, politicians and emergency management planners. Students should also recognize that hazards associated with the 1980 eruption started before the climatic eruption on May 18 and continued for years (e.g. lahar flows). Another important idea (here, and throughout this unit) is the consideration of risks encountered in modern societies (e.g. consideration of size of population, types of infrastructure that have short- and long-term economic impacts during and after an eruption).
  2. (5 min) Instructor orients students to convergent plate boundaries and to Cascadia Convergent Plate Boundary/ Subduction Zone and major population centers in Cascadia (slides 3-6).
  3. (25 min) Students begin their roles as science experts during the early days of a volcano eruption crisis as geologic activity at Mount Rainier increases. Small groups of students (3-4) work together to interpret a particular set of geologic data, using a worksheet that guides them through the process of describing and interpreting the geologic data. Students will also prepare a forecast for the potential geologic activity using the USGS Volcano Alert Level system to assign an alert level based on the data they have examined.

    Students will be placed in one of three groups studying either Seismology, Gas Geochemistry and Ash Dispersal, or Volcanology (tilt data) and are provided a worksheet and data set for their discipline.
    1. Each student should fill in a Student Worksheet (Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 50kB Apr7 15) version or PDF version (Acrobat (PDF) 128kB Apr7 15)) for their geological data set, which are organized with the following pages:
      • Seismology: pages 1-2
      • Gas Geochemistry and Ash Dispersal: pages 3-4
      • Tilt: pages 5-6
    2. Hazards Map and Geologic Data are all contained in the file: Geologic Data - Students Version (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 1MB Apr8 15) (also as a PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.6MB Apr8 15)) and are also separated by group in the following files:

      For instructors only:

      and as a PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.6MB Apr8 15) contains extended captions to help interpret data, and references to graphics provided to students. An and as a is also available.

  4. (10-20 min) Optional

    If time allows, groups should report the following to the rest of the class:

    1. The interpretation of their data, including an explanation of their forecast and alert level assigned to the volcano.
    2. What additional data or information they would like to have access to in order to better understand the state of the volcano

    Notes:

    • Large classes will have more than one group of students working on each data type, so different groups can report on different parts of the worksheets (e.g. one seismic group can report on questions 1-3, a second seismic group can respond to questions 4-5, etc.).
    • Data are included in slides 8-19 of the PowerPoint file (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 2.3MB Apr27 15) and PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 935kB Apr27 15) used to guide the class period for Unit 5.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Timing: Unit 5 used in combination with Unit 6 includes handouts, instructor notes, class PowerPoint files, and keys that are suitable for two days of a 50- minute class period. Longer classes can incorporate additional discussion or can include both units (5 and 6) in one day (see below).

Jigsaw Organization: Unit 5 is the first part of a jigsaw activity, so we strongly recommend that instructors consider how best to organize the jigsaw activity for their class logistics. Instructors should assign students a site for their Unit 6 prework in advance. Each coauthor of this module organized the jigsaw slightly differently, depending on our class size and resources, and has described those techniques in our Instructor Stories:

  • Rachel Teasdale describes her jigsaw organization for a class of 50+ students.
  • Peter Selkin describes his jigsaw organization for a class of 12 students.
  • Laurel Goodell describes her jigsaw organization for multiple lab sections of 12-17 students.
Discussion: Optional discussion (task 4) can be led by asking students to summarize the criteria used to develop their eruption forecasts. Additionally, asking students to report on the additional data they would like to see can help stimulate discussion among groups with different data sets.

Source of Eruption Data: Note that data used are from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, but this is not explicitly stated in student versions of Unit 5 or Unit 6 activities, in an attempt to make the activity as realistic as possible for students and so that students do not access details regarding the final outcome of the eruption in advance of completing the activity. Some instructors may decide to refer to this as a simulation, but we prefer to completely immerse students in the activity and not reveal the final eruption until called for during the activity.


Assessment

Formative Assessment

A good opportunity for formative assessment is during task 3 of Unit 5, when students are discussing their data and developing an alert level for Mount Rainier. Instructors can additionally gauge student progress in developing an eruption forecast as well as provide feedback to groups during task 4 when students report out on their data and alert levels for the volcano.

Summative Assessment

Instructors can gauge their students' mastery of the use of single data sets through task 4 in Unit 5 as described above. More complete assessment of students' ability to use multiple data sets to monitor a volcano in a time-progressive manner (as is the case for real-time monitoring), can be accomplished following completion of the combination of Unit 5 and Unit 6 activities. Summative assessment described in Unit 6 asks students to write a bulleted report to the State of Washington's Emergency Management Division. The report advises the officials of the outcomes of the eruption, what areas should be prioritized for disaster relief assistance, and how a similar disaster in the future can be mitigated through strategic planning. See Units 5/6 Assessment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 28kB Apr6 15) (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 65kB Apr6 15)). An

( ) is also posted.

References and Resources

  • USGS Fact Sheet 2008-3062: Hazard map for Rainier and more information on the hazards of an eruption of Mount Rainier
  • PHI-VOLCS (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) and USGS monitored the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo as the volcano became increasingly active, erupted, and remained active. Reports are compiled in Fire and Mud: Eruptions and Lahars of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines, edited by C.G. Newhall and R.S. Punongbayan. The entire volume is available online and is the source of data used to represent precursor and eruptive activity at Mount Rainier.
  • Lahar hazards at Mount Rainier from Vic Camp, San Diego State University (bottom of page)
  • MSH eruption info (including Native Americans)
  • A quick, entertaining source of background information is the NOVA video, "In the Path of a Killer Volcano," widely available commercially. We recommend that the instructor views the video prior to Unit 5 and then shows it to students the day after Unit 6. In the video, students can see how USGS and PhiVolcs scientists responded to precursor eruption data as they received it in real time, similar to the Unit 5/6 simulation.
  • The "Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup" compiled a report in 2013 describing a major earthquake and how it would impact the Pacific Northwest.
  • This activity is inspired by a similar volcano simulation activity by Karen Harpp (Colgate University), described in Harpp and Sweeney, Simulating a Volcanic Crisis in the Classroom, Journal of Geoscience Education 50 (2002): 410-418.
  • A 1980 publication from USGS on the economic impacts of the eruption of Mount St. Helens is: Mason, K. R., Grant, L. & Furlow, E. The Economic Effects of the Eruptions of Mount St. Helens., USITC Publication 1096 (1980): 83.
  • First-person accounts and legends of geologic activity associated with convergent plate boundaries are cited below, organized by type of geologic activity. Students may find these accounts an interesting way of personalizing the geologic activity and the impact of that activity.
    • Earthquakes
      1. New Zealand modern accounts with USGS context: Quake Stories: Accounts of the Canterbury (Christchurch) 2010-11 Earthquakes.
      2. Earthquakes and tsunami stories from Japan:
        • R.S. Ludwin, G.J. Smits, D. Carver, K. James, C. Jonientz-Trisler, A.D. McMillan, R. Losey, R. Dennis, J. Rasmussen, A. De Los Angeles, D. Buerge, C.P. Thrush, J. Clague, J. Bowechop, et al., 2007, "Folklore and earthquakes: Native American oral traditions from Cascadia compared with written traditions from Japan," Myth and Geology, Geological Society of London, Special Publications 273, no. 1 (2007): 67–94, doi: 10.1144/GSL.SP.2007.273.01.07.
        • USGS Orphan Tsunami document with links to Japanese stories
      3. Pacific Northwest Native American accounts:
        • R.S. Ludwin, G.J. Smits, D. Carver, K. James, C. Jonientz-Trisler, A.D. McMillan, R. Losey, R. Dennis, J. Rasmussen, A. De Los Angeles, D. Buerge, C.P. Thrush, J. Clague, J. Bowechop, et al., 2007, "Folklore and earthquakes: Native American oral traditions from Cascadia compared with written traditions from Japan," Myth and Geology, Geological Society of London, Special Publications 273, no. 1 (2007): 67–94, doi: 10.1144/GSL.SP.2007.273.01.07.
        • E. E Clark, Indian legends of the Pacific Northwest, University of California Press, Berkeley; London, 2003 (Pages 7-8 and 12-15 are particularly relevant).
    • Lahars and Volcanic Eruptions
      1. Armero:
        • Summary of Armero Lahar from Vic Camp, SDSU
        • USGS description from Pierson et al., 1990
        • Thompson, D., Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
      2. Mount St. Helens:
      3. Santiaguito, Guatemala (1989) by USGS Geologist Jeff Marso
      4. Lake Taupo in New Zealand
      5. Masse, W.B., and Masse, M.J., 2007, "Myth and catastrophic reality: Using myth to identify cosmic impacts and massive Plinian eruptions in Holocene South America," Myth and Geology, Geological Society, London, Special Publications, v. 273, no. 1, p. 177–202, doi: 10.1144/GSL.SP.2007.273.01.15. (Pages 177-179 and 187-192 are particularly relevant.)
      6. Legend of Atlantis and eruption of Santorini from Vic Camp, SDSU
  • Information about scientists communicating risk in crisis situations:
    1. IAVCEI Subcommittee for Crisis Prot, and Newhall, C., 1999, "Professional conduct of scientists during volcanic crises,"Bulletin of Volcanology , v. 60, no. 5, p. 323–334, doi: 10.1007/PL00008908.
    2. Aspinall, W., and Sparks, R., 2004, "Volcanology and the Law," IACVEI News, v. 1, p. 4–12.
    3. Hall, S.S., 2011, "Scientists on trial: At fault?": Nature, v. 477, no. 7364, p. 264–269, doi: 10.1038/477264a.
    4. Stein, S., and Geller, R.J., 2012, "Communicating uncertainties in natural hazard forecasts," Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, v. 93, no. 38, p. 361, doi: 10.1029/2012EO380001.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »