Are You in a Hotspot?

This page authored by Judy Harden, University of South Florida.
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Initial Publication Date: August 23, 2007


This activity is a PowerPoint module designed to help students differentiate hotspot island chains from volcanic island arc systems. The focus sights for this activity are the Society Island hotspot chain and the Caribbean island arc system. Using map images, students are asked to describe and differentiate the topography and geologic features of the two tectonic settings. Vertical exaggeration and topographic profiles are introduced for each site. Students compare the difference in volcanism and seismicity of the two locations. This activity can be used as a lecture enhancement or as a homework or lab exercise.

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Learning Goals

Students should learn or review basic map skills such as latitude/longitude, vertical exaggeration, map scale, area, and topographic profiles. Students will also review basic math through unit conversions, vertical exaggeration calculations, and percentage. Students will analyze map images with details of volcanism, seismicity, and relief profiles to discern between oceanic convergent plate boundaries and intraplate island hotspots.

Context for Use

This activity is intended for use in an introductory physical geology or oceanography course, after students learn about plate tectonics. A background in map reading is helpful. The module does not require any program downloads, unless the student does not already have PowerPoint or Excel on their computer. (PowerPoint Viewer can be downloaded at no charge.) A template is included to allow for more uniform grading. Students should work through the activity in one to two hours time. The activity would be easily adapted to other tectonic settings. As an additional learning activity, students can be asked to download GeoMapApp to choose their own "hotspot" and volcanic island arc system for analysis.

Description and Teaching Materials

Provided is the student version of the PowerPoint activity. An instructor version is available.
Are you in a Hot Spot? (PowerPoint 1.1MB Apr7 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This module will be tested during the Fall 2007 semester in a section of Introduction to Physical Geology at the University of South Florida. Practical tips and pointers should be noted here after completion of the exercise.


A rubric will be used to grade the exercise. A pre-test will be used as a formative assessment, and a post-test given one week after the due date of the exercise will be used as a summative assessment.

References and Resources