Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Forecast the Next Mauna Loa Eruption

Forecast the Next Mauna Loa Eruption

Stephen Ross Mattox

Grand Valley State University Department of Geology
Author Profile


Use inquiry-based learning centered on Mauna Loa eruptions to teach students about recurrence intervals and how to use data to make predictions on eruption events, vent location, and volume of lava emitted.

First, use cards to convey the concept of recurrence intervals. Have a student cut a deck of cards once per minute. Every time an ace is cut (analogous to eruption start), plot it on a graph. Repeat about 100 times then find the mean recurrence time. Then start looking at Mauna Loa data and guide students through the scientific thought process through a series of questions, allowing students to apply their math and map-reading skills to make testable predictions.

Learning Goals

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for upper-level secondary and lower-level undergraduate geology courses.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Since there is so much public-domain volcano data available, this activity can be centered around any active volcano.

Teaching Materials

The following materials are required:


When/if Mauna Loa erupts again, students can compare their results to see if they got it right.

References and Resources

Mattox, S.R., 1999, An Exercise in Forecasting the Next Mauna Loa Eruption, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 47, p. 255-260

Contact the Author

Please contact mattoxs@gvsu.edu with questions or suggestions.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology:Volcanology, Geoscience:Geology:Structural Geology:Structural Visualizations
Special Interest: Quantitative
Quantitative Skills: Problem Solving, Probability and Statistics:Probability, Graphs, Algebra
Quantitative Skills Activity Type: Lab Activity, Classroom Activity, Short Activity
Topics: Chemistry/Physics/Mathematics, Solid Earth:Structural Geology:Structural Visualizations (Maps/Air Photos/Images/Cross Sections/Projections), Solid Earth:Petrology:Volcanology
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Petrology, Structural Geology

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