SSBW - Python Tutorial 5: ObsPy and the 2018 Kilauea Eruption

Mike Brudzinski, Miami University-Oxford
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Initial Publication Date: August 18, 2021


In this interactive tutorial built for a learning management system, students 1) practice using the basic syntax of Python commands, 2) use the functionality of the ObsPy library to load, plot, and analyze data or metadata 3) use the ObsPy library to create stream objects for seismograms, and inventory objects for metadata, 4) evaluate seismograms to estimate seismicity rates, and 5) identify key timing and locations of events associated with the 2018 Kilauea eruption.

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The IRIS Seismology Skill Building Workshop (SSBW), which is a free, online, open-access, large-enrollment, 12-week summer workshop for upper level undergraduates.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This assignment builds on prior experience using basic Python command syntax and variables, the seismological syntax of network, station, channel, and location codes for specifying a given recording, basic components of the ObsPy library (stream and inventory objects, Client functions), and the ability to retrieve relevant information about programming and seismology from internet research or help pages.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is assignment number 29 of 35 in the Seismology Skill Building Workshop (SSBW).


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Proficiency with Python, ObsPy, object structures, seismicity rates, and seismicity associated with eruptions.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Retrieving relevant information from digital sources to accomplish tasks, using correct programming syntax, evaluating and describing computing output in the context of science concepts.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will:
1. Identify the location of Puu Oo and its relationship to the Kilauea eruption in 2018 
2. Estimate the timing of the Puu Oo collapse in multiple time formats using UTCDateTime 
3. Retrieve an inventory of stations from the Hawaii Volcano Observatory network 
4. Plot a map of stations and identify the stations closest to the lower Puna eruption 
5. Retrieve waveforms from the closest station and make a traditional "drum plot" 
6. Estimate the change in seismicity rate from the "drum plot" seismograms 
7. Measure the time between Puu Oo collapse and the first detectable seismicity 
8. Calculate the apparent speed of lava flowing from Puu Oo to the lower Puna eruption site


Teaching Notes and Tips

This assignment was constructed in the Moodle learning management system, and has been exported in the GIFT format. More information about the syntax of this format can be found here:


This assignment is automatically graded by the learning management system. The number of questions of each type used are:
9 multiple choice questions
2 multiple answer questions
3 short answer (auto-graded) questions
14 numeric questions (geographic locations, output values, quantifying output, plot measurement, unit conversion, calculation)

References and Resources

During the Seismology Skill Building Workshop, students are provided with a virtual Linux machine that was tailored to include the software specifically needed to complete the assignments. This software is all freely available on the internet, but interested parties are encouraged to contact the instructor for access to this tailored virtual machine.