Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Hazard Mitigation Practical: Predicting a Volcanic Eruption
Originator Phil Gravestock
Department GEMRU, Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education, Francis Close Hall, Swindon Road, Cheltenham GL50 4AZ
Tel. +44 (0)1242 543368
Fax. +44 (0)1242 543283

This practical introduces concepts which are difficult for students to appreciate, such as the length of time involved during a volcanic crisis, from the onset of precursor activity to the actual eruption, and the levels of personal stress involved.

The student class is split into smaller groups (c.6-8 students), and each of these groups has to act upon information provided in a series of activity reports for one of four volcanoes; with a large class one volcano may be tackled by a number of groups. The activity reports may be daily, or may skip a couple of weeks depending upon the activity of the volcano. In order to receive the next report the students are required to assign an alert level to the situation and consider whether it is necessary to evacuate any of the local towns/villages. Each volcano differs in the amount of information which is supplied (i.e. not all have a hazard mitigation map, some do not have SO2 emission data, etc.). The examples are all based, loosely, around actual eruptions, but have been disguised so that the students cannot anticipate what may happen. One volcano does not erupt, despite reasonable precursor activity. In order to reproduce the 'stress' levels involved, the students have a limited time in which to make a decision.

The practical lasts for c.1½ hours and has always received a very positive response, with many students commenting specifically that they had not fully appreciated the time-scale involved, or the fact that it is not always possible to have all the information required to make an accurate prediction. The most common 'errors of judgement' which are made include predicting an eruption too early; evacuating local towns/villages too early; and reducing the volcanic alert level too quickly when it appears that nothing is happening.

The full version of this practical is now available as a series of pdf files.


Group work
Hazard mitigation
Role play
Volcanic crisis

Volcano & Geohazard Resources:

Geohazard resources on the WWW
This information is part of John Gratton's geohazard Web pages at the University of Wales:Aberystwyth. John's home page also contains information about volcanic activity and environmental change.
Volcanology resources on the WWW
These resources have been compiled by the Institute of Earth Science at the University of Wales:Aberystwth, and consist of a comprehensive list of volcanological WWW sites.

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Practicals and Laboratory Work in Geography"

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Page created 3 February 1997
Page updated 2 October 1999
Database pages maintained by Phil Gravestock