Science Challenges

Mount Pinatubo Lesson

Mount Pinatubo 91: The Blast Heard ‘Round the World

Unit Overview: In this series of four lessons, students examine the event-to-sphere and sphere-to-sphere interactions in relation to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines. They address concepts such as: volcanism, plate tectonics, subduction, global climate effects (temperature and aerosols), mud slides and risk mitigation. Activities include: use of Google Earth, tracking ash plumes on a map, reading topographic maps, tree ring analysis, practice at reading qualitative data, and graph interpretation. The lithosphere lesson should be completed first and the others may be completed in any order. Each lesson has components for younger learners as well as options for more advanced students. Two of the activities make use of computers.

Mount Pinatubo and the Atmosphere
In this lesson, students explore several facets of the impact of volcanic eruptions on the atmosphere. Students analyze three types of visual information: a graph of aerosol optical depth v. global temperature, a global map with temperature anomalies, and an ash plume photograph. In the hands-on activity students use math to determine the rate and estimated time of arrival of an ash plume at an airfield.
(zip, 1.3 MB)

Mount Pinatubo and the Biosphere
Students read an article about the impact of volcanic eruptions on the biosphere: geology, subduction, how temperature changes affected the biosphere, and the human impact. Students take notes on event-to-sphere interactions. Students are introduced to the science of dendrochronology and examine the impact of a volcanic eruption on tree rings. Advanced students may optionally read a short article on the relationship between carbon dioxide (CO2) and photosynthesis and analyze two graphs showing the differences between expected CO2 and actual CO2 after the eruption. (zip,1.6 MB)

Mount Pinatubo and the Hydrosphere
This lesson is fundamentally about the on-going damage created by natural hazards. In this lesson, students see how Earth events impact Earth’s spheres and sphere changes affects other spheres. Students read an article and answer questions about how lahars form, the damage they do and mitigation efforts. Next, students analyze both printed and Google Earth topographic maps and predict where lahars will form. They compare their predictions to NASA images. (zip, 822 KB)

Mount Pinatubo and the Lithosphere
Students are introduced to the Earth System Science model. In this model, Earth events impact Earth’s spheres and sphere changes affect other spheres. Students read an article about the impact of volcanic eruptions on the lithosphere: constructive and destructive forces, the rock cycle, how volcanoes work, earth’s layers, tectonic plates, and volcanic landforms. Students answer review questions, take notes on event to sphere interactions and use a map to examine landforms associated with subduction of tectonic plates. Optional activities include learning about qualitative data analysis and using Google Earth to look at the landforms near volcanoes all over the world. (zip, 2.1 MB)


Updated November 2011