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Exploring hot spot volcanism and a mysterious lake at the summit of Kīlauea using models, USGS data, and Hawaiian moʻolelo

This lesson introduces hot spot volcanism, the mysterious appearance of a lake in the summit of Kilauea, basic graphing skills using USGS data, and a STEAM component tied to native Hawaiian culture. This lesson is intended for elementary school grades 4-5, can be adapted to older grades, and is aligned to NGSS standards.

 

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Exploring hot spot volcanism and a mysterious lake at the summit of Kīlauea using models, USGS data, and Hawaiian moʻolelo

By Educational Resources

This lesson introduces hot spot volcanism, the mysterious appearance of a lake in the summit of Kilauea, basic graphing skills using USGS data, and a STEAM component tied to native Hawaiian culture. This lesson is intended for elementary school grades 4-5, is aligned to NGSS standards, and can be adapted for older grades.

Grades: 4-5 based on NGSS, but adaptable to older grades

Topics: Volcanic hot spots, groundwater, data analysis, volcanic hazards, Hawaiian culture

Length: 4 lessons, 20-30 minutes each

Objectives: After completing this series of activities, students should be able to:

  • Understand how hot spot volcanism created the Hawaiian Islands and why Hawaiʻi still has active volcanoes.
  • Develop and use models of hot spots and groundwater and understand USGS data.
  • Understand aspects of Earth science through art and traditional Hawaiian knowledge to explain phase changes and interactions between the hydrosphere and geosphere. 

NGSS Alignment:

  • 4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.
  • 5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

Materials Needed: The Teacher Guide includes background information and examples of student answers. The Student Worksheet provided below includes simplified background information and space to answer questions. This can be downloaded and printed or transferred to a digital classroom document.

  • Lesson 1: Foaming shaving cream, plastic mesh mat or screen (non-adhesive drawer liners work well), clean-up materials, Student Worksheet
  • Lesson 2: Plastic tub (shoebox-sized tub works well), sand, water, wire mesh piece (minimum size of a six-inch square), tape, Student Worksheet
  • Lesson 3: Student Worksheet
  • Lesson 4: Sketch paper and art supplies (colored pencils, markers, crayons) or digital drawing tools

Overview

In 2018 a volcano named Kīlauea, on the island of Hawaiʻi, had a large eruption that resulted in one of the largest collapses of its summit caldera in two hundred years. This eruption led to a doubling in size of the Halemaʻumaʻu  volcanic crater at the summit of Kīlauea. About a year later, a small pond was observed at the bottom of the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. The water level steadily increased over the next 17 months and the small pond grew into a very large lake. On December 20, 2020, a vent opened in the crater walls and lava poured into the bottom of the crater, boiling off the entire lake in a very short period of time (about 1.5 hours). These lessons help students build models and use data to understand the details of the formation and disappearance of the lake. Each activity can stand alone, but when done together and in order, can provide students with the broader concepts needed to grasp the full story of Kīlauea. Activity questions are designed to link the three dimensions of NGSS and push students to make connections to broader phenomena.

Lesson 1: Volcanic Hot Spot Model. Students explore plate tectonics and the formation of the Hawaiian Islands by modeling an active hot spot and exploring their model to understand why volcanism is still active on the island of Hawaiʻi. Students read the moʻolelo (stories) of Pele and Nāmakaokahaʻi providing exposure to traditional Hawaiian knowledge.

Lesson 2: Modeling Groundwater. Students build a groundwater model of the crater and investigate the interaction of the geosphere and hydrosphere. This lesson provides context to the concept of groundwater and its presence in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. Students build another simple model to visualize how groundwater moves.

Lesson 3: Understanding Real Data. Students make conclusions from a simple line graph and use USGS data to graph the lake formation.

Lesson 4: The Art of a Phase Change.  Students  illustrate how the addition of heat leads to the phase change of liquid water to water vapor. Then they make connections between the mo’olelo and the hot-spot formation they studied in Lesson 1 and explore their artistic side to create their own illustration representing the storied battle between the two sisters.

Vocabulary: ʻāina, ash, atmosphere, biosphere, caldera, geosphere, groundwater, hazards, hydrology, hydrosphere, lava, lithosphere, magmamantle, moʻolelo, Nāmakaokahaʻi, Pele, plate tectonics, vapor, volcanic hot spot, volcano, water cycle, water table, well. Find additional vocabulary in the USGS Volcano Glossary

 

Lesson 1: Volcanic Hot Spot Model

Teacher Recommendations: Students should be familiar with the location of the Hawaiian Islands, especially the island of Hawaiʻi, and should know that there are active volcanoes on that island. This activity is best done in pairs or groups of three.

Phenomenon: Volcanic eruptions are common in Hawaiʻi. The Earth’s surface is broken into plates that are constantly in motion and most volcanoes and earthquakes occur where these plates meet. Volcanoes can also form in the center of plates (away from where plates meet) when there is a constant source of heat below.  The Hawaiian islands are made up of volcanoes in the center of the Pacific (tectonic) Plate.

Inquiry/Guiding Questions: 

  • How did the Hawaiian Islands form? 
  • Why are there still active volcanoes on the island of Hawaiʻi? 

Setting the Stage with indigenous knowledge:

Moʻolelo: Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of energy; fire, lightning, wind, dance, and volcanoes. Pele is the younger sister of Nāmakaokahaʻi (Nah-maka-oh-kah-hi), the Hawaiian goddess of the ocean. Nāmakaokahaʻi was married to a sorcerer named Aukelenuiaiku, but he was not faithful. He fell for Pele and left with her across the ocean as she worked to build a home for them. The angry Nāmakaokahaʻi followed. Pele built a fiery island home, and Nāmakaokahaʻi  drowned it in her fury. So Pele moved and built another, and Nāmakaokahaʻi destroyed that one too. Each island that Pele built was later extinguished by the ocean swells of Nāmakaokahaʻi.

Finally, Pele built an island high enough that Nāmakaokahaʻi’s ocean waves could not reach the top, and there she dwells today in her volcanic homes of Halemaʻumaʻu and Mauna Loa on the island we now call Hawai’i. The epic moʻolelo of Pele and Nāmakaokahaʻi continues to be a source of knowledge that anchors the Hawaiian people to their ʻāina (land), genealogy, and history.

Procedure:

1. Have one person hold the mesh with both hands flat out in front of them and free from any surface. Before using the shaving cream, explain what you think may happen when magma (shaving cream) squirts upward toward the tectonic plate (mesh material).

2. Hold the can of shaving cream under the mesh and point it upward. Gently squeeze the nozzle to squirt a small amount of shaving cream upward into the mesh. What happened? Explain your answer.

3. Continue to squeeze the nozzle in short, gentle spurts as your partner slowly moves the mesh horizontally in one direction (right to left or left to right, not up/down). What happened? Explain your answer. 

Bonus Challenge: Clean off your mat and see if you can recreate the pattern of the Hawaiian Islands Chain! Use a map or globe to help you follow the pattern. 

Activity Questions: 

1. What do the shaving cream and the piece of mesh you used in this activity represent? 

2. Why do scientists use models like this one to explore natural phenomena? 

3. How did the Hawaiian Islands form? 

4. Why are there still active volcanoes on the island of Hawai’i? 

5. What does the story of Pele and Nāmakaokahaʻi tell us about the ages of the Hawaiian islands? How does that story match with your concept of how the islands formed (question 3)?

 

Lesson 2: Modeling Groundwater

Teacher Recommendations: Students should be familiar that there is water beneath Earth’s surface that fills cracks and holes and that it is known as groundwater. The top of the saturated zone is known as the water table.

Phenomenon: If you dig deep enough, you will find groundwater.

Inquiry/Guiding Questions:

  • Where does the water that fills a hole in the ground come from?
  • Where did the water that appeared in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater at the summit of Kīlauea come from?

Procedure: 

1. Fill the plastic tub with sand. Leave an inch or two unfilled at the top of the tub.

2. On one side of the tube, poke a hole, about a finger-width, all the way through the sand to the bottom of the tub to create a small borehole.

3. Roll your square of mesh into a tube, tape the mesh together, and place it into your newly-created borehole. This represents the Keller Well near the Halemaʻumaʻu crater The well is 1,262 meters (4,140 feet) deep and measures the level of the groundwater.

4. Slowly pour water into the other side of the tub. Add just enough water to saturate the sand, or so the spaces between the sand grains are full of water, but not so much that it pools on the surface.

5. What do you notice? 

6. What do you think may happen if you were to dig a small, shallow crater in the sand?

7. Dig a small, shallow crater  in the sand and observe what happens. This crater represents the one that grew when the crater collapsed at the summit of Kīlauea.

8. What happened when you dug the small crater? Was this what you expected?

Activity Questions:

1. Did water fill the crater immediately, or was there some time before water showed up in the hole? 

2. Why is the well helpful when exploring groundwater in your model? 

3. What do you think may happen if you put your sandbox outside and it rained? 

4. What do you think may happen if you put your sandbox outside and it didn’t rain? 

5. Groundwater is an important part of the water cycle. Draw and label a simple water cycle diagram that includes groundwater, surface water, clouds, precipitation, and evaporation.

6. The hydrosphere is all the water on Earth in the atmosphere. The geosphere includes Earth’s internal layers (core, mantle, and crust) and the rocks and sediments. How does your model show the hydrosphere and geosphere interacting? 

7. Would you expect to see water or lava in the crater at the summit of the Kīlauea volcano? Why?

 

Lesson 3: Understanding Real Data

Teacher Recommendations: Students should be familiar with meters as a unit of measurement (Metric System) and know that one meter is equal to 3.28 feet.

Phenomenon: Drawing pictures or making a graph can help explain natural phenomena.

Inquiry/Guiding Questions:

  • How do we know that the lake in Halemaʻumaʻu crater (Kīlauea volcano, Hawaiʻi) became larger and deeper over time?

Procedure:

Scientists use graphs to interpret data, much like the unlabeled line graph on the Student Worksheet and shown below. Use this graph (on the Student Worksheet and the Teacher Guide) to answer the following questions:

1. What do you notice about this graph? Explain your answer.

2. What other types of information would you need to better understand this graph? 

3. Now you will use real data (water depth measurements on specific dates) collected by scientists from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to make your own graph. The line graph has been started for you with the first five data points and an initial line. Continue graphing the lake depth for each month using the numbers in the data set below. Plot each data point, then connect the dots! Each date below is followed by the measurement of lake depth in meters (m). Note #1: Only one lake depth measurement per month is included here to make the data easier to graph. Note #2: Most scientific measurements are recorded using the Metric System, for example this data set uses meters instead of feet. One meter is equal to 3.28 feet.

4. Now you will use real data (water depth measurements on specific dates) collected by scientists from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to make your own graph. The line graph has been started for you with the first five data points and an initial line. Continue graphing the lake depth for each month using the numbers in the data set below. Plot each data point, then connect the dots! Each date on the Student Worksheet is followed by the measurement of lake depth in meters (m) on that date.

Using the graph you made, answer the following questions:

5. What does the line represent? 

6. Does the line go up, down, or stay level?  

7. Given your answers above, what do the data tell you about how the water level in Halemaʻumaʻu crater changed over time?

8. How is the graph you made more useful than a blank graph?

Activity Questions:

1. Scientists wondered if the water lake may have been created by rainfall. Do you think this is likely? Why or why not? 

2. Scientists wondered if the water lake was created by the slow infiltration of groundwater. Do you think this is likely? Why or why not? 

3. How could scientists test whether the lake was filled by rainwater or groundwater? 

 

Lesson 4: The Art of a Phase Change

Teacher Recommendations: Students should be familiar with the fact that there are three states of matter of water (ice, liquid, vapor) and that changing from one state of matter to another, often due to a change in temperature, is known as a phase change.

Phenomenon: Liquid water seems to disappear when heat is added.

Inquiry/Guiding Questions: 

  • If heat is added to a pot of water, what happens to the water?
  • What happened to the water in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater after the 12/20/2020 eruption? Why?

Procedure: 

1. Read the passage below aloud to your students, or have volunteers read it aloud.

Moʻolelo: Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of energy; fire, lightning, wind, dance, and volcanoes. Pele is the younger sister of Nāmakaokahaʻi (Nah-maka-oh-ka-hi), the Hawaiian goddess of the ocean. Nāmakaokahaʻi followed her sister through the Pacific, consumed with fury after discovering that Pele had taken Nāmakaokahaʻi’s husband for her own. Pele built the Hawaiian Islands, one fiery island home at a time, and each island she made was extinguished by the ocean swells of Nāmakaokahaʻi.

Pele’s success in establishing her current dwelling came when she reached the largest island, Hawaiʻi, where she made her volcanic homes of Halemaʻumaʻu and Moana Loa at high elevations above the reach of Nāmakaokahaʻi’s waves. The epic moʻolelo of Pele and Nāmakaokahaʻi continues to be a source of knowledge that anchors the Hawaiian people to their ʻāina (their land), genealogy, and history. In July 2019, Nāmakaokahaʻi began to fill the Halemaʻumaʻu crater in Volcanoes National Park with groundwater. On December 20, 2020, the large lake contained over one million cubic meters of water. On that day, Pele unleashed her fury of heat from lava into the newly formed lake and within about an hour and a half, her sister’s lake was gone and replaced with lava. Pele had won the battle, for now…

There are many moʻolelo about Pele and Nāmakaokahaʻi and this is just one interpretation of the stories. Additional moʻolelo can be researched independently or on this website from the National Park Service.

2. Continuing the mo’elelo of Pele and Nāmakaokahaʻi from Lesson 1: The two sisters remain engaged in a battle to this day. Whenever Pele’s lava moves toward the sea, Nāmakaokahaʻi is there to extinguish it, but she has not been able to reach the volcano’s summit, until recently. In July 2019, Nāmakaokahaʻi found a way to fill the Halemaʻumaʻu crater in Volcanoes National Park with groundwater. By December 20, 2020 the large lake contained over one million cubic meters of water, and Pele noticed. On that day, Pele unleashed her fury of heat from lava into the newly-formed lake and within about an hour and a half, her sister’s lake was gone and replaced with lava. Pele had won the battle, for now…

3.  As a class, watch the short video at: https://www.usgs.gov/media/videos/halemaumau-switch-water-lake-lava-lak…. Consider pausing the video at different times to observe each moment more closely. Discuss what your students noticed.

4. Think back to a time when you have seen a boiling a pot of water on the stove or perhaps over a campfire. Draw and use arrows to label what happened to the water when heat was added. Include the following vocabulary labels: heat source, water, boiling, steam, evaporation. 

5. Now that you have been introduced to the moʻolelo of Pele and Nāmakaokahaʻi, use colored pencils, markers, crayons and paper (or digital drawing tools) to draw your own version of the battle between the two sisters. Optional extension: Share your drawing with a classmate or someone in your family along with what you learned about the geology of the Hawaiian islands. 

This lesson was developed by Emily Sesno (USGS Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center Contractor) with contributions and reviews by Annie Scott (USGS Youth and Education in Science), Joel Truesdell (AEF Program Fellow), Elizabeth Westby (USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory) and Katie Mulliken (USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory).

 

 

 

 

 

   
Recent Kīlauea Eruptions

Recent Kīlauea Eruptions

Halemaʻumaʻu Video

Halemaʻumaʻu Video

Intro to Plate Tectonics

Intro to Plate Tectonics

Moʻolelo (Stories) of Pele (NPS)

Moʻolelo (Stories) of Pele (NPS)

Holo Mai Pele (The Journey of Pele, NPS)

Holo Mai Pele (The Journey of Pele, NPS)

USGS scientists Look to Hawaiian Chants

USGS scientists Look to Hawaiian Chants