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Taking advantage of learning opportunities at Yellowstone

August 27, 2018

Over the past 8 months, Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles articles have explored many topics about Yellowstone, from the history of the Park to recent earthquake and geyser activity. How can teachers pull this science into the classroom?

The UNAVCO teaching module "Yellowstone National Park as a Hotbed for Inquiry" provides an example that uses problem-based learning to investigate the natural hazards of the world's first national park.

This lesson, set amongst the geological and biological marvels of Yellowstone National Park, offers instructors a way to teach their students about the science of Yellowstone volcanism, geysers and other hydrothermal features, seismicity, plate tectonic hot spots, the ever-changing motion of the ground, geological monitoring, and how the work of scientists can inform decisions made by non-scientists. The educational activity takes advantage of real-time and recent data collected by YVO partners to monitor geological changes and events in the Park. Students tackle a realistic problem in small teams: where could Yellowstone National Park place a research station that is not too close to the natural hazards of the park, while also being near an existing road?

To address this problem, students combine the Plate Boundary Observatory's high-precision GPS data with information on Yellowstone's past earthquakes and eruptions, hydrothermal activity, volcanic gases, and cultural features such as roads and lodges to site their proposed (fictitious) research station within the park. They work in small groups to learn about monitoring volcanoes, forecasting volcanic eruptions, and analyzing geophysical data. As a team, they create and then present their argument to justify their final choice of location for a research station to classmates. This challenge requires pattern recognition, reading graphs and maps, constructing explanations, team discussion, and collaboration. Yellowstone provides an ideal and captivating setting for students to pull together the skills they have learned about the practices of scientists, nature of science, and crosscutting concepts.

This is a chart of vertical deformation at GPS station WLWY during 2001-2018
Data from continuous GPS stations indicate how the ground is moving over time. Station WLWY, near White Lake on the Sour Creek resurgent dome in Yellowstone caldera, has been operating since 2001. This plot shows vertical ground motion recorded at the site. The area experienced subsidence during 2001-2004, uplift in 2004-2009, subsidence in 2009-2014, uplift during 2014-2015, and subsidence in 2015-2018. Quite the dynamic place!

If you would like to follow the Yellowstone deformation story yourself, all GPS data from the region are publically available. You can find GPS displacement plots on the new and improved YVO Monitoring Map by clicking on any of the star symbols (which represent GPS stations). Alternatively, explore Yellowstone ground motions through the UNAVCO Velocity Viewer by zooming into the region, selecting Station labels and data download and Show all markers then Draw Map to view GPS data; or through the Nevada Geodetic Laboratory interactive map by zooming in on the Yellowstone region and clicking on individual stations. Want more information on how to read the data? Visit Yellowstone station WLWY, one of the longest-running stations in the Park, on the GPS Spotlight page. We invite students of all ages to learn about the dynamic motions of Yellowstone's caldera!