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Mt. Pinatubo and the Atmosphere

April King, Shane Berry, Bruce Howard, Challenger Center for Space Science Education

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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.

One or two 50-minute class periods, depending on whether background article and questions are done in or out of class.

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Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Instructors may want to kick off the activity with the volcanic plume analysis before they assign the reading at the beginning. Also, educators may want to access the additional links page to get students drawn into the subject matter and curious about Mount Pinatubo.
  • Educators might not choose to include the plume height images of the Iceland volcano.
  • Extension activity: compare the effect of different volcanic eruptions and the amount of aerosols in the stratosphere.

About the Science

  • Activity shows that cooling is significant because it happens during a time of a clear warming trend (cooling is clear sign of volcanic eruptions).
  • Map of global temperature anomalies shows an even more dramatic effect if compared to temperature anomaly maps over the years leading up the the Pinatubo eruption (most temperature anomalies from the 1990s are warming anomalies).
  • Comment from expert scientist: The images from the SAGE instrument are a nice visual for how volcano eruptions can impact global surface temperature.

About the Pedagogy

  • Well-organized and attractive handout for students. The fact that students are analyzing real data outweighs the somewhat worksheet-type format.
  • Students analyze three types of graphical data to determine the effect of volcanic eruptions on climate. Supported by sufficient background material, along with recommended readings on Mount Pinatubo.
  • Doesn't mention where Mount Pinatubo is located.
  • Comment from expert scientist: Need to emphasize that sulfate aerosols are primarily scatterers, otherwise students might get confused between absorbing and scattering. Removing discussion of absorption would be advised.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Plethora of additional background resource are provided for the educator on volcanoes and climate change. Well-organized teacher version, outlined with student worksheet.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN


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