Last week, I started a mini-blog series on lesson ideas inspired by my visit to an Icelandic greenhouse. You can read about the greenhouse in my first post and review Ecosystems related curriculum concepts in my second post.

Today, I’ll move to the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS) topic of Natural Hazards.

At the Fridheimar greenhouses, geothermal processes are used for heat and electricity. The geothermal availability in Iceland is due to its high concentration of volcanoes. These volcanoes are instrumental to providing affordable and renewable energy but they also pose significant risks of natural hazards to the Icelandic people.

The uniqueness of the Icelandic geography can be used to illustrate volcano energy and hazards to students. This video, while a bit dated, provides a great overview of the natural forces and geography that cause the high concentration of volcanoes in Iceland. And this website provides a list of volcano eruptions that have taken place in Iceland. Most of these eruptions are minor but some have significant impact on humans. For example, the eruption of the Grimsvotn Volcano in 1996 caused melting of the Vatnajökull ice sheet that resulted in a Jokulhlaup (glacier-flood) that caused evacuations and flooding damage. While the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in 2010 resulted in the grounding of European flights for 6 days due to the volcanic ash in the air.

For this lesson, you can have students review the videos and articles mentioned above. Armed with this information, students are then prepared to meet the NGSS ESS3-2 standard of ‘forecasting future catastrophic events and informing the development of technologies to mitigate their effects’.

Using historical eruption data, students can build data models for predicting the timing and intensity of the next volcano eruption in Iceland. As a complementary hands-on activity, students can build a clay model of an area of Iceland geography and use a block of ice to represent a glacier in that model.  Then students can use food dye colored hot water to simulate lava from a volcanic eruption. By pouring that hot water on the glacier students can see the impact of the Jokulhlaup on the surrounding terrain, infrastructure, and housing areas. Students can then add structures to their model to protect infrastructure and housing areas from damage in future events. They can use a second block of ice and more ‘lava water’ to then test their structures’ abilities to protect surrounding areas from the natural hazard of a volcano.

While admittedly the hands-on portion is not easy to pull off, it would be very memorable for students and really reinforce the natural hazards concepts that they are learning about.

Check back next week for my third and final lesson plan in this four-part blog series.