The Mount St. Helens Institute, in collaboration with scientists and educators from US Forest Service, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and Western Washington University, have created a series of online lessons wherein students use realistic geologic data from Mount St. Helens to uncover what is happening inside a volcano and what the volcano might do in the near future. Students will observe and interpret patterns and changes in a volcano’s shape, gas emissions, and seismic activity and use their interpretations to forecast volcanic activity!

The first three may be completed in any order, as they independently trainstudents on three types of volcanic monitoring techniques. The fourth lesson (Forecasting an Eruption), requires students to synthesize the knowledge they gained about these three monitoring techniques in order to forecast volcanic activity; the fourth lesson should be used only after the first three are completed.

Volcano Deformation
Volcanic Gas Emissions
Volcano Seismicity
Forecasting an Eruption


Disciplinary Core Idea: A variety of hazards result from natural processes; humans cannot eliminate hazards but can reduce their impacts.

Humans cannot control volcanoes and the hazards they pose, but they can keep a close watch on a volcano through volcanic monitoring. Should activity at a volcano increase and pose danger to those living in its shadow, scientists can use their knowledge to inform decision-makers when there is an increased chance of danger. In doing so, they can help prevent a volcanic eruption from becoming a volcanic disaster.

Cross-Cutting Concepts: Observing Patterns, Cause and Effect, Stability and Change

Volcanoes are dynamic systems and changes seen in volcanic monitoring measurements can be reflective of important changes happening within a volcano. In these activities, students are presented with realistic data sets and are given the tools and knowledge they need in order to interpret the meaning patterns and changes in a volcanic system, just as real scientists do!

Science and Engineering Practices: Analyze and Interpret Data, Engage in an Argument from Evidence

In the final activity, “Forecasting An Eruption,” students will “set the hazard level” based on their interpretation of several types of contemporaneous monitoring data, which is the real-life manifestation of “engaging in an argument from evidence” that real scientists do!