Icelandic Volcano - April 2010

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The Icelandic volcano of Eyjafjallajökull has been dominating the news over the last week, and continues to cause disruption to air travel, the tourist industry, and a growing number of other activities.

Many schools are missing teachers and students who are stranded abroad and, quite ironically, hundreds of UK geographers are stuck in the USA following the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

Here are a few suggested resources to support teachers who are responding to requests from students who want to find out more about the eruption. This is (yet another) opportunity to remind students of the vital significance of a geographical understanding of global events, and the interconnectedness of the world. It's also a reminder of how natural events can disrupt our lives so easily.

Alan Parkinson
GA Secondary Curriculum Development Leader

Volcano Media

  • Do a YouTube search for Eyjafjallajökull for a range of videos including one on how to pronounce the name of the volcano, which is rather difficult for those who aren't Icelandic. Plenty of dramatic pictures of the eruption, which might form the basis for some creative writing or art work.
  • View this animated image of the spread of ash with dates and times - this could be a useful resource for discussing the decision to close the air-space over Europe, and the nature of probability and forecasting.
  • Why not produce a 'set-list' of volcano related bands / songs? David Rogers put one together to play while his students were working. I suggested the Genesis classic 'Dance on a Volcano'.
  • Check out some amazing images by photographer Christopher Lund.
  • Look at this time lapse video of the volcano erupting.

Teacher produced resources

GA member Tony Cassidy has already stepped in with a great resource for starters, which is hosted on Slideshare. This includes some interesting activities which involve students mapping the impacts of the ash cloud, and producing chains of events.


View more presentations from TonyCassidy.

David Rogers used a range of media to teach his students about the volcano, ash cloud and travel disruption and has shared his ideas on his blog. He also talks about the importance of being a 'connected' teacher when events like this happen to allow teachers to source interesting ideas quickly.

Richard Allaway has produced a full lesson resource called GeoCommand based around the Eyjafjallajoekull eruption and ash cloud. He has also made all of the associated documents, including a large PowerPoint resource and student worksheets, available via his Geography All The Way website.


Why not use the stories of people and how they are affected to come up with a list of mystery titles..

Why is Mr Wolton stuck on the island of Kyushu?

Why did Mrs Hamilton have to go without her pineapple chunks?

Why is Mr Finch worried about his empty pill bottle?


Simon Oakes has added a range of thoughts on the EDEXCEL community forum which consider the impacts a little more deeply.

For example, here's Simon talking about the use of the disaster equation:

'For an event of this scale, the disaster potential is higher than it would have been during the last eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 1821. This is because the widespread use of jet airplanes has greatly increased western society's vulnerability. The dust is in the upper atmosphere and would not impact on our lives were it not for the fact that we now routinely travel through this region whenever we fly. Aeroplanes are vulnerable to the ash (if it enters their engines) and must be grounded while the ash is overhead. The economic impacts are, as a result, enormous. The costs to business, tourism etc. are really adding up. Some British rock bands have even had to cancel their international tours! Also worth noting that past events of this type have sometimes led to fatalities due to the poisonous nature of the gas. "The eruption at Laki in Iceland in 1783 could be an awful precedent. That emitted an estimated 120m tonnes of sulphur dioxide and a vast quantity of extremely fine dust, which caused a persistent haze across western Europe for many months - and is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people through respiratory and other illness." (FT, 16 April)'

There's also an interesting discussion on the TES Community Forum which might prove to be a useful starting point for discussions on the impact of the ash as it affects schools.

What is the impact in your school?


A useful focus for lesson planning could be to start with the individual, followed by the school, followed by the town/city, then the UK and the wider implications for the EU economy.

Are there any positive outcomes from this event?

Which companies are beginning to offer special deals for those people who are stuck far from home?

One area that would connect with the themes in the 'Into Africa' KS3 Geography Teachers Toolkit book would be to consider the impact on the Kenyan flower industry - this is one example of an industry which responds to very time-specific deadlines and is therefore vulnerable to delays in travel. See this BBC News report for further information.

Compare the impact of the delays on a Kenyan farm worker, and a mother with two young children at an airport terminal in Portugal. Who is potentially 'affected the most'?

Physical geography

Don't forget the physical geography behind the disaster. The particular circumstances of this eruption are important. Hot volcanic rock passes through overlying ice as it emerges from beneath the earth, which produces fine ash which is potentially damaging to aircraft engines. This is partly down to the heat of the engines melting the ash. There is more on the nature of the ash on the BBC website.

Students could produce a sequence of diagrams, or a short script for a video which explains the need for caution when planes fly through volcanic dust. Use the story of BA Flight 009 from 1982 as an illustration of what can happen.

A million stories

A Twitter search on the term 'volcano stuck' (or similar combinations) brings up a stream of thousands of individual stories about people in numerous cities whose travel plans have been brought to a halt by ash drifting through European airspace. (Please note that some of these messages may contain language that is unsuitable for use in the classroom, so they may need to be moderated before use)

  • Use the stories for literacy activities: write diary entries, final texts before mobile phone batteries run out of charge, emails or blog posts to/from those who are affected.
  • What would you do if you were trapped in location X? Plot an alternative route home.

There's also Ian Hardie's personal account of being evacuated from his house in Southern Iceland, and some of his excellent Flickr photos on the SAGT website. See the SLN Forum discussions for more on this personal story.

Other resources

  • Plane or Volcano infographic - This diagram compares the CO2 emitted by the volcano with that saved by the grounded planes and could prove a useful focus for discussion.
  • The GEarth Blog has provided a link to a GOOGLE EARTH KML file of the ash cloud (this is a large image which may take a long time to load).
  • A number of discussions are currently taking place on the SLN Geography Forum, such as this one which contains links to various shared resources.
  • BBC 'Volcanic Ash Cloud' - A compilation of news reports, videos, photographs, personal stories and live updates.
  • Met Office - Icelandic volcano satellite and other imagery.
  • NASA - NASA satellites capture images of Eyjafjallajökull's Ash Plume
  • Geography in the News - a comprehensive selection of links to videos, images and articles about the volcano and its impact


Safe travelling wherever you are...

If you have a story about the volcanic ash, please add your story to the discussion thread on the GA Ning. If you'd like to suggest a resource for this page, please contact Anne Greaves.


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