Iceland and Hawaii: A comparison exercise for your classroom

Jo Coles

The on-going eruptions of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii have become a media sensation and prompted students around the country to pose questions to their geography teachers including:

“Is this causing global warming?”

“Will the volcano stop planes from flying?”

“Is this similar to that volcano from Iceland that no one can pronounce?”

Of course, volcanoes are a firm favourite subject for young geographers but how can teachers put the headlines and social media posts in context with other famous case studies that students are more familiar with.

Using the tables on the documents below, challenge your students to try the following activities:

1. Rank the most important 4 effects of volcanic eruptions in Hawaii.
Do the same for Iceland.
How and why are your lists different?

2. Explain why the effects of volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Iceland will be similar or different. Consider social, economic and environmental factors.

3. Use the information in the tables as a starting point for more detailed research into volcanic eruption events in Hawaii and Iceland.
How does volcanic activity in both areas compare? Can you explain similarities and differences between events?


Hawaii and Iceland


Some useful links: - for comparing the Bardarbunga lava flow scale to any location for relative size ESRI ArcGIS free mapping visual of Kilauea lava spread USGS map showing lava vs contours and thermal map Smithsonian Global Volcanism Programme volcano database, with detailed search ability for location, type of eruption, type of volcano, type of lava, etc. - Catalogue of Icelandic Volcanoes, easy to search for activity/context - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory - News reports of the damage caused by Kilauea


Jo is an enthusiastic and experienced Geography teacher, find her at or follow her @geodebs

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