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Supervolcano lessons a hit for Hilltop students - 15/08/2018

Scientist Dr Ben Payne from GNS Science was slightly apprehensive when he entered Room 8 at Hilltop School in Taupo last Wednesday. He was there to run an outreach programme with students as a pilot study for an education component of a research project.

Ben’s visit introduced a science learning module for Year 3 and 4 students at Hilltop School to get their interest in geology and volcanoes humming.

His apprehension was not because he didn’t know what he was going to talk about. It came from teacher Helen Gibson informing him in the staffroom beforehand that there were about 80 eager 7- and 8-year-olds and several teachers waiting to learn the nitty-gritty about different types of volcanoes and where they are found.

Ben Payne of GNS Science shows students at Hilltop School in Taupo a lump of pumice during an interactive session on the supervolcanoes of the Central North Island. Photo – Helen Gibson, Hilltop School

Ben Payne of GNS Science shows students at Hilltop School in Taupo a lump of pumice during an interactive session on the supervolcanoes of the Central North Island. Photo – Helen Gibson, Hilltop School

Ben was impressed with the students’ level of knowledge of volcanoes. When he presented a large chunk of pumice for them to lift, weigh and float, several explained that they had pumice at home, or had seen this on Lake Taupo.

“They were pretty taken aback when I explained that all the air bubbles and the lightness of the pumice told the story of how explosive the eruptions from the Taupo region could be,” Dr Payne said.

“This was possibly the strongest take-home message from our session at the school. There was a lot to talk about and interesting things to see, but I think the students were surprised at the very long history of explosive eruptions from the Taupo area going back about 300,000 years.”

The research project that Ben is part of is called ‘Eruption or Catastrophe: Learning to Implement Preparedness for future Supervolcano Eruptions’, or ECLIPSE for short. It is aimed at better preparing New Zealand for future eruptions of the Central North Island supervolcano complex.

It is a government-funded project that is led by Victoria University of Wellington and GNS Science, plus a number of partner organisations. This includes other universities, local communities and iwi groups, the Caldera Advisory Group, Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, local Civil Defence and Emergency Management Groups and EQC.

These partners are working with Central North Island communities to help them understand uncertainties in the science of forecasting eruption events, as well as helping them better prepare for such emergencies. Resources for the education component will be developed throughout the programme so that all students in the Central North Island can learn more about the local Supervolcanoes.