Volcano Project: Finding the truth about lava flows

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The Independent Online
Looking for volcanoes

This project was suggested because they are part of the curriculum, and come up in geography Key Stage 3 - "the global distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes and their relationship with the boundaries of the crustal plates ... the nature, causes and effects of volcanic eruptions ... human responses to the volcanic hazard".

Encarta CD-Rom, 9/10. Again, quite a number of good pictures plus a very good animation plus voice-over describing the magma swelling up and explosion noises in the background. There was also a map of the ocean floor showing the main areas of activity - directly answering part of the question - and more details on the "ring of fire" around the Pacific. Plus clear descriptions on lava flow, types of lava, types of volcano, etc. Geography teachers should come to know these entries well.

Encarta on-line, 3/10. A link to a Web site on world-wide vulcanism which in turn led to a large number of other sites, but some of these were misleading. "Volcanic hazards", for instance, led to the National Earthquake Centre, with nothing about volcanoes, let alone hazards, while "lava hazards" led to detailed maps of lava zones in Hawaii. We were also suddenly into quite serious academic research here - a promising link to "new article" led to "Volcanic ash: transport and dispersion interactive modeling".

Searching for "Volcanoes" in the library yielded 146 articles. Many were grouped under regions - Alaska, Hawaii, etc - but some of the other subject headings were, again, misleading. "Geology"" yielded a rather charming travel article on Hawaii, "appreciation of" produced an article that mentioned underwater volcanoes but had lots on jellyfish, while "causes of" led to an article on Venus.

World Book CD-Rom, 7/10. A fairly competent overview - different types of lava, tectonic plates, an animation of an eruption plus voice-over, links to geysers and hot springs. But not as many pictures as Encarta, and not as slick or as easy to navigate around.

World Book on-line, 6/10. A web link to the "biggest eruptions on earth" led to a good, lengthy article on Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, in particular, which also had useful stuff on volcanoes in general. Also a link to geothermal energy that I didn't follow.

The library threw up 30 articles, mostly about Montserrat, from such sources as the LA Times, Reuters, USA Today and Newsday. One had a detailed and vivid description of the abandoned capital, another contained Web links to the scientific monitoring station on the island, which has pictures of the smoking crater and academic reports for the last year.

The Web, 1/10. Putting "volcanoes" into a search engine came up with a depressing 29,000 hits, but one looked promising: "How to use the Internet to search on volcanoes". This led to further links such as "Volcano Watch Newsletter", and a hopeful-looking "Smithsonian Global Volcanism" page. But several links later I arrived at a full list of all the volcanoes active in the last 100,000 years, which was impressive but totally useless.

some searching suggestions

The Human Research Page This may sound like paradise after a boring and unfruitful trek through dozens of sites. You leave a question in plain English and real people do the research for you and then e-mail details of what they have found. And it's free. Dogpile automatically sends a query to about 20 search engines at once; Studyweb claims to be all you need for schoolwork. www. humansearch.com

Autonomy If you get serious about searching, try this "intelligent agent", that you install on your computer. You tell it in plain English what you want - "Isambard Brunel was a Victorian engineer who built bridges, tunnels and ships such as the Great Eastern". Then it searches the Web for sites that match that. Once it has shown you half a dozen sites, you tell it which you like, it goes and gets more like them, and so on. The idea is that its searches quickly become very precise. Trouble is, it's rather slow. www. agentware.com

Virgin Net This has a "Learning and Reference" section which, among other things, has a link to the Encyclopaedia Britannica on-line (cost about pounds 10 a month or pounds 200 for the CD-Rom). This is the most comprehensive encyclopaedia but a pretty stolid and expensive one. There is also a link to a wonderful site, The Victorian Web, with lots of clear and concise material on political and social aspects.


Parents Information Network, an independent national organisation helping parents to support their children's education using computers publishes, 'A Parents Guide to Computers supporting Homework', which they will send free to readers if they send an A4 sae for 39p to: PIN (Ind), PO Box 16394, London SE1 3ZP.