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Mt. Pinatubo: Cycle B

Topic(s): No topics assigned.



1). Volcanic activity affects global temperatures, cloud cover, atmospheric composition, and local biota.

2). Although a volcanic eruption is a local or regional event, it can affect global climate patterns for years through ash and gas discharge.

3). Because the atmosphere is in balance, large scale additions of sulfur, carbon dioxide, ash, and other elements cause an imbalance and induce atmospheric change

4). Because of the interdependence of the different spheres, changes in the atmosphere due to volcanic eruptions bring about changes in the hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere

5). A volcanic eruption in part of the rock cycle - the cycling of rocks from igneous to sedimentary, to metamorphic and back to sediment.

6). Volcanic eruptions move massive amounts of rock and debris that is carried down hill and into waterways and oceans, effecting the concentration of CO2 and sediment.

7). Volcanoes do not occur randomly around the Earth - they mostly occur at plate boundaries to release heat from within the Earth.


Scenario: In early 1991, no one would have predicted that Mt. Pinatubo - a volcano that had been dormant for over 500 years - would explode in an eruption of historic proportions. The size and impact of the June 12-15 event was one for the record books, responsible for the deaths of 800 people and producing approximately 10 cubic kilometers of rock and ash - enough to bury the District of Columbia to a depth of about 39 meters (128 feet).

The event had obvious, immediate impact on tens of thousands of people. However, the worst impacts lasted for several years.

Huge amounts of volcanic gases -- mostly sulfur dioxide -- were ejected into the atmosphere during Pinatubo's eruption. The aerosols were distributed globally, producing phenomena ranging from spectacular sunsets to global cooling.

The view from space has allowed scientists to take measurements of the plumes of sulfur dioxide emitted by major volcanic eruptions--measurements impossible to obtain from the ground or even from aircrafts, which fly too low to capture the "big picture."

Satellite observations of the effects of Mt. Pinatubo aerosols on global climate have been used to support scientists' thinking about climate change and their ability to predict climate variability. For example, researchers at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City have applied their general circulation model of Earth's climate to the aerosol problem. They have reported success in correctly predicting that sulfate aerosols from Mt. Pinatubo's eruption would lower global temperatures.


Author: ESSEA Staff, IGES
(703) 312-0823



Date: 7/29/2007


Scenario Images

Mt Pinatubo Animation
Mt. Pinatubo Animation- Sulfur Dioxide
Click here to view movie

This animation shows sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere during the Mt. Pinatubo Eruption and for a few weeks after the eruption (June 16-30, 1991). Stratospheric sulfur dioxide (SO2) dissipates rather quickly compared to volcanic ash and stratospheric sulfuric acid (H2SO4). Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Scientific Visualization Studio

May take several minutes to load on slower connections. Tip for using in the classroom: download the animation to your computer.

Mt. Pinatubo
Mt. Pinatubo, Image Courtesy of NOAA



  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Structure of the earth system
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural hazards
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Energy in the earth system
        • Geochemical cycles
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth’s surface
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How physical systems affect human systems

Team Assignment
<Event Team Study

This cycle you and your Event Team will build on the sphere to sphere interactions you identified last cycle to synthesize them into causal chains or causal matrices. You will use the resources listed under Readings, discuss your ideas in the event team discussion space, and then submit your team's work to ESSEA for a grade.



  • Read about the scenario.
  • Review the Team Event Study Rubric.
  • Serve as a "Sphere Expert" to your Event Team.
  • Read your teammates' summaries about the other individual sphere effects.
  • Identify intersecting and overlapping effects in your event team discussion space. Refer to An Example of an ESS Analysis reading if you would like to review causal relationships.
Upload to ESSEA your team's most accurate analysis of the Earth System interactions with reasoning and support and complete the team rubric.
Deadline: Sunday, October 21 2018 11:59 PM (Eastern Time)
Upload Assignments

Earth Exploration Toolbook: Evidence for Plate Tectonics (Cycle B)
Through the use of the data visualization tool, My World GIS, users will construct a world map of evidence to support the Dynamic Earth Theory. After creating a base map and selecting three different lines of evidence from a data library, the user will make selections from the evidence in order to identify relationships among the datasets. By making these queries of fossil, volcano, and earthquake data, an evaluation for the support of the Dynamic Earth Theory can be made. For grades 7-9.
Difficulty: intermediate

1991 MT. Pinatubo (Cycle B)
A 2003 press release about a NASA-funded study that linked the 1991 eruption of the Mount Pinatubo to a strengthening of a climate pattern called the Arctic Oscillation.

Cascades Volcano Observatory (Cycle B)
Website of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), which includes Cascade Range Volcanoes - from Meager Mountain in British Columbia to Lassen Peak in California. Includes news and current status of Cascade Range volcanoes, background information, historical information (e.g., Volcanoes of Lewis and Clark), and more.

Michigan Technological University Volcanoes Page (Cycle B)
This website focuses on volcanic hazard mitigation.

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