Northeastern Section–41st Annual Meeting (20–22 March 2006)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


ROBISON, David, Wilson High School, 142 Lake Street, Wilson, NY 14172 and KLUGE, Steve, Earth Science, Fox Lane High School, Box 390, Route 172, Bedford, NY 10506,

The media coverage of the great Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami of 2004 provided the world with images that provoked sadness at the tragic loss of life, and awe at the incredible, destructive release of energy in a single, brief convulsion of Earth's crust. While earth scientists everywhere were eager to study the earthquake and deadly tsunami, the authors viewed the event as a teachable moment ripe with possibilities. Shortly after the quake, we began developing activities and supporting materials (web links, images, and our own web pages) that would introduce or reinforce understandings of the geologic principles involved and the connection between that science and technology and the lives of everyday people. The resulting downloadable exercise includes seismograms, maps, seismic wave travel time charts, and a world tectonic map customized for a good view of the Indian Ocean basin. Students analyze actual seismograms, calculate P and S wave travel time differences, and determine the corresponding epicenter distances, and plot them on a map. Using the data, students work backwards to determine the origin time of the quake. Careful students are rewarded with an accurate, pinpoint location of the epicenter on their maps, and origin times within a few seconds of the actual time. Accompanying questions lead to an examination of the nature of the plate boundary east of Indonesia, including the study of maps and cross sections, web resources provided by the USGS, and materials developed by us and posted on our web sites. Next, students study the nature of tsunamis and map the location of the advancing wave over a period of several hours. They also determine the average velocity of seismic waves that have traveled various distances, and are asked to reflect on the reasons for the observed differences. Finally, concluding questions require students to search for information regarding the human impact of the event The lab has been featured in the Earth Scientist, and is linked on Nova's tsunami and NASA's Global Climate Change web pages. To date, thousands of students in high schools and introductory college classes have already completed the exercise. Copies of the lab and supporting materials will be available at the poster.