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Educational Resources

Online tools

PBO H2O Data Portal uses GPS reflection data from NSF's Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) to study the water cycle: Snow Depth, Vegetation, and Soil Moisture at locations around the United States.

GPS Velocities Map. This Google-Maps based viewer shows the motions of Earth's crust as GPS geodesy station velocities overlaid on maps of the Earth's tectonic plates, USA active faults, earthquake locations, and volcanoes.


Educational Resources for GR6-12 and Undergraduate

GPS Spotlight

Provides an overview on how GPS works. The website is primarily for students in grades 8-undergraduate. It particularly focuses on how GPS is used in the geosciences, explaining how GPS is used to study faults, earthquakes, volcanoes, the atmosphere, and environmental signals. The Spotlight map provides real-world examples of GPS being used for geoscience research. Made in partnership with Kristine Larson, GPS Reflections Research Group, University of Colorado, and UNAVCO.

Visualizing Relationships Between Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Plate Boundaries in the Western U.S. Using EarthScope Jr.

Learners use the web-based data viewing tool, EarthScope Jr., or the included map packet to visualize relationships between earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate boundaries in the western United States. The instructor's guide, worksheet, and map packet are required for this activity; the computer instructions are required if using a computer. Includes the instructor presentation (in pdf and ppt formats), student worksheet, computer instructions, and map packet.

Exploring Plate Motion and Deformation in California Using GPS Time Series Plots: Lesson Plan

Students learn about Global Positioning System (GPS) data and time series plots then work with authentic GPS time series plots to determine the magnitude and direction of movement for given GPS stations, and calculate the amount of slip that occurred during the Parkfield earthquake. There are two activities included in this sequence:

  • Introduction to Reading Time Series Plots : This activity provides a brief introduction to GPS and provides a student activity to practice creating and reading time series plots with simplified GPS data. Students graph how a tectonic plate (and the GPS unit attached to it) has moved over a five year time period by moving a GPS model across a North-East coordinate graph. After this activity, students are ready to explore authentic GPS data.
  • Exploring Plate Motion and Deformation in California Using GPS Time Series Plots
    • Part I: Analyzing real time-series data of two GPS stations to determine plate tectonic motion
    • Part II: Investigate deformation at two GPS stations in California

Exploring Plate Motion and Deformation in Cascadia Using GPS Data

Designed as a large class (50+) exercise. Students work in teams of 4 to analyze GPS data to determine regional plate motion in the Cascadia (Pacific Northwest) region using authentic GPS time series plots.

Analyzing Plate Motion Using EarthScope GPS Data with the Pacific Northwest as a case study

Earth Exploration Toolbook Chapter: Learn how to use GPS to visualize plate tectonics in the Pacific Northwest. Students learn how to access GPS data, create Time Series Plots, plot velocity vectors on a map, and analyze regional plate motion.

Episodic Tremor and Slip in the Pacific Northwest: when is the next big earthquake?

Designed for middle school students, grades 6 - 8. Students explore episodic tremor and slip in the Cascadia region by using GPS Time Series Plots.

Taking the Pulse of Yellowstone’s “Breathing” Volcano: Problem-Based Learning in America’s First National Park

Middle School - High School version and Introductory Undergraduate version
In this activity, students learn about volcanism in Yellowstone National Park by focusing on its signs of volcanic activity: its history of eruption, recent seismicity, hydrothermal events, and ground deformation. They learn how scientists monitor volcanoes (using Mount St. Helens as an example) and then apply that as an open-ended problem to Yellowstone by identifying a site for a hypothetical research station. (formerly titled: Will It Blow? Monitoring Yellowstone's Volcanic Activity)

Infinitesimal strain analysis using GPS data: Module for structural geology or geophysics course

Understanding how the Earth's crust deforms is crucial in a variety of geoscience disciplines, including structural geology, tectonics, and hazards assessment (earthquake, volcano, landslide). With the installation of numerous high precision Global Positioning System (GPS) stations, our ability to measure how this deformation (strain) occurs has increased dramatically. Despite its importance to cutting edge geoscience research, GPS data is only rarely investigated in undergraduate courses. Most structural geology courses only cover finite strain (generally through the analysis of deformed fossils), missing the rich opportunity to investigate ongoing strain (infinitesimal strain) now measurable through methods such as GPS. This module introduces geoscience majors to using Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) GPS data in order to study infinitesimal strain and connect it to broader tectonic settings and hazards.


Animations and videos

What can GPS tell us about future earthquakes? [download the .mp4]: How does the land over a subduction zone move before, during, and after a great earthquake? This animation compares the subduction zone east of Japan with a mirror-image subduction zone across the Pacific—the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Using GPS, we can watch the surface of the Earth deform in response to the drag of one tectonic plate going under another. GPS stations along the coast of Japan had been moving to the west before the March 11, 2011 earthquake, and rebounded back to the east following the earthquake. Across the Pacific ocean, the shallow portion of the Cascadia plate boundary is similarly locked by friction, compressing the overlying North American Plate in a northeast direction during subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate. We see this in data from EarthScope's Plate Boundary Observatory, a network including more than 1000 continuous GPS sites managed by UNAVCO. Ultimately, the continental margin will rebound suddenly to the southwest as the stored elastic energy is released for the first time since the last great Cascadia earthquake on January 26, 1700.



GPS and earthquake early warning [download the .mp4]: What makes for an effective earthquake early warning system? With seismic data alone, we cannot determine the magnitude and rupture area of great earthquakes as quickly and effectively as we can with the addition of GPS data. In this animation, we see why Japan's earthquake early warning system underestimated the magnitude of the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku event, leading to underestimates of the earthquake's effects. Can we more effectively detect and describe a similar great earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone by using GPS data from EarthScope's Plate Boundary Observatory?



Animations and videos are made in partnership with EarthScope, UNAVCO, CEETEP, IRIS, and Volcano Video & Graphics.


Global Positioning System (GPS) Tutorials

LiDAR Tutorials and Resources

General GPS Education Materials

Educational Online Interactives and Games

Polar Power through the Night: In this Flash-based interactive exercise, students try their hands at designing a power system to run the GPS equipment through three years (including three polar nights!) of study and learn about the power needs of scientists doing research in extreme, polar environments and the important factors in powering remote, autonomous power and communication systems in Polar regions. Funded by the Polar MRI grant.

EarthScope Workshop - Interactive Field Trip

Valley and Ridge to Blue Ridge Province - Shenandoah National Park: Explore the central Appalachian Mountain belt and the Blue Ridge Province with Dr. Steve Whitmeyer of James Madison University and Dr. Chuck Bailey of the College of William and Mary in this virtual field trip.You can zoom in from outer-space, hear a brief overview of each field stop, and read a summary of the local geology Additionaly YouTube presentations from the EarthScope Workshop for Interpretive Professionals: Central Appalachian Region held at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia in March, 2012 cover Regional Geology and Tectonics of the Central Appalachians, Highlighting Virginia, an overview of the Central Virginia Earthquake, and a Sense of Place.

Active Earth Monitor

GPS Undergraduate Courses Taught by the UNAVCO Community
Principles of the Global Positioning Systems [12.540]: Thomas Herring, MIT
Introduction to GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems [ASEN 5090]: Penina Alexelrad, University of Colorado
GNSS Software and Applications [ASEN 6090]: Kristine Larson, University of Colorado

Last modified Tuesday, 25-Mar-2014 16:27:42 UTC