Background Content Information
Volcanoes emit molten lava, clouds of ash and smoke, and various gases. Large eruptions spew out tons of material and vast clouds of ash. Active volcanoes can also emit smaller amounts of lava and gases on an ongoing basis as they slowly “simmer” before or after larger eruptions.
Many volcanoes have a large, central caldera from which large eruptions flow. Most volcanoes also have multiple, smaller side-vents that also emit gases. Scientists monitor activity levels at these smaller vents to help predict when a larger eruption is imminent.
Volcanic Gases & Aerosols
Water vapor is the most abundant gas emitted by most volcanoes. Some especially violent eruptions occur when hot lava comes in contact with groundwater or ocean water. The lava quickly turns the water to steam, and the rapid expansion of the steam can cause enormous explosions. Volcanoes also emit steam, in a less dramatic and ongoing fashion, from side vents as well as from the main caldera.
Most volcanoes also emit carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. Sulfur dioxide can chemically react with water vapor to create sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid can be washed out of the air and fall to the ground as acid rain. Large eruptions can propel sulfuric acid high into the stratosphere, where cold temperatures cause it to condense into tiny droplets called sulfate aerosols. Sulfate aerosols from very large eruptions can persist in the stratosphere for a few years. Aerosols in the stratosphere reflect away a small amount of the incoming sunlight, slightly cooling Earth. Exceptionally large eruptions can lower global temperatures by half a degree for two or three years.
Scientists use the term “aerosol” as a catch-all phrase for many types of small liquid droplets or tiny solid particles that are light enough to remain airborne for long times. Volcanic ash is a type of solid aerosol that can remain in the atmosphere for weeks or months. Volcanic ash is made of small particles of rock - basically a fine powder - blasted out of a volcano. Volcanic ash is hazardous to aviation because ash sucked into jet engines can disable or destroy the engines during a flight.
Volcanic Hazards to Humans
Large flows of molten lava and enormous, explosive eruptions present obvious hazards to people who live near volcanoes. Volcanoes can also endanger people with clouds of hot gases or sudden floods of debris. Scorching everything in its path, a pyroclastic flow is a fast-moving cloud of extremely hot volcanic gas and ash that hurtles down a volcano’s side faster than a speeding car. A lahar is a sudden flood of mud, ash, and debris that is triggered by a volcanic eruption. Volcanoes are often tall mountains with snow that melts catastrophically when a hot eruption occurs, unleashing sudden, large floods of water, mud, ash, and other debris such as trees.
Volcanoes in or near the ocean can trigger tsunamis when they erupt. Volcanoes near water can also set off huge steam explosions when a smaller eruption breaks open a path for large quantities of water to pour onto molten lava. This causes an enormous blast when the water expands as it turns to steam. Volcanic eruptions can also set off earthquakes.
Some examples of well-known volcanic eruptions that affected human populations include the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (that destroyed Pompeii), Mount St. Helens, Krakatoa, Tambora, Nevado del Ruiz, the Soufrière Hills volcano on Montserrat, and Mount Pelée on Martinique.
The types of sensors represented in this game, and the aspects of volcanic activity each can detect, are briefly described below:
- Aerosol Sensor: Detects tiny volcanic ash particles. The drone needs to fly through the ash cloud to allow the aerosol sensor to detect the ash.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Sensor: Detects carbon dioxide gas, which most volcanoes emit. The drone needs to fly through the gas plume. The gas could be coming from the main caldera or a minor side-vent.
- Humidity Sensor: Detects water vapor, which many volcanoes emit. The drone would need to fly near a steam plume, which could come from either a smaller side vent or the main caldera.
- Infrared (IR) Thermometer: Measures temperature from a distance by detecting infrared radiation. Can detect hot ground with lava flowing beneath the surface.
- Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) Sensor: Detects sulfur dioxide gas, which many volcanoes emit. This is the “rotten egg smell” gas that many geologically active features, such as hot springs and geysers, give off. The drone needs to fly through the gas plume to sense sulfur dioxide. The gas could be coming from the main caldera or a side-vent.
- Navigation Camera: An inexpensive, relatively low-resolution video camera that allows the pilot to see where the drone is going. It is good enough to spot basic features on the volcano, such as pools of lava in the caldera, clouds of ash or smoke, or new vents forming on the volcano’s sides. It is similar in quality to a GoPro camera.
- Hi-Res Video Camera: A higher-quality video camera that captures high-resolution images. Capable of spotting even small details in its views of the volcano.
- Infrared (IR) Camera: This video camera captures images in infrared (IR) “light”, which allows it to “see” heat. It is helpful for mapping sections of the volcano where molten magma might lie hidden beneath the surface of the ground. Normal cameras can spot bright orange lava when it flows on the surface, while an IR camera can detect hidden hot spots lurking beneath the surface.
Drones & Equipment
The data about the performance and cost of the drone, batteries, cameras, and sensors used in this game was derived from real-world sources. Some assumptions and simplifications were made when specific data was unavailable or, in some cases, to simplify the mechanics of game play. For example, we rounded the costs of all items of equipment to the nearest $50 to make it easier for the banker to make change during game play.
We patterned the drone in the game after the DJI Phantom 4, an extremely common consumer model that is widely used for aerial photography. We estimated its capacity for carrying instruments, in terms of weight, based on the weight of the camera systems typically used with the Phantom 4. To establish the relationship between the drone’s mass and the rate at which it uses the energy in its battery, we consulted a published “flight time vs. weight” graph for a high-end drone that can carry heavy cameras (up to 20 pounds!) and scaled-down those values to represent the smaller Phantom 4. The rate in the game at which the drone spends Energy Units from its battery, based on the payload mass, reflects this reasoning.
Representing the sensors did require a bit more artistic license in order to balance realism with simplicity of game play. For example, in reality scientists often attach several different sensors to a drone, and those sensors share some equipment such as a data storage system and a fan to suck in air samples. Therefore, a group of two or three sensors in a cluster using shared resources might weigh less than the sum of the individual sensors, assuming each individual sensor needs all of the same supporting infrastructure. To simplify game play, this weight savings by clustering multiple sensors is not reflected in the rules. However, the costs and masses of the in-game representations of instruments are relatively proportional to published price and performance data for actual sensors. A simple GoPro-level navigation camera weighs less and costs less than an infrared camera. A sensor for a gas like sulfur dioxide costs more than a basic humidity sensor. Similarly, advanced, lightweight batteries are available for many drone models, but tend to carry a premium price tag.
This game can be played solo or by a small group of 2 or 3 students using a single copy of the game. We recommend groups of 4 students per game setup, with each student responsible for one of four roles (Pilot, Engineer, Scorekeeper, or Banker). If you have several groups play at once, you can choose to allow them to compete with each other if you wish. The teams with the highest scores, the most Science Data Points collected during three flights, would be the winners.
Because of the number of boards, cards, and other elements in the game, students may need direct instruction and strong guidance at the start. Based on play-testing experience, most students become comfortable with the complexity after they have conducted one full mission to the volcano and back.
You can ease your students into the game by having all student groups “walk through” the process of equipping their drones and flying their first mission together as a whole-class exercise. For the first flight, tell all groups to configure their drones in the same way with a simple setup:
- Standard Battery
- Navigation Camera
- Humidity Sensor
Next, talk your student groups through a flight to the volcano, making sure each group completes each step before having the whole class move on. Aspects of the game to emphasize include:
- While flying to the volcano, get students used to the pattern of moving their drone marker on the Pilot’s Board, “spending” Energy Units from their battery each turn, and picking a Flight Event Card and reacting to it.
- While at the volcano, remind students that they must continue to spend Energy Units and pick a Flight Event Card each turn. Next, add in the notion of collecting Science Data Points based on the suite of instruments and cameras the drone is carrying. Also, students should draw Science Event Cards and determine whether they get bonus Science Data Points for having a matching instrument. Suggest to students that they spend about 5 or 6 minutes at the volcano gathering data. This should allow them to collect enough science data, which generates cash rewards, to be able to upgrade some of their equipment with better, more expensive items.
- Discuss with students how long they can safely stay at the volcano collecting data before heading home. They can make a simple estimate of how much energy is needed to fly home based on the number of Energy Units remaining in their battery, their rate of energy use which is determined by payload weight, and the fact that the flight home takes 5 minutes. Next, remind students that most of the Flight Event Cards seem to be bad news, often increasing the energy use rate. Suggest that students might want to leave a “margin of safety” in their decision about when their drone needs to head homeward, to account for the likely (though unpredictable!) bad luck of the Flight Event Cards.
- While flying back from the volcano, the pattern of game play is the same as for the flight to the volcano. Move the drone marker, spend Energy Units, draw a Flight Event Card.
- At the end of the flight, remind students to record their Science Data Point tally on their scoresheet, then explain how much money they get as a reward for data points. Tell students that they are free to make their own choices about equipment on the second flight, and remind them that they can upgrade to better items if they have enough money. If any groups crashed on the way home due to running out of battery power, explain to the class how their Science Data Point tally is reduced and that they must spend money on repairs.
After the first flight, your students should be comfortable enough with the rules that they can focus on strategy. They will also be familiar with some key details of the game, such as the predominantly negative outcomes of the Flight Event Cards and the need to keep the payload light to allow for a longer stay hovering over the volcano collecting data.
After each flight, conduct a whole-class discussion, encouraging students to compare and share their strategies and experiences during that round. After the first run, where you told them which equipment to choose, they will mostly describe the events they encountered, how much data they collected, and whether they made it back to base. After the second and third flights, their descriptions should also explain their strategies for equipment choices and how those choices worked out.
Game Play Tips
It is important to allow students to experiment, and sometimes fail, in the choices they make within the game. However, it is also important to keep students from becoming “stuck” or frustrated. Here are some “coaching tips” that you might want to be ready to supply as you observe students playing:
- It is vital to keep the drone’s payload mass fairly low. A high mass forces a high rate of energy use, which prevents a long stay at the volcano. The easiest way to rack up Science Data Points is to spend several minutes at the volcano. Most students are prone to adding too many sensors to their drone, weighing it down.
- Students can do a little math to estimate when their drone is running low on energy and should leave the volcano to head towards home. They may need some coaching to realize that they should leave a margin of safety in this estimate, to account for the unpredictable but usually negative influence of the Flight Event Cards. A good rule of thumb is to assume that, on average, the effects of Flight Event Cards tend to cost about one extra Energy Unit per minute.
- Sometimes, “more expensive” is not better. The High Capacity Battery is a false promise. It seems like a deal since it is only slightly more expensive than the Standard Battery and provides 10 more Energy Units. However, its mass is also 100 grams more. In most cases, this results in spending one extra Energy Unit every minute. Since the flight time to the volcano plus the time to get home adds up to 10 minutes, this battery rarely pays off.
- Having two or more different types of sensors increases the odds of drawing a Science Event Card that provides bonus points because it matches at least one of your sensors. Because of this, two lightweight sensors might be better than one heavier sensor. Because it is so important to keep the payload mass low, students need to balance a desire for more sensors with the need to keep the total mass low.
- Most Flight Event Cards are bad news. This is realistic. Lots of things can go wrong when flying a drone.
Extensions & Variations
There are ways to make the game simpler, especially for the first time the game is played. These alternatives might be especially helpful for younger students.
- Before actually playing the game, conduct one or more “test flights” with partial rules, to help students gradually learn the full set of rules.
- Omit the Flight Event Cards and the Science Event Cards on the first test flight to simplify the rules. Then conduct a second test flight with the added complexity and randomness introduced by the two types of event cards.
- To make the initial test flight simpler still, don’t collect data at the volcano - just fly there and back. Then do another flight during which the drone collects Science Data Points.
- After the test flights, begin the real game with a clean slate, including starting money for equipping the drone.
There are also ways to extend or customize the game.
- Devise a different mission using the same rules and cards. Invent a scenario with a different natural hazard, such as flooding or wildfires. Make the flight to the hazard longer or shorter. Which sensors are still useful for hazards other than volcanoes? Use this approach to make the game more relevant to your specific location, especially if there are no volcanoes nearby.
- Include a different model of drone, or allow students to choose between different drones for their missions. Have students research the cost and performance capabilities for actual drones on the web. Have students determined appropriate game parameters for the drone models they add, such as cost and flight time and payload carrying capacity.