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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI oceanographers share the exploration of volcanic environments via virtual reality

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Narragansett, R.I. -- February 5, 2004 -- University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography volcanologists Steven Carey and Haraldur Sigurdsson have been awarded a $73,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop Internet and CD-based virtual field trips (VFTs) dealing with different types of volcanic settings. The VFTs will use inquiry-based exercises to allow students to observe eruptive activity, make observations, and formulate hypotheses about volcanic processes.

Carey and Sigurdsson will develop a prototype virtual field trip about highly explosive eruptions that uses the 79 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy. Students will observe eruption footage that is typical of the 79 A.D. event, make observations about eruption impacts, and then visit the excavated cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum to build hypotheses about how each of them were buried by the eruption.
"As a result of the burial of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum," said Carey, "this eruption provides a unique opportunity for students to understand the impact of volcanic eruptions on human populations and the interesting relationship between the fields of volcanology and archeology.

"A primary goal of the VFT is to educate students about the impact of volcanic eruptions on the environment and to make them aware of the types of hazards that they pose to society," continued Carey.

A principal feature of the VFT will be the coupling of inquiry-based techniques with virtual reality panoramic photography to enable a unique level of interactivity between students and the electronic media.

The project will be evaluated by using undergraduate students at the University of Rhode Island who are enrolled in an introductory level volcanology/environmental science course.

Carey and Sigurdsson are internationally known volcanologists with global research experience, including extensive field work at Vesuvius and many other volcanoes. They are both professors and experienced educators who have taught an undergraduate course in "Volcanoes and the Environment" at URI for the past five years.

Assisting Carey and Sigurdsson in the application of pedagogical techniques will be Dr. Bette Erickson, assistant director of the URI Instructional Development Program. The development team also includes Roy Bergstrom of the URI IITS Department, two students in the Student Technology Assistants program, Elizabeth Mc Cabe and Anita Panse; and Sara Palmer, a graduate student in the Oceanography Department. Evaluation of the project will be carried out by Dr. Kathleen Guglielmi of the URI Education Department.

The URI Graduate School of Oceanography is one of the country's largest marine science education programs, and one of the world's foremost marine research institutions. Founded in 1961 in Narragansett, RI, GSO serves a community of scientists who are researching the causes of and solutions to such problems as acid rain, harmful algal blooms, global warming, air and water pollution, oil spills, overfishing, and coastal erosion. GSO is home to the Coastal Institute, the Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography, and the National Sea Grant Library.