Make a Seamount Trail in the Classroom

Learn about a hands-on activity that can help students visualize how a hotspot and a moving plate can create a seamount trail.

Kevin Kurtz's blog post “Seamount Motion in the Ocean” discusses how the slow movement of the Pacific Plate allowed the Louisville hotpot to create the Louisville seamount trail. There is an activity (developed by Leslie Sautter, a marine geologist at the College of Charleston) that can help students to see how that works in a hands-on way.

To do this activity, all you need are a couple of household items. One student is given a can of shaving cream to represent the hotspot. Two other students hold a screen and slowly move it over the shaving cream, while the hotspot student intermittently sprays shaving cream up. The mounds of shaving cream on the screen represent seamounts on the ocean plate. Students then measure and describe what they made and compare these to the Hawaiian Island chain (or the Louisville Seamount Trail) to help them visualize and understand concepts such as why the oldest seamounts are the ones farthest away from the hotspot.

This short description of the activity is no substitute for the actual lesson plan. To see that, visit the COSEE-SE Plate Tectonics Lessons webpage and open the 5) Intra-Plate Volcanism: Hot Spots! Activity.

Comments

Messy but fun

It's a fun, but messy activity! Be sure you have paper towels nearby!
I use it as a demo in every college-level or teacher professional development course I teach. It is an effective visual for most grade levels, above 5th grade!
Warning: don't use the gel type of shaving cream, as it'll shoot through the screen and hit the ceiling, then turn to foam and fall on top of you....(ask me how I know this!).
Leslie Sautter