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Trip to Hawaii gives students up-close look at volcanoes

If you're a Geology major and want to get a sense of what a volcano is like, then you need to stick your rock hammer into fresh lava. 

That's what students were able to do over spring break, when Geosciences professors Jim Collier and Lauren Heerschap took a dozen students to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park in March. There students spent seven nights on the Big Island looking at historic volcanic features, taking strenuous hikes to active lava flows, and, of course, making some visits to the island's beautiful waterfalls and beaches.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park covers parts of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, two of the most active volcanoes in the world. Mauna Loa is also the most massive mountain on Earth, with an estimated volume of 20,000 cubic miles.

The field trip is "the centerpiece of Geology 305, 'Volcanism of Hawaii,'" says Collier, who since 1989 has been taking students on the excursion. The course is intended primarily for geology majors, but the trip is also open to any student fascinated by volcanoes. 

"The purpose is to study features of volcanic-island and hot-spot magmatism. But the most exciting aspect for students is to witness active lava flows and the formation of new land," says Collier. "It’s pretty special  -- and also extremely hot -- for geology students to actually dip their rock hammers into molten rock."

Learn more about the Geology program.

Taking in the big picture at Kilauea Caldera overlook, in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

Taking in the big picture at Kilauea Caldera overlook, in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

The view from the Jaggar Museum at Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory out over a small crater with an active lava lake inside, which is inside a the larger Halema’uma’u Crater, which is within the much bigger Kilauea Caldera.

The view from the Jaggar Museum at Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory out over a small crater with an active lava lake inside, which is inside a the larger Halema’uma’u Crater, which is within the much bigger Kilauea Caldera.

The same view after dark.

The same view after dark.

Geosciences Professor Jim Collier explains thermal erosion inside the Thurston Lava Tube.

Geosciences Professor Jim Collier explains thermal erosion inside the Thurston Lava Tube.

Students hike a trail through rainforest to Pu’u O’o, a large cinder cone that formed in 1983 at the start of the current activity from Kilauea volcano.

Students hike a trail through rainforest to Pu’u O’o, a large cinder cone that formed in 1983 at the start of the current activity from Kilauea volcano.

Students stand on a flowing lava tube coming from a small lava lake on Pu’u O’o. Steam and sulfur dioxide gas rise from the tube. 

Students stand on a flowing lava tube coming from a small lava lake on Pu’u O’o. Steam and sulfur dioxide gas rise from the tube.

The line of steam shows the trace of the lava tube a few feet below these students' feet.

The line of steam shows the trace of the lava tube a few feet below these students' feet.

This beautiful, palm tree-lined, black-sand beach was destroyed by lava flows in the early 1990s, but has reformed.

This beautiful, palm tree-lined, black-sand beach was destroyed by lava flows in the early 1990s, but has reformed.

Students start a three-mile hike to Pu’u Mahana, a cinder cone surrounding Mahana Bay, more commonly known as the Green Sand Beach. The green sand is the mineral olivine, which is abundant in the cinder cone. The yellow soil is called loess, consisting mostly of weathered ash carried by the wind.

Students start a three-mile hike to Pu’u Mahana, a cinder cone surrounding Mahana Bay, more commonly known as the Green Sand Beach. The green sand is the mineral olivine, which is abundant in the cinder cone. The yellow soil is called loess, consisting mostly of weathered ash carried by the wind.

Students cross Kilauea Iki ("Little Kilauea"), the site of massive eruptions in 1959-60.

Students cross Kilauea Iki ("Little Kilauea"), the site of massive eruptions in 1959-60.

After a long hike through muddy rainforest, students are rewarded by getting to witness surface lava flows.

After a long hike through muddy rainforest, students are rewarded by getting to witness surface lava flows.

Senior Geology major Joey Mason scoops up fresh lava with his rock hammer. The lava is around 2000° F. 

Senior Geology major Joey Mason scoops up fresh lava with his rock hammer. The lava is around 2000° F.

Rain turns instantly to stream after falling on hot lava.

Rain turns instantly to stream after falling on hot lava.

Geosciences professor Jim Collier demonstrates the fine art of hot-dog cooking over hot lava.

Geosciences professor Jim Collier demonstrates the fine art of hot-dog cooking over hot lava.

Lava flows are most spectacular after dark.

Lava flows are most spectacular after dark.


Student participants on last year’s trip were Genea Baca, Chris Bennett, Anastasia Hedrick, Aiyana Isaac , Rachel Kinney, Joey Mason, Annie McCawley, Lucas Nibert, Adam Parker, Bryce Staley, Matt Tucker, and Ethan Coppage.
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