Nineteen Hobart and William Smith students spent two weeks studying the volcanism, weather and climate of the Big Island of Hawaii in May as part of a summer field studies course led by Professor of Geoscience Brooks McKinney, Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nick Metz.
The location and focus of Geo299 changes every year; the previous two trips have been to Colorado and Arizona. This summer was the third time the course has been offered and boasted the largest class size yet.
“The Geoscience field studies course in Hawaii was a great mixture of geology and meteorology – a perfect representation of the balance of disciplines that the HWS Department of Geoscience offers students,” says Laird.
“Geoscience is about understanding the processes that shape Earth and how those processes have played out over time,” says McKinney. “Some of those processes, some of that history, we can see in the area around campus, but there is a lot that we cannot see. We developed Geo 299 as a way of getting students out into some of the Earth’s most interesting places. Hawaii is certainly a good example of that. Active volcanoes, nearly 14,000 feet of vertical relief, and all but a couple of the world’s climate zones–all packed into an island smaller than the state of Connecticut!”
Laird and Metz took students to study the wide range of weather and climates on different parts of the island. “The Big Island of Hawaii was the perfect place to experience and examine the contrast between different climate regimes and microclimates,” says Larid. “Over the course of three days we were able to hike in nearly eight different climate regimes ranging from desert and dry forest to tropical rainforest.” From rain forests on the east side, to large arid regions on the west side, students learned how the location of the island in the tropical Pacific, and the topography created by the volcanoes, determines the climate of many of its different regions.
“The Hawaii trip allowed me to explore the geology aspect that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do. It was an amazing experience as a meteorologist in training to be able to launch a weather balloon on a lava flow by the coast of Hawaii,” says Augusta Williams ’13.
McKinney spent time hiking with students over lava flows that erupted from Mauna Ulu, a flank vent of Kilauea volcano, in the early 1970s. For his first project students learned how to map the various lava flows and how to tell the order in which they came. The second project involved a hike by the ocean to look for and map tsunami deposits.
“For me, studying lava flows was the most meaningful thing we did for my educational experience. With an atmospheric science concentration, I had very little background on geology prior to this trip, so the lava flows project was my first taste of what geology is all about,” says Pamela Eck ’15. “Studying the lava flows has definitely given me a better appreciation for geologists and what they do.”
On their final night in Hawaii, the group traveled to the summit of Kilauea, one of the five main volcanoes on the island, to see the incandescent glow from the lava lake in the crater of the volcano.
“ Of all the things we did, and saw, in Hawaii the one thing that had the biggest impact on me was the glowing view of the lava lake at night at the summit of Kilauea. Having spent the previous two weeks learning about the volcanics of the Big Island, seeing the glow of lava that was above the surface was a great way to wrap everything up,” says Ben Gould ’14.