Students Explore Hawaii as Living Laboratory – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Explore Hawaii as Living Laboratory

Bringing their study of geoscience beyond the classroom, a group of HWS students recently embarked on a two-week scientific excursion to Hawaii where they gained critical experience investigating distinctive phenomena such as lava flows and sea breezes.

The course, “Geoscience Field Studies,” gave 16 students the opportunity to invest themselves in several data-driven projects guided by Professor of Geoscience Brooks McKinney and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nick Metz. Each year, the credit-bearing course brings students to a different locale across the U.S. or abroad, such as the Bahamas or the Pacific Northwest, where they develop research skills and enhance what they’ve learned on campus.

“It’s a unique experience because the projects offer experience in geology, meteorology, hydrology and more,” says Metz. “There’s no substitute for getting out and doing research.”

During the Hawaii experience, students explored volcanic processes and lava flows on Mauna Loa and Kilauea. As part of the project, students used GPS systems to map and compare various types of lava flows (pahoehoe and `a`a) to better understand the volcanism taking place on the Big Island. Students also created temperature profiles and examined how climate has an impact on vegetation. Students looked at variables such as wind speed and moisture content to get a better sense of the island’s weather patterns.

“These field courses help to tie in the material we learn in class to what happens in the real world,” says Matthew Sanders ’17, a double major in geoscience and chemistry. “In class, we can look at all the diagrams and pictures but seeing the actual features leaves a much greater impression.”

Sanders said the trip also gave him perspective on geological and meteorological concepts. He said some of the highlights included a nighttime visit to a Kilauea lava pool, viewing both rare and endemic plants, and hiking through a fracture zone.

“Hawaii was an amazing opportunity to broaden my knowledge and learn hands on about the geology of the Big Island,” says Peyton Capute ’18, who intends to double major in geoscience and computer science with a minor in environmental studies. “It provided me with an experience that you cannot get in a classroom.”

McKinney says being able to understanding what’s happening geologically in a unique setting like Hawaii can give students a launching point to better understand the world around them in other locations. “They will see some of the same processes, but the balance of what’s taking place will have changed because of the specific location,” he says.

Dylan Doeblin ’18, a geoscience major and recipient of the Geneva Scholarship Associates (GSA) endowed scholarship, says the experience was invaluable in advancing his skills, and for connecting with the environment of Hawaii in a much more in-depth way.

“This field course is my fondest memory to date of my time at HWS,” Doeblin says. “I believe all GEO  field courses are a unique and special part of the Geoscience Department because of the bonding that occurs between fellow students as well as with the professors.”

Recently declared geoscience major Elizabeth McCabe ’18 says, the experience helped to solidify her academic interests.

“It gave me the chance to put my knowledge and skills to work,” she says. “But it also showed me more clearly where my interests are.”