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Geology Department Field Trip to Hawai'i

By Anna Makar-Limanov

What do you get when you mix twenty-four students, two geology professors, and one volcanic island? A once-in-a-lifetime educational experience!

Over interterm, the geology department sponsored a field trip to the Big Island of Hawai’i. I, along with various other students--from first years who had chosen to take Intro to Geology their first semester, to seniors writing geology theses--learned firsthand about how volcanic islands like Hawai’i form and various features that are unique to these environments. For instance, we got to visit one of only four green sand beaches in the world, which are made of grains of olivine. During the trip, we hiked down the steepest road in the U.S. into Waipi’o Valley, visited the southernmost point of the U.S., and climbed into a lava tube.

Left: Papakōlea Green Sand Beach Right: Closeup of sand from the beach

Throughout the trip, we learned about different ways the geology of the island has impacted the people living there. Though most things geologists study happen on timescales much longer than human lives, we saw how rapidly the landscape can change in Hawai’i,. For example, we stood on a 2018 lava flow that was still steaming as it cooled while looking over an area where people’s homes had stood merely two years ago. In addition, several roads had to be recreated after they got covered by lava flows or cracked from earthquakes. We also saw fault scarps along different parts of the island where large chunks of the island had fallen into the ocean. These kind events can lead to large tsunamis, including one around 100,000 years ago which created deposits that were recently studied by scientists that we got to see in person.

Despite the destructive potential of volcanic eruptions, they also created all the land we saw, including, of course, the beaches. In addition to the famed green sand beach, we visited various black sand and white sand beaches. And while discussing the conditions under which these formed was important, afterwards we got to take a break from geology to swim in the water. We also got to see various creatures including sea turtles, crabs, and echinoderms!

Above: An echinoderm flipped upside down to reveal its tube feet and mouth

Overall the trip was a fantastic opportunity for experiential learning as well as community building with fellow STEM students. For a chemistry major like me, who has primarily only done research in the lab, it was a taste of what field work could be like. Now that I’m back on campus, I’m attempting to replicate the hands-on learning experience I had in Hawai’i in the more conventional classroom setting. Still, hopefully I can go back sometime soon!


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