4/02/2015 Peter Durantine

A Geoscience Course Takes Students to Volcanic Hawaii

During the mid-March spring break, a group of geoscience students and their professor trekked through tubes of rock where hot lava flowed 50 years ago, examined ancient petroglyph images carved in coastal rock slabs, and admired the nighttime fiery glow from a lava lake.

"It was a pretty spectacular trip," senior geoscience major Sophia Gigliotti said of the visit to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. "It was more than I expected it to be."

Stanley Mertzman, the Dr. Earl D. Stage and Mary E. Stage Professor of Geosciences at Franklin & Marshall, led the 10 students enrolled in his course on igneous and metamorphic petrology to Hawai'i, the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Its dramatic terrain includes five volcanoes, only one of which is extinct.

The group stayed in the village of Volcano, located at the park's edge, and spent the week hiking up to 10 to 12 miles per day around three of the island's volcanoes: the active Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and the dormant Mauna Kea. The students hiked to the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest peak among the Hawaiian Islands.

  • Two students have lunch at the edge of Makaopuhi Crater, located about 5 miles from Kilauea, the most active of the five volcanoes on Hawai'i. Two students have lunch at the edge of Makaopuhi Crater, located about 5 miles from Kilauea, the most active of the five volcanoes on Hawai'i. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • Skylight in a lava tube illuminates students. Hot molten rock once flowed through the tube from Kilauea during the Mauna Ulu eruption that lasted from 1969 to 1974. Skylight in a lava tube illuminates students. Hot molten rock once flowed through the tube from Kilauea during the Mauna Ulu eruption that lasted from 1969 to 1974. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • Low clouds arrive for their daily trek up Saddle Road, which separates the Mauna Kea from Mauna Loa volcanoes. Low clouds arrive for their daily trek up Saddle Road, which separates the Mauna Kea from Mauna Loa volcanoes. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • On their journey up Mauna Loa, students hike through snow that came up to their hips in some places to reach the summit. On their journey up Mauna Loa, students hike through snow that came up to their hips in some places to reach the summit. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • Pahoa basalt flows over older basalt in the summit region of Mauna Loa, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) observatory is located. Every six months NOAA researchers make precise carbon dioxide measurements that become part of a more than 60-year record. The measurements are at the heart of the current global warming debate. Pahoa basalt flows over older basalt in the summit region of Mauna Loa, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) observatory is located. Every six months NOAA researchers make precise carbon dioxide measurements that become part of a more than 60-year record. The measurements are at the heart of the current global warming debate. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • Native Hawaiians made this petroglyph image, in an area near the island's coastline known as Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs, thousands of years ago. Native Hawaiians made this petroglyph image, in an area near the island's coastline known as Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs, thousands of years ago. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • Students gather at the cliffs where Kilauea Volcano's lavas poured into the Pacific. Students gather at the cliffs where Kilauea Volcano's lavas poured into the Pacific. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • The group takes a lunch break on the most recent Pu'u O'o lava flows, around 30 years old. In the background is Holei Pali, a 1,300-foot-high escarpment over which lava has flowed numerous times from vents high up on the volcano. The group takes a lunch break on the most recent Pu'u O'o lava flows, around 30 years old. In the background is Holei Pali, a 1,300-foot-high escarpment over which lava has flowed numerous times from vents high up on the volcano. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • Pahoehoe (smooth, unbroken lava) and aa (stony, rough lava) have made their way over the pali, or cliff. Pahoehoe (smooth, unbroken lava) and aa (stony, rough lava) have made their way over the pali, or cliff. Image Credit: Stanley Mertzman
  • Halema'uma'u crater, located inside Kilauea Caldera, glows at night from a lava lake within the crater where gas steams from an active volcanic vent. Halema'uma'u crater, located inside Kilauea Caldera, glows at night from a lava lake within the crater where gas steams from an active volcanic vent. Image Credit: Sam Feibel

"This was the perfect time for the students to see these volcanoes up close and personal," Mertzman said. " They have context now for all the reading they did concerning volcanic rocks over the previous nine weeks. The more rocks you see and the more terrain you see, the better geologist you will be."

A week after their return, the students were tested on what they learned as an integral part of the course, Mertzman said. Gigliotti said hiking through the volcanic topography left indelible impressions on her and her fellow students.

"It brought everything together -- the structured geology aspects of it and the petrology," she said.  

The accompanying slideshow provides snapshots of the students' field experience with petrology, the study of the origins and composition of rocks.

  • Map of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Map of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Image Credit: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
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