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Hawaii: Students Learn about Volcanoes in Nature’s Laboratory

Geology student Larissa Lind can cross another lifetime goal off her bucket list thanks to the geology department’s annual field trip.

Students and faculty traveled to the Hawaiian Islands for a week-long experience every geologist dreams of — studying active volcanoes.

The department hosts one major trip each year. Previous destinations also include studying limestone deposition in the Bahamas, glaciers in Switzerland, the roots of ancient mountains in New England and tectonic evolution in the Himalayas.

Geology professor Jani Radebaugh, who was one of the faculty leaders on the trip, said getting up close and personal with active lava flows is a rare and treasured experience geology students look forward to.

“I think the students would all say that the highlight was seeing active lava [flows],” she said. “There’s just nothing to compare with that. It’s really hot and has recently been way down in the depths of the Earth, and so that’s really valuable for them to see . . . . There are only a few places on Earth where you can safely do that, and Hawaii is one of them.”

Although geology students can be taught many things in the classroom and there is already a wide variety of geologic features found in Utah, Radebaugh said that Hawaii presents a completely unique opportunity like nowhere else. In Hawaii, geologists research volcano formaHawaii-8-e1336495004731tion from beginning to end by examining two of the Big Island’s active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, alongside older volcanoes Mauna Kea of the Big Island and Koolau of Oahu.

“Often when you study processes in the classroom, you really need to go out in the field and see those things happening [to understand them],” Radebaugh said. “We looked at erupting lava in the form of lava lakes and lava flows and some ash and steam eruptions. We looked at the progression of those lava eruptions over time and studied and compared their chemistries and compositions, in the classroom and out in the field. On one of the days, we actually went down and hiked across the lava flats and saw active lava flowing across the surface. We have such great geology in Utah and in the southwest, but [in Hawaii], there are just things that you would never see otherwise.”

The BYU crew consisted of a total of five faculty and a mixture of 23 graduate and undergraduate students.

Lind said although the helicopter ride over a boiling lava lake is something she’ll never forget, her highlight of the trip got her much closer to the action.

“I loved the helicopter ride, but probably my ultimate favorite part was going to an active lava flow,” she said. “We could actually see the lava running out, and we got to go stick our rock hammers in and get our own samples of liquid lava. So that was so cool.”

Although the trip wasn’t her first visit to Hawaii, it was definitely the most memorable.

“It was probably one of the neatest experiences of my life,” she said. “I was able to accomplish one of my lifetime goals, and it was such a valuable learning experience. I’m never going to forget it.”

By Stacie Carnley Posted on