Hawai'i That Was, an exploration of islands as they were before human colonization, as they changed with the arrival of the Polynesian people, and how they changed when Europeans arrived. The field class combined the disciplines of geology and anthropology, and took place last June. We had spent more than a week exploring the Big Island, and now we were on our way to the northeasternmost of the main islands, Kaua'i. In our last post, we observed how the islands grow older, and quite literally sink as they move off the hot spot that is the source of the lavas that make up the islands. Kaua'i has existed for at least five million years.
Like people, the older islands show more creases and wrinkles. The island, encompassing 555 square miles, is scored by dozens of deep gorges eroded from the ancient shield volcanoes that once erupted here. It's been tens of thousands of years since any kind of lava flowed here, and gigantic debris avalanches have torn away the margins of the island. It sounds like decrepitude and ugliness, but from a human perspective, the many years of erosion have produced one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Friday, August 26, 2016
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
|The Big Island volcanoes of Mauna Kea (left) and Mauna Loa (right), as seen from the summit of Haleakala on Maui|
|Haleakala on the island of Maui|
Maui (above) includes two shield volcanoes, the immense Haleakala (10,023 ft - 3,055 m), and the lesser known West Maui volcano (5,788 ft - 1,764 m). A low valley separates the two volcanoes. Some might ask why there are only two volcanoes and not five, like on the Big Island. Why, indeed?
|South side of Moloka'i|
|North side of Moloka'i (I haven't been there so we have an aerial photo instead).|
Sunday, August 21, 2016
The Importance of a Geology Education: Reflections on a Horrible Disaster in Louisiana (and others to come)
Geology classes occupy a somewhat uncomfortable zone within the standard college curriculum. Biology and chemistry are stand-alone majors, but they also provide important support to nursing programs and related health industries. Physics and mathematics likewise support numerous majors. But then there's that list of geology courses: they provide a pathway into employment in such diverse areas as oil and gas development, mining, water resources, parks interpretation, and education. But the number of geology majors is generally small in relation to other programs. And few students are really ever required to take a geology or earth science course as part of a different curriculum, with the occasional exception of a liberal arts degree leading to a teaching credential. Much of the time, geology courses mainly fill the role of general education breadth requirements, one choice among many.
Is there an argument for making geology classes mandatory in a college curriculum? Sure, for one good reason: geology can kill you. Oh sure, biology can kill you, given that whole disease thing, and pandemics, and grizzly bears and mountain lions. Mathematics and physics can kill you, but usually in the context of a geologic disaster (or standing in the beam of a particle accelerator). I state this in a perhaps humorous vein, but with the burgeoning population of our planet, geologic disasters are becoming more and more commonplace. People are being forced to live in environments that are more and more dangerous, and the geologic events themselves are becoming more intense. Hurricanes and other weather events are being intensified by higher temperatures in the oceans and atmosphere, for instance. Earthquakes are not getting bigger (unless one lives in an area where fracking occurs), but with higher sea levels in the near future, the reach of tsunamis will increase.
|Artist: Mark Waters, a student in the very first class I ever taught.|
How far do we look for examples? This week I am watching dozens of fires burning through hundreds of thousands of acres of California, destroying hundreds of homes. Entire communities have been gutted. The fires are being intensified by an unprecedented drought entering its sixth year (the Colorado Plateau is in the fourteenth year of drought). At least 300 buildings have been lost in the Blue Cut Fire, but I wonder how many people in the area realize they are also living on the San Andreas fault, or that many of the homes in Wrightwood (in the affected area) are built on recent mudflow deposits?
And Louisiana...what can one say about Louisiana? It was just a rainstorm. A catastrophic 1,000 year rainstorm that dropped something like 2+ feet of water from the sky in just a few days. Tens of thousands of homes have been severely damaged, and people have died. A 1,000 year storm...a storm that has a 0.1% of happening in a given year. And yet West Virginia also suffered a 1,000 year storm in July. And there have been others.
My entire train of thought on this topic happened because I came across some articles that stated that only around a fifth of the victims of this week's flooding in Louisiana had flood insurance. My first thought was to wonder how in the world, in Louisiana, that this could be the case? There are many reasons, mostly financial (this is not the richest part of the country). But there are many other factors, too, and lack of education has to be one of them. Of course, there is the Mississippi and other rivers that flood regularly. But there is also the rise of sea level, and the subsidence taking place in the Delta. There are the changes in the intensity and timing of hurricanes and other intense storms due to climate change. People don't understand the risk of living where they choose to live (or where they are forced to live by circumstances). It makes no sense to skip on the insurance.
only 17% of the residents of our state are covered by earthquake insurance (I strongly recommend reading the entire article). It's not hard to live in denial about the very real possibility of quakes in many parts of the state, but seventeen percent! Earthquake insurance can be expensive, but consider just why that is: these companies are not in the business to lose money, and their actuarial tables are probably a better indicator of the chances of earthquake damage than almost any geologic map (mind you, it's geologists who help calculate the odds that are used in actuarial tables).
People who live in ignorance also live in great danger. No place in the country is without the threat of some kind of natural disaster. One cannot realistically prepare for a cataclysm if one doesn't know that the possibility of the event exists. Education is the key, and it should be part of the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools as well as college. Community awareness, whether through social media or broadcast media needs to come from sources that are responsible and rational. There is so much CRAP on the internet that anyone could be forgiven for a sense of confusion. One group of ignorant people above all others who need an education in geologic hazards are the politicians. Science is almost never an issue in political campaigns (politicians seem to think we need to be more concerned with saluting flags and where people relieve their bladders). We need leadership at all levels of government to support community education, and to start dealing realistically with geologic threats and climate change (instead of denying that they exist).
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Here's the second video I captured of the River Otters in the Tuolumne River this evening (the first was in the previous post). There seems to be a momma and two pups. Meanwhile, Mrs. Geotripper was capturing pictures of me acting like a kid, chasing otters (if you are worried, I was actually pretty far away from them).
I've had a real treat of a day. I took my usual morning stroll along the Tuolumne River, catching some decent shots of a Black-chinned Hummingbird, and the back end of a Raccoon (that's not a great picture, but it was the first raccoon I've seen on this stretch of river). Then, totally on a whim, Mrs. Geotripper and I decided to catch the sunset from a high point on the Tuolumne Parkway Trail where the river emerges onto the floor of the Great Valley. We saw some kind of movement in the water, and I realized I was seeing River Otters (Lontra canadensis). My impression is that it was a mother with two pups. It was only the second time I've ever seen them, and this time I thought to catch some video. Enjoy! I'll post a second video in a few moments.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
You've Read About Them: How About Seeing Them in Person? California's Volcanoes Field Studies, Sept. 22-26, 2016
|Mt. Shasta, the second tallest and most voluminous volcano in the Cascades|
|Lava Beds National Monument|
|Medicine Lake, glacio-volcanic lake occupying a large caldera.|
|Jot Dean Ice Cave. The ice persists in the cave year-round.|
|Lassen Peak and Manzanita Lake. Lassen erupted in 1914-15, while Manzanita Lake formed behind a debris avalanche about 300 years ago.|
Fires are part of the natural landscape, an outgrowth of a Mediterranean climate where no rain falls for six months out of the year. Plants and animals are adapted to fires. But things have changed, and some of the fires have become terrifying disasters. First of all, the growing population is expanding into ever more dangerous terrain, places that burn regularly, whether developed or not. But second, the effects of global warming are intensifying droughts that have left most of California dry and vulnerable.
The Blue Cut Fire is burning in an area I know well. I grew up at the foot of Lytle Creek and Cajon Pass, and have traveled over the pass perhaps hundreds of times over the years. The fire exploded in one day to more than 25,000 acres, and conditions offer little hope of any type of containment very soon. An unknown number of structures have already been destroyed, and an unprecedented 35,000 houses are threatened in places like Wrightwood, Phelan, and Lytle Creek. Something like 80,000 people have been evacuated. I hope and pray that it will be contained and controlled soon with a minimum of damage.
I wrote about the region a couple of years ago. Lone Pine Canyon is in the middle of the area that is burning, so the places seen in these pictures will be looking very different now. What follows is my post of March 31, 2013:
The Other California: Getting a Good Look at California's Faults
|The San Andreas fault in Lone Pine Canyon near Cajon Pass in Southern California. Photo by Mrs. Geotripper|
If there is anything that people know about California, it's the San Andreas fault. In a vague sense anyway...California has a lot of earthquakes that many people assume happen along the San Andreas (most don't), that there are occasional BIG ONES that happen on the fault (some of them, but not all), and if popular culture as expressed in movies like the original 1978 version of Superman reflects common knowledge, no one knows where it is or what it looks like (oh, and California is going to fall into the sea).
Other California" blog series.
Thousands upon thousands of cars follow Interstate 15 daily across Cajon Pass on their way to Las Vegas or their jobs in the L.A. Basin. I imagine few of the drivers know they are crossing California's most famous fault just a few miles north of the Interstate 15/Interstate 215 above San Bernardino. For a few moments, travelers are treated with a spectacular view up the linear track of Lone Pine Valley (the picture at the top of today's post shows the view, taken at 65 mph). I explored the lower end of Lone Pine Canyon and the "mysterious" Lost Lake (really not mysterious) in a post several years ago (click here to see it), but a weekend or two ago I had a chance to explore the upper end for the first time in a few decades.
|The Mormon Rocks (or Rock Candy Mountains) expose the 18-20 million year old Cajon Formation. Interstate 15 climbs towards Cajon Pass on the skyline.|
info here), 1812 (info here), and as many as a dozen other times in the last 1,500 years. There is a distinct warning in the earthquake history for this stretch of the San Andreas: the recurrence interval of large quakes is just over a century but it has been more than 150 years since the last major event.
the subject of our previous post about a recurring mudflow originating in the Pelona Schist on the high ridges above. As if they didn't have enough to worry about...
The Other California is my continuing blog series on the geologically fascinating places in our fair state that don't always make it onto the tourist postcards.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The Hawai'i That Was: Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, the Place of Sanctuary That Might Not Be So Safe (Geologically)
Large cliffs develop on the Big Island of Hawai'i primarily as a result of gigantic debris avalanches that carry a large portion of the island into the deep ocean, leaving behind cliffs and a scalloped coastline. The Alika debris avalanche did this exact thing about 120,000 years ago, with a runout of about 60 miles across the ocean floor. The slide produced a huge tsunami that dumped chunks of coral more than 1,000 feet above sea level on Lana'i (most tsunamis generated by earthquakes rarely exceed 100 feet in height). If such an event were to happen today, the effects would be unthinkably horrific. Luckily, they are rare, tens of thousands of years apart. There would presumably be many signs of an impending collapse (one would hope, anyway).
|Hikiau Heiau at Kealakekua Bay|
The park at Kealakekua Bay preserves Hikiau Heiau (above), a huge structure dedicated to the war god Ku, and Lono, the god associated with fertility of the land. It has been damaged by a number of tsunamis, but has been repaired and is still sometimes utilized for ceremonies.
The cliff at Kealakekua Bay is of special importance to native Hawaiians. It's called Pali Kapu O Keoua ("the forbidden cliff of Keoua"), and the various holes and caves in the cliff contain the bones of royalty. Such bones are said to possess great power (mana), and so great effort was invested in keeping their location hidden (I seem to remember reading that a trusted servant would dangle from a rope on such cliffs, and when he had hidden the bones, the rope would be cut and the servant would plunge to his death; an honor, I guess, but not a great job benefit).
The effect of European contact cannot be overstated. While the arrival of western technology allowed King Kamehameha I to gain control of the entire island chain, forming the nation of Hawai'i, disease decimated the Hawaiian people (from as many as 1,000,000 to maybe 30,000). Just over a century later the island was taken over by corporate interests, before becoming a territory of the United States. Although the Polynesians had caused the extinction of native species through the introduction of invasive animals and plants, the process was greatly accelerated with the arrival of the Europeans.
|Pu'uhonua o Honaunau|
|Heiau in the sanctuary at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau|
|Fishpond at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau|
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau and Kealakekua Bay exude a sense of peace today, but they mask a turbulent past, both geological, and anthropological. If you are ever on the Big Island, they are two very interesting stops.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
The Hawai'i That Was: Have We Got Some Real Estate for You! Exploring Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
|A'a flow at Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park|
|Maybe this picture of Honokohau Beach sells the place a bit better?|
It helps if one finds out "the rest of the story". The word ahupua'a refers to the land divisions that existed prior to European colonization of the Hawaiian Islands. These were the highly organized tracts of land that were given over to various clans and families, and which allowed the islands to support a population estimated at between 200,000 and 1,000,000 (the present population is about 1.4 million). The tracts of land sloped down from the summits of the volcanoes on the Big Island like the spokes on a wheel, leading to the coastline. Each division included a portion of coast as well as forest lands at the higher elevations. This arrangement provided access to a wide variety of resources.
I saw several kinds of birds during our visit, but the most special was the sighting of a Kolea, the Pacific Golden Plover. The Golden Plover is sometimes credited with allowing the Polynesians to discover the Hawaiian Islands. The birds migrate thousands of miles between South Pacific islands to Alaska. The Polynesians would have known they were headed north to some kind of landmass, which may have led to expeditions northward to find the new lands.
Hawai'i That Was" that existed in the years prior to European contact. It's almost ironic that the park today, smack in the middle of an industrial area, is rebuilding the natural environment of Hawai'i that existed before the Polynesians arrived, even while preserving the memories and spirit of the Native Hawaiians.