Sunday, October 25, 2015

Picture Yourself Here: Multidisciplinary Field Studies in the Hawaiian Islands, June 1-13, 2016

This might be of interest only to my Modesto area readers, but anyone who is interested in learning about the natural and human history of the Hawaiian Islands may want to investigate this field studies opportunity June 1-13, 2016. I am collaborating with anthropologist Dr. Susan Kerr of Modesto Junior College to guide students on an exploration of two of the most fascinating islands in the Pacific Ocean, Hawai'i (the Big Island), and Kaua'i.
The islands are an outstanding outdoor laboratory for understanding basaltic volcanism associated with a "hot spot", or mantle plume. The Big Island consists of five overlapping shield volcanoes, including the largest and highest mountains on the planet, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Measured from their base on the ocean floor, the volcanoes are more than 30,000 feet tall. The portion that rises above sea level is impressive. It is possible to collect snow from the summits during part of the year. Glaciers once collected on the summit of Mauna Kea!
Although we couldn't possibly guarantee lava on our trip, Kilauea has been producing lava flows nonstop for more than thirty years. Subsurface activity has been noted for the last few weeks at Mauna Loa. It hasn't erupted since 1984, but who knows?

Of course, volcanism is hardly the only fascinating topic of study in the Hawaiian Islands. There are tropical jungles and deserts is well as the iconic beaches (including a green sand beach, the sand grains composed of the mineral olivine!). There are striking examples of evolution in action, with highly adapted plant and animals species, including a group of native Honeycreepers that are (or were) as diverse as Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands. There are even native owls, hawks, and geese (the Nene is the state bird; some Canada Geese made a wrong turn a half million years ago).

The human story is no less compelling, from the arrival of Polynesians hundreds of years ago to the later mingling of cultures that make the state one of the most diverse human communities on the planet.
We will spend about nine days on the Big Island, working out of hotels in Hilo and Kona. We'll then fly to Kaua'i to spend four days exploring the small, older island, including overlooks of the legendary Na Pali Coast, and the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific", the incredible Waimea Canyon. Although the itinerary is ambitious, we will work time in for some optional personal explorations, including possible hikes into Waimea Canyon, or onto the Alaka'i Swamp, one of the strangest environments on the planet (the swamps receive hundreds of inches of rain every year).

The cost of the classes will be $2,200 for lodging, transportation, and fees. Participants will need to pay their fare to and from the islands, and provide their own food (the fee includes the inter-island flight). The students will enroll in Geology 190 and Anthropology 190 (through Modesto Junior College). There are no prerequisites, although previous courses in geology or anthropology certainly wouldn't hurt. The tuition will be about $300 (unfortunately the out-of-state tuition is considerably higher)..
We are having an organizational meeting on Friday, October 30 on the West Campus of Modesto Junior College at 7PM in Science Community Center Room 326. Attendance is not mandatory and brochures will be available for those who can't make it. Initial deposits will be due in mid-November, and priority space will be given to the first twenty students who commit to the trip. If there are more than twenty, we will try to accommodate them if possible.

For information and announcements, please check out the class web page at, or join the Hawaii field studies Facebook group at We hope you'll consider joining us on this once in a lifetime opportunity! Please contact me at hayesg (at) if you have questions.

No comments: