Hawaii—a geology nerd’s wonderland

July 26, 2017

The band of Patels from two years ago in the Canadian Rockies is back, and this time, 16 of us visited Hawaii for some rest, relaxation and rocks!

While the pristine beaches and amazing cultural significance of Hawaii attract many tourists to the islands, my family was just as interested in checking off two more National Parks off our list. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park feature the past, present and future of one of the most powerful forces of nature—volcanoes and their eruptions.

Sunset from Mauna Kea, the highest point in the Hawaiian islands as well as a dormant volcano, on July 14, 2017.

The islands of Hawaii are the result of volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean. A hot spot in the center of the Pacific Plate has spewed lava into the ocean since the end of the Cretaceous period, forming an archipelago of 132 islands stretching nearly 5,000 kilometers. The Hawaiian hot spot sits still as the Pacific Plate moves west, so as you move northwest from the big island (Hawaii), the islands (and volcanoes) get older.

This hot spot remains active even after all of these years. The Hawaiian Center for Volcanology estimates that there are still at least three active volcanoes in the archipelago, including Kilauea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii and Loihi, which is still underwater.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in particular does a great job showcasing the different kinds of lava and even offers the occasional peak at lava to lucky visitors.

Lava splashes out from the crater of Kilauea on July 17, 2017. The Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has a platform on the outside which offers a great view of the Kilauea Crater and is open 24 hours.

Hawaii’s lavas are basaltic, which means they all feature lots of magnesium and iron. The two major forms of basaltic lava are pahoehoe (pronounced puh-hoy-hoy) and aa (pronounced aah-aah), and both are on display in the park, often adjacent to each other. Pahoehoe is a slow-moving, thick lava flow that leaves behind a smooth surface, whereas aa is lava that essentially erupts and instantly forms jagged rocks. The difference boils down to the rate of flow when exiting the volcano; pahoehoe flows slowly while aa flows quickly.

A field covered in pahoehoe lava in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Slightly weathered aa in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

One of the most interesting geologic features we saw was a lava tube, essentially a long cave formed by a lava flow. If the lava flow itself is slow moving, the top can harden as the bottom continues to flow, leaving behind a cave as the lava cools.

Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Needless to say, Hawaii is a must-visit for any geologist or earth science nerd like me. In addition, the night sky is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The Milky Way over Kilauea Crater on July 16, 2017.

To see more photos of my trip to Hawaii, click here, and be sure to check out some black sand I brought back from Punaluu (a black sand beach on the big island) in the HMNS at Sugar Land microscope lab!

Authored By Sahil Patel

Sahil has worked for HMNS in some capacity each summer since 2007 with the Moran Ecoteen Program and Xplorations Summer Camps. He quite literally grew up at the Museum; Sahil and his mom made biweekly trips at lunchtime until he started school at age 5, and he was a regular camper in Xplorations from ages 6-13. In 2014, he was hired full-time as Outreach Presenter, a job where his friends think he spends all day playing with alligators, tarantulas, and dinosaur fossils. He doesn’t like to contradict them.

One response to “Hawaii—a geology nerd’s wonderland”

  1. Jane Ambrose says:

    My son has to do a geology project for school, so I’m helping him do research on the rocks found in Hawaii and how they form. I had no idea that because the level that makes up the islands is basaltic, they are full of magnesium and iron. Hawaii seems like a unique place with a lot of really great features and history to it. I’ll be sure to use this information to teach my son more about these islands! Thank you for the information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Become An HMNS Member

With a membership level for everyone; Don't just read about it, see it.

View All Membership Levels

Editor's Picks The Real Moon Hoax That You Haven’t Heard Of Is Darwin relevant today? Oh The Hermannity! The Story of Houston’s Most Beautiful Green Space A Few Member Benefits Most HMNS Members Don’t Know About What The Loss Of The Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro’s Collections Means To The World What Is The Deal With Brontosaurus?!
Follow And Subscribe

Equally Interesting Posts

HMNS at Hermann Park

5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston,Texas 77030
(713) 639-4629

Get Directions Offering varies by location
HMNS at Sugar Land

13016 University Blvd.
Sugar Land, Texas 77479
(281) 313-2277

Get Directions Offering varies by location
George Observatory

21901 FM 762 Rd.
Needville, Texas 77461
(281) 242-3055

Tuesday - Saturday By Reservation
Saturdays 3:00PM - 10:00PM
Saturdays (DST) 3:00PM - 11:00PM
DST = Daylight Savings Time.
Please call for holiday hours. Entry to Brazos Bend State Park ends at 9:30 p.m. daily
Get Directions Offering varies by location

Stay in the know. Join our mailing list.