Saturday, January 5, 2013

Day 3 - Kilauea Caldera

If you have never had the opportunity to do an extended field trip, please let me persuade you to try one. As a leader on this trip to Hawaii I guess I am biased. Today, we experienced so much in such a short span that was special and fun.

Let's get our geography straight. We are currently on the Big Island of the Hawaiian chain (once called the Sandwich Islands).

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We are having quite a bit of rain here on the islands and the Big Island is no exception. Did that dampen our spirits along with our bodies? Not in the least. Our group of students and faculty took the weather straight on and in many times and places, the rain relinquished during our activities.

We had a 4.4 earthquake at 4:37AM today! Several of us woke up, but only one of us knew it was because of an earthquake. 

We started today by heading to Volcano National Park. Let me tell you - any day that includes the word volcano is probably a good day (unless of course you are in danger).

Our group (minus the photographer, Jan Van Kooten) at the park entrance

For years, Mauna Loa and Kilauea (the 2 volcanoes of the 5 on the Big Island that are in the National Park) have been considered part of the same magma system, but more recently (starting first with Dutton in 1884 and then others) it has been established that Kilauea volcano, the youngest and most southeastern volcano on the Big Island has its own magma chamber.

Pictured here are the 5 geographic areas for the five volcanoes that have formed the Big Island. Kilauea is on the south eastern part of the Big Island

Kilauea is one of the most active volcano on Earth's surface.  To get a feel for some early observations of Kilauea, check out Dana's observation from a 1929 published work in the Science News Letter (

Kilauea has an enormous caldera with an active lava lake within a crater in the caldera.

Our point of view from the Volcano Inn at the National Park

Kilauea Caldera and Halema'uma'u crater with smoke rising from the active lava lake

We hiked around the caldera to check out some vent areas where hot vapor is extruding out of the earth.

Yes, a hike through the jungle rain forest

Plume Vent with Mauna Loa in the distance

At lunch, Ian B. gave a wonderful talk on volcano growth and evolution in the Hawaiian chain.

Ian B. describing Hawaiian volcano development and evolution

Then we hiked down into the caldera floor itself and stood on the pahoehoe lava field. The caldera itself collapses and is built up many times over by the active magma underneath. As the magma comes to the surface and lava flows out, the lava in the caldera cools and forms a hardened shell. The magma underneath continues to swell with gases and causes breaks in the basalt pahoehoe (smoothed basalt). See here the amazing terrain in the caldera as we walked across the allowable path

On the caldera floor (note the rising smoke from the crater in the distance)

A lava landscape of basalt treated to some happy visitors

Brilliant students - Amazing landscape!

Then we made our way to the observatory at the Jagger Museum overlook and got a much closer view of the crater. It currently has an active lava lake and the public are not allowed to get close. Needless to say, we were thankful to have been encouraged to bring our binoculars.

Crater in the caldera with smoke from the lava lake

We ended up hiking some more to a remote place in the park of the remnants of a 1974 lava flow. This unique area contains many places where tree holes have been left by the cooling lava flow. When hot lava hits a live large tree, it cools quickly around the tree because of the water in the tree. The cooling makes a hard protective shell and the tree survives the initial lava flow. Once the flow ends, the tree dies, leaving tree holes in the basalt field. Check out these cool pictures of the lava tree forest.

Formation left after a tree trunk was surrounded by lava

Top view looking down, where a tree once stood

A promise

We ended our day having dinner and then going back to the Jaggar observatory to see the glowing lava lake in the crater. Seriously? Yes seriously incredible!

The crater lava glow at night from the Jaggar Museum @ 19.420216,-155.288579


  1. This is all so great! I love the blog too!

    - Melissa

    1. Thanks for reading and loving it! It is really an amazing trip!