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"Hard Times" in Hawaii
UC Geologists See Surprising Side of Paradise

Date: Sept. 20, 2002
By: Chris Curran
Photos by: Lisa Ventre

Kilauea lava flows into the sea

Ask the average person if they'd like to go to Hawaii, and very few would hesitate to say "Yes," expecting nothing but sun and fun.

But a group of University of Cincinnati geologists is seeing paradise from a very different point of view. They spent a week this month studying the major volcanoes on Hawaii's Big Island, under the careful guidance of UC geology professors Attila Kilinc and Warren Huff. Still, there were problems.

Lisa Ventre, photo manager in UC Photographer Services found the soles of her shoes melting off while trying to capture images of recent lava flows up close.

The heat from the lava is that intense, even though the rocks on the surface are hard enough and cool enough to support humans walking across them. Underneath, the temperature was roughly 600 degrees Celsius. That's six times hotter than boiling water. UC geology group hiking on Mauna Kea

The hiking was also intense at the island's tallest volcano, Mauna Kea. Hot lava wasn't the problem here. Altitude sickness took its toll here as several group members discovered how much your head can ache when you climb above 10,000 feet. Mauna Kea is nearly 14,000 feet high.

Mauna Kea hasn't erupted in more than 4,000 years, but the most recent eruptions left a series of cinder cones scattered around the peak.

Reaching the cinder cones proved impossible, but the students were able to get a good look at the deposits left behind by ancient glaciers.

Scientists believe there were three major glaciations on Mauna Kea in the last 200,000 years. There is continuing debate over the age of the moraines or formations left behind by the glaciers.

Professor Kilinc and student examining boulders on Mauna Kea

UC undergraduate Patrick Applegate, who has studied glaciers in Canada and Alaska, provided the lesson of the day. He explained how the deposits formed and how they might be dated more accurately.

After the talk, the geologists spent some time enjoying another science -- astronomy. Mauna Kea, with its great height and clear dark skies, is home to some of the world's best telescopes.

Mauna Kea Observatory

The observatories are operated by NASA, the Smithsonian, and governments around the world. The UC group got a closeup look at one of the smaller observatories before returning to their cabins in Volcano Village.

Check out these other stories about the volcano trip.

  • First Days on the Big Island.
  • Field Work around the Kilauea Caldera.
  • Photographic Gems from Lisa Ventre

    UC would like to acknowledge the gracious assistance of Don Swanson, scientist-in-charge at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory for his assistance in sending back images and information about the trip.

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