Earth and Environmental Science Field Course for Educators

Two Islands; 5-6 days (not including travel to and from Hawaii)

The string of volcanic islands lying in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean know as Hawaii constitute Earth’s most isolated archipelago. Isolation defines its uniqueness, along with the climate inducing impact of persistent trade winds that sculpt the island’s diverse ecosystems within a subtropical mid-ocean setting. Hawaii stands as a “microcosm” of the planet. Few places provide a better outdoor laboratory for gaining first hand knowledge of the basics of natural science. If Charles Darwin had visited Hawaii, these most severely isolated islands would surely have become the “Galapagos of the Planet.” Nowhere else are the basic principles of earth science, biotic establishment, and evolution better displayed.

This 5 to 6 day, two-island field workshop has been designed specifically for high school and college level educators. It provides an opportunity to gain first hand knowledge of the geological origins and environmental systems of the Hawaiian Archipelago. Spending a week investigating the natural history of any one of the main high islands of Hawaii provides for an exceptional learning. Having the opportunity to explore both Hawaii Island and Kauai as an expansive, integrated pro-gram adds another dimension – geologic time. The young island of Hawaii provides the basic early setting, illustrative of the geologic origins of Hawaii’s giant mid-ocean shield volcanoes and initial settlement by native plants and animals. Kauai illustrates the result of 5 million years of geologic and biotic evolution during which time the island has interacted with the surrounding atmosphere, hydro-sphere and biosphere.

The first 2 days are spent investigating one of Earth’s geologic wonders, the “Big Island” of Hawaii. This cluster of the uppermost portion of some of the planet’s largest and fast growing volcanic mountains sits near the middle of its largest tectonic plate, moving the islands to the northwest at the rate of 3.5 inches/year. In addition to having the opportunity of viewing up close molten magma spewing from of an active volcano (Kilauea), course participants examine a wide range of volcanic rock products and the results of the ongoing tectonic adjustment of a rap-idly growing volcanic mass, including features such as rift zones, fissures, pit craters, and prominent normal fault escarpments.

In addition, even though the cluster of volcanic mountains that comprise the Big Island have only been around for less than a half a million years, they display some very interesting features resulting from their exposure above sea level. Forests on Mauna Loa struggled to become established on an actively erupting volcano, resulting in “forest islands” surrounded by young lava flows. Glaciers that spread across the high summit platform of Mauna Kea interacted with incessantly erupting cinder cones to produce some very interesting geologic products. Reefs grew up in the surrounding subtropical marine setting. North Pacific’s waves and associated coastal currents produced the highly variable black, green and white sandy beaches that characterize much of the young island’s shoreline. And, all along, plants, birds and insects became established and evolved, creating the planet’s most endemic island biome.

Moving on over to Kauai the last three days of this program provide for observation of the maturing geologic and biotic effects of an isolated, trade wind-impacted, mid-ocean volcanic island that has interacted with the rest of the planet for over 5 million years. The geologic aspects of subsidence, weathering, erosion, soil formation, incision of canyons, growth of prominent shallow marine reef plat-forms, and the transport and deposition of sediments are all well displayed. Biotic evolution is dramatically revealed in a wide range of ecosystems, collectively representing the highest percentage of endemic species on Earth. Darwin would have cherished this place.

The activity-filled, two-island experience encompasses 5 to 6 days of interactive, hands-on learning. The many properties of a wide range of interrelated geologic and environmental systems are examined, measured, recorded, analyzed and dis-cussed. Additionally, emphasis is placed on determining the development of a better understanding of the modifying influence of the humans that have occupied these islands for the past 1000-1200 years. Discussion will explore ways in which we might learn to more effectively coexist with our natural surroundings.

The program is led by Ph.D. earth scientist Chuck Blay and associates, who have been conducting place-based-learning field courses in Hawaii for science educators, and for both domestic and international K-16 school groups, for over 12 years. They all make sure you enjoy yourself while you also learn about island’s amazing natural attributes.


Day 1: Kilauea Volcano (Volcanoes National Park):
Field trip to Kilauea Volcano, the planet’s most studied and most famous active volcano, currently having erupted continuously since January 1983. A very full day includes views of the summit caldera and east rift zone, examination of major volcanic products such as pahoehoe and aa lava flows, local explosive tephra ash deposits, fissures, pit craters, lava tubes, fault scarps and many more related volcanic features. If the volcano is cooperating, the evening will end with a hike to view reddish-orange, 2000 degree, molten lava flows.

Day 2: Mauna Kea Summit (Volcanics and Glacial Deposits):
An all day excursion to the summit region of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest mountain (13,796-ft), to examine volcanic products and glacial deposits and to discuss the mountain’s complex geologic and climatic history. The short road trip from wet, humid, sea level Hilo to MK’s dry, high altitude arctic desert setting traverses numerous climatic settings, the products of persistent trade winds encountering the Pacific Ocean’s highest island mountain. While on the summit visits are also made to Lake Waiau, the US’s second highest lake (13,200 ft) and several of the planet’s largest, and most expensive, astronomy observatories.

Day 3: Travel to Kauai – afternoon free:
Interisland flight from the Big Island to Kauai. After a bit time to reorganize and even relax a little, a 1.5 to 2 hour lecture will provide an overview of the geology and environmental systems of Hawaii.

Day 4: Rocks and Plants (Waimea Canyon/Mountain Forest & Alakai Swamp):
Exploration into the geology and botany of Hawaii with a hike through a near-native Kauai mountain forest, into Kauai’s famous mountain-top tropical swamp, and along the Canyon Trail into the spectacular 2500 ft-deep “Grand Can-yon of the Pacific.” Activities include a review of the geologic origin of the volcanic mountains of Hawaii and a look at the plants and animals of Kauai’s native forest and high island swamp ecosystems.

Day 5: Coastal Ecosystems (Beaches and Dunes):
Investigation into the formation of beaches on a mid-ocean volcanic island, including an in depth analysis of the impact of sea level rise being driven by global warming. Activities include the construction of beach profiles, the excavation of trenches, description of beach deposits and discussions dealing with the origins of the sand that constitutes a beach. Swimming in the surf will help you to understand what a sand grain has to go through.

Day 6: Limahuli Botanical Garden, Na Pali Coast and Kilauea Point Bird Preserve:
Morning garden visit to review the ethnobotanical history of Hawaiian native and Polynesian introduced plants. Mid-day hike along a portion of Kauai’s spectacular Na Pali coast incorporating a discussion of the formation of extreme sea cliffs. Afternoon visit to Kilauea Point national bird preserve to view North Pacific native sea birds, dolphins and humpback whales (winter).

Lodging on Hawaii Island and in Poipu on Kauai; group transportation provided; all, or most, meals provided, depending on agreement between TEOK Inv. and school group. Air transport to and from Hawaii, as well as between Hawaii and Kauai islands, to be arranged by workshop group.

Total, on the ground, cost range $1,495 to $1,795 per participant, depending on workshop duration and decisions regarding various logistical arrangements. The variable cost of airline travel to and from Hawaii, as well as the interisland flight between Hawaii and Kauai islands, is additional.