Current Syllabus

GEOL 275:  Geology and Natural History of Hawaii

Dr. Meredith Newman  239 JSC 607-431-4734
Dr. David Griffing   243 JSC 607-431-4629

Required Text:
Volcanoes in the Sea: The Geology of Hawaii, 1983, 2nd edition, G.A. MacDonald, A.T. Abbott & F.L. Peterson: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-0832-0.

Your grade in this course will be based on the following elements:
1) Participation and behavior. This is the most important part of a successful trip, and thus the most important part of your grade. Please note that "participation" does not mean that you simply show up for an event. It is a combination of your attitude, your contributions to the group, your willingness to help out, etc.

2) Field notebooks. You will need to keep a daily record of your observations of both geology and natural history throughout the trip. You should endeavor to make thorough observations, and also record your thoughts (of a scientific nature), speculations, hypotheses etc. You might also consider taking notes on the readings in your notebooks. You are also expected to take notes on the oral presentations (below). Field notebooks will be collected at unspecified intervals throughout the trip, so keep them up to date!

3) Oral presentation. At some point during the trip you will be responsible for making a 15-minute oral presentation to the group. You will choose your topic ahead of time--you can pick one from a list of suggested topics (attached), or you may suggest your own. I need to know before we break for the holidays what your topic is. You will have to prepare a (typed!) abstract of your presentation before we depart for Hawaii and bring 22 copies with you on the trip. When you give your presentation you will have a "white board" and colored markers to help you explain your topic. If there are complicated figures that you would like to show, make handouts of these along with the abstracts.  You will be graded on the quality of your written abstract (how informative it is, how well it reflects the important points of your presentation) as well as the quality of your oral presentation (how well you inform the group, how well you understand the topic, quality of handouts and/or figures).

4) Geological reports. Your group will write 2 reports covering the geology of the islands of Kauai and Hawai'i. Your report should conform as closely as possible to the following outline:

  • Table of Contents
  •  Introduction and General Information This section should include a colored geologic map and a map of the  localities on the island that we visited. You may also include cultural information, etc.
  • Volcanic Stratigraphy and Petrology Discuss each geologic unit--start with the oldest and end with the youngest Geomorphic Features.
  • Geomorphology The shape of the landscape and the processes that caused it, erosion, faulting, volcanism etc.
  • Other Aspects of the Island This may include geologic and environmental hazards, energy resources, and other aspects of natural history not covered elsewhere in the report.
  • Human interactions with the Environment Focus here on how human activities are affected by/have affected the physical environment of the islands. Consider issues of development, availability of resources, impact on the environment, etc.
  • References Cited in the Report

While the point here is to provide a general overview of the geology of the islands, you should pay special attention to the features that we have observed firsthand, and incorporate your own observations into your report to the fullest extent possible. Resources that you might use in writing your reports are your textbook, field guides and road logs, your own field books, national park info, newspaper articles, etc. Make sure when writing your report that you properly reference all sources of information (we'll discuss how to do this later).

You will be graded on your individual contribution to the report (so make sure you clearly sign your work) as well as the completeness and overall presentation made by your group. You are strongly encouraged to get together in your groups and proofread each members' work before turning it in.

5) Assorted quizzes and short essay assignments. From time to time you will be given a short assignment. These will always be announced ahead of time and will be based on our observations in the field. During our first few days in Hawaii you will have a quiz on the geography of Hawaii, so learn it!

Each of the items listed above will count approximately equally toward your final grade (quizzes together, each geologic report separately).

Suggested Topics For Oral Presentations


Text Reference (a starting point for research)

Ocean and air currents affecting the Hawaiian Islands    Chapter 14 (Work of the Ocean)
Loihi seamont Several Chapters
Geologic history of Haleakala with emphasis on younger cinder cones Chapter 20 (Maui)
Dating of polarity zones in the Hawaiian Islands and the origin of “sea-floor stripes”  Chapter 16 (Age of the Islands)
Life stages of Hawaiian volcanoes  Chapter 6 (Life Stages…)
Littoral cones around SE Oahu (Diamondhead, Hanauma Bay, etc.) Chapter 21 (Oahu)
Growth and persistence of Hawaiian volcanic 
rift zones
Chapters 2 (…Volcanic Activity) & 19 (Hawaii)
Fluctuations in surface height of active lava  
lakes during 1972-1974 Mauna Ula eruption
Chapter 3 (Historic Eruptions)
Volcanic hazards and public response Chapter 7 (…Associated Hazards)
Historic volcanism on Mauna Loa Chapter 3 (Historic Eruptions)
The role of lava tubes in Hawaiian volcanoes Chapter 2 (…Volcanic Activity)
The paired hot spot track of the Hawaiian Chain  Chapter 18 (Plate Tectonics and Origin…)
14C dating and datable charcoal beneath lava flows Chapter 16 (Age of the Islands)
Fresh water resources in Hawaii Chapters 10 (Hydrologic Cycle) & 11 (Groundwater)
Endangered species in Hawaii 
Invasive species in Hawaii 
Alternative energy resources in Hawaii 
VOG, volcanic smog Chapter 7 (…Associated Hazards)
Laterite & other weathering products Chapter 8 (Rock Weathering and Soils)
Tectonics of superplume events and the
Polynesian plume province
Reef limestones, erosional notches, & sea-level change Chapters 14 (….Ocean) & 15 (Sedimentary Rocks)
Reef environments & reef development in
the Hawaiian islands
Chapter 14 (Work of the Ocean)
Mass wasting and the Hawaiian coast line Chapter 9 (Mass Wasting)