Students collect fault data near Kīlauea caldera

Students from UH Hilo spent Saturday exploring and recording data at a series of faults located near Kīlauea caldera.

By Susan Enright

Female student using leveling gun.
On field trip to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, a student looks through the NAK2 leveling gun to collect data. Photos by Darcy Bevens, click to enlarge.

Students from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo spent Saturday exploring and recording data at a series of faults located near Kīlauea caldera. The group of 13 was accompanied by Professor of Geology Steve Lundblad and Education Specialist Darcy Bevens. Research assistants joined the group in the afternoon.

Lundblad and Bevens introduced the group to some of the work the geology department faculty and students have been doing on fault movements south of the caldera. The work is in cooperation with staff from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

“In that regard, we had the students measure the offset along a series of pins originally cemented into the rocks on either side of a fault in 1966,” explains Lundblad. “We then compare the measurements to previous distances, and calculate the amount of offset. In our case, we measured approximately 5 millimeters of change in the past two years, perhaps due to some of the recent earthquakes in the area and the onset of the eruption at the summit that began in December. I appreciate the long-term monitoring aspect of this project and we talked about the importance of these seemingly small activities being part of a much larger picture.”

To collect the data, the group spent the morning in an area where visible cracks running along the ground reveal faults. The cracks are widening as the island responds to new intrusions of magma, expanding much like a person’s belly expands after a large meal. The cracks widen, not just in and along open ground but also across asphalt roadways.

Professor Lundblad guided the students as they used a measuring tape to check the distance between rebar anchored on either side of the cracks.

Student crouches down with measuring tape, next to crack in asphalt.
Student keeps the tape measure tight in relation to crack in the asphalt. Photos by Darcy Bevens, click to enlarge.

Lundblad and students also used Invar Rods and a NAK-2 leveling gun to see how much the elevation has changed, meaning how much the ground has dropped on one side of a crack relative to the other.

Bevens, an educational specialist at the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, which is based on the UH Hilo campus, explains. “Kīlauea is stable, for the part leaning on Mauna Loa. But the part of Kīlauea that is surrounded by the ocean? Well, the ocean is not a good thing to be leaning on, not as stable or strong as Mauna Loa.”

Student holds tall rod steady.
Student makes sure the Invar Rod is precisely on the rebar, while another student holds the rod steady. Photos by Darcy Bevens, click to enlarge.

After lunch, the group took a short hike to look at features of the earliest fissure eruption of Mauna Ulu (1969 – 1974).

“The students had a blast, looking at geologic features: spatter ramparts, tree molds, pumice, oxidation,” says Bevens.

Living Learning Communities

The students were from several Living Learning Communities, where students live together on campus as a cohort of the same major, usually as freshman. Saturday’s excursion included cohorts from the health and wellness, natural science, and Hawaiian language and culture communities. The communities strengthen peer-to-peer connections among students with similar interests and career goals, while also providing an opportunity to work alongside a faculty member in their chosen field of interest.

The communities also spark lifelong friendships and support, and are proven to be a highly effective way to improve retention and graduation rates. Group activities like the trip to Kīlauea also help students become more familiar with Hawaiʻi Island, enriching their education through applied learning activities.

“I was very impressed with the students’ enthusiasm, I am sure they were happy to get out and about,” says Professor Lundblad. “We tried to show them some aspects of the volcano that perhaps they haven’t seen even if they have been up to the park before.”

Lundblad is technically on sabbatical this year. He was scheduled to do research in Italy, but with the pandemic making travel risky, he has instead chosen to remain in Hawai‘i so far and is taking students out in the field.

“The geology students are delighted, for it provides them with field experience,” says Bevens. “The (other) students are also very happy, for it allows them to see features outside of Hilo.”

About the trip on Saturday, Lundblad says he hopes the students gained some additional appreciation for their natural surroundings here on Hawai‘i Island.

“It seemed like everyone had a good experience and enjoyed exploring some of the wonders of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park,” he says.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

Photos by Darcy Bevens, an educational specialist at the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes.