I recently got surprised by my mother with a surprise trip to Hawaii. Aside from this being an utterly stellar gift, I can now say I personally witnessed two erupting volcanoes and visited 3 hot spots. I definitely have a mother who knows me, and does more than she needs to support my passions and interests. She showed endless patience watching me scramble around the volcanic park on the Big Island
I’m not sure where my love of geology came from. My mother says when I was little, shiny little rocks used to utterly fascinate me. I remember finding a block of pumice in the forest behind my house, dusty and full of holes. I took it home and placed it on the window sill in the kitchen. It was my rock, and I liked to look at it and handle it, feeling the strange texture. I also remember getting panicked, because people always told you about erosion and weathering, but I don’t remember hearing about lithification. I thought we were going to run out of rocks. I was so terrified of running out of rocks, I wondered where would we all stand?
What a weird fear for a child to have.
In my teenage years, I collected rocks. Particularly the shiny ones. I still do that, if I’m honest. It wasn’t until I went on my first field trip, in Antrim, that geology really caught me though. A part of me keeps waiting for that interest to run out. I keep wondering how much passion for rocks can a person really have? I’ve made my entire life about geology. It’s my career path and one of my favourite hobbies. When I go on holidays, I always look up the geology of the area in advance. That initial joy has never died down or been diluted. In geology I learnt a whole new way of seeing the world. When you can read a landscape, you can learn the story of a region. Not everyone in life gets to find their passion. I often pinch myself, hoping that I never lose it. Like I had to do recently in Hawaii.
I went on the lavaone boat tour. On the one hand I actually try to avoid going on geological guided tours. I usually know more than the tour guides, because I’ll read up on the area before I go ( I have the research bug). I generally don’t have much patience to stand around and listen to stuff that has become quite basic to me, after years of study. On the other hand, on an active volcano I would choose a guide with a park ranger just for safety reasons. They have up to date information on where is safe to go, and that sort of information is really important.
I didn’t choose the hiking option. Since I was surprised with the trip, I had a winter wardrobe and no hiking gear to handle the hike. Forcing me into either buying hiking gear or the boat option. That and we were somewhat pressed for time. The entire experience was surreal. My mother dropped me off at the meeting spot. After listening to the safety talk I got on the boat and sat on my own a few rows from the front. You could see the cloud of steam from quite far away.
At this point I was pretty excited. I had previously seen the Copahue eruption in 2014, but I didn’t see any lava in that eruption. I vaguely listened in to the explanation the tour guides were giving, and aside from calling the lava pouring out ‘magma’ (which I guess can be forgiven, since correct terminology isn’t as important to them as it is to scientists), their information was correct.
Coming up close to the lava, it got quite warm. Seeing steam rise up off the heated water was beautiful. Overall there was only a very light sulphur smell. But maybe I compare everything to Fogo in Cape Verde, where my lips prickled with all of the Sulphur Dioxide in the air, and it’s all mild after that. I got my first sighting of lava when I viewed the crater from the Jaggar Museum (best seen at night for taking photographs). It doesn’t photograph all that well (with my lack of talent as a photographer, and the fact that I was using an iPhone to take the pictures) but I could see some of the lava bubbling when I went during the day.
I may have teared up a little. I can’t help it. I love geology. I spent a full year of my life working just on research in igneous petrology and geochemistry. I got attached.
Since I had already seen the little fountains of lava from the lava lake in the crater, I felt a little bit more prepared to see the lava tunnel pouring out of the cliff side. A little.
It was such a surreal experience. I did not take a photo that does it justice. It was so much more dramatic in person. I’ll attach two youtube links to videos I took for anyone interested. What was particularly cool was the fact that the steam cloud coming off the ocean was twisting in a helix shape (look at the second link I attach to see that). It was so beautiful.
If you want to look at some of the geology behind it all, or more scientific background, I definitely can’t do it better justice than the USGS: https://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/
On a final note, I can’t recommend visiting the volcano park enough. Just make sure you do it with a park ranger if you’re doing any hikes close to hot lava. They know what’s safe to do or not! I highly recommend the lava tour, I am so glad I did it. Though as a geologist I would have preferred to do the hike.
There’s always next time…
Close up of lava coming out. These videos were taken on a much fancier camera than my phone, so they are quite good quality aside from my not so steady hands. The black flecks are cooled lava. You could see quite a few large chunks of the stuff floating for a while:
This video shows the twisting cloud. Really awesome to look up at that: