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Artistic portrayal of the Makanaka-age glacier on Hawai’i as it advanced towards its maximum extent — all on top of the Mauna Kea volcano. Art work by ASU student Alexis Ruiz, using Google Earth imagery.

Lab Title

Fire and Ice on the Big Island of Hawaii: Volcanic Hazards and Volcano Modification by Landform Processes

Lab Summary

The sculpting of Earth’s relief by volcanic processes and the erosion of that relief is a major topic in physical geography’s study of earth surface processes. The Big Island of Hawaii experiences both sets of processes on timescales that can be studied in a basic physical geography class. Thus, you will observe how the Hawaiian volcanoes evolve and evaluate a case of volcanic hazard for the Hualalai Volcano. You will also explore how glaciers work to erode the tallest of the volcanoes – all within a geovisualization where you interact with the physical geography as an avatar in a video game.

Reason to select this lab

In addition to providing points in the multi-step lab category, it uses an innovative way to analyze landforms: a geovisualization that is like a video game. There is a cost, though, of $15. Also, you will need a laptop or a desktop Windows or Mac Computer that has at least 4 GB RAM (ideally 8 GB).

Useful maps to download – these are not required, but helpful to some students

National Park Service map of the Big Island:

NPS map of Kilauea

Computer program used in this lab

You will be given instructions later on how to purchase the geovisualization game environment in canvas. In the geovisualization, you are an avatar character able to investigate volcanic, river valley and glacial features to complete the lab. Since this lab is optional, you do not have to purchase the geovisualization for this course.

SQ general studies learner objectives

Students analyze geographical data using the scientific method, keeping in mind scientific uncertainty. Students also use mathematics in analyzing rates to change in the landscape. Students also work to enhance their understanding of fundamental principles of dynamics and mechanics governing the behavior of matter in physical systems.

Science & Society learner objectives

This lab meets three learner goals for this requirement in the context of volcanic hazards. In studying volcanic hazards associated with the Hualalai Volcano, they analyze a case study on the reciprocal relationship between science and society. In doing so, they develop a critical understanding western science (e.g. using a statistical distribution to predict a hazard). Then, they formulate and communicate a view of the hazard for the people living downslope of the volcano. Thus, this is local case study whose basic parameters follow other societal hazards associated with the processes studied in this landforms class.

Organization of the lab

Section 1. Preface: Fire and Ice on the Big Island

Section 2. Overview of the lab

Section 3. Extra background materials.

Section 4. Geovisualization purchasing and playing


1. Preface: Fire and Ice on the Big Island: a case study in how volcanic and glacial processes reshape the surface of Earth?



2. Geovisualization: purchasing and playing


3. Overview of lab activities


4. Background information


5. Step-by-Step Guidance in answering questions for the laboratory.


Space shuttle view of Hawai’i

1. Preface: Fire and Ice: Volcano hazards, glaciation, and valley development on the Big island of Hawai’i

The Big Island of Hawai’i is a special place for physical geographers to study. There exists such a wide range of climates, all while the geology of basalt lava rock type remains pretty constant. For example, warm desert conditions exist on the western sides of the Hualalai, Mauna Kea, and Kohala shield volcanoes, and cold desert conditions on top of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Physical geographers have studied everything from coastal erosion to incision of stream valleys using the variety of conditions on the Big Island. Since physical geographers typically love fieldwork, a plus is the lack of poisonous snakes.

Unlike other sciences that task you with analyzing one focused field such as cellular biology, inorganic chemistry, or physics – physical geography concentrates on six general areas of science to try to understand better the great variety of environmental conditions that exist at Earth’s surface. Physical Geography was the world’s first environmental science field, well before everything split off, and it remains focused on interconnections as displayed in the following diagram.

Image compiled by Ron Dorn to show how all of the elements of

physical geography come together to analyze the nature Earth’s surface

A very large part of geography involves connections between science & society. This is true for geomorphology as well. In the context of the Big Island of Hawaii, this lab has a large component where you examine volcanic hazards associated with the Hualalai Volcano that towers over the Kona coast. You use a scientific approach to study these volcanic hazards and think about their implications for people in the pathway of possible future lava flows. These questions are of a scale appropriate for a videogame geovisualization that encompasses the entire Big Island of Hawaii. The geovisualization looks and plays like a videogame.

There is a caveat about the lab: There is no doubt that an online lab about the Big Island is missing out on our five traditional sense of sight (and the changes in lighting), smell and feel the trade winds on your face, the taste of trail and camping food, the smell of plants, and touching of different volcanic rock textures. In the end, you will just have to experience these in Hawai’i for yourself.

2. The video game geovisualization: purchasing, downloading, and playing

There is a page for this lab in canvas that explains about how to purchase, download and play the geovisualization. However, there are a few issues that I want to emphasize right away:

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS LAB – please understand that you do not have to do this lab. It is not a requirement for the class. This lab is just one of the assignments in the multi-step lab category.

THERE IS A COST – The geovisualization was developed by Two Bent Coppers, and it will cost you $15 to purchase and download the geovisualization.

YOU MUST HAVE A GOOD COMPUTER (laptop or desktop) to play the geovisaulization – Window 8 and El Capitan are the lowest operating systems that will work. Your computer must have AT LEAST 4 GB of RAM and be a 64-bit machine. 3. Overview of lab activities

The purpose of this section is to provide you an overview of the activities you will complete. Before you dig into the lab, you are also welcome to learn extra background information about the Big Island of Hawai’i in the next section. The developers of this lab assume that you have this background knowledge already. Thus, if you are not familiar the material in section 3, you will need to read that section to complete the lab successfully.

3.1 Parts of this lab. This lab has questions divided into different parts.

Part 1: Volcano Basics

Part 2: Volcanic Hazards

Part 3: Science & Society Essay on Volcanic Hazards

Part 4: Glaciation of Mauna Kea: Will there be another one?

Part 5: River Valley Incision: how long does it take to make a river valley in Hawai’i?

3.2. The study area and the scale of study

The entirely of the Big Island is too much to analyze at a scale where you can see the sorts of features that would be of interest to you on the ground. It just is not possible to include everything in a videogame at a large scale of even 1:100 (1 length on the ground to 100 lengths on the map). There is just too much detail. Besides, sometimes its possible to lose sight of the forest if you are too buried in the roots of the trees. The big-area (small scale) patterns in physical geography would get lost.

Thus, all of the laboratory activities will be at a scale where you can only zoom in just so close. High spatial resolution is not what this laboratory covers, but rather bigger-sized features and processes.

The two graphics below show a wonderful map designed and produced by the National Park Service and a famous Landsat 7 mosaic produced by NOAA. Both of them show the study area of this lab.

4. Background material related to the lab

The developers of this lab piloted the lab activities with students, who ended up asking a lot of questions about different aspects of the Big Island and who found the material in this section useful in completing the lab. While some wanted to know more about topics not covered in this lab like coral reefs and rainforests, most of the questions were asking for details that they needed to answer the questions in the lab. While the information in this section occurs in GPH 111 lectures and readings, the relevant information is concentrated in this section covering information about volcanoes and the glacial history of Hawai’i.

4.1. Background on Volcanoes on the Big Island

The Big Island has five major shield volcanoes, where this map is courtesy of the National Park Service.

There are thousands of smaller volcanoes, for

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