FROM THE VICE PRESIDENT
Sidebar: Are oceans becoming acidic?
LOST LEWIS AND CLARK
Sidebar: Neurons get their close-up
Sidebar: Core facility models molecules
A HAZARDOUS WORLD
Sidebar: Genes, the environment and you
Cover: An illustration of UM's Main Hall tower bathed in the glow of a fictitious smoldering Earth.
Vision is published annually by The University of Montana Office of the Vice President for Research and Development and University Relations. It is printed by UM Printing & Graphic Services.
PUBLISHER: Daniel J. Dwyer. MANAGING EDITOR AND GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Cary Shimek. PHOTOGRAPHER: Todd Goodrich. CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Brianne Burrowes, Brenda Day, Judy Fredenberg, Joan Melcher, Rita Munzenrider, Patia Stephens and Alex Strickland. WEB DESIGN: Patia Stephens. EDITORIAL OFFICE: University Relations, Brantly Hall 330, Missoula, MT 59812, 406-243-5914. MANAGEMENT: Judy Fredenberg, Office of the Vice President for Research and Development, 116 Main Hall, Missoula, MT 59812, 406-243-6670.
Montana has mountains, yet they lie in shadows compared to Hawaii's high volcanic peaks. As a UM senior, my classroom for 10 days last year was Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. Most of the time during my learning adventure, I slept outside and hiked from site to site.
Rising to a height of 10,023 feet, Haleakala — which translates to “House of the Sun” — is a volcanic treasure. Cindercones, lava tubes, caves and lava flows decorate the crater-like floor. For my geography senior project, I gathered satellite data and researched maps of Maui, then decided to compare differently aged lava flows, focusing on vegetation succession and variation.
I came to UM in 2002 from Golden Valley, Minn. — the land of more than 10,000 lakes and even more giant mosquitoes. I’ve been interested in science since my eighth-grade earth sciences class, where I learned about measuring wind speed, reading clouds and asking as many questions as I could come up with.
After a few years at UM, I studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador, taking a volcanology class from one of the world’s leading volcanologists, Theofilos Toulkeridis. He led us on field trips to the coast, the jungle and around Quito, which boasts more than 250 volcanoes in a 100-mile radius. He taught me different volcano types, lava-flow minerals and how scientists gather data, allowing them to predict explosions and ideally evacuate densely populated areas before catastrophe strikes.
My fascination with volcanoes spurred me to major in geography. Having completed classes in cartography, field techniques and geography of mountains, I wanted to study a volcano in-depth and create some maps. I chose to focus on performing fieldwork and making digital elevation models — maps that show elevation well.
November 2006 I flew to Maui and stayed for 20 days. I packed 30 backpacking
meals — enough for 10 days in the field — and all the necessary
gear — global positioning system, maps, field book, digital camera,
sleeping bag, hiking boots and sunscreen, to name a few.
My four case studies contained two newer lava flows (formed in the past 750 to 3,000 years) and two older lava flows (formed 3,000 or more years ago), which I identified using a lava-flow map created by the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory.
The contrast between lava flows at higher elevations and lower ones was remarkable. I found that several factors such as rainfall, humidity and temperature play a role in vegetation succession. I took photographs comparing different stages of vegetation.
The first study area in La Perouse Bay had the newest lava flow on the entire island of Maui — all less than 900 years old. Except at the edges of the flow, vegetation was not present. This supports my research, because it shows younger lava hasn’t broken down enough to support vegetation.
In my field book I recorded observations about the basalt lava, which I identified as a’a lava because of its very sharp and rough appearance. Varying blackness is caused by saltwater erosion. Some lava rocks contained red color, indicating the presence of iron.
My second study area was near Paliku in the crater. It contained a lava flow at 6,500 feet that is between 1,000 and 3,000 years old. After an 11-mile hike to reach it, I found mosses, lichens and grasses, as well as small shrubs, bushes and trees.
The lava, originating from Oilipu’u Crater, is basaltic because of its origin from beneath the earth’s crust. This particular flow was a combination of a’a and pahoehoe (smooth) lava.
There were clear signs of weathering, as the a’a edges are smooth compared to the rough edges seen at La Perouse Bay.
For my third comparison, I hiked up the northern crater ridge to 7,200 feet, which contained a lava flow between 3,000 and 5,000 years old. I suspected the lava came from an ancient caldera, viewable from the trail. It’s clearly older, with fewer jagged edges and nonvegetated spots. In visible areas, the lava had plants and grasses, ferns, lichen and moss. The lichen and moss appeared similar to those at Paliku.
Windblown trees, some 15 to 20 feet high, and bushes were the dominant vegetation. Ferns, pelo (a red berry related to coffee) and pika (a yellow, sweet-smelling flower) speckled the landscape at that elevation. Grasses were intermixed in the vegetation, and a few dwarf bushes with piney sharp needles managed to scratch my skin.
The vegetation there showed the effects of time with a wider variety of plants, and most lava was no longer visible.
In general, vegetation density is highest on older lava flows, especially in lower elevations where rain is abundant. I think my fieldwork can be an important first step in using vegetation as an indicator of lava flow age. I realize much more time and research is needed for a more thorough analysis, especially since the flora is so diverse and abundant.
My final case study within Kaupo Gap proved to be the most challenging. Vegetation was the densest there by far, as the trail dropped 6,000 feet in only 8 miles. I rose at 5 a.m. to begin the demanding hike, my legs wicking morning dew off the tall grasses as I hiked over the crest and began the descent. On the way I climbed trees, studied ferns, ate delectable berries and even found vines to swing on. I stopped at one tree as morning mist created a small rainbow and climbed up. Perched on a tree branch, I inspected a nearby spider web and found a spider with the markings of a crab hanging silently, suspended in air.
I broke the silence with singing and laughing about how blessed I was to be tree climbing in a Hawaiian rainforest and calling it class time. As I crept lower down the lava flow, I encountered pastureland. Originally this was all rainforest, but farmers have converted the land into pastureland for cows. At one point the formal trail ended, and I found myself jumping fences and meandering through cattle. About the time I started feeling lost, I scrambled over one more fence and onto a small road. A half-mile later I discovered the Kaupo General Store.
I bought some vanilla wafers, my first cookies since I began my adventurous field trip, and washed them down with cold water. With the fieldwork done, I sauntered along the coast, happy to have a few days left for ocean explorations, swimming in pools formed by cascading falls off the volcano and joining in a community Thanksgiving celebration.
more information, e-mail