Volcano Watch — Andrea Kaawaloa: summers at HVO

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The standard question I get asked by my `ohana and friends is, "What you taking up in college?" I reply, "Geology," and the first thing that comes out of their mouths is, "What's that??" Many people ask me, "How did you get interested in that?"

This week's column was written by Andrea Kaawaloa. Andrea is a senior at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and will graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in geology. Under the auspices of the U.S. Geological Survey's Minority Participation in the Earth Sciences program, she has worked at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for the last four summers, assisting the scientists in their research and, this past summer, doing a research project of her own. She plans to return to the Big Island to live and eventually wants to teach science in the district where she grew up.

The standard question I get asked by my `ohana and friends is, "What you taking up in college?" I reply, "Geology," and the first thing that comes out of their mouths is, "What's that??" Many people ask me, "How did you get interested in that?" Well, to be honest, I never thought that one day I would be studying geology, let alone working at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. I thought I would be taking up Fishing 101.

I was born and raised in Kalapana, Hawai‘i. I never realized it at the time, but I grew up in one of the most spectacular areas in the world. We had lava all around us, yet it wasn't until I took my first geology course that I learned that these weren't just lava rocks, but that they were basaltic lava, which can be found all over the world and even on Mars.

There were two events that really influenced my decision to go into geology. After my first year in college, I learned that the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was hiring minority students, and I was advised to apply. I got the job, and during my first summer there, I was exposed to many different fields of geology. Even though working at the observatory was exciting, it was the loss of my family's house in Kalapana in 1990, when lava flows buried the town, that really focused my interest in volcanoes.

Because of my Hawaiian background, I was always interested in the cultural aspects of the volcanoes here in Hawai‘i. My `ohana is very active in living and perpetuating the Hawaiian culture, and I grew up with the knowledge of Pele and her brothers and sisters. I knew that no matter what I took in college, it would be something that I could apply to my culture. Once I started taking science classes and learning how volcanoes worked, my scientific knowledge sometimes clashed with my cultural beliefs. Throughout the years, I have learned to accept both and to understand that both aspects play an important role in my life.

Working at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has been a great opportunity for me. People like to know exactly what it is that I do there. I have flown in a helicopter to Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō to study the active lava lake, and I've taken lava samples by dipping a hammer head on a steel cable into the lava tube. I've used surveying instruments to map features on the new flow field, and I've hiked for miles across fresh lava to map the areas of active flow.

I've also helped out with research programs at the University of Hawai‘i. I've been on research vessels that went to Japan and Australia to study undersea volcanoes, and I worked on a boat that went to study Lō‘ihi, the newest Hawaiian volcano.

Because my family is the most important thing in my life, I plan to take some time off after graduating and spend it with my grandparents, learning the Hawaiian culture and crafts. All Hawaiian children need to realize that if we don't learn from our Kupuna, parts of our original culture will be lost. When it's time for me to go back to school, I want to take more classes in geology and education. Eventually, I would like to return to Pāhoa and teach science.