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PBS Film on the Formation of Hawaii and Fundamental Earth Processes

Source:  Dan Hawkes

A group of earth scientists, prominently including ESD Director Don DePaolo, have for years been studying the massive volcanoes on Hawaii’s Big Island—the largest and most active volcanic system on the planet—to find clues not only to the formation of the Hawaiian Islands, but also to the fundamental workings of Earth. Their efforts have now been documented in a PBS documentary film entitled Hawaii: Roots of Fire (funded by the National Science Foundation Continental Dynamics and Informal Science Education Programs), that started airing on PBS in May and June 2011.

Check the program page for local listings (bay area station KQED) »

Scientists have long wondered about the source of the lava erupting out of Hawaii’s volcanoes. Does the lava originate from the uppermost part of the Earth’s mantle, just below its crust? Or is the ultimate source actually at the bottom of the mantle or even within the Earth’s core, thousands of kilometers below the Earth’s surface? The film, produced and directed by Diane LaMacchia and geologist Doug Prose (of Earth Images Foundation, Oakland, California), shows an international group of scientists tackling this question by pursuing new lines of evidence, produced by drilling into Mauna Kea, the Big Island’s tallest volcano. With what they already know about the isotopic geochemistry of the earth, these scientists use the isotopic evidence they discover within Mauna Kea to create a picture of Earth processes that was never before possible. Not only do they find out where the lava comes from below Hawaii, they also make other important new discoveries about how Hawaii’s volcanoes work.


As part of the same NSF-funded project, Prose and LaMacchia also produced a web-based virtual tour and podcast, a Geologic Tour of the Big Island, as a companion piece to Hawaii: Roots of Fire. It shows ESD’s DePaolo conducting a tour of the remarkable volcanic sites on Hawaii’s Big Island. Featured in his tour are Mauna Loa, the Earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Kea, the Earth’s highest “mountain,” if measured from its base on the ocean floor (easily towering over Mt. Everest), and the “soon” to be “new” Hawaiian volcano/island, developing below the ocean over the last 100,000 years, and set to make its debut above the ocean surface, according to DePaolo, in about 50,000 years!