Intensive Study: Geology and Tropical Ecology of Hawai’i

Please contact Environmental Science and Policy Program Director, Jerry Burgess, for more information.

420.675 Geology and Tropical Ecology of Hawai’i

This course also fulfills the ESP Residency Requirement
August 4–11, 2018
Intensive Study – Geology and Tropical Ecology of Hawai’i

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Eligibility and Prerequisite

Geological Foundations of Environmental Science, Principles and Methods of Ecology, experience or permission from the instructor. This course is open to all JHU graduate students, and undergraduates that are EPS or GECS majors in their Junior or Senior year. Note: This course counts toward the ESP residency requirement.


Johns Hopkins University (AAP-ESP), is pleased to announce plans to offer an in-field class on the Hawai’i, the Big Island, focused on geology and tropical ecology.

What happens when you drag thin oceanic lithosphere over a hot mantle plume? Paradise forms. The Emperor Seamount – Hawaiian Island chain is by far the largest volcanic construct on Earth, stretching roughly 6,000 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean. Hawai’i, the Big Island, is the youngest in the 80-million-year-old chain and consists of five large, coalesced volcanoes: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea.  Given that Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983, Hawai’i is a scientist’s dream for studying modern volcanism.  Our course will explore these volcanic processes as well as the unique watersheds and coastal processes of Hawai’i as they relate to the island’s tectonic and ecosystem development.

Hawai’i’s native forests evolved over millions of years, becoming one of the most extraordinary natural assemblages on Earth. These biological treasures shelter over 10,000 unique species, more than 90% of which are found nowhere else in the world. However, since the arrival of humans 1,000 years ago, the story of Hawai’i’s native forests is tragic tale of destruction and loss. At present, Hawai’i has lost almost half of its native forest cover from agriculture, grazing herds, logging, development, and invasive plants and animals. The natural forest is under siege by non-native species: cattle, pigs, goats, rats, and weeds. Sadly, more than one-third of Hawaiian birds and plants are on the U.S. Endangered Species List. We will explore the island’s unique terrestrial and marine habitats, plus the restoration efforts and resource management practices needed to restore and preserve paradise.

During the online portion of this course, we will examine the geologic and ecologic development of Hawai’i and human-nature interactions.  There will be some recorded lectures, online reading assignments, discussion boards, and a pre-trip quiz. Students will meet via Adobe Connect for one session in May/June from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, for a pre-departure overview of the course, class syllabus, readings, and logistics.

The field trip component of this trip lasts a week and will take us to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and various coastal, inland, wildlife refuge, and ecological restoration sites on the Big Island.


Summer 2018 semester with course meeting intensely from August 4 to August 11, 2018 on Hawai’i, the Big Island.

Intensive Study – Geology and Tropical Ecology of Hawai’i

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Course Description

The breathtaking beauty and unfettered access to the soaring Mauna Kea, the highest mountain when measured from the ocean floor, and home to the Big Island’s eight major climate zones, from desert to alpine, inspire countless superlatives. The volcanoes of the Big Island of Hawai’i are one of the premier examples of active hotspot volcanism in the world, and are by far the most accessible. This location offers an unparalleled opportunity to observe the planetary processes of destruction and creation through Hawai’i’s geology and tropical ecology. This field course explores the unique marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats of the island interconnections between the geology and the ecology and the integrated management of natural resources from volcanic mountain tops to the biodiversity of the coral reef. The primary goal of this interdisciplinary course will be to provide a solid foundation in field science for both geologic and ecologic methods. Specifically, we will examine the geological development of hot spot generated Hawaiian ocean islands we will describe the biological development of the ecosystems on the islands, and examine the interaction between humans (landscape use and introduction of exotic species) and the island environments (major biomes and anthropomorphic systems). As a field course natural communities will be a major emphasis. On land, focus will be placed on the tectonic development of the Islands and of the origin, evolution, and ecology of flora and fauna, and the reasons for the concentration of threatened and endangered species in Hawai’i. In the marine environment, emphasis will be placed on the ecological processes that maintain biodiversity, community organization, and the impacts on coral reefs.

Intensive Study – Geology and Tropical Ecology of Hawai’i

Koa Forest

Course Schedule

This course will be taught during the Johns Hopkins University AAP Summer 2018 semester
May 28, 2018 Preparatory materials made available online
August 3 or 4, 2018 Travel from home to Hilo, Hawaii
August 4 to August 11, 2018 Intensive study on Hawai’i, the Big Island
August 11, 2018 Travel from Hilo to home
August 18, 2018 Due date for final project
August 21, 2018 Last day of the Course


Kathy Schubel, PhD (co-instructor)
Jennifer da Rosa (co-instructor)

Trip Costs

Tuition $3,819 (subject to change)
Trip fee ~$2,100 (firm, will not increase).
This includes roundtrip transportation between the Hilo airport and the lodging site, all transportation during the field portion of course, all lodging from Aug 4-11, food (breakfast, lunch, dinner), entrance fees to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and the cost of a boat excursion to view active lava flowing into the ocean (pending volcanic activity, of course).Roundtrip flights to Hilo, a Hilo hotel on Aug 3 (if needed), snacks, and other incidentals are not included (you may be required to pay for one dinner out during the week (cost less than $30)).
Travel Variable (current round trip flights from Washington DC to Hilo, Hawai’i, are around $1,400.00)
Transportation from student home to Hilo, Hawai’i, (and an overnight room for Aug 3, should you need it) is the student’s responsibility.
Roundtrip transportation from Hilo airport to the lodging location is included in the trip fee.
If you can’t arrive at Hilo, Hawai’i, airport by 5:00 pm on August 4, you will need to fly in on Friday, Aug 3.

Shuttles are planned to take you from Hilo airport on August 4 to the lodging location at Kilauea Military Camp. The last pick up will be at 5 pm.  We will meet, as a group, on the evening of August 4 at Kilauea Military Camp. August 5-10 we will be in the field studying the unique geology and ecology around the Big Island. August 11 is the return travel day. Shuttles are planned to take you from Kilauea Military Camp to the Hilo airport in the morning and early afternoon. 

Student Mobility

Good health and mobility are essential (we will be on the move in this course, and hiking ability is expected). If you are pregnant or have asthma, you may decide not to visit certain sites due to hazardous volcanic gas concentrations, in accordance with NPS safety guidelines. An openness to a cross-cultural experience is necessary too.


There will be a few pre-trip lectures posted to Blackboard and a timed quiz on the assigned reading materials which will be based on journal articles available in the e-Reserves.

Once in the field, there will be daily Journal prompts for each student to reflect. We will have end of day discussions sessions to debrief on the day’s activities and introduce the next day’s focus. We would like to see evidence that you are thinking about what you are encountering in a proactive and thoughtful way.

Note: Before the field portion of class begins, please each purchase (1) one Rite in the Rain All-weather Journal Notebook No. 393, 4-5/8” x 7” size (Forestry Suppliers or Rite in the Rain).

Once the field portion of the class is completed, you will prepare a final project based on your journals and field notes to culminate your field experience. 


Registration for the course will open on September 11, 2017 and close on February 28, 2018. Students will register for this course in SIS. Payment of trip fee and tuition is due at the time of registration (tuition $3,819 + course fee $2,100). If a student decides to drop this course, $500 of the tuition is non-refundable, regardless of a student’s payment method choice (financial aid, employer assistance, tuition remission, etc.). Please note: this course does not follow the regular tuition refund schedule and ALL tuition and fees for this course are NON-REFUNDABLE after the source closes at the end of February.

The course needs 10 people to run. Complete refunds will be made if there are not enough people to run the course. The maximum number of people for the course is 15. Registration will be on a first come, first served basis with priority given to ESP degree candidates.

***Do not purchase travel or make other investments in your trip until you hear from the course Point of Contact (POC), Jenn da Rosa (Program Coordinator for Energy and Environmental Programs), that there are enough participants to run the trip. This will be determined by February, possibly earlier.*** 

Exclusions (not part of the trip fee)

  • Roundtrip airfare to Hilo
  • Overnight hotel in Hilo (for August 3, if needed)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Personal expenses
  • Wetsuits and snorkel rental
  • Tips to crew / guides
Intensive Study – Geology and Tropical Ecology of Hawai’i

Endangered nēnē (Hawaiian Goose)

Health and Travel Insurance

Well before departure, check with your doctor to see if you need any immunizations or medications before traveling. Immunization information can also be found at the sites for the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization International Travel and Health. Click here for the Johns Hopkins University Travel Resources.

Participants should make sure their health insurance and accident insurance covers them while traveling abroad. Additional coverage can be purchased through a variety of travel insurance options. To compare policies and for further information, visit a travel insurance comparison site such as Insure My Trip or Square Mouth.

HX Global, Inc.

Johns Hopkins is a member of HX Global, Inc., which covers JHU students while participating in international courses. HX Global, Inc. is medical and emergency evacuation assistance, it is NOT health insurance. Students are encouraged to review HX Global, Inc. benefits/information by going to MyJH, selecting Travel, then Travel Program. If you cannot access it through JHU’s website go directly to the HX Global website. First-time users will need to register and enter the Policy Number JH18492. Members can use the site to access medical and travel safety information.

For more travel information please visit the AAP Student Travel page.

Student Emergency Contact Information

Students must update their emergency contact information in SIS by following these instructions:

  1. Log in to
  2. Hover over the “Personal Information” tab
  3. Select “Emergency Contact”
  4. Complete “Emergency Contact” information

Important Forms for the Field Study

Note: For the International Travel Registry, you will need to log-in using your JHED ID. Click on the “My Travel Profile” in the upper left-hand corner. Please complete the “My Travel Profile” form in its entirety.

These forms all need to be completed by March 30, 2018.

NOTE: Emergency Contact Information in Hawai’i will be provided before departure.


Students will make their own travel arrangements to and from Hilo, Hawai’i, airport for the field component of the course.  The university is not responsible for refunds, penalties, or other fees that may be incurred or lost for changes or cancellations of airfare. Trip insurance is recommended.

If you are not a U.S. citizen or are traveling to Hawai’i from outside of the United States, then you must have a valid, signed, US passport, one that has an expiration date that is at least 6 months beyond the date of arrival in Hawai’i (i.e. later than Aug 4, 2018), carried on their person, in order to enter and leave the United States. Students should allow plenty of time to obtain a new passport or renew one that is set to expire. Non-US citizens should contact the Embassy of the United States to find out about visa requirements.