Petrology and Geochemistry of the Ongoing Pu'u 'Ō'ō Eruption of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai'i (1983-2009)

Created by:
Andrew R. Greene (Hawai'i Pacific University;
Michael O. Garcia (University of Hawai'i at Mānoa;
Tim Orr (U.S. Geological Survey;
Author Profile


The current eruption of Kīlauea Volcano on the island of Hawai'i has been closely monitored and studied since its inception in 1983. This laboratory exercise utilizes the excitement of an ongoing eruption to demonstrate magmatic processes (crystal fractionation and magma mixing) in an active shield volcano and to better understand features of a hotspot volcano.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This lab is designed for an undergraduate course in petrology, although it could be used for a geochemistry or volcanology course at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Thin-section petrography and interpreting geochemical variation diagrams. Familiarity with crustal magmatic processes. Background lecture on hotspot processes would be useful. Experience plotting data in Microsoft Excel is essential to the exercise.

How the activity is situated in the course

This lab exercise could be an integral part of course material related to:
  1. magmatic processes in basaltic systems;
  2. hotspot volcanism; or
  3. using geochemical data in Earth systems.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This lab involves:
  1. integrating observations from multiple resources on active hotspot volcanism in Hawaii (e.g. maps, photographs, satellite imagery, video footage, background reading, monitoring data);
  2. observing hand samples and thin-sections of recently erupted lavas;
  3. making and interpreting geochemical plots of lavas from eruptions on Kīlauea Volcano as part of a time-series analysis;
  4. formulating and evaluating hypotheses on crustal magmatic processes; and
  5. synthesizing, presenting and discussing information about petrologic processes associated with active volcanism at Kīlauea Volcano.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

See above.

Other skills goals for this activity

The lab involves:
1. integrating observations from diverse sources of background information presented on the World Wide Web;
2. working with geochemical data to critically evaluate hypotheses of magmatic processes;
3. collaborating on a particular phase of the eruption in preparation for group oral presentation and discussion.

Description of the activity/assignment

  1. Pre-lab material provides background on the Hawaiian hotspot and the current eruption utilizing maps, diagrams, information, photographs, and video footage of the Pu'u 'Ō'ō-Kupaianaha eruption with written questions that test understanding of this material.
  2. Examination of hand samples and thin-sections of lavas from a distinct interval of the Pu'u 'Ō'ō-Kupaianaha eruption with group partners in lab.
  3. Working within groups assigned to particular intervals of the eruption to make time-series analyses of whole-rock geochemistry from the Pu'u 'Ō'ō-Kupaianaha eruption to evaluate crustal processes of magmatic evolution.
  4. Interpretation and synthesis of background information, petrography, and geochemistry, and presentation of results and interpretation with group partners at the beginning of the next lab period.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The lab simulates scientific research in volcanology, geochemistry, and petrology. The pre-lab material with questions provides a vehicle to encourage students to start the lab with background knowledge of Hawaiian hotspot volcanism. The collaborative investigation of a particular phase of the eruption using petrography and geochemistry parallels ongoing research projects on active volcanoes and is evaluated by answering questions. The primary goal of the lab is the synthesis and presentation of results and hypotheses by each group, which are then evaluated in group discussion.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Additional material that are part of the lab can be found at the following web address:

A list of selected references for the lab is included with the supporting materials.

New TTE Logo Small

Petrology resources from across Teach the Earth »

Key Resources:

Join the Community:

or search