UHM Dept. of Earth Sciences banner, sunset
over Diamond Head, (c) Ken H Rubin

Marine and Environmental Geology (MEG)

The Marine and Environmental Geology Program (MEG) is focused on the physical, biological and chemical interactions that characterize earth surface environments. The program includes instructional and research opportunities in a wide range of topics related to marine and tropical environments. Because of our unique geographic location and diverse ethnic population, Hawaiʻi is an excellent natural laboratory to study the interaction of humans with natural environmental systems. Special areas of emphasis include carbonate geology, coastal geology, groundwater hydrology, paleoclimatology, marine biogeochemistry, and sedimentology/stratigraphy. Although much of our research is done within the Hawaiian Islands, we also study other Pacific islands, Asia, and modern and ancient sedimentary environments around the world. The MEG program consists of three main areas of research, described below.

Research Programs

Coastal Geology: Hawaiʻi's beaches and reefs are world-renowned for their beauty; understanding the processes which shape them helps us preserve their splendor, which is an important motivation for research in this field. Studies in this program have a particular emphasis on nearshore processes, coastal sedimentation and erosion, remote sensing of reefs, geologic history of Hawaiian reefs, Pacific basin sea level history, and submarine landslides. Research also focuses on carbonate petrology and petrography to derive clues to past environmental changes as well as post-depositional geochemical changes to island limestones.

Marine Sedimentary Environments: Hawaiʻi's central location within the Pacific allows easy access to a wealth of shallow- to deep marine environments, where sediments record the history of changes in ocean chemistry and productivity and their relationships to tectonic movements and climate change. Such studies are focused on micropaleontology, geobiology, paleoceanography and paleoclimatology, organic and inorganic isotope biogeochemistry, marine authigenic minerals, carbonate sedimentology and the physical properties of sediments and crustal rocks.

Hydrogeology of Tropical Volcanic Islands: Almost all types of hydrologic environments are found in the Hawaiian Islands, ranging from near-desert conditions with annual rainfalls of less than 25 cm to Mt. Waialeale on Kauai, one of the wettest spots on Earth with rainfall of over 10m per year; from sea level tropical rain forests to snow and permafrost conditions at the top of Mauna Kea at 4200m above sea level. Human activities related to tourism and agriculture introduce additional complexities into this delicately balanced environmental system. This unique setting presents important opportunities to study groundwater transport and contaminant fate processes in the nearshore environment, groundwater modeling, and the hydro-geology of Pacific islands and atolls. Recent research includes application and assessment of groundwater models, geochemical tracers, databases and GIS, agriculural contamination and bioremediation.

Other opportunities: Many of research efforts in this program involve participation in several marine expeditions each year. Graduate students in our program are encouraged to participate in these voyages as a part of their career training. The program is multidisciplinary with cooperating faculty and courses from several other departments including Civil Engineering, Soil Sciences, Oceanography and Geography. The diverse research and teaching interests of the faculty make it possible to tailor graduate degree work to fit the needs and desires of the student.

Research Divisions