JASON VI: Island Earth

Science Plan


Hawaii offers excellent locations for observing at close range an array of complex riddles pertaining to the formation of the earth and its unique ability to sustain life. The "Island" metaphor also helps explain the unifying theme of Organization, since Earth is an island in space and Hawaii consists of islands on Earth, each composed of smaller "islands", or microhabitats. An interdisciplinary research team composed of geologists, chemists, biologists, astronomers, and engineers will provide expertise and insight to address these riddles.


It is now generally accepted that the Hawaiian-Emperor archipelago was created by a "hot spot", an anomaly beneath the Pacific lithospheric plate. This anomaly produces unimaginable energy that has nowhere to go but up. It has been there at least 70 million years pumping heat through a system of conduits which reach the surface. As the Pacific Plate has drifted to the north and then northwest, the "hot spot" has formed a linear series of progressively older islands, atolls, guyots, and seamounts; the oldest seamount (Suiko) dated at approximately 70 million years old, is located near the Aleutian Trench. As the islands drift northwestward by seafloor spreading, they gradually subside and erode forming coral atolls in favorable conditions but eventually drowning when they reach northern latitudes, where the coral growth no longer keeps pace with sea level (a region called the Darwin point). "Hot spots" and sea floor spreading theories provide insight into the formation of the earth. The current location of the "hot spot" under the Big Island has produced an ideal situation to look into the earth. Researchers are currently looking for evidence related to the nature of the "hot spots". Such evidence would give helpful information about the formation of the earth including its atmosphere, lands, and oceans, all of which are needed for life.

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Gene Carl Feldman (gene@seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov) (301) 286-9428
Todd Carlo Viola, JASON Foundation for Education (todd@jason.org)