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Studying Creation in Paradise

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Sowards

Not all parts of the Earth are the same age. Geology master’s student Kimberly Sowards had the opportunity to take her geology skills to a younger part of the planet: Hawaii.

“Hawaii is a very young island,” Sowards said. “There are still active volcanoes forming it, and the whole island was formed by a relatively young volcano.”

As part of her thesis, Sowards accompanied her mentor, BYU professor Steve Nelson, as well as professors Rey, McBride, and Tingey to study the island. The purpose of this journey to Hawaii was to study and understand not just the island, but our home planet as well.

“Earth’s surface started as volcanic rock and has since weathered into what it is now,” Soward said. “We’re looking at the weathered zones—what portion of the top has been weathered by rain and ground water before you get to the basalt layers that haven’t been eroded.”

Studying one small part of paradise allows us to understand how Hawaii and each individual area of the Earth were formed.

“It helps us see how the world was made,” Soward said. “Hawaii is so young compared to where we live on the continents. Being able to see the fresh and the weathered basalt, we’re able to get an example of what our land came from.”

Sowards conducted a Multi-channel Analysis of Surface Wave (MASW) study. This involved placing sensors on the ground every five feet and triggering waves in the ground by striking a hammer strike on a metal plate.

The end result was a 3D image of what is underneath the Earth’s surface and a deeper understanding of what goes on during the process of weathering.

“[What’s] most challenging is actually analyzing the data we get,” Sowards said. “It’s very [tedious] work that you have to do in order to get your data.”

In order complete these tasks, Sowards has found that motivation is essential. Her personal motivation is think of the results. This keeps her going to continue working through these processes.

“I know that there’s some sort of secret that I don’t know. Once I get these samples run and once I get all my shocks in the ground, I’ll be able to get some answers,” Sowards said.

Sowards will graduate in April 2017.  Her schooling has opened opportunities for her learn about various methods of science, not just geology.

“I enjoy being able to learn all these different methods. I have a thesis that’s very diverse,” Sowards said. “I can do chemistry and physics, and I’m able to learn all of this at once.”