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Volcanoes in Hawaii

Volcanoes in Hawaii

Big Island volcanic eruption [courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/ Tor Johnson].

Of the natural wonders in Hawaii, the active volcanoes may be the most impressive.   The islands boast of the ever-seething rivers of red and numerous silent giants that lay dormant.  Getting to witness the terrifying and mysterious beauty of volcanoes has always been a major tourist attraction for vacationers on Hawaii.  As the Hawaiian Islands are all comprised of volcanoes, these mountains that spew molten rocks are deeply integrated into the culture of Hawaii.  Tales of volcanoes appear in Hawaiian myths and folklore about deities as well as in Hawaiian hula dances and songs.

There are three kinds of volcanoes:  the composite volcano with large symmetrical cones-shaped mountains with steep sides, cinder cones made from gas-charged lava which explodes powerfully into the air, then crumbling into cinders landing in a circular shape around the vent; and shield volcanoes which have thicker, slowly progressing lava flows that ooze in many directions from a vent on a flat dome with gentle slopes.  Hawaii’s most prominent and active volcanoes, like Mauna Loa and Kilauea, are shield volcanoes located on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Hawaii Volcano Legend

Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes and certain lava formations are said to be aspects of the goddess, such as “Pele’s hair” which is volcanic lava dried in a stringy appearance.  She is said to be the creator of mountains and the destroyer of lands.  After some jealous disputes, Pele’s sister became a goddess of the sea and she herself became goddess of the volcanoes.  Pele and her sister still face each other when the lava fires of Kilauea and the ocean collide on the shores of the Big Island.  Whenever there is an eruption of lava, or sulfurous air hisses up from the ground, one may say: “ae aia la ‘o Pele” meaning “there is Pele.”

Lava entering water, Hawaii Island

Big Island lava flowing into the ocean [courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson].

The Danger Zone

More than just the threat of magma racing down a mountainside, there are many hazardous components to a volcanic eruption.  When the lava is so hot that it explodes through the top of a mountain, enormous amounts of ash, soot and smoke go billowing into the atmosphere, creating a dark cloud and haze in the surrounding area for miles.  Volcanic ash is rich with sulfur and gas and can cause severe damage to the lungs of small children and the elderly if they do not receive proper air purification and relief.  Volcanic eruptions can also cause or trigger tsunamis, earthquakes and rock falls as the pressure of earth is shifting.  If the volcano is a powerful explosion, the booming sound  is so overpowering that in close proximity, it can result in hearing loss and shattering glass. The “danger zone” that could be affected by actual lava flow of a volcano, spreads for a 20-mile radius from the mountain. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a road built in 1928 called Chain of Crater’s Road is now partially covered and blocked by hardened lava from numerous eruptions of Kilauea Volcano. Because of the volcano’s unpredictability and threat-level, the government posts a condition report daily to monitor the alert system, based on the varying pressure and sulfurous gas emissions.

Hawaii is home to many volcanoes both above and below sea level. The following are the most well-known above sea-level volcanoes in Hawaii:

Kilauea Volcano – This is known as the world’s most active volcano with the longest continuous eruptions on record.  Kilauea first began to erupt in 1969 to 1974, and then recommenced again in 1983. Kilauea has been erupting steadily ever since, changing the actual  shape of the Big Island as the magma  flows into the ocean water and hardens against the landmass.  In 1987, the eruption covered much of the grounds at the Royal Gardens, and in 1990 intense lava flow ruined nearly 200 houses and the towns of Kaimu and Kalapana, wiping out a good portion of Route 130 in the process.

Chain of Craters Road seen looking back from the hardened lava.

Chain of Craters Road hardened lava blockage [courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ)].

Mauna Loa – Mauna Loa spans a lengthy space, covering half of the Big Island and is 60 miles long and 30 miles wide and last erupted in 1984. This is one of the most famous shield volcanoes in the world and has been periodically erupting for thousands of years. In 1868 one of Mauna Loa’s eruptions led to a great earthquake reported to be a level 8.0.

Mauna Kea Mauna Kea, meaning “white mountain” erupted over 4,500 years ago. Mauna Kea can be covered in snow during the winter as is a unique volcano because it has glacial deposit from the Ice Age as well as can be considered the tallest mountain in the world if measured from its base on the sea floor.  It rises approximately 13,800 feet above sea level.

Haleakala The last time this volcano erupted was in 1790 but has a history of ten eruptions in the last 10,000 years. While scientists can only predict and speculate, some believe Haleakala will be due for another eruption soon, though Maui residents are hopeful that “soon” is measured in geologic terms.

One of the most magical aspects of the Hawaiian volcanic landscape is that it is ever-changing. From the battering tropical rain storms, the incessant waves, to erupting volcanoes and molten rivers, Hawaii is a heavenly collision of earthly powers. For all visitors who want to fully experience these enchanting wonders, the Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours are the best way to see spectacular visions of Hawaii’s volcanic activity without being in danger. You have not seen the extent of Hawaii’s beauty, until you have witnessed the fiery underbelly of Hawaiian mountains. At Panda ® Online, we would love to help you plan the adventure of a lifetime, flying over active Hawaiian volcanoes and lava flows.


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