Know Your Volcanoes
No matter how you choose to fly, an air tour of the Big Island is likely to bring into view the island’s intriguing assortment of volcanoes. Here’s a short pre-flight briefing on some of them:
KILAUEA: One of the Earth’s most active volcanoes, located in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa. This volcano has been pumping molten lava over the landscape since 1983, simultaneously developing new real estate and leaving destruction in its wake. In March 2008, the volcano caused a commotion when, for the first time since 1924, it let loose an explosive eruption. It’s still spewing an ash-laden plume from a crater at the summit and sending molten lava across the landscape.
MAUNA LOA: A massive volcano that spreads over half of the Big Island’s 4,034 square miles, Mauna Loa rises 13,680 feet from sea level. Measured from its flanks on the ocean floor, the mountain reaches 30,080 feet at its summit. Sixty miles long and 30 miles wide, Mauna Loa is the largest volcanic mountain in the world and the third largest shield volcano in the solar system, smaller only than volcanoes on Venus and Mars. It has erupted 39 times since 1832, the most recent being in 1984.
MAUNA KEA: The tallest island-mountain in the world, Mauna Kea stands 13,796 feet above sea level and rises 32,000 feet from the ocean floor. At its summit, where snow sometimes falls, the world’s largest astronomical observatory houses telescopes operated by astronomers from all over the world.
KOHALA: The oldest of five volcanoes that make up the island of Hawai‘i, Kohala is estimated to be one million years old, so old that it experienced (and recorded) a reversal of magnetic field 780,000 years ago. The volcano is cut by multiple deep gorges and, unlike typically symmetric Hawaiian volcanoes, is shaped like a foot due to a huge landslide 250,000-300,000 years ago that destroyed its northeast flank.
HUALALAI: Though not nearly as active as Mauna Loa or Kilauea, Hualalai is the third most historically active Big Island volcano. Six different vents erupted between the late 1700s and 1801, two of which generated lava flows that poured into the sea on the west coast of the island. Keahole Airport is built atop the larger flow.
LO‘IHI: Fifteen miles off the southeast coast of the island, Lo‘ihi thunders 3,000 feet beneath the Pacific Ocean. Someday, thousands of years from now, the submarine volcano will emerge to form a new island.