From the beautiful black sand beaches of the Big Island to the incredible, currently erupting Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii’s volcanoes make the islands incredibly unique. With approximately 20 volcanoes ranging in age from 400,000 years to 5.1 million years, the Hawaiian archipelago is the youngest section of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain of volcanoes and seamounts extending across the Pacific Ocean.
With lava flows less than 1,000 years old covering 90 percent of the volcano, Kilauea is Hawaii’s most active volcano. The volcano’s first well-documented eruption took place in 1823, and has been erupting on a regular basis ever since; Kilauea has been steadily erupting since January 3, 1983, one of the longest duration eruptions in the world. And as of 2011, Kilauea has produced more than one cubic mile of lava, and resurfaced more than 48 square miles of land.
2. Diamond Head
Though not actually a volcano, but a part of a system of cones, vents and the associated eruptions known as the Honolulu Volcanic Series, Diamond Head is a Hawaiian landmark. The crater is estimated to be approximately 200,000 years old, has been inactive for the last 150,000 years, and is not expected to erupt again.
3. Mauna Loa
With an estimated volume of 18,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa is considered the largest volcano on earth in terms of mass and volume. Because Mauna Loa’s lava eruptions are silica-poor and quite fluid, they tend to be non-explosive. The volcano has been erupting for at least 700,000 years, and last erupted in the spring of 1984. While recent eruptions have not caused fatalities, eruptions in 1926 and 1950 destroyed villages, and Hilo was partially built on lava flows from the 19th century.
The third most active volcano on Hawaii Island, Hualalai’s peak stands 8,271 feet above sea level. The volcano last erupted in 1801, and though it has maintained a relatively low level of activity since, is still considered to be active, and is suspected to erupt within the next 100 years.
5. Mount Haleakala
Also known as the east Maui volcano, Haleakala forms approximately 75 percent of the island. The volcano is currently in a non-eruptive phase, and the last eruption was believed to have occurred in the 17th century. Fun fact: the Haleakala crater is not volcanic in origin. Scientists believe this “crater” was formed when two erosional valleys merged at Haleakala’s summit.
6. East Molokai Volcano
This extinct volcano comprises approximately two thirds of the island of Molokai, and is overlapped by the West Molokai, Lanai, and Haleakala shield volcanoes. The volcano’s shielf formation began approximately two million years ago, and ended 1.5 million years ago. The northern flanks of the volcano features sea cliffs that were formed when, 1.4 million years ago, the northern third of the volcano suddenly collapsed and fell into the sea, resulting in sea cliffs more than 3,000 feet tall.
7. Loihi Seamount
Located approximately 22 miles southeast of Hawaii Island on the flank of Mauna Loa, the Lohi Seamount will eventually reach sea level and become the next Hawaiian Island – in approximately 10,000 to 100,000 years. The seamount is the youngest in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain, and lies approximately 3,000 feet below sea level.
8. Wai’anae Volcano
The Wai’anae Mountains are the eroded remains of a shield volcano that comprised the western half of Oahu. The oldest lava found in the mountain range has been dated to 3.9 million years, and the volcano’s last eruption is estimated to be approximately 2.5 million years ago.
9. West Maui Mountains
The West Maui Mountains constitute the western quarter of the island, and is comprised of a much eroded shield volcano though to have erupted approximately 320,000 years ago. The mountains used to tower more than 13,000 feet above sea level, but have since eroded to approximately 5,100 feet.
10. Kohala Volcano
Kohala, the oldest of five volcanoes that make up Hawaii Island, is estimated to be more than one million years old. Constituting only six percent of the island’s land mass, Kohala is believed to have breached sea level more than 500,000 years ago, and to have experienced its last eruption 120,000 years ago.
11. Ko’olau Volcano
The Ko’olau Mountains are the fragmented remnants of the windward shield volcano that suffered a large collapse of the eastern portion of the volcano, including much of the summit area, more than 1.4 million years ago, creating Kaneohe Bay. The volcano became dormant 1.7 million years ago, but began to erupt again after hundreds of thousands of years of dormancy – logging 30 eruptions over the last 500,000 years, creating many of Oahu’s natural landmarks. Geologists believe that there is – at the very least – a remote possibility that the volcano will erupt again.
12. Mauna Kea
Standing more than 13,000 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is the highest point in Hawaii, and when measured from ocean base to peak, measures in at more than 33,000 feet tall, higher than Mount Everest. The volcano is now considered dormant after erupting 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.
While some of these volcanoes are millions of years old, isn’t it cool to think about how our precious islands came to be?