Throughout history, volcanoes have never failed to arouse equal parts of awe and curiosity among humans. On one hand, their massive destructive power that lays cities to the ground has been feared and revered, while on the other hand the image of a volcano spitting out rivers of lava from the innards of the earth makes us wonder in amazement at the natural phenomenon. The word volcano itself comes from the Roman god of fire - Vulcan. From Etna to Vesuvius to Mauna Loa, the world is full of legends, myths and histories about volcanoes.
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Volcanoes occur because the surface of the earth is divided in 17 rigid tectonic plates that float on a hotter softer layer of the mantle. Volcanoes are generally found in regions where these tectonic plates are either diverging or converging. The gaps between the tectonic plates allow the pressurized magma to come out through the volcano as lava, sometimes causing eruptions. The volcanoes found in the Pacific Ring of Fire are a result of converging tectonic plates. The volcanoes on the islands of Hawaii are a part of this area.
Hawaii Volcano Tour during sunset
Millions of years ago, shifting tectonic plates gave our world the form that it has today. In the process, many new landmasses were formed, while others broke into smaller pieces. The Hawaiian islands were formed as a result of underwater volcanic activity in the Hawaii hotspot of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii is a group of eight main islands and many smaller islets which are still in the process of formation. Born out of the fire within the belly of the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. While it is most known for its pristine beaches, surf turfs and natural biodiversity, the group of islands shares its ancient bond with volcanoes to this day. There exist three active volcanoes on the islands of Hawaii. There are two more that are dormant, but offer great insight into the understanding of the earth are a living, breathing, changing being in itself, rather than the inert mass that we generally think it is. Volcanoes are considered sacred sites in Hawaiian culture and mythology.
The best place to see active volcanoes up close in Hawaii is the Hawaii Volcano National Park. Located on the island of Hawaii, about 45 miles southwest from the town of Hilo, the Hawaii Volcano National Park is one of the only places in the world where you can get within close proximity of two active volcanoes - Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Of these, Mauna Loa is considered the world’s largest shield volcano and is also responsible for most of the landmass on the island of Hawaii. Kilauea on the other hand, is counted among the world’s most active volcanoes and has been continuously erupting since 1983. The Hawaii Volcano National Park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 1987. The park offers over 150 miles of trails and routes that pass through active volcanic craters, scalded deserts, vast lava fields and rainforests among others, as well as a museum, petroglyphs and a walk-in lava tube.
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Lava flowing. Seen on a Hawaii Volcano Tour.
Mauna Loa is the world’s most massive shield volcano. A shield volcano is essentially one which has gentle slopes, so that it looks like a warrior’s shield lying on the ground. Mauna Loa is located in the Hawaii Volcano National Park on the island of Hawaii. Scientists estimate that Mauna Loa has been erupting for the past 700,000 years. 400,000 years ago it emerged from within the sea to form the island of Hawaii. It is also estimated that 500,000 to a million years from now, the slow drift of the Pacific tectonic plate will eventually carry Mauna Loa away from the Hawaii hotspot, at which point it will become extinct. Mauna Loa’s most recent eruption happened from March 24th to April 15th 1984.
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Loihi Seamount is an active submarine volcano located 35 km off the southwest coast of Hawaii. The top of the seamount is 975 meters below the sea level. As the youngest volcano on the group of islands, Loihi acquires a special significance because it is still in the process of island formation. A diverse microbial community resides in Loihi’s many hydrothermal vents, making it especially interesting for marine biologists and volcanologists.
Kilauea is often referred to as the drive-in volcano owing to the fact that it is one of the few active volcanoes in the world that can be observed from up-close. It is the most active volcano in Hawaii, and one of the most active ones in the world. It has been continuously erupting since 1983. According to the Hawaiian legends, the Halemaumau crater on Kilauea is considered the body and home of Pele - the Goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes.
The Kilauea Iki volcano crater in Hawaii
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Haleakala is a massive shield volcano that covers more than 75% of the island of Maui. Haleakala literally means House of the Sun. It has erupted around 3 times in the last 900 years, which makes it a less active volcano as compared to Mauna Loa or Kilauea. Haleakala lies in the premises of the Haleakala National Park, which offers multiple trails through volcanic ecosystems. It is also home to the Haleakala Observatory because of the remarkable clarity with which the sky can be viewed from here.
Also known as Diamond Head, the Leahi volcanic tuff cone is located on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. It was formed as a result of the eruptions from the now dormant Ko’olau volcano. It is one of the few volcanic craters that you can walk up close to. A 0.75 mile hike leads to the crater’s rim.