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Hawaii's Volcanoes: Ring of Fire or Geothermal Hotspots?

Science has always fascinated me. This includes not only the ecological sciences, which I studied in school, but other endeavors, as well.

Diamond Head Crater, is surrounded by the modern-day city of Honolulu

Diamond Head Crater, is surrounded by the modern-day city of Honolulu

The Hawaiian Archipelago

All total there are 136 Hawaiian Islands, but only seven are inhabited. The Hawaiian Islands are volcanic in origin, but for most of the islands, volcanic activity is ancient history. The Diamond Head Crater, which is surrounded by the city of Honolulu, was created between 400,00 and 500,000 years ago and has been extinct for most of that time. Of the seven major islands, only Hawaii' (also known as the "Big Island") has displayed any recent volcanic activity.

This is a 2016 picture of the top of Kilauea volcano with a full lava lake.

This is a 2016 picture of the top of Kilauea volcano with a full lava lake.

Kilauea Puts a Focus on Hawaiian Volcanoes

The recent volcanic eruptions at Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii', has once again put a spotlight on geothermal activity in the Pacific Ocean. Beginning in early May of 2018, the very active volcano, called Kilauea, began an eruption cycle, which has not settled down within the few months that have followed the initial outburst of hot lava flows.

Fortunately, no lives have been lost, but hundreds of buildings have been demolished by the numerous lava flows that have dramatically changed the Southeastern shores of the "Big Island's" coastline.

The History of Plate Tectonics

The theories of plate tectonics and continental drift have been around for just over a century. In 1915, Alfred Wegener got the plate tectonic ball rolling with his theories of Continental Drift. The German meteorologist and biophysicist, Wegener stated that the earth's large land areas were subject to small movements that over millions of years could evolve into major changes in location for the large land masses, which we now know as continents.

Eventually, the idea of Continental Drift was replaced with the theory of plate tectonics, which basically states that the surface of our planet contains many plates, which move around at a very slow and constant speed. Incidentally, data collected from the numerous underground nuclear tests that occurred right after WWII, immensely aided our understanding of the mechanics of plate tectonics.

In 1981, John Wilson received the Huntsman Award

In 1981, John Wilson received the Huntsman Award

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A Canadian Geologist Causes a Stir

Up until the 1960s, most scientists believed that the Hawaiian Islands were created by tectonic plate movements amidst the infamous "Ring of Fire". Even the fact that these beautiful islands sat smack dab in the middle of the Pacific plate, made little difference to the scientific community. As a result, it is no big surprise that when Wilson announced his belief that volcanic activity in the Hawaiian Islands was the result of a rather large and deep geothermal hot spot, he received much scorn from fellow geologists around the globe.

Today, Wilson's ideas are much more accepted than they were in 1963. Evidence of this comes from the dozens of awards he received from various scientific organizations such as the Geological Society of London and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

The Hawaiian Islands are Moving

The Hawaiian Islands are Moving

The Islands Are Moving

Today the common scientific belief says that the Hawaiian Islands are drifting in a northwestern direction over the top of an active geothermal hotspot. In eons past, it was the islands of Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and Niihau that passed over the very active geothermal vent, while today it is the Big Island of Hawaii' that bears the brunt of magma rising to the earth's surface at one locale. Overall, the unusual landforms situated all across these islands give strong testimony to the volcanic nature of the entire chain.

An imaginative portrait of the Hawaiian Goddess, Pele

An imaginative portrait of the Hawaiian Goddess, Pele

The Importance of Pele

In native Hawaiian religious beliefs, Pele is the goddess, who watches over the volcanoes along the archipelago. On the islands, the stories of Pele or Pelehonumea, are widely known, but surprisingly, her supernatural world is widely appreciated outside of Hawaii, as well. So well known is this goddess that during the recent volcanic bouts at Kilauea, national news reporters gave a bit of air time to island residents explaining the need for Pele to "expand her house."

The cosmology of Pele and her siblings and parents is too complex for this short article, so a quick summary will have to suffice. Simply put, Pele is always in conflict with her sister the ocean, named Namaka. Furthermore, where there is strife between the two sisters, there is also volcanic activity, which leads to the creation of new land.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Harry Nielsen

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