The history of Hawaii is shaped by fire. The whole chain that Hawaiian archipelago is made the end of volcanoes, including a brand-new island (the Lōʻihi Seamount, also known as simply “Loihi”) i beg your pardon is already in the making!


Table of contents The Hawaiian volcanoes room special because they are an extremely far (3200 kilometres or 2000 miles!) far from the ar you normally discover them: tectonic plate boundaries. Top top Hawaii volcanoes space formed since the pacific key moves with the sluggish pace that 4 customs (10 cm) / year over a deep, stationary hotspot in the mantle. This warm spot is situated beneath the present-day position of the Island the Hawaii (read more about the Hawaiian hotspot). A comparable hot spot is responsible for the volcanism in Yellowstone!


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The trail of underwater mountains created as the tectonic plate moved across the Hawaii hotspot over numerous years. Courtesy that the nationwide Geophysical Data Center/USGS)


As the pacific key moves over the warm spot Hawai’i “draws a line” and you deserve to see through looking in ~ a map the Hawaii which islands were formed first, which island is the many recent enhancement to the chain (the big Island), and also even where brand-new islands will form in the future!

This hots pot is likewise indirectly responsible because that so lot seismic activity that it renders Hawaii the #1 state most most likely to feeling an earthquake!

The huge Island’s 6 volcanoes

The large Island is the youngest that the Hawaiian Islands. Over there are six volcanoes that have worked together over the last (give or take) one million years to produce the big Island. This volcanoes formed one after the other and also partially overlap. From oldest to youngest their names are: Mahukona, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa and also Kilauea.

You are watching: How old is the kilauea volcano


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The 6 volcanoes of the big Island: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mahukona is listed below the sea level come the NW the this image. Image courtesy that the U.S. Geological Survey


These 6 volcanoes space responsible for a totality bunch of impressive people records 🏆 together as:

The most active volcano (Kilauea)The many massive active volcano (Mauna Loa), andThe tallest sea mountain (Mauna Kea)

Three the the big Island volcanoes space still active: Hualalai, Mauna Loa and also Kilauea. Kilauea is the most energetic and last eruption in 2018, if the other two could erupt at any time. Mauna Kea is dormant, Kohala inactive, and Mahukona has actually probably never ever breached the s surface. The large Island, by the way, is no the just Hawaiian island with energetic volcanoes: the Haleakala volcano top top Maui could additionally still erupt!

Each of ours volcanoes has a story come tell, some of which you can discover below:

1: Mahukona: never an island?

Mahukona is located off the northwest that the shore of the large Island and is called after the surrounding town of… Mahukona. It to be the very first volcano the started building the huge Island that Hawaii however is additionally the many recently uncovered volcano of Hawaii. Its visibility was an initial predicted by J.D. Dana in 1890 based upon a ‘gap’ in the volcanic loa chain (Hawaii exist of at the very least two various chains, the “loa” and also the “kea” chain, uncover out an ext here) however confirmation the his theorized volcano had to wait come 1987.

Mahukona is for Hawaiian criter a very tiny (±6000 cubic kilometers, an ext than 13 times smaller sized than Mauna Loa) volcano that quit erupting about 350.000 year ago. The newest research shows that Mahukona never actually breached the s surface, yet stopped erupting while it was still ±900 feet below sea level.

You can uncover out an ext about Mahukona in Garcia et al. (2012) in the Bulletin that Volcanology.


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Bathymetric (the underwater identical of topographic) map the the big Island. The Mahukona volcano is suggested with a yellow arrow. Image adjusted from USGS


2: Kohala – the oldest


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The outstanding sea cliffs of Waipi’o Valley are the remains of a landslide that brought about a giant tsunami


Kohala is the oldest volcano ~ above the island of Hawaii. The is about one million year old however erupted for the critical time about 120.000 year ago. Kohala makes up the northern component of the large Island (think: Waipi’o valley) and also now is well-known for the deep cliffs and also green rolling hills. See our overview to the Kohala an ar if you’d favor to know more about visiting.

This volcano used to be a lot bigger yet parts that flanks have been crumbling into the s for end 100.000 years. Once particularly big parts collapse right into the ocean the landslide create a tsunami. Luckily this is really rare yet it does happen with catastrophic results. Read for example an ext about this monster tsunami that got to a elevation of 500 m (1,640 ft)!

Here is some bonus science geek trivia: the Kohala volcano is so old that it proficient – and recorded – the last reversal the earth’s magnetic field 780.000 year ago!

3: Mauna Kea – Tallest sea mountain in the world

Mauna Kea is end 10,000 m / 33,000 ft high from basic to summit, i m sorry is substantially taller than Mt. Everest! because the big Island is so heavy, it makes a depression in the s floor (much like an iron sphere on a rubber sheet). This reasons the biggest part of the volcano come sink below the ocean, and leaves a ‘mere’ 4205 m / 13796 ft above the ocean. Still, Mauna Kea is the tallest sea mountain in the world.

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and also was last active around 4,600 year ago. There space still occasionally (swarms of) earthquakes felt the originate from inside Mauna Kea, however these most most likely are because of structural readjustment, and not to volcano activity.


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Two telescopes, an die out volcano and also sunset from Mauna Kea.


With the high altitude, dry environment, and also stable airflow, Mauna Kea’s summit is just one of the best sites in the people for astronomical observation. It dwellings one that the best observatories in the world, and if you occur to be on the huge Island, stargazing on Mauna Kea need to be part of her plans!

4: Hualalai – gained Kona Coffee?

The Hualalai volcano is probably finest known for the black color gold that comes from its slopes: Kona Coffee. Hualalai is an energetic volcano however has no erupted because that a while. The last eruption the lava dates ago to 1801, and also the critical damaging seismic swarm that earthquakes (probably led to by a shallow intrusion that magma) occurred in 1929.

The Hualalai volcano has historically been an extremely active. Researchers estimate the 80% of its surface is newer than 5000 years. In the 100 years prior to 1801, there to be no less than 6 different vents energetic on the Hualalai. The Kona worldwide Airport was developed on optimal of a big lava circulation coming from one of these vents, and also you have the right to see still check out lava tubes into this flow when driving in between the airport and Kona!

Hiking Hualalai

The slopes of the Hualalai volcano offer good views of the Kona coast and contain beautiful native cloud forests and also lots the volcanic features such as craters, fissures and also lava tubes.

Unfortunately big parts that the Hualalai volcano are privately vowned and off limits. You can explore the reduced slopes by long Pu’u Wa’awa’a, yet the most amazing upper slopes space only easily accessible if you have permission from the landowners, for instance as component of the “Hidden craters” hike.

5: Mauna Loa – the (2nd?) biggest volcano on the planet!

Mauna Loa means “long mountain”, and also not there is no reason. It is the largest energetic volcano top top the planet if girlfriend look at volume and surface area! The summit rises much more than 4 km over sea level, extends one more 5 km below sea level, and the entirety volcano is so heavy that the sea floor is depression by the mass one more 8 km! including the number reflects that the summit that Mauna Loa rises 17 km (56,000 ft) over its base!

Mauna Loa is additionally a very active volcano. It has erupted over 150 time in the critical 1000 years, with the last eruption finishing on April 15, 1984. Never in the recorded background has Mauna Loa to be inactive as long as is the situation now. As soon as it erupts again, Hilo can be in danger.

Eruptions from Mauna Loa have frequently endangered Hilo. One time this brought about a spectacular (but futile) display of strength by the waiting force. Due to the fact that an eruption in 1935 to be threatening Hilo 5 bombers of the 23d and also 72d Bombardment Squadrons that the United states Air pressure dropped bombs in the course of the lava in stimulate to draw away it away from Hilo. This did small to divert the flow, but, fortunately, the eruption stopped 6 work later and Hilo was saved.

More recently, throughout the last energetic phase of Mauna Loa, Hilo to be under hazard again. Operation from this eruption headed rapidly towards Hilo again however stopped about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) from the outskirts when the eruption finished after three weeks.

Right now evidence is structure that the summit of Mauna Loa is filling v lava again. You can check the current status that the Mauna Loa at the USGS Mauna Loa update web page or check out this interesting USGS reality sheet referred to as “Mauna Loa—History, Hazards, and also Risk the Living with the World’s largest Volcano”.

Even an ext massive than Mauna Loa: Pūhāhonu

There is simply one shield volcano recognized on our world that is larger than Mauna Loa, and that is Pūhāhonu (meaning “turtle climbing for breath” in Hawaiian). This ~12 come 14 million your old (and extinct) volcano is part of the northwest Hawaiian Ridge and also is situated 511 nautical mile (946 km; 588 mi) northwest of Honolulu.

Recent study (source) puts the dimension of this volcano at practically twice (!!) the of Mauna Loa. Pūhāhonu is so large that that summit still can be seen over the water, wherein all other old volcanoes roughly it have actually disappeared under water lengthy ago. The summit is now well-known as the “Gardner Pinnacles“, and also it looks choose this:


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The Gardner Pinnacles are the only component of Pūhāhonu that is left above sea level. Credit: NOAA.


6: Kilauea – brand-new eruption began December 20, 2020!

Good come know: the latest eruption the the Kilauea began December 20, 2020. Review the latest on this eruption and learn how to check out it in our guide to see lava on the big Island.

Kilauea is the youngest that 6 volcanoes top top the huge Island and has last been in an eruptive state in between 1983 and also 2018. Kilauea means “spewing” or “much spreading” in the Hawaiian language, and the Kilauea volcano certainly honors this name. Because 1952 there have actually been 36(!) separate eruptions, and 90% of the surface ar of the Kilauea volcano is much less than 1000 year old!


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The Kilauea volcano has recently been in eruption between 1983 and 2018. Picture credit: USGS


This activity has a profound affect on existing day Hawaii. Kilauea is one of the ideal (and most reliable) volcanoes in the human being to check out an energetic volcano, and the volcano attracts countless visitors come the Island the Hawaii. For countless of this tourists see the lava is the single most impressive event they say come have ever before witnessed. Throughout the present eruption about 1 square mile (!) of shore has been included to the Island.

This development goes hand in hand with destruction, as numerous houses, historic sites, and also beaches have disappeared under a thick sheet of lava.

Depending top top the activity of the Kilauea, you watch the energetic lava with your own eyes. You can hike approximately the lava flow or watch the glow over the Halema’uma’u crater in ~ night. If there is no accessibility to the lava by foot, friend can always opt because that a helicopter to paris you over red-hot fill craters.

The newest Hawaiian island: Loihi

Lōʻihi is the newest volcano on the Hawaiian chain and also lies around 35 kilometres / 22 mi of the southeast coastline of the big Island. The volcano is dubbed “Lōʻihi” (the Hawaiian word for “long”) because of that elongated shape north and also south of the summit. The last recognized eruption of Lōʻihi was in 1996.

With every eruption, Lōʻihi is gradually rising under the s surface. Right currently the peak of Lōʻihi is about 1 kilometres / 0.6 mi listed below the surface, and also scientists calculation that it will certainly take another 10.000 to 100.000 years prior to Lōʻihi i do not care a ‘real’ island.

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Volcano Cheat Sheet

If you have actually not had actually your to fill of volcanoes you have the right to read up on some worldwide volcano trivia. Please leave your very own volcano facts and trivia in the comment section if you desire to include something come this list!

Most devastating (recent history): Mt. Tambora, Sumbawa, Indonesia. 10.000 deaths by the 1815 eruption, plus an estimated 110.000 through the adhering to starvation and also disease.Most active: Kilauea, large Island, Hawaii. Energetic since 1983.Fastest growing: Mt. Paricutin, Mexico. Flourished from 0 come 300 ft. In simply 5 work (1942), and stopped erupting in 1953 when a elevation of 1,391 ft was reached.