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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (2)  



Kilauea Volcano

Kilauea Iki

Mauna Loa

Chain of Craters

Kalapana Coast

Volcanic Features


Plants and Animals

Volcano House


Mauna Loa

Although it is less visited than Kiluauea which lies on its flank because it is higher and less accessible, the major volcano in the park and, indeed, the Hawaiian islands, is Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa is a type of volcano known as a shield volcano. The bulk of the mountain is built up as lava is slowly ejected and runs down the side, creating a mountain which resembles a warrior's shield. In the case of Mauna Loa this has occurred over a period of approximately one half million years. The shape of Mauna Loa, which means "long mountain", is clearly visible in the distance below, with Kilauea in the foreground. The slopes of the mountain are never steeper than 12 degrees, disguising its impressive height.

The bulk and height of the mountain are awesome. It reaches an altitude of 13,677 feet above sea level, but rises an additional 18,000 feet above its base at the bottom of the sea. The combination makes it the world's largest mountain, rising higher above its base even than Mt. Everest. With a volume of 10,000 cubic miles, Mauna Loa is the world's most massive single mountain, approximately 18 times as bulky as Mt. Shasta in California. It accounts for about 2000 square miles of island surface.

Mauna Loa is still very much active, although not as active as its sibling Kilauea. It erupted most recently in 1984, when a 3 week eruption sent a flow of lava almost to Hilo. The summit, like Kilauea, has a crater 3 miles long, a mile wide, and 600 feet deep, called Mokuaweoweo. It's so high that, even though Hawaii isn't really known for cold weather, snow may often be found on the summit. as temperatures fall into the twenties.

Chain of Craters Road

One of the most interesting sections of the park is the road which leads from the Kilauea Rim Road down to the south coast of the island. This road, known as the Chain of Craters Road, leads from the road around the Kilauea caldera down along the East Rift Zone to the sea. The road was originally constructed in 1935.

Among the craters in the "chain" are Lua Manu, a small pit crater seen below. This crater was partially filled by lava from the 1974 eruption.

The Puhimau crater is an oval pit crater. The crater is 600 feet by 400 feet and about 500 feet deep, formed by collapse after an eruption. Another crater along the road is Hi'iacka. Here lava which formed a pond in this crater in a 1973 flow can be observed.

Pauahi Crater is one of the more impressive features along the Chain of Craters Road. This depression is 2000 feet long and about 300 feet deep. In both 1973 and 1979 lava from nearby eruptions drained into this crater. In 1979 Pauahi Crater itself erupted for a single day.

Beyond the area with the craters shown above the Chain of Craters Road leads down to a plain by the sea. This plain is covered with lava from a number of flows in the past. The upper area and the plains can be seen in the picture below, with some plant life which has begun to reclaim surface of the lava.

In other areas more recent flows have left a thick layer of lava on the land. There have been many eruptions of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and the high temperature and high silicon content of the lava makes it very fluid. Hawaiian lava has been known to flow as quickly as 35 miles per hour, although it usually moves somewhat more slowly.

The Chain of Crater Road itself runs though the older flows.

However, the road itself has been covered by lava from flows from the Puu O'o eruption during the period 1986 to 1991, as can be seen below. Eight miles of this road have been covered with lava, much of it from the Kupaianaha vent. A nature trail was covered and in 1989 the Wahaula Visitor Center on the south coast was closed.

Kalapana Coast

The southern section of the park runs along the south coast of Hawaii and is quite beautiful. The black of the lava flows contrasts with the blues of the sky and the ocean, as can be seen below in a view of the Kalapana Coast from the Chain of Craters Road, looking west.

Another view of the ocean can be seen below.

In other places the recent lava flows run all the way to the cliffs above the sea, as can be seen in the following picture.

This view shows the volcanic cliffs and the sea. The lava flows down from vents on the side of Kilauea into the sea, enlarging the island of Hawaii in the process and leaving these spectacular cliffs which reach a height of about 60 feet above the sea.

In one place the erosive action of the waves has created the Holei Sea Arch, shown below. It is irregularities in the hardness of the lava flow which result in irregular erosion by the waves. The cliff is about 90 feet above the sea here.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

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