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Hawaii, Natural Features
mid-Pacific, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, volcanic activity, molten lava
Lying in a line that extends from southeast to northwest, the Hawaiian Islands themselves are the visible portion of a submarine mountain range, built through volcanic activity. The bases of these volcanoes lie some 5,000 m (18,000 ft) below sea level on the deep ocean floor of the mid-Pacific. The islands formed as the Pacific crustal plate moved slowly over a geological hot spot that sent an upwelling of magma, or molten lava, toward the earth’s surface. This process gradually created each of the islands. The older islands, located in the west, are no longer volcanically active. They display various degrees of erosion, which often creates rugged and visually impressive terrain. The big island of Hawaii in the east is the only island that remains volcanically active.
The mountainous terrain, characterized by steep slopes, precipitous cliffs, and rugged canyons, dominates the physical environment of Hawaii. The two highest volcanic peaks in the region, both found on the big island of Hawaii, are Mauna Kea (elevation 4,205 m/13,796 ft), and Mauna Loa (elevation 4,170 m/13,680 ft). Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano, estimated to have collectively discharged more lava than any other volcano in history. Lava and ash have covered thousands of acres of land, displaced entire communities, and disrupted transportation on the islands. During eruptions, lava often pours into the ocean, generating steam clouds and super heating coastal waters.
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