Is it me, or do volcanoes have a bad reputation? Everytime I see a volcano in a Hollywood movie, it’s always the bad guy:
Well, it’s true that a volcano’s lava can cause a lot of destruction. However, Hawaiian volcanoes are also in the business of creation – the beautiful Hawaiian islands would never have been formed without volcanoes. So, if you love Hawaii, then you’ve got to love volcanoes too!
This begs the question: how did volcanoes make Hawaii? And why are only some volcanoes active? To answer these questions, I need to first tell you about “tectonic plates” and “hot spots.”
The earth is like a freshly-baked chicken pot pie: it has a hard crust on the outside (the land under out feet) and is filled with hot soup underneath (the red, hot magma).
The hard crust of the earth is not one whole piece – it’s made of about 15 different pieces called “tectonic plates.” These plates are slowly revolving like a treadmill. Believe it or not, the land underneath you is actually moving! We don’t feel it moving though, because the tectonic plates are moving at about 2.5 to 15 cm a year (source).
No, I’m not talking about cell phone reception – “hot spots” are areas where magma escapes to the earth’s surface. There are many hot spots allover the world and of course, there is one right underneath the Hawaiian Islands.
At each hot spot will be a volcano. The volcanoes are formed as lava from inside the earth flows out. When this lava dries, it becomes lava rock. Over hundreds of thousands of years, the many layers of lava rock will stack and form the volcano’s mountainous-shape and form the island.
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Fun fact: “lava” is a scientific word to describe magma that has reached the surface of the earth.
Putting it all together
The hot spot beneath Hawaii created all the islands by spitting out lava. The island of Ni’ihau was the first to be formed by dried lava rock. As the tectonic plate moved in the northwest direction, the other islands were slowly created. The Big Island, or the island of Hawaii, is right above the hot spot, so it is actually still forming.
[h4]We’ve got another island on the way![/h4]
In the future, Hawaii will add another island to it’s family – the island of “Loihi” is predicted to breach the ocean surface in about 100,000 years.
So, if you have a burning desire to see a volcano eruption, know that you must go to the Big Island. Don’t be disappointed when you see our volcanoes erupt though — unlike in the movies, our volcanoes don’t terrorize towns but instead, spit out lava gently.