Hawaiian Hot Spot

The most famous hot spot in the world consists of the chain of the Hawaiian Islands, extending northwest to the Emperor Seamount chain. Hawaii is a group of eight major and about 130 smaller islands in the central Pacific Ocean. The islands are volcanic in origin, having formed over a magmatically active hot spot that has melted magmatic channels through the Pacific plate as it moves over the hot spot, forming a chain of southeastward younging volcanoes over the hot spot. Kilauea volcano on the big island of Hawaii is the world's most active volcano and often has a lava lake with an actively convecting crust developed in its caldera. The volcanoes are made of low-viscosity basalt and form broad shield types of cones that rise from the seafloor. Only the tops are exposed above sea level, but if the entire height of the volcanoes above the seafloor is taken into account, the Hawaiian Islands form the tallest mountain range on Earth.

Halemaumau crater on Kilauea, Hawaii (G. Brad Lewis/Riser/Getty Images)

Pillow lava off the coast of Hawaii, formed when lava from the Hawaiian hot spot flowed into the ocean

(OAR/National Undersea Research Program/Photo Researchers, Inc.)

The Hawaiian Islands are part of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain that extends all the way to the Aleutian-Kamchatka trench in the northwest Pacific, showing both the great distance the Pacific plate has moved and the longevity of the hot spot magmatic source. From east to west (and youngest to oldest) the Hawaiian Islands include Hawaii, Maui and Kahoolawe, Molokai and Lanai, Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau.

The volcanic islands are fringed by coral reefs and have beaches with white coral sands, black basaltic sands, and green olivine sands. The climate on the islands is generally mild, and numerous species of plants lend a paradiselike atmosphere to the islands, with tropical fern forests and many species of birds. The islands have few native mammals (and no snakes), but many have been introduced. Some of the islands such as Niihau and Molokai have drier climates, and Kahoolawe is arid.

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