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Hawaii's 'hot spot': It makes volcanoes and islands

Born of volcanoes, Hawaii is a place where spectacular beauty rises from intense geophysical forces that have played ...

Posted: May 9, 2018 7:57 AM
Updated: May 9, 2018 7:57 AM

Born of volcanoes, Hawaii is a place where spectacular beauty rises from intense geophysical forces that have played out over millions of years.

What's behind this spring's eruption of the Kilauea volcano?

Tectonic plates: They make things interesting

The outer shell of the Earth is comprised of different "plates" that are rigid and in constant motion.

The movement of the plates leads to earthquakes and volcanoes -- mainly near boundaries where the plates push against and rub against one another.

Volcanoes and earthquakes often create new land forms, such as mountains and ocean trenches.

What is the Hawaii 'hot spot'?

If you pictured the Earth as an orange, the crust is akin to a very thin part of the peel.

Beneath the hard layer of rock is a layer called the mantle. It is the zone of earth just above the core. The mantle is made of minerals, denser than what's in the crust, said Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist, blogger and associate professor at Denison University in Ohio.

A hot spot is the point where a plume of magma -- molten rock -- is protruding through the upper levels of the crust. The plate is on the outermost layer of the crust and moves over the hot spot. And then what happens?

And how does that create volcanoes -- and islands?

The hot spot -- basically, a pressure pimple in the Earth's mantle -- erupts and produces magma, which pushes up and through the surface to form volcanoes.

Once the resulting lava cools, it is essentially new land.

It can be quite fertile and make great farmland.

But it can have unfortunate impact on people who live in the shadow of a volcano. By Tuesday, 35 structures -- including at least 26 homes -- had been destroyed in the Kilauea eruption.

"This is potentially one of these disasters that is a long time unfolding," said Klemetti.

Why is the Big Island the biggest?

For Hawaii's western islands, the action played out millions of years ago. Their volcanoes are dormant.

And while they remain stunningly beautiful, there's just a little less of them to enjoy.

That's because waves, winds, landslides and erosion have since taken their toll.

Because the Big Island is younger and growing, those forces haven't whittled much of it away.

At least 4 active volcanoes

The Big Island has at least four active volcanoes, with Kilauea leading the way.

"Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843, with the most recent eruption in 1984," the US Geological Survey reports. "Loihi, the submarine volcano located off the south coast of Kilauea, erupted most recently in 1996."

Hualalai has erupted three times over 1,000 years.

So is the Big Island getting bigger (right now)?

Kilauea, the youngest and most active on the island, likes making news.

It has been erupting almost continuously along its East Rift Zone since 1983, according to the US Geological Survey.

The result has been a whole lotta lava that's spilled into the Pacific Ocean.

Klemetti, who visited the island in 2013, said it may take some time for the flow from this eruption to reach the water. For now, "This is just making the island taller."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
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Pike300195
Scott293870
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Marion252678
Leake252471
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Newton229652
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Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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