Archive for the ‘seismology’ Category

Tall Tales of Hawaii

June 1, 2018

The islands of Hawaii are the very tippy-tops of huge volcanoes that erupted from the ocean floor a long, long time ago. So while each one appears to be a small island, they are in fact all very high volcanic mountains surrounded by water that is a couple of miles deep.

How this happened is a funny story.

Several geologic ages ago, ole mother earth began spewing out a gargantuan pile of molten lava through a hot spot in the Pacific ocean floor. Solidifying as it piled upward during eons of  time, the great magma pile finally popped up above sea level and became the island of Kauai.

Over vast periods of time, one pile after another eventually rose above sea level to become a new Hawaiian island.    The molten  lava flows were being extruded from earth’s inner parts because of very high heat way down underground. This extreme hotness is always being generated somewhere down there, by mega-friction between between our planet’s internal moving parts. Every now and then the resultant outward pressure overwhelms all the surrounding crud. Molten rock then bursts through and gets spewed out through whatever weak spot or fissure it can find.

Volcanoes, we call them. This process is how the eight islands of Hawaii were formed.

If you look at a map of the Hawaiian archipelago, you’ll see that the islands are all strung out in a geographical chain. This is because, as each volcanic mass was slowly mounting upwards, the bottom of the ocean was, at the same time, taking its own sweet time sliding along sideways. Consequently, each volcanic tower became an island in a different location.

Although we are not generally aware of it, our earth’s outer layer is divided into several giant mega-slabs. These vast tectonic “plates” (as scientists call them) are always shifting. Only seismologists and geologists can  track these planetary developments; technicians have hyper-sensitive seismologic equipment that detects the changes and documents them.

So that’s how we know about all this stuff. We have people somewhere all the time keeping tabs on the incremental, though massive, shifting of our planetary home.

Way, way down deep beneath Pacific waters, a very gradual but steady long-term northwesterly movement of the vast Pacific “plate”  determined in what geographical arrangement the Hawaiian islands got placed. A  generally southeast-toward-northwest sliding, over time, thus established a southeast-to-northwest configuration of the Hawaiian islands chain.

Each island pile is an extrusion of earth’s internal processes. These planetary developments are actually happening beneath our civilization all the time, although we are rarely aware of them. Every now and then ole mother earth makes her inner workings known by spurting out a fresh load of melted stuff.


Volcanoes, we call them.

The latest  is happening now on the biggest, newest Hawaiian island, which shares its name with the whole group—Hawaii, the “big island.” You may have heard about this new volcano; it’s called Kilauea. Video reports of its activity have lately been all over the web and other media.

At Kilauea

I’ve been to Kilauea, and seen the bright molten lava as it was sloshing down its deep crater hole in the ground. But that visit was a few years ago.

This morning, I woke up in a breezy dwelling on the absolute other end of these strung-out islands.

Here on Kauai, I spend part of my morning reading a very good book about this island, Edward Joesting’s Kauai: The Separate KIngdom.

This scholastic work has opened my eyes to some fascinating history of this oldest Hawaiian outcropping.

The ancient storytellers here seem to have had a sense that their beautiful islands share a common origin.

Long before we had sophisticated seismology equipment to track planetary changes, we humans had ancient storytellers, people like Moses, Josephus, Homer, Confucius, Herodotus, and many others.

Today I’m reading about some ancient storytellers of Hawaii. In his book, Mr. Joesting writes of native legends that go way back in Hawaiian time.

  It seems to me that some of the ancient storytellers must have felt a tribal urge to somehow, through tall tales, bring their islands back together as one.

This is Hercules and Paul Bunyan-type tall tales, Hawaiian version.   

Edward cites the legend of the demigod named “Maui”— not the island of Maui, but the mythical deity whose name that island bears. As a sort of early comic-book hero, Maui did some amazing feats.

Edward Joesting provides this mythical account, on page 7 of his book:

“The demigod Maui, among his various escapades, chose to draw all the islands together into one land mass. To do this he had to catch a giant fish called Luehu, but the fish avoided all of Maui’s efforts.”

(Long story short, after Maui had managed to snap the big fish on a line . . .)

“Luehu pulled Maui and his canoe around the Hawaiian islands, wrapping the fishline around the islands and drawing them together with great strength. The only two islands that actually touched were Kauai and Oahu (even they are the two farthest apart).”

(But Maui’s project was complicated. He had eight brothers who were helping him with this unique angling expedition.(Talk about a fish story!) As it happened. . . at one point in their super striving to keep the fish Luehe on the line, the brothers got distracted by—I’m not making this up— the sight of a beautiful woman.  She must have been the first Miss Hawaii, quite an extraordinary femme fatale. Because the sight of her caused Maui’s eight brothers to lose their concentration for the matter at hand . . .)

“At that moment Luehu escaped from Maui’s line and the two islands drifted back to their original positions.

The legendary hero Maui returned to Wailua (on east shore of Kauai). His brothers had disobeyed his orders, and so he turned them into stone and sank them in the mouth of the (Wailua) river. The eight boulders remain there still.”

Now here’s the ancient tall-tale evidence that corroborates the geological, volcanic facts mentioned earlier in this blog: According to the legend abpit fearless leader Maui . . .

“At Kaena Point (on Oahu) there is a rock called Pohaku o Kauai, Rock of Kauai. It was a piece of Kauai that became stuck on Oahu when the two islands touched.”

So there you have it: the two islands of Kauai and Oahu shared a very important rock, which goes to show you . . .

These two islands— Kauai and Oahu— surely were generated from the same volcano! Either that, or they share a very big fish-tale. Take your pick which.

Glass Chimera