Geology of the National Parks

History of Hawaii Volcanos

Panorama view of the lava at the end of the Chain of Craters Road / CC by SA.40 / Dennin

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was created in 1916 and encompasses two active volcanoes.  Mauna Loa is the largest shield volcano on Earth measured from the sea floor to summit. Kilauea, located on Mauna Loa's flank, has recently erupted.  By order of Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was created. It contains 323,431 acres and is still growing.   In 1980, the Park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve and became a World Heritage Site in 1987.  There are at least 6 different climate zones in the park including desert, tropical forest and tundra. Altitude plays large part as Mauna Loa rises to 13,677 ft from sea level.

The Hawaiian island chain was created by the movement of tectonic plates over a hot spot.  Later, the islands were inhabited by Polynesian explorers who brought their own worldview.   According to some, Pele, the goddess of fire, lives in Hale Ma'uma'u inside the Kilauea crater.  In 1823, western visitors began arriving to observe Kilauea and lodging became a necessity. The first wooden Volcano House was build in 1877 on the caldera rim.  In 1844, one of those early visitors was Mark Twain .  He spent 4 months in the islands writing about his adventures.  Today, Hawaii Volcanoes NP welcomes over 2.6 million visitors a year.

The Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory was founded in 1912, by Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar.  For a time, it occupied what is now the Park Headquarters. From there, the Observatory moved to an older building on the western rim of Kilauea and in 1985 moved to a purpose built lab next door. The older building became a museum named in Jaggar's honor.  Here working science and culture met with real-time earthquake seismographs, a view of Hale Ma'uma'u Crater and a nod to Pele. The museum and HOV closed in the Summer of 2018 due to damage caused by Kilauea's active eruption and collapse of the crater floor.  Limited portions of the park have been re-opened.



Head of Geology Library & Map Room Mathematical Sciences Librarian Science Education Specialist

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