Every year thousands of people voyage to Hawaii for a relaxing vacation. And though Hawaii is well-known for its remarkable resorts, spectacular views and breathtaking sunsets, it is also known for its amazing and numerous volcanoes that make up the Hawaiian Islands. The largest of these volcanoes is the Kilauea Volcano, which is one of the world’s most active volcanoes of all time. Situated on the southeastern edge of the Mauna Loa volcano on the big island of Hawaii, the Kilauea Volcano has had continuous volcanic activity since its last big eruption in 1983, shown in picture 1.

Kilauea is believed to have formed somewhere around 300,000-600,000 years ago, although it had only emerged and been considered a separate volcano from Mauna Loa Volcano, not just a caldera, for the last 50,000-100,000 years. The Kilauea Volcano has had over 60 historic eruptions in its time, including the continuous volcanic activity from January 3, 1983 to present. The Kilauea Volcano is a shield volcano, which means that as small eruptions occur lava flows down, similar to a fountain, and continuously erupts, eventually creating a shield-like form. This is shown in picture 2. Kilauea was created by a hotspot. As the lithospheric plate passed over a hotspot, Kilauea was formed. A hotspot is partially molten rock in the form of hot columns that extend from the deep mantle, where it is anchored. As the plate passes over this hotspot extremely hot, solid rock begins to melt as the pressure from the rocks above causes these rocks to drop. This specific volcano first erupted hot basalt magma. This marked the beginning of the 3 stages of growth that hotspot volcanoes experience.

The first stage is a long set of below sea-level eruptions. These eruptions of hot magma create the broad base of the volcano. Essentially, this volcano at it’s early stage has its foundation, but no fiery core to provoke a large eruption. During the second stage a string of volcanic eruptions of hot basalt lava flows, creating the main visible structure of the volcano. This is the stage that the Kilauea Volcano is currently experiencing. The third and final stage is the concluding activity that is triggered as the volcano slowly moves off of the hotspot.

This volcano has been found to have the majority of it’s eruptions at two main rift zones and the summit. The summit is not only high but has a caldera at the top, which has been created due to the high frequency of volcanic eruptions. Some scientists studying this summit believe that this caldera may have formed, filled until disappearing and re-formed continuously over thousands of years of increasing volcanic activity. The majority of the eruptions occur in the elongated rift zones which result in the formation of the ridges that are lower in elevation than the summit. These rift zones are located to the eastern and southwestern portions of the volcano. This volcano has two major types of eruptions, which are very dissimilar in nature. The first is gentle, non-hazardous flows of lava, which are the majority of it’s eruptions. The other is enormous explosions which shoot hot magma and other types of volcanic materials into the air, which can be deadly. This type of eruption usually occurs once every decade or century.

Many Hawaiian legends regarding the Kilauea Volcano involve the goddess of fire, Pele, as seen in picture 3. Legend states that Pele was born to the the Creator of the sky, earth and upper heavens, Kane Milohai, and an ancient earth goddess, Haumea. Pele was one of six girls and 7 boys born to these gods. As a child Pele was taught by her uncle the way to manipulate fire and to create enormous fire pits from within the earth. Pele made her way to Hawaii from her homeland of Tahiti after being exiled by her father. Kane Milohai exiled Pele because of her horrible temper and for seducing her older sister’s husband. On her journey, Pele was accredited for many landmarks that are well-known today. Pele was believed to have created a large fire pit on Kauai, Oahu and the crater on Honolulu that later became known as Diamond Head. This journey ultimately led to her final resting place in Hana, Maui. Pele was torn to pieces by her older sister and her bones are believed to stil be there, under the hill called Ka-iwi-o-Pele. According to legend Pele became a goddess following her mortal death and created her eternal fire pit in the crater at the summit of Kilauea Volcano, which is known as Halemaumau Crater. Many believe the eruptions are a result of Pele’s anger and rage. Many still report sightings of the goddess all over the islands of Hawaii.

The Kilauea Volcano is not only an extremely active volcano, but is also at the core of a significant myth that has haunted these islands for centuries. According to scientists, this volcano will remain active and will continue to increase in size for many years to come. This volcano has proven to be one of the most remarkable disaster risks of all time.


- www.solarnavigator.net/volcanoes.html
- www.pangea.stanford.edu/research/CDFM/research/Hawaii.html
- http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea
- www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/247/4948/1311
- http://volcano.und.edu/vwdocs/current_volcs/kilauea/kilauea.html
- www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=1302-01-
- www.mythicalrealm.com/legends/pele.html

Map_of_Kilauea.gif 1. Location of Kilauea Volcano

kilauea_volcano_eruption.jpg 2. 1983 eruption of Kilauea Volcano

kilauea_volcano_lava_flow.jpg 3. Continuous Lava flows of Kilauea

Pele_Kilauea.jpg 4. Pele, goddess of fire

Written By Jessica Franzone
Pele was known to have seduced her own sister’s (Na-maka-o-kaha'i) husband and was chased from her home and traveled to Hawaii. To clarify on the point made previously, the chain of islands what are today called Hawaii were created because from Pele seeking refuge and her sister finding her. Pele first landed on Kaua’i and tries to make a home by thrusting her o’o (digging stick) into the ground and digging a hole. But because her sister , Na-maka-o-kaha'I, is the goddess of water and the sea, Na-maka-o-kaha'I would flood the holes. And so Pele would move to the next island, in geological order to find shelter from her sister. Because Kaua’i was the first island that was created by the hotspot located in the middle of the Pacific Plate, it is said that Pele created the island with her lava and then when chased out moved to the next island Oahu and spilled her lava here, so on and so forth until she finally landed on the Big Island. She desided to build her home on top of Mauna Loa because even Na-maka-o-kaha'I could not send the ocean waves high enough to extinguish Pele’s fire and lava.
Pele’s oldest brother ,Ka-moho-ali'i, was welcome to the Big Island to live next to Pele, on a cliff near Kilauea Mountain and in respect to him Pele never allows and type of volcanic ash or steam get close to the cliff.
Her other brothers live on the island as well. Kane-hekili is thunder, Ka-poho-i-kahi-ola is explosions, Ke-ua-a-kepo is showers of fire, and Ke-o-ahi-kama-kaua is lava that escape from fissures.