When I was a kid, I loved to read National Geographic. I still remember an article that appeared in the 1960s about the new science of plate tectonics. I felt a delightful shiver of terror at the idea that we are all floating around on giant rock plates that careen into each other like planetary bumper cars, plunging into the depths of ocean trenches and thrusting upwards to form massive mountain ranges like the Himalayas.
Among these geographic revelations, the concept of volcanic hotspots particularly fascinated me. I learned that the Hawaiian Islands were formed as the Pacific Oceanic plate passed northwesterly over a single volcanic hotspot. Lava from this hot spot spewed up through the ocean floor, creating island after island over hundreds of thousands of years.
In other words, the Hawaiian Islands are actually the peaks of towering underwater mountains. If you measure Mauna Kea volcano from the ocean floor, it dwarfs Mt Everest by nearly a mile. [Read more…]