Kīlauea | The Most Active Volcano on the Planet
When it comes to volcanoes, prevailing wisdom says to evacuate at the first signs of trouble. Ignore that. If Kīlauea, the world’s most active volcanic mass, happens to be erupting. Then definitely ignore that. Stratovolcanoes, with their thick magma and unpredictable summit eruptions of the Mount St. Helens variety definitely warrant a level of wariness. But Hawaiʻi is made of shield volcanoes. Thin basaltic magma allows volcanic gasses to pass through unimpeded and lava to ooze. If a volcano in Hawaiʻi is erupting, you hop in a van and head out to watch.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park has both the world’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, and Kīlauea, the world’s most active. It’s a sea to summit park, going from the coast up the slopes to the summits of both of these volcanoes. That’s over 500 square miles, only about 75 square miles smaller than the island of Oʻahu. There’s a lot of ground to cover.
Kauhi Cave | Life in a Lava Tube
Cut a cross section of this island and youʻd have a volcanic version of swiss cheese — holes through each layer of lava as this island formed. Lava tubes are everywhere on this island. Formed when the exposed surface of an above-ground flow hardens, insulated lava eventually carves its way down into the ground. The eruption subsides and you’re left with an empty tube.
The twists and turns of a lava tube reveal nāhuku hanging from the ceiling. Astute observers might think they’re normal stalactites, formed with every drip of water as minerals accumulate. Thatʻs not the case in a lava tube. Literally translated as the protuberances, these lava icicles dripped down when molten lava was flowing through the cave and melted the ceiling.
Some lava tubes in Hawaiʻi host rare bacteria. Scientists are still discovering different species of these simple organisms and learning how they work together to sustain life in pitch-black caves. Waste products of the microbial matting is visible on the cave walls.