Panel 1
PLATE TECTONICS AND THE AGES OF THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS

Many observers of the Hawaiian islands, including the original Polynesian colonists, have concluded that the northwestern islands are older than the southeastern ones because they are lower, more eroded, and no longer volcanically active. According to Hawaiian legend, for example, the goddess Pele moved successively from the older islands to the newer ones, creating new volcanoes on each island in an effort to escape the wrath of her sister Namaka.

With the development of potassium-argon radioactive dating in the 1960s, geologists were able to determine the actual ages of each Hawaiian island. For example, one comprehensive set of measurements has produced the following ages for the volcanoes on different islands:

ISLAND

VOLCANO

AGE (millions of years)

Hawaii

Mauna Kea

0.375

Hawaii

Kohala

0.43

Maui

Haleakala

0.75

Maui

West Maui

1.32

Lanai

Lanai

1.28

Molokai

East Molokai

1.76

Molokai

West Molokai

1.90

Oahu

Waianae

3.7

Niihau

Niihau

4.9

Kauai

Kauai

5.1

Nihoa

Nihoa

7.2

Necker

Necker

10.3

SOURCE: David A. Clague and G. Brent Dalrymple. The Hawaiian-emperor volcanic chain, Part I. Geologic evolution. In R.W. Decker, T.L. Wright, and P.H. Stauffer, eds. Volcanism in Hawaii, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1350:5-54, 1987.



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