Pele first used her Pa'oa on Kauai, where she subsequently was attacked by Namakaokahai and left for dead. Recovering, she fled to Oahu, where she dug a number of "fire pits," including the crater we now call Diamond Head, the tourist's landmark of modern Honolulu. Pele then left her mark on the island of Molokai before traveling further southeast to Maui and creating Haleakala Volcano, which forms the eastern half of that island. By then Namakaokahai realized that Pele was still alive and went to Maui to do battle with her. After a terrific fight, Namakaokahai again believed that she had killed her younger sister, only to discover later, however, that Pele was very much alive and busily working at Mauna Loa Volcano on the island of Hawaii. Namakaokahai then conceded that she could never permanently crush her sister's indomitable spirit and gave up the struggle. Pele dug her final and eternal fire pit, Halemaumau Crater, at the summit of Kilauea Volcano, where she is said to reside to this day. The migration of volcanic activity from Kauai to Hawaii described by this Hawaiian legend is confirmed by modern scientific studies.

The first geologic study of the Hawaiian Islands was conducted during 6 months in 1840-1841, as part of the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Navy.

The expedition's geological investigations were directed by James Dwight Dana. Though only 25 years old in 1838, Dana was no stranger to volcanoes. In 1834 he had studied Vesuvius, the active volcano near Naples, Italy.

Dana and his colleagues recognized that the islands become increasingly younger from northwest to southeast along the Hawaiian volcanic chain, largely because of differences in their degree of erosion. The longer the length of time since its last eruption, the greater the erosion of the volcano. He also suggested that some other island chains in the Pacific showed a similar general decrease in age from northwest to southeast.

The alignment of the Hawaiian Islands, Dana proposed, reflected localized volcanic activity along segments of a major fissure zone slashing across the ocean floor. Dana's "great fissure" origin for the islands served as a prominent working hypothesis for many subsequent studies until the mid-20th century. The monumental work of Dana -- considered to be the first American volcanologist -- resulted in greatly increased awareness of the Hawaiian volcanoes, which continue to attract much scientific attention.

Koolau Volcano Mauna Loa Volcano

Deeply eroded Koolau Volcano (left photograph), island of Oahu, is 2 to 3 million years older than Mauna Loa Volcano (right photograph), on the Big Island, which is unscarred by erosion. Snow-capped Mauna Loa is viewed from the east, and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (circled) can be seen on the west rim of Kilauea's summit crater (foreground). (Photographs by Richard S. Fiske.)

Back | Home | Forward

Maintained by John Watson
Updated 05.01.97