Profile of Hawaiian shield volcanoes compared with the profile of Mount Rainier, one of the larger composite volcanoes of the Cascade Range, drawn at the same scale. Hawaiian shield volcanoes vs. Rainier

Volcanic landforms and structures

Hawaiian volcanoes exemplify the common type of volcano called a shield volcano, built by countless outpourings of fluid lava flows that advance great distances from a central summit vent or group of vents. The successive piling up of these flows results in a broad, gently sloping, convex-upward landform, whose profile resembles that of a Roman warrior's shield.

The Hawaiian shield volcanoes are the largest mountains on Earth. Mauna Kea Volcano rises 13,796 feet above sea level but extends about 19,700 feet below sea level to meet the deep ocean floor. Its total height is nearly 33,500 feet, considerably higher than the height of the tallest mountain on land, Mount Everest (Chomolungma) in the Himalaya (29,028 feet above sea level). Mauna Loa stands not quite as high as Mauna Kea but is much larger in volume. The profile of the Mauna Loa shield appears smooth, whereas the shield profile of Mauna Kea has a more uneven appearance, reflecting the growth of numerous small cinder cones on its upper slopes after shield formation. In size, composite volcanoes are dwarfed by the Hawaiian shield volcanoes.

Aerial view of some of the prominent fissures within the southwest rift zone of Kilauea Volcano. The shiny dark lava was erupted from these fissures in September 1971. (Photograph by J.D. Griggs.)

Prominent fissures, Kilauea Volcano

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Maintained by John Watson
Updated 05.01.97