Pressure testing in 1976 of a geothermal well drilled into Kilauea's lower east rift zone. This well currently produces three megawatts of electricity. (Photograph courtesy of the Hawaii Geothermal Project.)

Below: Sugar cane thrives in the fertile volcanic soils derived from products of past Hawaiian eruptions. Mauna Kea Volcano is seen in the distance. (Photograph by Robert I. Tilling.)
Pressure testing

Fertile volcanic soils

Volcanic benefits

First of all, the Hawaiian Islands would not exist were it not for volcanic activity. Equally important, many factors that combine to make the islands an attractive place to live or visit depend directly or indirectly on the results of past and present eruptions.

Given enough rainfall, areas buried by new lava recover quickly; revegetation can begin less than 1 year after the eruption. Erosion and breakdown of the volcanic material can form fertile soils over periods of tens to thousands of years. These rich soils fostered the agricultural development of the Hawaiian Islands, as represented principally by the sugar, pineapple, coffee, and macadamia nut industries. Some of the volcanic products provide an abundant local source of raw materials for landscaping, housing and construction, and road building. In recent years, volcanic energy has been harnessed by a geothermal power plant on Kilauea's east rift zone; the three megawatts of electricity produced are fed into the grid of the local utility company. Much larger capacity geothermal development is under discussion.

Hawaii's majestic volcanic mountains, beautiful beaches, and pleasant climate combine to make the islands a popular tourist attraction, which includes two heavily visited national parks. Haleakala National Park on Maui, founded in 1961, features the spectacularly eroded summit crater of 10,023 foot-high Haleakala Volcano, active as recently as about 1790. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, created by Congress in 1916, contains the two currently active Hawaiian volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. This park is one of the few places in the world where the processes and products of active volcanism can be viewed safely and comfortably by the nonspecialist and volcanologist alike. Indeed, millions of park visitors have experienced "live" the sights, sounds, and smells of volcanic eruptions and gained a firsthand appreciation of the phenomena that created and shaped these beautiful islands.

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Maintained by John Watson
Updated 05.01.97