The Hawaii Hotspot

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach by Barry Inouye.

If you come to this article thinking it’s about a great new nightclub, popular restaurant or exciting attraction, unfortunately, you’re not going to find it here.  So what is this other type of Hawaii hotspot all about then?

The Hawaii Hotspot is how the Hawaiian Island Chain was formed over the course of 70 million years.  The Hawaiian Islands have sat over what geologists have theorized as a geologic hotspot where magna from the earth’s core has been pushing upwards, creating volcanic underwater seamounts and islands, such as Hawaii, over millions of years.  But this hotspot not only created the Hawaiian Islands Chain, but many other islands throughout the Pacific.

According to this now widely-accepted theory first advanced in 1963 by Canadian geologist, J. Tuzo Wilson, tectonic forces have been moving the Pacific Ocean geologic plate under in a northwesterly direction over millions of year over this hotspot where the Hawaiian Island Chain is currently located.   As the plate moves over this volcanic hotspot, it has created a chain of undersea seamounts and islands that stretches over 3,600 miles from the Aleutian Trench off the coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to where Hawaii is today.  This chain of seamounts and islands is called the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamount Chain.

Originally, the Pacific plate was moving north while the hotspot created a series of volcanic islands and seamounts along the way.  Then 43 million years later, it took a westerly direction to where the Hawaiian Island Chain is located today.  So this is why the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamount Chain today has a wide “V” shaped configuration as noted in the image below.

Over time, the volcanic islands that were created through this process have been eroded away and now lay thousands of feet below the surface in the form of seamounts.  Because the tectonic plate moved from east to west, the seamounts, islets and islands that lay east are younger than those located west. This explains why the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, lying west of the 8 major Hawaiian Islands, are older and have been reduced, over the course of time by the relentless forces of erosion into very small atolls or small rocky islets that are barely above the ocean surface, further west, all that is left are underwater seamounts.

It also foretells the future of the 8 major Hawaiian Islands, when one day, millions of years into the future, they will ultimately suffer the same fate as the Northwestern Hawaii Islands and will slowly sink back into the Pacific Ocean.  But at the same time, to the east of Hawaiian Islands, a new island is being created over the Hawaii Hotspot.

Southeast off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, a new Hawaiian island, named Loihi, has been forming over the last 400,000 years.  It is still about 3,000 feet below the ocean.  Scientists believe that this new Hawaiian island will rise above the surface sometime in the next 10,000 to 100,000 years.