Hawaii, forged in fire, shaken by seismic upheavals, and pounded by the sea, is a fabulous paradox of nature.
The Hawaiian chain of islands, made up of six main islands plus two smaller ones, stretches for more than 1,500 miles through the heart of the Pacific Ocean. It is a place of idyllic beauty. But it is also a land of volcanic fury, raging mountaintop blizzards, dangerous rockslides, monster waves, and even tsunamis.
Kilauea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, provides the most dramatic display of volcanic power. The volcano’s newest cone, Pu`u `O`o regularly spews molten rock and its steady flow of lava in the past two decades has added more than 500 acres to the island.
High above the sea at nearly 14,000 feet is Mauna Kea, which rises above 40 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, making for ideal stargazing. The summit of Mauna Kea is usually barren and dry, but in the winter the crest experiences blizzards with winds that whip up to 70 miles an hour.
When a blizzard rages on Mauna Kea, chances are good that down at sea level, it’s pouring. Torrential storms are common and can be very destructive. On Oahu, one community found itself in peril after tons of rock rolled down from the hills above. A veil of steel mesh was used to contain the hillside. It will keep the rocks in check for now, but erosion is an inevitable part of the natural order.
On the north shore of Maui waves that originate as far away as Siberia sometimes rise to as much as 70 feet as they break here, earning both the waves and the beach the nickname “Jaws.” Monster waves like these are seen rarely, but lifeguards are vigilant in their efforts to spot them because they can swallow a person in an instant. Still, surfers come from all over the world for a single ride on these shores that may last less than half a minute.
Far deadlier than the waves at Jaws are tsunamis. These fast-moving walls of water are triggered by earthquakes or landslides and have killed more people in Hawaii than any other natural disasters.
NATURE’s Violent Hawaii reveals a tropical paradise shaped by the most brutal forces of the natural world.