The Hawaiian islands were formed by a single hot spot under the Pacific that has been spewing lava for tens of millions of years, while the Pacific plate is moving from east to west. The oldest of the islands are toward the west, the biggest one remaining is Kauai. There are older islands west of Kauai, or remainders of islands, all washed back to the sea. Kauai is 5.1 million years old. That’s all. Oahu is 3 million years old. Maui is 1.32 million years old. The Big Island is only 400,000 years old.
The volcano Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world. It is flowing right now. Yesterday we went down to the current lava flow and walked on land that did not exist eight years ago. Eight years ago.
For me nothing brings the transient state of the world to life as powerfully as a visit to Hawaii. I can see the world changing in front of me here.
Here I was standing on the land created from lava flow only a few years ago. I was looking back toward the Kilauea volcano in the background, in the mist. This is where all this lava I am standing on came from.
A quarter of a mile out toward the ocean, there is a new “beach.” It’s all black, course sand from ground-up lava. Coconuts start sprouting in the background.
Humans, of course, help nature along, bringing coconuts out to sprout on the new land.
I looked for a high point in the lava fields and looked back toward the old coast. The green stripe on the top of this photograph is where the old coast line was. There was a road, shops, houses, and a nice, sandy beach, not many years ago. Now there is nothing but new lava, and the beach moved at least a quarter of a mile away.
Here is a zoomed look to the old coastline.
Somehow, when the lava came, it flowed down parallel to the coast into the ocean and it spared these shacks, houses and the jungle behind them. But nature (or the volcano god Pele) could change its mind tomorrow, and wipe all that out.
Some half a million years from now, when the Big Island of Hawaii is washed down and separated into three individual islands, some hotel chain may create a resort on this beach, and a new island may loom to the south of it, an island that does not exist yet, but is growing from the ocean floor right now.
Humanity is fortunate to be able to stand here and watch this spectacle of geology during our civilization, nothing but the blink of an eye in geological time scales.