Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 10:46 EDT
Mauna Loa
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Mauna Loa

September 12, 2005
The landmass located roughly in the center of this image is the island of Hawaii, sometimes called the “Big Island”. It is home to a highly active volcano, Mauna Loa- which means “Long Mountain” in Hawaiian. This shield volcano is the largest-- 5,271 square kilometers or 2,035 square miles in area-- volcano on the planet and one of its most active, erupting 33 times in recorded history. The Hawaiian Islands are an island arc, a string of volcanoes that form above what geologists call a “hot spot”. As the Pacific plate (on which Hawaii currently rests) moved over a column of hot magma, the Hawaiian Islands were formed as the magma cooled into volcanic rock; how deep or shallow the column is remains an open and somewhat controversial research question. The islands to the West are older and therefore smaller, having had more time to erode. The island of Hawaii is the youngest and therefore the largest in the chain.