Some features of this site are not compatible with your browser. Install Opera Mini to
better experience this site.
The Big Island of Hawaii
This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science. However, more recent observations and studies may have rendered some content obsolete.
Boasting snow-covered mountain peaks and tropical forest, the Island of Hawaii,
the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, is stunning at any altitude. This
false-color composite (processed to simulate true color) image of
Hawaii was constructed from data gathered between
1999 and 2001 by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) instrument, flying aboard
the Landsat 7
satellite. The Landsat data were processed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) to develop a landcover map. This map will be used as a baseline to
chart changes in land use on the islands. Types of change include the construction of
resorts along the coastal areas, and the conversion of sugar plantations to other crop
Hawaii was created by a “hotspot” beneath the ocean floor. Hotspots form in areas where superheated magma in the Earth’s mantle
breaks through the Earth’s crust. Over the course of millions of years, the
Pacific Tectonic Plate has slowly moved over this hotspot to form the entire
Hawaiian Island archipelago.
The black areas on the island (in this scene) that resemble a pair of sun-baked palm fronds are
hardened lava flows formed by the active Mauna Loa Volcano. Just to the north
of Mauna Loa is the dormant grayish Mauna Kea Volcano, which hasn’t erupted in
an estimated 3,500 years. A thin greyish plume of smoke is visible near the island’s southeastern shore, rising from Kilaueathe most
active volcano on Earth. Heavy rainfall and fertile volcanic soil have given
rise to Hawaii’s lush tropical forests, which appear as solid dark green areas
in the image. The light green, patchy areas near the coasts are likely sugar
cane plantations, pineapple farms, and human settlements.