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Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii. Stock photo by Alex Eckermann via Unsplash

Mauna Kea (; Hawaiian: [ˈmɐwnə ˈkɛjə]; abbreviation for Mauna a Wākea) is a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaiʻi. Its peak is 4,207. 3 m (13,803 ft) above sea level, making it the highest point in the state of Hawaiʻi and second-highest peak of an island on Earth. The peak is about 38 m (125 ft) higher than Mauna Loa, its more massive neighbor. Mauna Kea is unusually topographically prominent for its height: its wet prominence is fifteenth in the world among mountains, at 4,207. 3 m (13,803 ft); its dry prominence of 9,330 m (30,610 ft) is second in the world, only after Mount Everest. This dry prominence is taller than Mount Everest’s height above sea level of 8,848. 86 m (29,032 ft), and some authorities have labelled Mauna Kea the tallest mountain in the world, from its underwater base. It is about one million years old and thus passed the most active shield stage of life hundreds of thousands of years ago. In its current post-shield state, its lava is more viscous, resulting in a steeper profile. Late volcanism has also given it a much rougher appearance than its neighboring volcanoes due to construction of cinder cones, decentralization of its rift zones, glaciation on its peak, and weathering by the prevailing trade winds. Mauna Kea last erupted 6,000 to 4,000 years ago and is now considered dormant.

In Hawaiian religion, the peaks of the island of Hawaiʻi are sacred. An ancient law allowed only high-ranking aliʻi to visit its peak. Ancient Hawaiians living on the slopes of Mauna Kea relied on its extensive forests for food, and quarried the dense volcano-glacial basalts on its flanks for tool production. When Europeans arrived in the late 18th century, settlers introduced cattle, sheep and game animals, many of which became feral and began to damage the volcano’s ecological balance. Mauna Kea can be ecologically divided into three sections: an alpine climate at its summit, a Sophora chrysophylla–Myoporum sandwicense (or māmane–naio) forest on its flanks, and an Acacia koa–Metrosideros polymorpha (or koa–ʻōhiʻa) forest, now mostly cleared by the former sugar industry, at its base. In recent years, concern over the vulnerability of the native species has led to court cases that have forced the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources to work towards eradicating all feral species on the volcano.

With its high elevation, dry environment, and stable airflow, Mauna Kea’s summit is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. Since the creation of an access road in 1964, thirteen telescopes funded by eleven countries have been constructed at the summit. The Mauna Kea Observatories are used for scientific research across the electromagnetic spectrum and comprise the largest such facility in the world. Their construction on a landscape considered sacred by Native Hawaiians continues to be a topic of debate to this day.

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article “Mauna Kea“, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.