17 Amazing Facts About Mauna Kea

This famous mountain is actually a dormant volcano, and in this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Mauna Kea.

1. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano in the U.S. State of Hawaii. It stands about 4,207.3 meters (13,803 feet) above sea level which makes it the highest point in the entire state.

Mauna Kea Hawaii

2. It’s located on the island of Hawaii

The mountain is located on the island of Hawaii, the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands, a chain of volcanic islands in the North Pacific Ocean.

The island has an area of 4,028 square miles (10,430 square kilometers) which means that it covers about 63% of all the Hawaiian island’s landmass. This also makes it the largest island in the United States.

Remarkably, only has about 13% of the population in the U.S. State of Hawaii lives on its largest island.

Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii
The mountain is seen from the sea / Source

3. It’s one of 5 volcanoes on the island

The island of Hawaii consists of 5 volcanoes of which 2 are still active. These are the 5 volcanoes that make up the island:

  • Kohala – extinct
  • Mauna Kea – dormant
  • Hualālai – dormant
  • Mauna Loa – active
  • Kīlauea – active: erupting continuously from 1983 to 2018

Mauna Kea is the fourth oldest and the fourth most active of the 5 volcanoes. One of the most remarkable facts about Mauna Kea is that it doesn’t have a visible summit crater. The main crater may have been filled by deposits from later eruptions.

Mauna Loa seen from Mauna Lea
Mauna Loa as seen from Mauna Kea / Source

4. How old is Mauna Kea?

The volcano was formed about 1 million years ago and was very active during its first phase called the “shield stage” which lasted until about 500,000 years ago.

Mauna Kea entered its post-shield stage about 200,000 years ago and is currently a dormant volcano.

facts about mauna kea
To the top of the mountain / Source

5. It’s only slightly taller than its neighbor

The other large volcano on the island, Mauna Loa, is only slightly shorter than Mauna Kea, which surpasses it by just 38 meters (125 feet).

Mauna Loa, on the other hand, is a lot more massive volcano on the island of Hawaii.

the mountain is seen from Mana Loa / Nula666 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

6. Most of its mass is located underwater

One of the most interesting facts about Mauna Kea is that most of its mass is located below sea level. It has a total volume of 32,000 cubic kilometers (7,680 cubic miles).

The mountain stands 4,207.3 meters (13,803 feet) above sea level, but when measured from its base underwater, it would stand over 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) tall.

This means that in case it was measured this way it would be taller than the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest!

Mauna Kea Facts
View of Mauna Kea / Aiden Relkoff / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

7. The mountain has 3 different sections

The entire mountain consists of 3 distinctive sections:

  • Alpine environment – located above the tree line and consists mostly of lava rock and alpine tundra. Not much can grow here.
  • Māmane–naio forest – A distinct forest zone lies at an elevation of 2,000–3,000 meters (6,600–9,800 feet). Most of the vegetation consists of the local Māmane and naio trees.
  • Forests – The lower environment used to consist of dense forests, but these have been destroyed after the influx of European and American settlers in the 19th century.
Sections of Mauna Kea
Sections of Mauna Kea / Brian W. Schaller / Wiki Commons

8. Mauna Kea has a seasonal ice cap

Mauna Kea is the only volcano on the Hawaiian islands which has evidence of glaciation, a dense body of ice that is moving under its own weight.

Even though Hawaii has a tropical climate, the summit of Mauna is covered with ice and snow in the winter.

Mauna Kea has ice in winter
Mauna Kea has ice and snow in winter / Source

9. There’s a lake near the summit of the mountain

Mauna Kea is home to a lake named “Lake Waiau,” which is located at an elevation of 3,969 meters (13,022 feet). This makes it the highest lake in the entire Pacific Ocean area.

The lake is very small and only has a surface of about 0.73 hectares (1.80 acres) and is very shallow as well with a maximum depth of just 3 meters (10 feet).

Lake Waiau
Lake Waiau / Karl Magnacca / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

10. The last eruption dates back 4,600 years ago

The last eruption of Mauna Kea happened about 4,600 years ago, which is around 2600 B.C. This means that the volcano has been pretty inactive as of late, especially compared to its counterpart Kīlauea which has been active continuously for the past decades.

Lava fields on Mauna Loa with Mauna Kea in the background
Lava fields on Mauna Loa with Mauna Kea in the background / Source

11. Will Mauna Kea erupt again?

Does the fact that the last eruption happened thousands of years ago mean that Mauna Kea will never erupt again?

Scientists are firm in their belief that the volcano will erupt more in the future, even though it’s not likely in the next centuries.

When it happens, it’s expected to happen on the upper flanks and the result would be lava streams of between 15 and 25 kilometers (9–16 miles) long, causing serious damage to infrastructure in the process.

Mauna Kea will erupt again
Mauna Kea will erupt again, but not anytime soon / Source

12. The summit is considered to be the most sacred

Mauna Kea has a resemblance to Mount Olympus in Greece. Not because it’s the tallest mountain but because it was considered the place where the gods lived in mythology.

In Hawaiian Mythology, all 5 volcanoes were considered to be sacred, but the summit of Mauna Kea was considered the “region of the gods,” and therefore, the most sacred place of all.

Only the highest-ranking members of Ancient Hawaiian society were allowed to travel to the summit, a “kapu,” a special code of conduct, prohibited the average person to do so.

Mauna Kea summit trail
Mauna Kea summit trail / Source

13. One of the oldest ranches in the US is located on Mauna Kea

One of the oldest ranches in the United States, named Parker Ranch, was established on the flanks of Mauna Kea in the year 1847.

It’s not just one of the oldest cattle ranches, pre-dating many mainland ranches by several decades, but also one of the biggest.

Parker Ranch has an area of 130,000 acres (53,000 hectares). The ranch was founded by John Palmer Parker who was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2008.

Parker Ranch
Parker Ranch / Parkerranch / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

14. The first recorded ascend happened in 1823

An American missionary named Joseph F. Goodrich was the first person on record to ascend the mountain. This happened on August 26, 1823.

He was followed by multiple others in the 19th century, including Queen Emma of Hawaii who bathed in Lake Waiau in the year 1881.

Summit of Mauna Kea
Summit of Mauna Kea / Source

15. Mauna Kea’s summit is perfect for astronomical observation

The summit of Mauna Kea is one of the best places in the world for astronomers. Because of these favorable conditions, several telescopes have been placed on top of the mountain.

The summit is located above the clouds and there is limited light pollution because it’s located far away from city lights.

Apart from using telescopes to explore the universe, Mauna Kea is the perfect spot for stargazing as well!

Mauna Kea observatory
Mauna Kea observatory / Source

16. There’s a “Save Mouna Kea” Movement to prevent its development

Mauna Kea is considered to be the most sacred spot in all of Hawaii. Therefore, Native Hawaiian groups are fighting to prevent the development of the mountain.

This has resulted in several proposals for new telescopes being canceled and a groundbreaking ceremony for a telescope that did get approved being interrupted by protestors.

Currently, the groups are trying to block the construction of the “Thirty Meter Telescope,” and an online petition has gathered 278,057 signatures worldwide in 2019.

Mauna kea observatory and sacred rocks
The observatory / Brian W. Schaller / Wiki Commons

17. Hiking trails make Mouna Kea a popular tourist destination

Several hiking trails allow visitors to hike from the base of the mountain straight to the summit. This makes Mauna Kea a very popular tourist attraction.

Over 100,000 hikers enjoy the scenery of this amazing volcano every year, and over 32,000 vehicles travel to Visitor Information Station (VIS) located on the summit each year as well!

Mauna Kea Summit
Mauna Kea summit / Source