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Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Krystal Hitchins
Physical Geology
Fall 2009

Geology of Kaua段

The oldest major Hawaiian Island (geologically) is the Island of Kaua段, or its nickname, the Garden Isle; it is over 5 million years old.

Hawaiian-Emperor Volcanic Chain

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     Kaua段 is a member of the Hawaiian-Emperor Volcanic Chain, which is a string of volcanoes that were created by passage of the Pacific Plate over the Hawaiian magmatic hot spot.

Photo courtesy of


     A volcano is the primary reason for the formation of Kaua段.  The Olokele Volcano rose above sea level, more than 8000 feet, then, it collapsed.  When the volcano collapsed, it created a caldera, in fact, it is the largest caldera associated with the Hawaiian Islands.  Pahoehoe lava, later on, filled the caldera creating distinct layers. 

     Many different factors contribute to shape of Kaua段 that continues to change over time.  When it first formed from the pacific plate and the magmatic hotspot, it may have looked like a typical shield volcano.  But, as lava filled the caldera, formations took place, which were then separated by layers of breccia.  Another contributing factor to the newest look of Kaua段 is the landslides that happen throughout the island.  There were some landslides that helped to form the NaPali cliff, which are partially composed of basaltic lava flows and can be found in the northern region of Kaua段.  The NaPali cliffs are also thought to be formed with help from the waves of the ocean, the lava rock was being cut away by the waves.

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     On the southern most shore, a stream was redirected because of more landslides.  Erosion started to begin on Waimea Canyon because of the Makaweli Depression (which is a slope) that had been affected by the previous redirection of the streams.  These landslides had so many affects and are partially responsible for the changing geology in Kaua段.  The Island of Kaua段 may not only appear to be smaller compared to millions of year ago but actually is smaller than millions of year ago.  This is because of the subsidence that is slowly taking place. 

     A magnificent canyon can also be found on the island of Kaua段, Waimea Canyon.  Waimea Canyon is also known as the 敵rand Canyon of the Pacific. 

waimea canyon

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     The Waimea Canyon received its nickname from Mark Twain, who compared the beautiful scenery to that of the Grand Canyon located in Arizona.  This particular canyon was formed with the help of floods and streams that came from one of the wettest places in the world, Mount Wai疎le疎le.  This canyon is also unique in that the actual, original volcano collapse the helped to create Kaua段, made this canyon.  The basalt on the east side of Waimea is now a bright reddish color instead of black because of the length it has been exposed.   

     Kaua段 is a geologically rich island full of history and life.  From understanding how it formed, to the amazing landmarks it has today, one can only appreciate what it has to offer.  The geology of Kaua段 is phenomenal, it contains everything from pahoehoe lava flow, bright red basalt, to landslides, and all of it contributes to the evolving island.