Mauna Kea is the highest mountain on the planet. Hawaii

Mauna Kea – the highest underwater mountain

Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the world, the foot of which is underwater. Its height from base to highest point is 10,203 meters. Many people compare it to Mount Everest, which is recognized as the largest mountain in the world. Here it matters how the height of the mountain is determined. If you measure from sea level, you get one value, and from the beginning of the foot, quite another. The height of Everest above sea level is 8,848 meters and from the base to the top is 3,550 meters. Mauna Kea is 4,205 meters above sea level. This is the part that is visible above the water. It turns out that by the first indicator Everest wins, but if you compare the actual values (length from top to foot), Mauna Kea is larger. Therefore, it is the highest mountain in the world that is partially underwater. It is also the highest mountain in Hawaii (if you consider the above-water part).


The tallest mountain in the world underwater, Mauna Kea is located on an island called Hawaii. It is the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. All parts of the archipelago are of volcanic origin, both underwater and above-water. Hawaii has the largest area of the entire island complex. There are five mountains like Mauna Kea, which are volcanoes in nature. The neighboring one, Mauna Loa, rivals the one described above in size. It is 35 meters lower, but its volume is larger. Mauna Kea occupies 32,000 cubic kilometers in space.

Geological features of the underwater mountain

Mauna Kea is a shield-shaped volcano. It is a type of geological formation with a gently sloping shape, formed by magma reaching the surface of the Earth’s crust (eruption). When magma solidifies, it turns into lava, which, as it moves across the surface, creates multiple layers. They can also be created under water. This creates a hollow formation that resembles a shield (with a convex center). At its apex is the crater, the highest point of the volcano. This is a rounded depression, from which lava erupts.

In the Hawaiian archipelago, all volcanic formations are shield formations. Of the 5, two are active: Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The first one has the largest lava spill area. It is recognized as the largest of the above-ground ones. Therefore, Mauna Loa is the largest mountain in the world by volume. On the island is an underwater active volcano Loihi. It is completely hidden underwater, but it is active.

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All of the islands in the Hawaiian system are of volcanic origin. The archipelago was created 70,000,000 years ago by a hot mantle flow. Over time, the old formations collapse, giving way to new ones. Now of Hawaii’s 5 volcanoes, 1 is extinct, 2 are active, and 2 are dormant (Mauna Kea, Hualalai). The latter were active about 500,000 years ago. At that time, magma was constantly pouring out of the underground, forming mountain slopes. For a long time the lava has been sliding, smoothing out the mountain’s surface and expanding its area. This process is not completely complete even now. After a period of activity, there is a dormant state when the magma eruption process stops, but there is some possibility of a volcanic awakening. The final stage is dormancy, when it is recognized as extinct. Scientists believe that at this point the probability of its awakening is low. The highest underwater mountain in the world, Mauna Kea, is a tourist attraction and is the site of excursions.

What does the name mean

In Hawaiian, the name Mauna Kea translates to “White Mountain.” It may seem a bit strange, because the lava has a dark color and Hawaii has a tropical climate. Nevertheless, most of the time the mountaintop is covered with snow because it is at a high altitude.

It is not until August that the snow is gone, exposing the high, dark brown slopes. With the onset of autumn, they are again covered with a dense snow cap. Among the local population is a widespread myth about the divine creation of the highest underwater mountain in the world, so it is considered sacred. Only Hawaiian tribal leaders are allowed to climb it.

The Nature of the Mountain Under the Sea

The nature of the world’s highest underwater mountain, Mauna Kea, is diverse despite the fact that it is of volcanic origin. The coastal area that rises above the water is dominated by sandalwood forests and acacia groves. Acacia koa is endemic to Hawaii. It is found nowhere else in the world. The upland forests are dominated by perennial evergreens. Near the highest point of the mountain is a high-altitude natural belt called the alpine belt. It is characterized by negative temperatures, high solar radiation, strong winds. It almost never melts snow. There are three protected areas on Mauna Kea. In addition to rare plant species, there are endangered species of insects. These are butterflies, predatory spiders that settle high in the mountains. Under protection is such plant as Sophora goldenis. It is endemic to Hawaii. It is in danger of extinction because of the development of the sugar industry in the region.

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Observatory on the highest mountain in the world

Mauna Kea is not only the highest mountain whose base is underwater, but it is also one of the best places in the world to observe astronomical objects. There is an international station, which includes 13 points with optical instruments. This area is located in a nature reserve. Telescopes are located near the highest point of the mountain. This astronomical site is leased from the University of Hawaii. The chosen location is ideal for tracking celestial bodies. This is facilitated by factors such as: proximity to the equator, clean air, low humidity levels.

Because the telescopes are on the planet’s highest peak, there is no light pollution, which is usually an obstacle to observing astronomical bodies. Mauna Kea is considered by astronomers to be the best place in the world to study the sky in the infrared, visible, and submillimeter ranges. Residences for scientists are located not far from the observatory – at an altitude of 2,800 meters from the underwater part of the mountain. Because the air there is rarefied, the research process presents some challenges. People need to periodically spend time in a special building near the highest point in the world to get used to the local atmosphere.

The dangers of Mt.

Volcanoes like Mauna Kea, which are underwater, pose a much greater danger than those on land. Scientists have found that underwater areas of mountains are characterized by steep slopes, bulging bottoms, and sharp peaks. Most of them are cone-shaped. These are the most dangerous types of mountains in the world because they make it difficult for ships to navigate.

Also, if there is a collapse of the underwater part, it often leads to the creation of a tsunami. Exploring the peaks underwater is difficult because it requires high-tech equipment. The underwater landscape can be studied with an electronic echo sounder. However, it does not always give accurate results because the properties of the ocean water affect the signal’s passability. Scientists use the signals they emit to determine the length and height of ridges and plot them on maps.

Top 5 highest underwater mountain ranges in the world

  • Northwest Ridge;
  • Hawaii Mountain Range;
  • Shatsky Upland;
  • North Atlantic Ridge;
  • South Antilles Mountains.
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The Northwest, or Imperial, Range is recognized as the highest mountain range in the world under water. Its largest peaks are about 6,000 meters high. It is a boundary structure between 2 tectonic plates: Northeast, Northwest. The mountain range consists of flat-topped guyots. The range is about 90 km wide, but there are sections up to 150 km.

The Hawaiian range is a submarine volcanic ridge of the Pacific Ocean with a height of 5,500 m. Its highest peaks form the Hawaiian Islands. It is home to the world’s highest active volcanoes. The Hawaiian Range is 5,000 km long. The width of the largest part is 750 km. The shallowest depth over the ridge is 15 meters. Soils are formed by silt and sand.

The Shatsky Submarine Mountain Range is a natural upland of the Pacific Ocean, located east of Japan. Its base is at a depth of 5.5-6 km. The upland consists of several mountain ranges: Tamu, Ori, and Shirshov. The ridge is named after a Russian geologist.

The North Atlantic Ridge is part of the Mid-Atlantic mountain chain, located in the area of the divergence of tectonic plates. It is the largest underwater mountain system in the Atlantic Ocean. The North Atlantic Ridge is located between the Reykjanes and Cheyne faults. Its length is 8,200 km, its width reaches 1,500 km. The ridge has many transverse faults.

The South Antilles Mountains is a submarine massif, located on the bottom of the South Atlantic Ocean. It stretches from Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica. Its individual parts form a number of islands (South Sandwich Islands, Shetland Islands and others). The length of the massif is 3,500 km. The depth of the ocean over parts of the ridge can be up to 3 km.


Every year, many tourists come to see Mauna Kea. Travelers are attracted by the idea of climbing to the top of the dormant volcano crater and viewing the surrounding area from Hawaii’s highest point. Most of the time the crater is covered with snow, but that doesn’t scare the extreme enthusiasts. Also very interesting tourist site is an observatory. It organizes tours. Interested people can observe the stars and other celestial bodies. To get to the observatory you can get on a specially paved asphalt road, passing directly on the slope of the volcano. To get to the crater will have to walk. The surface of the volcano is flat, so that the ascent itself is not difficult.

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The difficulty is that the volcanic rocks that make up the mountain, sometimes fail, as they have a loose structure. Climbing can take a long time, so tourists are equipped with special cabins where you can rest. They stand on the route. There are also helicopter tours. With a bird’s eye view of the entire island, looking into the mouths of extinct and active volcanoes.

Mauna Kea Volcano in Hawaii

Mauna Kea in Hawaii photo

Despite the fact that the volcano rises “only” 4,205 meters above sea level it is the highest mountain on our planet. Much of it is hidden underwater, and its foot begins at a depth of about 6 kilometers. The total height of Mauna Kea is 10,210 meters. Thus, it holds the record for the highest mountain on Earth.

Mauna Kea is located in the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean and is the highest point in that region. The inhabitants of the islands hold the mountain in high esteem, considering its peak a sacred place. Even today, not all Hawaiians can climb to the top, and only high-ranking chiefs are allowed to visit the peak.

Mauna Kea

The mountain is about 1 million years old, but its most active period of life it “lived” about 500 thousand years ago, and now the volcano is extinct, and scientists believe that the nearest eruption in the foreseeable future is not expected. Although it is impossible to completely rule out its activity, most residents of the region are quite calm. The fact is that there are 13 observatories on top of the mountain – the mountain is just perfect for astronomical observations. Scientists, who are constantly located above the mouth of the volcano, as well as scientific geological equipment located there also minimizes the sudden onset of an eruption. Therefore, the U.S. Geological Survey gave the volcano the lowest possible rating.

Although Mauna Kea is located in tropical latitudes, its summit is covered with snow year-round, having formed large ice caps over the centuries. The slopes of the volcano are thickly forested, in some places almost impassable. The ancient Hawaiians revered Mauna Kea’s thickets for their food. Before Europeans came to the island, the indigenous population subsisted on the fruits of the forest. However, the arrival of pets from the “big land” has only shaken the ecological balance of nature, and some of the unique fauna have disappeared, while the remaining are under pressure from imported animals and plants. It’s gotten to the point where Hawaiian authorities have taken the unprecedented step of announcing the eradication of imported species of flora and fauna.

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Mauna Kea volcano

Mauna Kea: Flora and Fauna

At the top is the so-called alpine belt. This place is characterized by high illumination (respectively, high solar radiation). The average air temperature is below zero degrees. Strong winds are characteristic. In such alpine meadows do not grow any trees or shrubs. Most of the plant life in this zone is represented by low herbaceous perennials, including evergreens.

At the top of Mauna Kea is the Alpine Belt Preserve. It protects all the flora and fauna that live at such a high altitude. Here lives a wolf spider, which can live at an altitude of 4,200 m. The total number of spiders at the summit is not known, because the study of the endemic began only in the 1980s. A local attraction is the Forest Shawl butterfly, which hides in the crevices of the rocks, which heats up and retains the heat from the day.

Mauna Kea photo

Below the alpine meadows is a forest consisting of Gold-leaf Sophora, a leguminous tree that grows only in Hawaii. The area of the forest is constantly shrinking, under the oppression of introduced species. It is estimated that the current area of the Sophora forests is only 10% of its former area, so it is declared on the verge of extinction. Now the entire forest area (212 sq. km) is a reserve.

Below 2 km. is the lower area of Mauna Kea, which is also a reserve. There are 8 endangered bird species and 12 plant species whose numbers are also inexorably dropping. Great damage to the ecosystem was done by the Europeans who came to Hawaii and cut down many trees for their settlements and cleared areas for the future sugar plantations.

Mount Mauna Kea

Volcano Mauna Kea: Tourism

Each year the mountain is visited by more than 100 thousand tourists from around the world. There is a road to the peak, which can be reached by powerful off-road vehicles. The main attraction at the top of the volcano (in addition to the beautiful view) – observatories. There are 13 scientific astronomical centers from 11 countries built on Mauna Kea.

In the winter months, when the snow cover is thicker, many visitors to Mauna Kea go skiing. True routes choose not on the top, where the wind speed can reach 110 kilometers per hour, and a little below.

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