Evolution of Hawaiian Volcanoes

Lesson at a glance, Key Concepts, and Lesson Outcomes are available by clicking here.

Click here for a list of references about plate tectonics.

Click here for a list of activities and teaching suggestions about plate tectonics.


The age progression of the Hawaiian Islands was recognized by the early Hawaiians and incorporated into legends. Stearns (1946) recognized and defined the stages of development of the islands despite an incomplete knowledge of the submarine history of the volcanoes, accurate dating methods, and chemical data for the basalts. The stages recognized by geologists have undergone only minor modifications over the last few decades (Peterson and Moore, 1987).

The following pages describe the major stages and their key characteristics. Changes in the islands over the last 7.5 million years are also presented.

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