There are few people in the world who haven’t heard of Hawai’i, but despite being widely known - most people don’t actually know what the Hawaiian Islands actually are....in Geological terms.
In fact, the Hawaiian Islands are the tallest peaks in an underwater range of mountains called the Hawaiian Islands Emperor Seamount Chain. This underwater mountain range extends 3600 miles from the 70-million-year-old Meiji Seamount off the coast of the Siberian Peninsula all the way down to the island of Hawaii (Big Island) and the Loihi Volcano which sits underwater just about ten miles to the south of the Big Island.
The Hawaiian Islands themselves extend from the Loihi volcano to Kure Atoll - 1600 miles to the Northwest. All of the islands and the seamounts in the chain are the result of a volcanic ‘hot spot’ which sits under the Pacific Plate. The Pacific Plate is one of 12 massive tectonic plates which float on the surface of the earth and carry all of our continents and oceans. The Pacific Plate moves approximately three inches each year. This is the reason for the chain of underwater volcanoes, seamounts and islands. Oahu has moved approximately 220 miles in the last three-and-a-half million years! The Meiji Seamount has moved 3600 miles in the past seventy-million years. The Big Island of Hawaii still sits over the hot spot which is why her volcanoes are still active. The volcanoes and islands of Hawaii get older and more eroded by time, weather, and sea as they travel northwest from the hot spot.
The Hawaiian Islands sit farther from everywhere than anywhere else on Earth. It’s 2400 miles to North America and 3800 miles to Japan. There are eight inhabited islands (nine if you count the military personnel on Midway Atoll). There are 137 islands, islets, reefs, and atolls in the chain. The Big Island is the youngest and largest. Maui is next is youth and size. Oahu is the third largest followed by Kauai and then by the smaller islands of Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Some people joke that Las Vegas is one of the Hawaiian Islands because there are more Hawaiians there than anywhere outside of the Hawaiian Islands!