May 23, 2022 — The north side of the big island yesterday was such a treat. Hello rain and jungle! Here is the feeling of the Hawaii that most of us romanticize to be the entire Hawaiian experience. Including myself even as I know better being a geologist. What’s going on is the shield volcanoes (that are why Hawaii exists as the oceanic plate here slowly moves over a hot spot in the mantle way down there on the ocean floor), are so massive they create rain shadows over half of their islands, and they create massive changes from sea level to 15,000 feet elevation. Ten of the 14 climate zones that exist in the entire planet exist on Hawaii. Tropical wet is just one of them. Need a change, go up country. Or start driving around the island.
So heading to the north side of the big island yesterday was to enter the jungle typical of Hilo and Akaka Falls, where one sees philodendrons the size of Volkswagens and monkey pod trees the size of Walmarts. Driving through a few other zones to get there.
And when you think that the islands are just the part of the volcano that sticks out of the water it gets even more amazing. These are actually the biggest mountains on earth. Though Mount Everest is the highest mountain rising from land at 29,032 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii holds the title of tallest mountain on Earth at 33,500 feet. More than half (19,698 feet) of Mauna Kea lies underwater, while 13,802 feet is above sea level. Imagine the underwater biomes these volcanoes have created!
In addition to climate zones, I like to think of biomes. I found this on the internet just now on https://neeness.com/how-many-biomes-are-in-hawaii/. On Hawaii, there are five major types of biomes: aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra, though some of these biomes can be further divided into more specific categories, such as freshwater, marine, savanna, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest, and taiga. Yep, there is a desert. The Ka’u Desert is located on the western flank of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is a desert because it receives little annual rainfall (about 150 mm/yr) but also because it is subjected to constant outgassing from Kilauea, which creates a harsh, acidic environment.
Penni and me at Akaka Falls on the tropical rainforest north side of the big island.