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Glaciers on Mauna Kea

Ice. Hau. Kehaupa`a. Also: hau`oki, waipa`a, wai pu`olo i ka lau la`au

Ice age. Ka wa i uhi `ia ai ka `aina e ka hau (the time when the land was covered in ice)

Wai pu`olo i ka lau la`au.  An ancient name for ice. Lit., water in a package of tree leaves, so called because ice was said to be brought down from the mountains in leaves. (Malo 241-2)

from Hawaiian Dictionary
Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert
University Press of Hawai’i

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Between 6,000 and 2,500,000 years ago the world-wide temperature dropped and sheets of ice thousands of feet thick covered 6,000,000 square miles of the world's continents in what is known as the ice ages. Even sub-tropical Hawai’i, lying within 20 degrees of the equator, did not escape.

Mauna Kea was one of the few places in the tropics that was repeatedly covered by glaciers during the ice ages.

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Mauna Kea is the world's best example of a glaciated oceanic tropical volcano, and preserves the only glacial deposits and glacial features found in Hawaii.

Mauna Kea Science Reserve Geological Resources Management Plan
Appendix H - Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
January 2000
by John Lockwood
http://www.volcanologist.com/

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Daly (1910) recognized that the summit of Mauna Kea had been glaciated, and Wentworth and Powers (1941) identified four glacial drift deposits, pre-Pohakuloa, Pohakuloa, Waihu and Makanaka drifts.

Porter and others (1977) concluded that the four episodes of ice-cap glaciation culminated about 20,000, 55,000, 135,000, and 250,000 years ago.

However, new dating...suggests that the Pohakuloa glaciation occurred during the interval between approx. 150,000 and 100,000 years ago and that the Waihu glaciation occurred later than about 80,000 to 100,000 years ago.

Mauna Kea Summit & South Flank
Field Trip Guide Book
by Edward W. Wolfe
U.S. Geological Survey, 1987

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[Steven] Porter said he has found evidence of glaciation on Mauna Kea possibly as recently as 9,200 years ago.

"If I had to guess, I'd say it was gone by 12,000 years ago," he said. "The glacier extended down to 11,000 feet. The thickest ice was 400 feet, the average about 200 to 250 feet. Only the tallest cinder cones were sticking out."

Mauna Kea's adze-makers were skilled craftsmen
by Bob Krauss
Honolulu Advertiser, Aug. 6, 1971

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During the latest glacial stage, designated the Makanaka, ice covered approximately twenty-six square miles of the summit area. The Makanaka glacier descended lower and in the Pohakuloa gulch reached about 10,200 feet.

The geologists concluded that the maximum thickness of the ice during the Makanaka stage was about 350 feet, with an average of more than 150 feet.

During the Pleistocene epoch, an ice cap covered approximately 28 square miles over the summit area of Mauna Kea. Several of the mountain's cinder cones peaked through the ice cap which had an average thickness of 200 feet and a maximum thickness of 350 feet in places. Within the limits of the glacier, which reached down to the 11,000 and even the 10,500 foot elevation, many areas were scraped bare of ash and cinder. (Macdonald and Abbott, 1970)

That an oceanic island lying within 20 degrees of the equator could be glaciated down to the 7,000 foot level is extraordinary," the authors observe. "Its implications regarding Pleistocene world climates are important."

Glacial Ice of Hawaii
Paradise of the Pacific
[referring to scientific studies of 1935, 1937 and 1939]

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The world-wide decrease of land temperatures during the Pleistocene period was accompanied by lowered temperature of sea water which, in time, brought a changed environment for the fauna and flora. Coral reefs could not thrive and would have been destroyed.

During the successive glaciations that increased the amount of polar ice and expanded the continental and mountain glaciers, much water must have been taken from the oceans, resulting in a lowered sea level. The water locked up as ice during the Pleistocene is sufficient to have lowered the surface of the oceans approximately 90 meters. In other words, since Mauna Kea was capped with ice, the sea level of Hawai‘i has risen about 300 feet. It is further estimated that if all the existing ice masses were melted the surface of the ocean would stand about 165 feet still higher.

General Features and Glacial Geology of Mauna Kea, Hawaii
by Herbert Gregory and Chester Wentworth
Bulletin of the Geological Society of America
Vol. 48, 1937
Read more of this report

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The conditions under which a future glacier could form involve surprisingly little change from the summit's present climate. The average rainfall would need to increase by only two inches per year and the average temperature would need to drop only a few degrees. Glacial ice would soon form as the result of continued year round accumulations of snow. This condition may have existed in recent times with only the duration being too short. Many early travelers reported that Mauna Kea was known to have a year round cap of snow that "looked down as winter upon summer."

The Top of Mauna Kea
by Pat Duefrene
Aloha magazine
August 1, 1984, v7 n4
Read more of this article

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The effects of the last ice age are still felt on the mountain. A layer of permafrost, or ground ice, is all that is left of a once-giant glacier.

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What I think is very important and fascinating for people to know today is that the glacier is still here. It’s just below the surface. And that glacier contributes to the water. It’s the source of our aquifer for Hawai’i island.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou

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The centers of the summit cones on Mauna Kea are permanently frozen to just a few feet below the surface.

Volcano Watch -- 20 May 1999
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory/U.S. Geological Survey

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If you wanted to put it in another term that is more tangible than western thought, you could refer to this mountain as a giant crystal. This whole mountain is frozen. It’s a giant water crystal.

Hanalei Fergerstrom
interview

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That glacier formed Lake Waiau and it gave birth, I believe, to a lot of the springs that we now have. Some of that water is very, very old.

Keawe Vrendenburg
interview

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Glacial Geology

Glaciers erode vast quantities of rock from their upper reaches, suspend them in ice, and transport them downslope. The massive weight of the ice moves over the terrain, scraping deep grooves and stripes into hard rock or polishing it clean of loose clinkery crusts of ‘a‘a lava flows.

When the glacier melts, this eroded debris gets deposited at the bases of the glaciers as broad expanses of till. Ridges of rocky debris known as glacial moraines form at the margins of glaciers.

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The glacial deposits exist in the form of Moraines and above these are rocks which have been grooved as much as two or three feet deep by ice movement and pressure. All the surface material has been ground off, leaving a hard core. This hard core rock is that form which the ancient Hawaiians made their adzes and other stone implements.

It is evident that the glaciers originated near the summit and headed toward Mauna Loa, judging by the southwest direction of the scourings and deposits of eight and ten ton boulders which are all scoured and scratched by the big ice sheet which probably covered the top one hundred feet thick, at one time.

Ice Caps Crowned Mauna Kea Before Hawaii Subsided to Present Level
Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr. Makes Scientific Exploration of Mauna Kea and Relates His Experienced Conclusions
Paradise of the Pacific
January, 1926

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The scouring action of the glacier is witnessed today in the terminal moraine and gorge at Pohakuloa. In other parts of the summit plateau, scars on the sides of pu’u and large areas of glacial till stand in contrast to the smooth cinder cones. Areas of buried fossil ice remain in the Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve. Cycles of freezing and thawing continue today, creating ever-changing patterns of rock fragments These fragments of various coarseness are constantly moving, sorted into stripes and polygons by the forces of nature.

Glacial Ice of Hawaii
Paradise of the Pacific
[referring to scientific studies of 1935, 1937 and 1939]

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Daily cycles of freezing and thawing continue to affect the summit terrain today. The temperature falls below the freezing point every night in the year, and, with the possible exception of short periods during the winter, it rises above freezing point each day. Thus alternate melting and freezing of ice in cracks is nearly a continuous process.

Daytime melting of snow permits water to trickle down rock surfaces and into all accessible crevices, only to expand when frozen at night, splitting the rocks apart.

The process creates ever-changing patterns of rock fragments. The freeze/thaw process concentrates fine material on ridges and coarse material in grooves, producing stripes, geometrically regular alterations of stones and fine-grained ash that appear as rivulets on the sides of the cinder cones.

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Land of lava and ice

One recorded story of Kukahau’ula and Poli’ahu suggests a Hawaiian understanding of the history of glaciation on the mountain. The cluster of cinder cones at the summit is named for Kukahau`ula, Ku of the red-tinted snow, who arrives with the rays of the rising sun, embracing Poli`ahu, the woman of the mountain, the snow goddess, whose heart of ice melts at his caress, feeding the springs and streams below.

Another mo’olelo, or story, talks about an epic confrontation between Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes, and Poli`ahu in which the forces of glaciation and vulcanism played themselves out. Volcanic eruptions on Mauna Kea sometimes occurred during the periods that the summit area was covered with glaciers.

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The cinder cones were starting to erupt. Pele was very strong. The lava would keep coming out. So Poli`ahu called all her powers together. She was making it snow harder and harder and harder. She finally stifled the fires and Pele left, never to come back again.

At one time Mauna Kea had erupting volcanoes on it, cinder cones. Those were covered over with glaciers and that forced the lava back down and over to Mauna Loa again, exactly like the legend said. That’s the good thing about Hawaiian stories. They’re teaching devices of a rare form.

Keawe Vredenburg
excerpt from Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege

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The rapid heating and melting of the glacier produced enormous volumes of water that then rushed down slope, carving deep gorges into the land.

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The outwash that we see on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea is glacial debris carried down by the great volumes of water in brief, torrential flooding. These floods came all the way down the mountain. If you go below Rainbow Falls, you work your way down the Wailuku River, you'll see many gorges that have been cut into the rocks. And they had to have been cut in a matter of days with an incredible volume of water. It was a huge flood, an incredible flood.

The Icelanders call it Yokelhaut. Huge rivers of water came out from under the glaciers. That's what carved the Wailuku in Hilo.

John Lockwood
http://www.volcanologist.com/
volcanologist
interview

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Mauna Kea was intermittently active as a volcano during late Pleistocene and early Recent time as shown by the flows above and below the Waihu and Makanaka deposits. The hypothesis is advanced that the Waihu fanglomerate was laid down by floods caused by eruptions melting the icecap in early Wisconsin time, thereby releasing great volumes of water loaded with glacial debris.

Glaciation of Mauna Kea, Hawaii
by Harold T. Stearns
published by The Geological Society of America
March 1945

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The interaction of molten lava and glacial ice during the Ice Ages has formed unique geologic features that are well-preserved in some areas and are amongst the world's best examples of these rare structures.

The light-colored ash beds forming the lower slope of Pu‘u Wekiu indicate probable explosive interaction of lava fountains and ice water during early phases of this eruption.

Mauna Kea Science Reserve Geological Resources Management Plan
Appendix H - Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
January 2000
by John Lockwood
http://www.volcanologist.com/

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Ice contact features include mosaic jointing, cavernous flow bases, and spiracles of altered rock that extend upward into or through flows. In some localities, brief torrential flooding is recorded by erosionally stripped lava-flow surfaces.

Four extensive Laupahoehoe hawaiite flows in the summit region of Mauna Kea have steep, quenched, mosaic-jointed margins indicative of their emplacement in contact with ice.

The latest eruptions at the summit occurred in late Pleistocene time, and the flows they produced have all been distinctly modified by glacial activity.

Mauna Kea Summit & South Flank
Field Trip Guide Book
by Edward W. Wolfe
U.S. Geological Survey, 1987

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The union of lava and ice also produced an unusually hard, highly dense rock material, formed by the rapid cooling of hot lava.

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During this period, volcanic eruptions continued to take place beneath the ice cap, forming a large lake of lava. This lava cooled without crystallizing, creating a uniquely dense rock that was moved and crushed under the weight of the glacier. Many years later, this rock was sought after by Hawaiians who used it to craft adzes.

Glacial Ice of Hawaii
Paradise of the Pacific
[ca. 1939]

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From this huge cinder cone, Pu‘u Haukea, a type of lava we call hawaiite erupted beneath glacial ice and was quenched by contact with meltwater. This caused the lava to cool rapidly without crystallizing, creating a uniquely dense rock.

John Lockwood
http://www.volcanologist.com/
volcanologist
interview

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Thousands of years later, this fine-grained rock was quarried by Hawaiians who used it to craft adzes.

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That’s where the adzes came from, directly from this battle between Poli’ahu and Pele.

Keawe Vredenburg

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Read more about adzes, adze-makers and adze quarries

See also Tracking climate change on Mauna Kea

 
 

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