Geology and ground-water resources of the island of Hawaii

Bulletin 9
Prepared in cooperation with the Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior
By:  and 



Hawaii, the largest island in the Hawaiian group, is 93 miles long, 76 miles wide, and covers 4,030 square miles. Mauna Loa Volcano is 13,680 feet high and Mauna Kea is 13,784 feet high. Plate 1 shows the geology, wells, springs, and water-development tunnels. Plate 2 is a map and description of points of geologic interest along the main highways. Plate 3 (same sheet as plate 2) shows highways and points of geologic interest in Hawaii National Park area. The volcanic terms used in the report are defined.

Hawaii was built by five volcanoes. All the rocks are volcanic, except for minor amounts of sedimentary rock derived from them. Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes erupt often; Hualalai Volcano last erupted in 1801; Mauna Kea has had Recent but no historic eruptions; Kohala Mountain has long been extinct.

Kohala Mountain constitutes the northern end of the island. It is built largely of rocks of the Pololu volcanic series which are dominantly olivine basalt with a few thin intercalated beds of vitric basaltic ash. After the eruption of this series, Kohala Volcano was deeply eroded on the windward (northeastern) side, and a deep soil formed on its other slopes. Later, oligoclase andesite and trachyte lava flows, named the Hawi volcanic series, were erupted. They rest on soil at the top of the Pololu series, and lie in the valleys cut into the Pololu lavas on the windward slope. Both the Pololu and Hawi volcanics were erupted from three rift zones trending N. 35° W., S. 65° E., and S. 50° W. from the summit of the mountain. The rift zones are marked at the surface by rows or cinder cones, and beneath the surface by innumerable dikes. A caldera occupied the summit of the mountain at the beginning of the eruption of the Hawi lavas, and for a time confined the flows. It was gradually filled and the lava escaped northeastward into the large valleys. Some of the caldera faults can still be traced. A shallow graben indents the summit now.

South of Kohala Mountain lies the much larger volcano of Mauna Kea. The early rocks of Mauna Kea constitute the Hamakua volcanic series. The lower member of this series consists chiefly of olivine basalt flows with intercalated thin beds of vitric basaltic ash. The olivine basalt of the lower member changes gradationally into the upper member, in which basalt and olivine basalt arc still abundant, but andesite also is present. Lavas of the upper member interfinger with Hawi lavas of Kohala Mountain. The Hamakua volcanic series is mantled with Pahala ash 5 to 20 feet thick, above which lie the rocks of the Laupahoehoe volcanic series. Locally the two series are separated by erosional unconformity, The Laupahoehoe lavas are dominantly andesite. The andesites erupted after the last glacial epoch are mapped separately on plate 1. The Laupahoehoe volcanic series, and probably also the Hamakua volcanic series, were erupted principally from three rift zones, trending west, northeast and south-southeast from the summit of the mountain. The upper slopes are studded with many large cinder cones, lying principally along the rift zones. Late in its geologic history, Mauna Kea was capped by a small glacier, presumably contemporaneous with the Wisconsin stage of glaciation in North America, which left conspicuous terminal, lateral, and ground moraines. Deposits exposed in canyons on the southern slope, formerly believed to be of glacial origin, are now believed to be volcanic explosion breccias.

The main bulk of Hualalai Volcano is built of basalts of the Hualalai volcanic series. One flow of andesite has been found. The cinder and spatter cones lie principally along three rift zones which trend northwest, north, and southeast from the summit. On the northern slope of Hualalai Volcano lies the large trachyte pumice cone of Puu Waawaa, and its thick flow of trachyte. These are grouped together as the Waawaa volcanics. They are partly buried by later basalts from both Hualalai and Mauna Loa. The last eruption of Hualalai Volcano, in 1800–1801, produced olivine basalt.

The earliest exposed rocks of Mauna Loa comprise the Ninole volcanic series. Several beds of altered vitric ash are intercalated with the lavas. Following eruption of the Ninole series, a long period or quiescence occurred, during which deep amphitheater-headed valleys were cut. This was followed by the eruption of the Kahuku volcanic series, consisting mostly of lavas with some thin beds of ash. The Rahuku series is overlain by the Pahala ash, which overlies also the Hilina volcanic series on Kilauea, the Hamakua volcanic series on Mauna Kea, and the Hawi volcanic series on Kohala, providing a rough datum for correlation of the lavas of the four mountains. Deposition of the Pahala ash was followed on Mauna Loa by eruption of the Kau volcanic series, which has continued until the present time. The historic and flaws of the Kau series are mapped separately on plate 1. The historic eruptions and volcanic activity of Mauna Loa are briefly described. The western and southern slopes of Mauna Loa are cut by normal faults along which the lower flanks of the mountain have slipped seaward.

The Kau volcanic series and presumably also the Kahuku and Ninole volcanic series were erupted principally from vents along two rift zones which extend northeast and southwest from the summit caldera. The lavas of all three series are preponderantly olivine basalt. Many of the lavas contain small amounts of hypersthene.

The Pahala ash on the northeastern and eastern slopes of Mauna Loa was derived largely from Mauna Kea. West and south of Kilauea Caldera, however, it was derived principally from Kilauea. Minor amounts were contributed by eruptions of Mauna Loa. It is a vitric basaltic ash, now generally altered to palagonite.

The earliest exposed lavas and thin intercalated ash beds of Kilauea Volcano comprise the Hilina volcanic series. These are capped by the Pahala ash, which in turn, is overlain by the lavas and thin ash beds of the Puna volcanic series. The volcanics of both series were erupted along two rift zones, one extending southwestward from Kilauea Caldera, and the other extending southeastward for 5 miles and then bending sharply east by north. The lavas of both series are very largely olivine basalt. A few flows contain hypersthene. Augite phenocrysts are common in Mauna Loa lavas, but rare in those of Kilauea, indicating that crystallization has not progressed as far in the magma chamber of Kilauea Volcano as in that of Mauna Loa. Eruption of the Puna volcanic series has continued until the present time, the historic flows being separated from the prehistoric ones on plate 1. The historic eruptions and volcanic activity of Kilauea are briefly described.

Kilauea Volcano originated on the southern slope of Mauna Loa where faults intersected the Eastern Fundamental Fissure of the Hawaiian Archipelago. The southern flank of Kilauea is cut by normal faults, along which the southern part is sliding seaward.
The volcanoes of the island of Hawaii are believed to have started their activity in the Tertiary period. The great erosional period which followed deposition of the Pololu and Ninole volcanic series is placed near the end of the Pliocene. The Hilina and Hamakua volcanic series were probably erupted in the late Pliocene and earlier Pleistocene. The Hawi volcanic series and the Waawaa volcanics are probably early or middle Pleistocene in age. The main period of deposition of the Pahala ash was probably late in the middle Pleistocene or early in the upper Pleistocene. The Laupahoehoe volcanic series is late Pleistocene and Recent in age, most of the flows antedating the Wisconsin glaciation. The Hualalai volcanic series probably extends from Tertiary to historic time, and the Kau and Puna volcanic series from late Pleistocene to the present. A chapter is devoted to the petrography of the rocks in which are listed all reliable chemical rock analyses.

The rocks of the island are highly permeable. Most of the rainfall sinks quickly into the ground. Perennial streams are present only on the windward slopes of Kohala Mountain and Mauna Kea. Most of the water sinks rapidly to the basal water table, where it floats on salt water according to the Ghyben-Herzberg principle. Basal water escapes in springs at or near sea level all along the coast. Only a very small proportion of it is recovered in wells. Along the windward coasts the basal water is of good quality and large supplies await development. Along the leeward coasts most of the basal water is brackish.

In Kohala Mountain, much water is perched on ash beds in the Pololu volcanic series and on ash and soil at the base of the Hawi volcanic series. It escapes in perched springs in the big valleys and along the windward sea cliff and is recovered in tunnels. Along the windward slope of Mauna Keu, small amounts of water are perched by ash beds and dense lava flows in the Hamakua volcanic series. Small perched springs issue from these structures and water is recovered by tunnels. In the Kau District ash beds perch considerable water, which is recovered by many tunnels. On the southern slope of Mauna Kea small springs are perched by beds of hill wash.
Dikes in the rift zones are relatively impermeable, but enclose masses of permeable rock. Water is confined at high level in the interdike compartments in Kohala Mountain, and probably in the other volcanoes. It escapes in high-level springs in the deep valleys on Kohala Mountain; some of it is recovered by tunnels.

It is estimated that an average of about 13,085 million gallons of water a day falls as rain over the whole island. Of this only about 2.5 percent is visibly discharged from wells, tunnels, and springs. Large supplies of basal groundwater await development. Projects for development of additional water for the city of Hilo and the Kona District are described.

Chemical analyses of water, water supplies of towns and villages, descriptions of wells, springs, and tunnels, and discharge records of numerous springs and tunnels are given in tabulated form.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Title Geology and ground-water resources of the island of Hawaii
Series title Bulletin
Series number 9
Year Published 1946
Language English
Publisher Honolulu Advertising
Publisher location Honolulu
Contributing office(s) Division of Hydrography
Description xiii, 363 p.
Country United States
State Hawaii
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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