Geology and ground-water resources of the islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe, Hawaii

Bulletin 6
Prepared in cooperation with the Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior
By: , and 



Lanai lies 59 miles southeast of Honolulu, Oahu, has an area of 141 square miles, and is 3,370 feet high. (See fig. 1 and pl. 1.) Lanai City is the only town of importance. The island produces pineapples and cattle. The surface above about 1,200 feet is generally covered with lateritic soil, which reaches a maximum depth of about 50 feet. Below this level the island is partly devoid of vegetation and is strewn with boulders, the result of having been once submerged by the ocean to this depth. Traces of various emerged and submerged shore lines are described, the highest fossiliferous marine deposits being 1,070 feet above sea level. Lanai is an eroded extinct basaltic volcano built during one period of activity. No secondary eruptions occurred as on most of the other islands. It has three rift zones and a summit caldera. The summit plateau has resulted from collapse along the northwest rift zone. Elsewhere there is much evidence of faulting. About 100 faults and 275 dikes were recorded, but they are so close together in places that it was not possible to show them all on the map.
The climate is semitropical, the mean annual temperature of Lanai City, altitude 1,620 feet, being 68° F. Because Lanai lies to the lee of Maui Island it is dry. The mean annual rainfall ranges from 38 inches on the summit to less than 10 inches on the coast. The windward (northeast) side is carved by streams into deep canyons. Maunalei Gulch has the only perennial stream, and it does not reach the sea. Ground water, the lifeblood of Lanai is scarce. Lanai City obtains some of its water supply by a tunnel from gravel in Maumalei Gulch. This water apparently rises from the dike complex in this gulch. The rest of the supply comes from a recently constructed shaft tapping the dike complex not far downstream. The total quantity of high-level ground water discharged by springs and tunnels ranges from about 600,000 gallons a day in wet weather to about 250,000 gallons a day in dry weather. The basal water, although potable, is fairly high in salt. Several sites are recommended for developing and conserving ground water.
Kahoolawe Island is 11 miles long, 6 miles wide, 1,491 feet high, covers 45 square miles, and lies 94 miles southeast of Honolulu and 6 3/4 miles southwest of Maui. It is a shield-shaped extinct volcano composed chiefly of thin flows of primitive basalt poured in rapid succession from three rift zones and a vent at their intersection. At one stage the volcano was indented with a caldera about 3 miles across which was later completely filled. A graben led southwestward from it. The rocks are divided into Late Tertiary (?) or early Pleistocene(?) pre-caldera basalts, caldera-filling basalts and basaltic andesites, post-caldera basalts and andesites, and Recent post erosional basalts. A few thin vitric tuff beds and cinder cones were found. Marine erosion has cut cliffs as high as 800 feet along the east and south shores and exposed a cross section of the caldera. Only shallow ephemeral gulches exist. The entire summit has been eroded to a hard-pan surface by the wind as a result of the vegetation being destroyed by livestock.
The island is semi-arid and well water is needed for stook: "The stook is now supplied entirely from storage of rain and flood waters. During droughts water is hauled by boat from the island of Maui. All the wells dug so far yield water that is too brackish for stock except at the fairly inaccessible south side of Kanapou Bay. The resistivity survey indicates a water table 1.5 feet or less above sea level for 2.25 miles inland. A few sites for wells are recommended in the dike complex where small supplies of water suitable for stock might be found.
Petrographic studies by Gordon A. Macdonald indicate that the pre-caldera and caldera-filling lavas are largely normal olivine basalt of the type which forms the bulk of all Hawaiian volcanoes thus far investigated. It represents the undifferentiated magma of the Hawaiian petrographic province. Toward the close of the caldera-filling epoch the vent became less active, and magmatic differentiation produced basaltic andesites, which are interbedded with normal basalts. The post-caldera lavas are largely basaltic andesites and andesites. The much younger lavas, erupted after a period of extensive erosion, are olivine basalts similar in composition to the pre-caldera flows. The mineralogy of the Kahoolawe rocks is described in detail.

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Part 1: Geology and ground-water resources of Lanai (p. 1-115)
  • Part 2: Geology and ground water resources of Kahoolawe (p. 117-173)

Special Chapters:

  • Petrography [of Lanai Island, Hawaii], (p. 61-63), Macdonald
  • Geophysical investigations on Lanai, (p. 97-115), Swartz
  • Petrography of Kahoolawe [Hawaii], (p. 149-173), Macdonald
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Title Geology and ground-water resources of the islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe, Hawaii
Series title Bulletin
Series number 6
Year Published 1940
Language English
Publisher Advertiser Publishing Co.
Publisher location Honolulu
Description xi, 177 p.
Country United States
State Hawaii
County Kahoolawe, Lanai
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details