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A former summit caldera may have been filled and buried by later summit eruption deposits.
Mauna Kea is over 3,200 km The volcano continues to slip and flatten under its own weight at a rate of less than 0.2 mm (0.01 in) per year. Mauna Kea stands 4,205 m (13,800 ft) above sea level, just 35 m (110 ft) higher than its neighbor Mauna Loa, Lava flows from Mauna Kea overlapped in complex layers with those of its neighbors during its growth.
Donald Thomas, director of the University of Hawaii's Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes believes one reason to continue study of the aquifers is due to use and ‘occupancy’ of the higher elevation areas, stating: "Nearly all of these activities depend on the availability of potable water that, in most cases, must be trucked to the Saddle from Waimea or Hilo — an inefficient and expensive process that consumes a substantial quantity of our scarce liquid fuels.” because of this inactivity, Mauna Kea is assigned a United States Geological Survey hazard listing of 7 for its summit and 8 for its lower flanks, out of the lowest possible hazard rating of 9 (which is given to the extinct volcano Kohala).
Twenty percent of the volcano's summit has seen lava flows in the past 10,000 years, and its flanks have seen virtually no lava flows during that time.
There are three episodes of glaciation that have been recorded from the last 180,000 years: the Pōhakuloa (180–130 ka), Wāihu (80–60 ka) and Mākanaka (40–13 ka) series.
These have extensively sculpted the summit, depositing moraines and a circular ring of till and gravel along the mountain's upper flanks.u Waiau cinder cone and is the only alpine lake in Hawaii.
Drilling by the University of Hawaii at that time encountered an artesian groundwater aquifer at 300 meters below sea level and 100 meters of hole depth within a compacted layer of soil and lava where the flows of both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea meet (Humuula saddle region).Hawaiian lava types are typically permeable, preventing the formation of lakes due to infiltration.