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ZingPath: Plate Tectonics and Earth's Dynamics

Plate Tectonics: The Hawaiian Islands

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Lesson Focus

Plate Tectonics: The Hawaiian Islands

Earth & Space Science

Learning Made Easy

Students study the lithosphere, plates, and the theory of plate tectonics in order to understand why plates move.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Describe the theory of plate tectonics.
  • Explain how the Hawaiian Islands were formed.
  • Explain that “hot spots” are frequently involved in volcanic island formation.

Everything You'll Have Covered

The Hawaiian Islands formed over many millions of years as the Pacific plate moved over a stationary hot spot. Magma would spurt out of this stationary hot spot and eventually form an island. Approximately every 1 million years, the hot spot under Hawaii becomes active and makes another island. This island then moves as the Pacific plate moves. About 3 million years ago, O'ahu was over the hot spot. Today, Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes on the island of Hawaii are over the hot spot.

The islands to the southeast of O'ahu are younger than O'ahu. These islands are Moloka'i, Lana'i, Maui, and Hawaii. The island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is the youngest island in the Hawaiian Island chain. It is still over the hot spot. Below the ocean's surface, and to the southeast of the Big Island, is another volcano erupting over the hot spot. It is called Loihi. In about 6000 years, if it continues to grow, it might form another island.

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 25 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts Students should be familiar with earthquakes, mountain belts, seamounts, and volcanoes.
Course Earth & Space Science
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary 3D, Aleutian Islands, boundary