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Geology of Hawaii Reefs

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Coral Reefs of the USA

The Hawaii hot spot lies in the mantle under, or just to the south of, the Big Island of Hawaii. Two active subaerial volcanoes and one active submarine volcano reveal its productivity. Centrally located on the Pacific Plate, the hot spot is the source of the Hawaii Island Archipelago and its northern arm, the Emperor Seamount Chain (Fig. 11.1).

This system of high volcanic islands and associated reefs, banks, atolls, sandy shoals, and seamounts spans over 30° of latitude across the Central and North Pacific Ocean to the Aleutian Trench, and contains at least 107 separate shield volcanoes (Clague and Dalrymple 1987). The trail of islands increases in age with distance from the hot spot (Fig. 11.2) and reflects the dynamic nature of the Pacific Plate, serving as a record of its speed and direction over the Hawaii hot spot for the last 75–80 MY (Clague and Dalrymple 1987). A major change in plate direction is marked by a northward kink in the chain at the end of the Hawaii Ridge approximately 3,500 km from the site of active volcanism (Moore 1987). On the basis of dredged basalts, Sharp and Clague (2006) assign an age of 50 Ma to this shift from northern to northwestern plate motion, thought to be a result of changes in the movement of neighboring plates to the west. Today the Pacific Plate migrates northwest at a rate of about 10 cm/year (Moore 1987).

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Fletcher, C.H. et al. (2008). Geology of Hawaii Reefs. In: Riegl, B.M., Dodge, R.E. (eds) Coral Reefs of the USA. Coral Reefs of the World, vol 1. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-6847-8_11

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