The two majestic volcanos Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa were once considered the largest shield volcano in the world, towering over 13,000 feet above sea level. But a smaller and more humble looking volcano, whose twin peaks rise only 170 feet above sea level, has just claimed the title as its own.
A new study University of Hawai'i at Mānoa published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters has declared that Pūhāhonu volcano in the Northwestern Hawaii Islands the largest shield volcano on the planet. A shield volcano is a type of volcano usually composed almost entirely of fluid lava flows. It is named for its low profile, resembling a warrior's shield lying on the ground. The scientists surveyed the ocean floor and used quantitative modeling to determine that the volcano, which is about 171 miles long and 56 miles wide, is twice the size of Mauna Loa.
Pūhāhonu is an inactive volcano located north west of Honolulu whose name means "turtle surfacing for air" in Hawaiian. The volcano is part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which was established in 2006.
"Pūhāhonu is massive," the study reads. So much so that it is causing the Earth's crust to sink.
"Rapid loading of the crust causes it to subside," Michael Garcia, lead author of the study, told CNN . "When a giant volcano forms, the hot mantle flows away from the weight allowing the volcano to sink."
Pūhāhonu is not only the largest volcano in the world, it is also the hottest. The two things are interconnected, Garcia said.
"Volume and temperature go hand in hand. Large volume comes from hot magma. It is more likely to erupt if it is hot.
"Finding Earth's largest shield volcano in the 21st Century is a surprising discovery, but then we know more about the surface of Mars than what is below the ocean on Earth. We are still discovering things about our physical planet that we did not know. There is still much to learn about planet Earth," Garcia told CNN.