Guest Videos: Hawaii

No place on earth leaves me feeling as alive as a volcano does.

— Volcanologist Stanley Williams, in “Surviving Galeras”

Now let’s take away the water–

Now let’s go back in time about half a century.

The next video is on YouTube, but it is also in the Prelinger Archives of the Internet Archive. However, I’m doubtful of its provenance.

It looks like a tourist film put together with a very lower level of skill than that required to take such breathtaking eruption footage. The actual volcano shots look like the work of unique volcano photojournalists Maurice and Katia Krafft, who were both teens in the 1950s. They died in a pyroclastic surge at Japan’s Mount Unzen in 1991, so we cannot ask them about this.

It does seem to be 1950s-era footage, though, And Kilauea undeniably erupted like this back then. But an online search doesn’t reveal anything about Art Carter; apparently he wasn’t the world-famous volcanologist described in the video.

I once asked about it on a Usenet geology newsgroup and never got an answer. There is no information about Carter’s academic qualitifcations anywhere, but at 4:11 in this video there is ample demonstration of his grit:


I wish someone would compare this with footage known to have been taken by the Kraffts to establish definitely either that this awesome video is post-1991 plagiarism or that the world needs to give the mysterious Mr. Carter and his crew the kudos they would deserve for doing this.

But maybe people are just holding off because it such a wonderful piece of work:

Now some words.

What the heck is going on with Hawaiian volcanoes? They sit there, flaring under the mid-Pacific sky, keeping their secrets, far from the tectonic plate margin where most volcanoes form.

Basically, per the USGS, there is a plume of very hot molten material–a “hot spot”–burning through the Pacific plate there. (Yellowstone volcano, as you probably have heard, sits on another such hot spot. There are several known hot-spot volcanoes scattered around the world.)

The traditional reason given for why Hawaii is a chain of volcanic islands is based on knowledge that the Pacific plate, like all big chunks of the planet’s crust, moves around. Over geologic time it has acted as an enormous conveyor belt for lava that piles up around the hot spot, moving each one far enough away that it can cool off, erode, and eventually sink beneath the sea.

The Big Island and Loihi are over the hot spot now. Before that, it was Maui, and on down the line.

Mapbliss, CC BY-SA 4.0

This has been going on for a looooong time, and the “islands” continue as a chain of underwater seamounts up into the northwestern Pacific.

What intrigues geologists is that this chain has a kink in it. They used to think it happened because the Pacific tectonic plate movement changed direction; now some of them suspect that the hot spot itself may have shifted.

Unfortunately, it would require a trip to the Earth’s depth to settle this question, something we cannot do even indirectly just yet. But volcanologists will probably figure out a new method that can provide better insight into the interesting history of the Hawaiian Island chain of volcanoes.

Now, if they could just work out who Art Carter was . . . and perhaps still is!

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