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New Hawaiian island forming


September 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 p.m. EDT

HONOLULU, Hawaii (CNN) -- It's a little too early to make hotel reservations, but there's a new Hawaiian island in the making undersea.

Just to the south of Hawaii Island itself, the biggest in the chain, a violent volcano rumbles quietly beneath 3,000 feet of the Pacific Ocean, creating the basis for land already called Loihi.
(15 sec/740K QuickTime movie)movie icon

Since July, thousands of earthquakes alerted scientists that something big has been happening below the surface. They went down to look, and found the top of the volcano was gone.

"What we saw was a collapse, so the surface of the volcano collapsed, so it's a large crater," said Alexander Malahoff, of the University of Hawaii.


Loihi, pronounced low-EE-Hee and meaning "long" or "tall" in Hawaiian, juts like a spur from the side of the "Big Island" of Hawaii, about 20 miles off the southern shore.

"When we look at Loihi, we see what the Big Island used to be like when it was under the sea, what Oahu was like, what all the other islands were like," Malahoff said.

Hawaii's islands formed as great sections of the ocean floor passed over a hot spot beneath the earth's crust that punctured the ocean floor, creating volcanoes spewing molten rock. Old volcanoes cooled and new ones erupted for 70 million years, forming the mountain range that became the islands.

Scientists are tracking Loihi's growth with some 90 separate experiments. The submersible opens an exciting but nerve- wracking view, placing its scientists just a few feet away from an active volcano, thousands of feet beneath the sea.

Underwater scene

"There had been landslides, and the fresh scarps where the mountainsides had slid away were still very unstable," said Terry Kerby of the University of Hawaii.

"We had to stay away from those because it could still start landslides, and we didn't know how massive those might be."

Scientists plan to monitor eruptions, collapses and earthquakes as Loihi grows. But despite its dramatic and visible growth, Loihi will not break the ocean's surface for about 50,000 years.

Correspondent Don Knapp contributed to this report.


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