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Mauna Kea

A sunset from Mauna Kea into a sea of clouds

Mauna Kea sunset [1]

Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands
Earth's Natural Wonders in Australia & Oceania
Area of Mauna Kea: 920 square miles (2,383 sq. km.)
Age: About 1 million years
Eruptions: At least seven, between 6,00 and 4,500 years ago.  
Cinder cones Mauna Kea [2]
Around 13600 ft up Mauna Kea above the clouds gazing out at the cinder cones from the telescope platforms.
Glaciers have existed on Mauna Kea, an estimated three times in the past 100,000 years. Since humans first came to the Hawaiian Islands, Mauna Kea has exerted a powerful spiritual magnetism and pilgrims have often made the long climb up its steep slopes. From the peak, the view is as lovely as any in the world

I was invited by the locals up Mauna Kea for the summer solstice worship - 2006. I've never felt such cold, but damn it was worth it

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano in the U.S. state of Hawaii, one of five volcanoes which together form the island of Hawaii. Mauna kea means "white mountain" in the Hawaiian language, a reference to its summit being regularly covered by snow in winter.

The peak of Mauna Kea is 13,803 feet (4,207 m) above mean sea level but 33,476 feet (10,203 m) above its base on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It is the world's tallest mountain by this measure, taller than Mount Everest which is the highest mountain above sea level.

Pu'u Wekiu, traditionally known as Pu‘u o Kukahau‘ula, is the highest of the numerous cinder cones on the summit plateau. It is also the highest point in the state. Mauna Kea can be reached via the Saddle Road.

The summit plateau of Mauna Kea is entirely above timberline, with a landscape of mostly lava rock with patches of alpine tundra. Snowfall often occurs at elevations above 11,000 feet (3,400 m) during the period from November through March. During particularly cold and wet winters, which are usually linked to La Niña, a snowpack several feet (1 m) deep may remain in the summit region above 13,000 feet (4,000 m) for weeks or months. This permits skiing and other snowplay activities on the slopes of the cinder cones.

A bit lower is the area where the endemic Mauna Kea Silversword can be found.

Between 5,200 and 8,000 feet (1,600 and 2,400 m) there is a band of ranch land which was formerly koa-mamane forest but has been almost entirely converted to pasture. This area has suffered from heavy infestations of gorse, an invasive species in Hawaii. Most of the north and west slopes are also pasture. The palila, an endangered finch-like honeycreeper, feeds almost exclusively on mamane seeds and lives in mamane-naio forest on the west slope. Large numbers of feral sheep inhabit the upper elevations, and have had a severe impact on the native vegetation.

The windward (eastern) slopes are covered in Hawaiian tropical rainforests between about 1,500 and 5,200 feet (460 and 1,600 m). Lower on the mountain are extensive agricultural lands that formerly included vast areas of sugarcane. With the collapse of the sugar industry in the 1990s, much of this land lies fallow but portions are used for cattle grazing, small-scale farming and the cultivation of eucalyptus for wood pulp.

The summit of Mauna Kea has been a celestial observatory since ancient times and is considered to be one of the best astronomical sites in the world. For this reason it is home to many of the world's leading astronomical observatories. The summit is above approximately 40% of Earth's atmosphere and 90% of the water vapor, allowing for exceptionally clear images of the night sky. Additionally, the peak is well above the inversion layer, which leads to approximately 300 clear nights per year. Also, at 20°N latitude, much of both the northern and southern skies are visible. The fact that it is a shield volcano has meant that road transportation to the summit is relatively easy. The low population density of the Island of Hawaii means that there is little light pollution from man-made sources. All of these factors have made Mauna Kea an ideal location for state-of-the-art astronomy.

Construction of telescopes on Mauna Kea has been a source of intense legal and political controversy in recent years. Due to the qualities listed above, it is a highly favored location and the summit area is now home to over a dozen telescopes. Native Hawaiians and environmental groups have protested that construction of additional telescopes would cause considerable environmental damage and further desecrate a site of great cultural importance. According to legend, the summit of Mauna Kea is the home of the snow goddess, Poliahu, and many other deities. It is also an important site for prayer, burials, consecration of children, and traditional celestial observation. In addition, the summit area is home to a unique insect, the wekiu bug, which feeds on insects blown to the summit by updrafts. The insect itself is a major point of debate. Mercury spills (before 1995) and sewage dumps have also occurred at the existing telescopes; these are of particular concern because of the unique and otherwise-pristine underground water systems in the area.

Over the past decade, major legal battles have raged through Hawaii's court system over these issues. On January 19, 2007, the Third Circuit Court reaffirmed its decision to halt all further development on Mauna Kea until an appropriate Management Plan that sufficiently addresses the environmental damage and cultural impacts posed by astronomical development has been fully approved. The CMP was approved by the state board of Land and Natural Resources on April 9, 2009.

Despite the courts' rulings against further development, plans for additional telescopes have been moving forward. Several science institutes, in collaboration with the United States Air Force are planning to build Pan-STARRS, a major telescope project. Citing the extinction of the dinosaurs and a recent impact on Jupiter, the telescope should be a protection against an asteroid impact. Opponents, however, believe the application to be military in nature because it would be able to track satellites. Also the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project, the single largest telescope ever built on Earth, is currently being proposed by a partnership including The University of California, Caltech, and The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The telescope's developers propose to give scholarships for native Hawaiians as compensation for some of the cultural and environmental destruction that the project would entail. Hearings for this project were scheduled throughout October 2008.[3]

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1. Flickr-Andjam79- retrieved 6/07/2009
2. Flickr-kanu101- retrieved 6/07/2009
3. Wikipedia-Mauna-Kea-retrieved 6/07/2009
4.1,001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die 2005-p. 795- Michael Bright-retrieved 6/07/2009

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