Hawaiian Islands

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Hawaiian Islands


(also known as the Sandwich Islands), an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean (18°50′-28°15′ N lat., 154°40′-178°15′ E long.). The largest archipelago in Polynesia; it consists of 24 islands extending more than 3,600 km from west northwest to east southeast. The major islands are Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, Niihau, Lanai, and Kahoolawe, all of which are mountainous; the other islands are small and low-lying. There are atolls in the northwest. The Hawaiian Islands are located over an underwater mountain range and are the highest active volcanoes on earth. The extinct volcano Mauna Kea (4,205 m) is the highest point on the islands. There is still volcanic activity on the island of Hawaii.

The climate of the Hawaiian Islands is maritime tropical. Average monthly temperatures range from 18° C in February to 25° C in August, and there is snow on the high mountain peaks in winter. The northeast trade winds bring precipitation that falls primarily on the windward slopes of the mountains. The annual precipitation on the high mountainous islands is from 3,500-4,000 mm to 12,500 mm (on Kauai, one of the wettest areas in the world). Surface drainage is poor because the precipitation is absorbed by the lava; there is a river network only on the largest islands.

The flora and fauna of the islands are distinguished by their high endemism and the unusualness of the species composition. About 90 percent of the plant species are endemic. Tropical rain forest covers the windward slopes from elevations of 600-700 m to 1,600-1,700 m. Low-growing mountain forest continues up to 3,000 m, and shrubs and ferns cover higher elevations. There are savannas and sparse growths of trees on the dry southwestern slopes. Sugarcane, pineapple, banana, and other tropical crop plantations occupy the coastal lowlands and the lower mountain slopes. The timber-line has been lowered as a result of the clearing of the forests for coffee plantations. The fauna belongs to the Hawaiian subregion of the Australian zoogeographic region.


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