Mauna Kea Facts
Mauna Kea is the tallest -- though not the highest -- mountain on Planet Earth. Rising 13,796 ft above sea level, it is over 33,000 ft tall when measured from its base at the bottom of the sea.
According to the KAHEA website,
"Both Mauna Kea and Haleakalā are dormant volcanoes, part of the physical birth of Hawai`i from the ocean, millions of years ago. Their summits are home to unique ecosystems and rare and endangered species, many of which are found nowhere else on our planet.The summits are themselves part of the larger ecosystem of the entire mountain and island. Each are part of a complex and uniquely Hawaiian eco-cultural system involving freshwater, land, plants, animals, ocean, and people."
Deposits of two Pleistocene glacial episodes (200,000 – 130,000 years ago and 80,00 – 10,000 years ago) are found here. Some of the summit eruptions occurred during glacial times, and there is ample evidence of lava-ice and lava-water interaction. The rapid chilling of lava flows against ice is the geological explanation for the fine-grained rock prized by Hawaiians for adzes.
In addition to the glacial deposits, the summit consists of scoria cones—formed as lava was flung skyward by escaping, expanding gas, to fall back as scoria, bombs, and spatter—and lava flows. Scoria—also called cinder—is volcanic rock that contains many gas bubbles, or vesicles.
A small lake, Waiau, sits at an elevation of 13,000 feet, and its base may be a year-round layer of permafrost or an impermeable layer of fine volcanic ash.
At the summit, winds gust up to 70 miles per hour, swirling thin air with half the oxygen of sea level. In spite of nightly freezing temperatures and intense ultraviolet radiation, patches of leafy lichens and mosses dot this aeolian (influenced by the wind) ecosystem.
The alpine summit zone is inhabited full time by at least 12 cold-hardy native insects and other arthropods (invertebrates with jointed legs). They include the day-flying Agrotis moths and omnivorous cutworm caterpillars, voracious Lycosa wolf spiders, centipedes (Lithobius species) that prey on insects and their kin, and springtails (Entomobrya kea), tiny insects that jump using special spring apparatuses on their tails.
The unique, flightless wekiu bug, (Nysius wekiuicola), was discovered in 1979 on the summit cone and a few other pu`u with concentrated aerial insect fallout. Wekiu means “summit” in Hawaiian. This mini predator—about the size of a grain of rice—is dependent on fresh insects blown up the mountain from lower elevations. It hunts for prey loedged in scoria and crevices, and waits along the edges of snowmelt for tis meals. Lab studies with wekiu in controlled freezers revealed an amazing blood chemistry that kept them from freezing unil 1.4 degrees Farenheit. A sister species, Nysius a`a, which also sucks blood from insect waifs, is found only on Mauna Loa.