December 11 – Aloha!

Today’s factismal: Mauna Kea means “white mountain”.

There’s no doubt that Hawaii is a beautiful place. It is covered with rainforests, surrounded by colorful reefs, and filled with brightly colored animals, plants, and tourists. But perhaps the most beautiful part of Hawaii is Mauna Kea, the 33,100 ft tall mountain that is both the base for the state’s largest island (the eponymous Hawai’i) and the world’s tallest mountain. (Everest is a mere 15,260 ft when measured from its base to its summit; if Everest were placed beside Mauna Kea, it wouldn’t even reach the sea surface!)

Mauna Kea covered with snow (Image courtesy of USGS)

Mauna Kea covered with snow
(Image courtesy of USGS)

And that marvelous mountain is a wonder in many ways. Formed from a shield volcano, it started life a million years ago as a mere seamount. Fed a steady diet of basalt lava by a mantle plume, it grew quickly into the massive presence that we know and love today. Though its last major eruption was more than 200,000 years ago, it could still erupt and add a few more feet to its impressive total. But even more exciting than the possibility of a future eruption is the reality of its peak. The top of Mauna Kea rises an impressive 13,803 ft above sea level, which is tall enough to put the peak into a freeze cold enough to create a permafrost zone at the very summit! And if that’s not enough, for about nine months out of every year, Manua Kea is topped by a white blanket of snow that can be several feet thick. And it was that white coating of snow that gave the peak its name; in Hawai’ian, “Mauna Kea” means “white mountain”.

Of course, you don’t have to live in Hawaii to get snow (as most of the US can attest this week). And if you do happen to get some snow this winter, then there’s a group of scientists that would love to hear from you. Called Snowtweets, they are trying to track the amount of snow that falls so that they can improve forecasts. All you have to do to participate is head outside after a snowfall, use a ruler to measure the amount of snow that fell, and send out a tweet with the amount of snow that fell:
#snowtweets <snow depth in cm., in. or ft.> at <postal code, ZIP code or latitude, longitude>

To learn more, head on over to:
http://snowcore.uwaterloo.ca/snowtweets/

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