Hawaii’s solely alpine lake is disappearing rapidly and there’s no finish in sight

Hawaii’s only alpine lake is shrinking at an alarming rate, causing scientists to wonder why this is happening and what to do about it.

Lake Waiau, a tiny lake just below the 13,803 feet above sea level summit of Mauna Kea Volcano on the Big Island, has almost completely disappeared. The lake began to lose size in early 2010, reported Hawaii Volcano Observatory scientist in charge James Kauahikaua in his weekly newsletter, Volcano Watch, published November 7th. The lake’s surface area has shrunk from 1.2 to 1.7 acres, which is its norm. to his current .03 morning. That’s 2 percent of its normal surface.

Prior to 2010, the maximum depth of Lake Waiau was measured at 10 feet. It is currently less than a foot deep.

According to research by Kauahikaua, based on historical photos from the last century and written reports from the early 19th century, there is no historical evidence that Lake Waiau was ever as small as it is today.


Lake Waiau, normal size, on June 14, 2002, with a United States Geological Survey employee standing in front of him to show the size.

What could be causing the lake’s rapid, dramatic, and unprecedented change?

Scientists believe one culprit could be a prolonged period of drought that Hawaii has seen since 2008. According to Kauahikaua, the Mauna Kea Visitor Center weather station recorded very little rainfall for several consecutive months in early 2010, which may have led to a decline in water levels that has since been supported by persistently low rainfall.

According to Kauahikaua, Lake Waiau is also an “elevated” body of water in which water is held in a depression by an impermeable substrate of silty clay and embedded with layers of ash. Permforest can also be present under the lake, which could have changed the water balance.

“Given its cultural significance and uniqueness, the disappearance of Lake Waiau would be a great loss to Hawaii,” said Kauahikaua.

The Mauna Kea Management Rangers Office, the State Department of Land & Natural Resources, and the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (the latter two manage the Mauna Kea Ice Age Conservation Area) have closely monitored Lake Waiau and tracked its reduction in size using photography .

Scientists at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, led by Kauahikaua, are asking people with historical photos of Lake Waiau to email them to the observatory at [email protected]


Normal size Lake Waiau. Date of photo unknown.

Lake Waiau was included in the May / June 2011 issue of HAWAII magazine’s “10 Hawaiian Places You Haven’t Been” – a compendium of our favorite off-the-beaten-path places on the islands, some of which even offer a lifetime Residents still had to experience it first hand. The early Hawaiians believed that Lake Waiau, just 700 feet below the summit of Mauna Kea, was for no reason – a gateway for travel into and out of the spiritual world. It remains a sacred place that is still used for Hawaiian rituals.

The calm water of Lake Waiau, which formed at the bottom of its eponymous cinder cone during the retreat of the last glacier age, is fed by rain and melted snow that drips over the barren rocks of the cinder cone. It’s only accessible by 4×4 on Mauna Kea Summit Road, then a 1.6km loop hike in thin, low-oxygen air that makes breathing difficult.

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