August 24, 2012

Facts: Fires of Creation

  • The world’s tallest mountain isn’t Everest – it’s Mauna Kea. This hotspot volcano is on the Big Island of Hawaii, part of a chain of volcanoes and seamounts that continue underwater all the way to Alaska.

  • What we see of Mauna Kea is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The mountain is 13,796 feet tall, but extends roughly 19,700 feet underwater to the seafloor. It is over six miles from summit to seafloor.

  • Native Hawaiians may have understood how their islands were formed long before Western science came to the same conclusions. Traditional Hawaiian stories relate the journey of volcano goddess Pele across the islands roughly from the northwest toward the southeast, where she resides today. Only in the last 50 years was the theory of a vast magma hotspot under a moving plate first proposed to explain why the volcanoes and seamounts in the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount chain are progressively older to the west.

  • Like a bowling ball on a mattress, the weight of the volcanic rock that has built the Big Island is so massive that it actually depresses the seafloor upon which it sits by almost 20,000 feet.

  • The ocean covers over two-thirds of our planet, and yet we've only explored about five percent of the underwater world.

  • Despite hiding valleys deeper than the tallest mountains on Earth, the oceans are thin and delicate in relation to the size of the planet. If you took a basketball and dipped it in water, the thin film of water covering it when you pulled it out would be the same relative thickness to the basketball as Earth's oceans are to the planet.

  • The average temperature of the deep sea is a near-freezing 35°F , and the average pressure is a crushing 5880 pounds per square inch.

  • As many as ten million species may live in the deep ocean.

  • Still underwater, but roughly 10,000 feet (over 3,000 m) above the seafloor , Loihi is actually taller than Mt. St. Helens was when that volcano erupted in 1980. In perhaps 50,000 years, Loihi will break the ocean surface and become the next Hawaiian island.

  • Kilauea volcano on the Big Island one of the the most active volcanoes on Earth, currently erupting about 40,000 dump trucks worth of lava on average every day.

  • Freediver and former US National Champion Spearfisher Kimi Werner can hold her breath while freediving for 4 ½ minutes.

  • Kazumura cave on the Big Island is the world's longest and deepest known lava tube at over 40 (65.5 km) miles long and 3,614 feet (1101.50 m) deep.

  • A Japanese midget submarine – not American ships or planes - was the first casualty of the Pearl Harbor attack that launched US involvement in World War II. The Navy destroyer USS Ward spotted the two-man experimental sub outside Pearl Harbor and reportedly sank it hours before Japan launched its aerial attack. However, the Ward's report wasn't confirmed until 2002 , when Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory's Pisces IV and Pisces V submersibles discovered the sub – with a prominent hole in its conning tower – in about 1300 feet of water.

  • Water is so much more dense than air that only 33 feet of water is as heavy as all the air from sea level to space. The pressure at the summit of Lo'ihi, about 3000 feet beneath the sea surface , is almost one hundred times that of sea level. At the deepest point in the ocean – Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench – the pressure is over a thousand times as that of sea level.

  • During the course of filming, NG crew descended in the Pisces submersibles to over 5800 feet (1773 m) – within 500 feet of the maximum depth the subs are permitted to travel.

  • The Pisces submersibles contain life support for 140 hours for three people in a seven foot diameter steel ball. There are only three six-inch viewports and there's no rear viewport nor rear camera, so pilots can't see what's behind them.

  • He'e holua, or mountain sledding, traditionally involved riders sliding down hand-built lava rock slides at speeds of perhaps up to fifty miles per hour – head first and only four inches off the ground . Native Hawaiian cultural teacher Tom Pohaku Stone believes the sport was more than just a show of athletic prowess, but a challenge to Pele – if you survived, you obtained some of her power as well as respect in society , and if you didn't, you were buried along the slide. Slides were up to a mile long and included obstacle-course-like rock walls to make the slide even more dangerous and difficult.

  • The Polynesians that arrived in Hawaii perhaps over 1600 years ago by canoe made the over 2500-mile journey with no navigational instruments or charts. The achievement of these navigators and their ancestors, who colonized the most far-flung islands on the planet, has been compared in scope to that of the moon landing.

  • Terry Kerby, Chief Pilot for the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory and Pisces V submersible pilot for our shoot, piloted the Neptune, James Bond's submersible, in the film For Your Eyes Only.

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