Someday, Oahu’s Koolau and Waianae mountains will be reduced to nothing more than a flat, low-lying island like Midway.
But erosion isn’t the biggest culprit. Instead, scientists say, the mountains of Oahu are actually dissolving from within.
“We tried to figure out how fast the island is going away and what the influence of climate is on that rate,” said Brigham Young University geologist Steve Nelson. “More material is dissolving from those islands than what is being carried off through erosion.”
The research pitted groundwater against stream water to see which removed more mineral material. Nelson and his BYU colleagues spent two months sampling both types of sources. In addition, ground and surface water estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey helped them calculate the total quantity of mass that disappeared from the island each year.
“All of the Hawaiian Islands are made of just one kind of rock,” Nelson said. “The weathering rates are variable, too, because rainfall is so variable, so it’s a great natural laboratory.”
Forecasting the island’s future also needs to account for plate tectonics. As Oahu is pushed northwest, the island actually rises in elevation at a slow but steady rate. You’ve heard of mountain climbing; this is a mountain that climbs.