This is the Biggest and Most Damaging Earthquake in Hawaii’s History


Many people visit Hawaii for its volcanoes, beaches, and warm weather. However, the state also has some of the strongest earthquakes in the world. On April 2, 1868, Hawaii had the biggest earthquake ever recorded there. It was 7.9 on the Richter scale. It was so strong that it shook the whole chain of islands, set off a huge wave, killed many people, and damaged many more.

What Caused the Earthquake and What It Did

The 1868 earthquake was caused by the Hawaiian hotspot moving over the Pacific plate. The Hawaiian islands are made by a plume of hot lava that comes from deep within the Earth and forms the islands as it moves. The hotspot is now under Hawaii’s Big Island, where it feeds the Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes that are still active. As the hotspot lifts the rock, it puts stress on the sides of the volcanoes and breaks them up, which can cause big earthquakes.

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The 1868 quake happened along the Kaʻū Fault Zone, which is a group of cracks on the southern side of Mauna Loa. As much as 300 km away, on Oahu, people could feel the quake. It made the ground shake very hard and led to floods, liquefaction, and cracks.

There was also a wave that hit the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu. It was up to 15 meters high and went along their coasts. A lot of people, mostly Native Hawaiians, died in the storm, which destroyed towns, crops, and infrastructure.

What the Earthquake Means in Terms of History and Science

The 1868 earthquake was one of the worst natural tragedies in Hawaiian history. It changed the islands’ politics, economy, and people’s lives for a long time. As many as 2,500 people, or about 5% of the population at the time, died in the earthquake and wave.

The disaster also showed how weak the Hawaiian monarchy was. The kingdom was already having a hard time keeping its authority and independence as foreign powers, especially the US, gained more power. Because of the earthquake, King Kamehameha V declared martial law and asked the US and other countries to send help. As a result of the earthquake, many people who lived moved to other islands or even other countries.

Another important thing about the 1868 earthquake was that it helped scientists learn more about earthquakes and volcanoes in Hawaii and around the world. According to seismometers, which measure how the ground shakes, this was the first earthquake that was recorded. The US Coast and Geodetic Survey put in the seismometers while they were on a research trip in Hawaii at the time.

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The seismometers logged the size, length, and number of aftershocks of the earthquake. This information was very helpful for learning about Hawaii’s seismic activity and risks. Geologists were also interested in the earthquake, and many of them went to the island to see and study the effects of the quake and the hotspot. Geologists and geophysicists learned more about Hawaii and the Pacific region because of the earthquake.


In summary, the Hawaiian earthquake of 1868, which was instigated by the Hawaiian hotspot, was a catastrophic occurrence that carried significant scientific and historical ramifications. Its susceptibility was brought to light by the extensive devastation and casualties it inflicted upon the Hawaiian monarchy.

Nevertheless, it was also of paramount importance in furthering the scientific community’s comprehension of volcanic activity and earthquakes by providing invaluable data for seismic investigations and influencing the field of geology in Hawaii and the Pacific region.

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