Moving north and west from Hawaii, the islands in the chain get progressively older and smaller. Each in its turn, Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the other islands were dragged off the hot spot by the northwestward movement of the Pacific Plate. One by one, their volcanoes went silent and, struck by landslides, collapses and erosion, they began to fall apart.
"Shoddy workmanship," Hon says. The islands are built on "pillow" basalts that emerge into deep ocean water and harden. "It's not like what we would think of as solid rocks. It's watermelons and ball bearings on the base of these islands."
Beyond the islands lies a string of coral atolls that grew up around still-older volcanoes, now vanished below the waves.
Farther up the chain, Midway Island still peeks above the waves. But beyond that, there is only the Emperor Seamounts. This string of undersea mountains marches northward and vanishes into the Kuril Trench, where the Pacific Plate dives beneath Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.