Above the Clouds on Haleakalā

While traveling among the Hawaiian Islands, I had the opportunity to visit Haleakalā National Park.  Ascending its volcanic slopes, I was struck by its summit region known as “kua mauna”, the land above the clouds.  Its unique view is made possible by an elevated temperature inversion.

In the troposphere, the weather layer of our atmosphere, air temperature usually decreases with height.  An inversion occurs when something causes that situation to reverse and allows air temperature to increase with height.

At Haleakalā , the inversion is caused by a large-scale subsidence in the Trade Winds.  Blowing from centers of high pressure across the Pacific, cool, dense air aloft is warmed by compression as it descends to lower altitudes.  In opposition, solar heating warms air near the surface allowing it to rise and cool, forming clouds.  When these cool clouds meet the warmer air above them, an inversion layer is formed.

The inversion layer acts like a cap for cloud convection.  Therefore, the summit of Haleakalā (10,023 feet), rising above the inversion altitude, stands out like an island in a sea of clouds.

View from the summit of Haleakalā, Maui, Hawai'i

Photo Credt: MF at The Weather Gamut

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About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is an environmental communicator and visual artist working at the intersection of art and science. She is passionate about exploring, learning, and sharing information about the natural world. She has presented her interdisciplinary work in a variety of mediums at venues and conferences around the world.