Regional Map and Introduction
The "continent" of Oceania is a geographer's convenience, consisting of Australia and the various island groups
of the central and south Pacific, including New Guinea, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. (The latter
includes many distant and disparate areas such as Hawaii, New Zealand, and islands even as far south and east as
Easter Island). Some geographers consider the Malay Archipelago (islands including Sumatra, Java, Borneo, etc.
which comprise much of Indonesia and part of Malaysia) to be part of Oceania also, but this is not really
correct, while others properly place it with Asia. The Malay Archipelago must be considered part of Asia since
most of these islands lie on the continental shelf of Asia. Similarly, the island of New Guinea lies on the
continental shelf of Australia and thus must be included in the continent of Oceania. Even those
self-proclaimed purists who refuse to consider Oceania a real continent and maintain that Australia alone is a
continent must be forced to include New Guinea within that continent. The relationship of New Guinea to
Australia is identical to that of the island of Britain to Europe, both lying on the continental shelf and
separated from the mainland by a shallow channel which was dry during the Ice Age, until about 10,000 years ago.
New Guinea is as an integral part of the continent of Australia/Oceania, just as Britain is of the continent of
Europe. Any world map which shows seafloor topography and continental shelves makes this fact convincingly
The largest volcanoes in the world are the massive shield volcanoes which make up the beautiful islands of
Hawaii, with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea
taking top honors and forming the bulk of the "Big Island" of Hawaii. These volcanoes are the highest in
Oceania, and they receive a few substantial snowfalls during most winters. The numerous cinder cones at the
summit of Mauna Kea are Hawaii's only patrolled "ski area" after these snowfalls, and the relatively flat summit
area of Mauna Loa has also been skied. Snow also occasionally falls on the third highest volcano in Hawaii,
Haleakala on the island of Maui, but is almost never deep enough to ski.
Strictly speaking, the islands of Hawaii are not part of the Pacific Ring of Fire at all. This most isolated
island group in the world sits near the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and its formation is not related to the
subduction and rifting zones which surround the rim of the ocean. Hawaii is a classic example of hotspot
volcanism, a fixed area of rising magma which may extend far down into the Earth's mantle and which produces
volcanoes above it on the surface. The northwesterly motion of the Pacific Plate, caused by the subduction and
rifting zones along its edges, is responsible for Hawaii being a linear chain of volcanoes instead of a single
island. The chain of volcanoes, mostly extinct and now submerged as seamounts, extends northwest from Hawaii
for thousands of miles all the way to the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench off the coast of Russia, the product of
millions of years of motion on the Pacific Plate's conveyor belt.