Ocean-bottom photographs from 18 stations and dredge hauls from 35 stations adjacent to the Island of Hawaii indicate that basaltic pillow lava and pillow fragments are the dominant rock type on the crest and flanks of the submarine rift zone ridges, whereas glassy basalt sand and scoria are the dominant type on the submarine flanks of the volcanoes directly downslope from land. These relations indicate that three major rock units comprise different levels of the volcanoes depending on the site of eruption: (1) pillow lavas and pillow fragments are dominant below sea level and are erupted from deep-water vents; (2) hyaloclastite rocks (vitric explosion debris, littoral cone ash, and flow-foot breccias) mantle the pillowed base of the volcano, and are erupted from shallow-water vents, subaerial vents in water-soaked ground, or are produced where subaerial lava flows cross the shoreline; and (3) thin subaerial lava flows make up the visible, subaerial shield volcano, are built atop the clastic layer, and are erupted from subaerial vents. This three-fold structure is similar to the table mountains of Iceland that are built by eruption beneath glacial ice.
Large-scale slumping in the clastic layer may modify the submarine slopes of the volcanoes as well as produce faulting and downslope movement of parts of the overlying shield volcano. The slope change produced where the gentler shield meets the steeper pillowed pile can be recognized beneath sea level in the older volcanoes, where it has been submerged by regional subsidence.