Science on Maunakea


The Comprehensive Management Plan integrates Hawaiian approches to managing natural and cultural resources, as well as contemporary science-based management tools. This recognizes the need to balance cultural sensitivities with natural resources protection and other activities, including recreation and astronomy. One of the most consistent viewpoints is that that astronomy can co-exist within the cultural and natural resource setting of UH Management areas.

Telescopes on the summit of Maunakea The Maunakea Science Reserve was established in 1968 through a lease of State land to the University of Hawaiʻi. Astronomy has been the driving force behind UH’s involvement with Maunakea and has enabled many breakthrough discoveries. However, the concept of “science” has since expanded to include cultural and natural resources. Cultural science includes the understanding of ancient cultural sites, ceremony locations, ancient trails, astronomical events, archaeology, and the science of navigation. Natural science includes the study of Wēkiu bugs and other arthropods, permafrost, conservation, climatology, hydrology, plants and animals, ecology, etc. The Mauna Kea Science Reserve will be managed as a natural laboratory and learning space, while stewardship programs ensure it retains its wilderness characteristics and that the cultural landscape is protected.

Anyone considering conducting scientific research will require permission from the Center for Maunakea Stewardship. Contact us for more information. Visit pages below for more information about how to apply.

Maunakea panoramic view, credit Andrew Hara

Cultural Traditions

Snow on the summit of Maunakea Cultural practices and traditions on Maunakea are not typically viewed as science. Yet scientific methods are an integral part of archeology and historical property management. Science is also often used as another means to help understand and interpret cultural traditions. A few types of cultural science that occur on Maunakea include archaeology, ancient trail mapping, documenting ceremonial locations and practices, and research of both past astronomical events and the science of navigation. Natural resource research on subjects such as glaciation and sub-glacial eruptions helps both scientists and cultural practitioners understand the formation of culturally significant areas and sites.

For more information on Culture, visit out Hawaiian Culture section. If you are interested in conducting research on Maunakea please Contact us for more information.

Natural Environment

Closeup of Wekiu bug Maunakea's unique environment and elevation gradient, make it a great location for conducting natural science. For more information on the natural environment, visit our Environment tab. Natural science studies conducted on Maunakea includes Wēkiu bug and other arthropod research, botanical surveys, geologic surveys, climate and meteorology monitoring studies, and Maunakea Silversword research.

Some of these studies are also related to cultural science. The hawaiite found in the Keanakākoʻi adze quarry for example, is a product of subglacial erruptions. Such connections between resources and both traditional and contemporary use by society exemplify much of both the applied and basic research on Maunakea.

If you are interested in conducting natural research on Maunakea please visit our Research Needs page or Contact us for more information.


The 525 acre Astronomy Precinct encompasses twelve of the thirteen telescope facilities on Maunakea. The Institute for Astronomy (IFA) coordinates scientific research among the Maunakea Observatories, and carries out its own program of fundamental research. The Mauna Kea Astronomy Outreach Committee (MKAOC) coordinates and organizes the collective outreach efforts of Maunakea Observatories and supports related organizations such as the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (MKVIS).

Sunset over the Maunakea observatory There are currently thirteen working telescopes near the summit of Maunakea. Nine of them are for optical and infrared astronomy, three of them are for submillimeter wavelength astronomy and one is for radio astronomy. They include the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world (the Keck telescopes ), the largest dedicated infrared telescope (UKIRT) and the largest submillimeter telescope in the world (the JCMT). The westernmost antenna of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA ) is situated at a lower altitude two miles from the summit. Visit the Univerity of Hawaiʻi, Institute of Astronomy for more information.

A panoramic view of the summit Astronomy precinct