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These changes in lava composition accompanied the slow reduction of the supply of magma to the summit, which led to weaker eruptions that then gave way to isolated episodes associated with volcanic dormancy.The Laupāhoehoe lavas are more viscous and contain more volatiles than the earlier tholeiitic basalts; their thicker flows significantly steepened Mauna Kea's flanks.Mauna Kea is about a million years old, and has thus passed the most active shield stage of life hundreds of thousands of years ago.In its current post-shield state, its lava is more viscous, resulting in a steeper profile.Donald Thomas, director of the University of Hawaii's Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes believes one reason to continue study of the aquifers is due to use and ‘occupancy’ of the higher elevation areas, stating: "Nearly all of these activities depend on the availability of potable water that, in most cases, must be trucked to the Saddle from Waimea or Hilo — an inefficient and expensive process that consumes a substantial quantity of our scarce liquid fuels.” because of this inactivity, Mauna Kea is assigned a United States Geological Survey hazard listing of 7 for its summit and 8 for its lower flanks, out of the lowest possible hazard rating of 9 (which is given to the extinct volcano Kohala).Twenty percent of the volcano's summit has seen lava flows in the past 10,000 years, and its flanks have seen virtually no lava flows during that time.

In 2012 two more bore holes were drilled on Mauna Kea and water discovered at much higher elevations than previously believed but shallower than expected.A former summit caldera may have been filled and buried by later summit eruption deposits.Mauna Kea is over 3,200 km The volcano continues to slip and flatten under its own weight at a rate of less than 0.2 mm (0.01 in) per year. Mauna Kea stands 4,205 m (13,800 ft) above sea level, just 35 m (110 ft) higher than its neighbor Mauna Loa, Lava flows from Mauna Kea overlapped in complex layers with those of its neighbors during its growth.There are three episodes of glaciation that have been recorded from the last 180,000 years: the Pōhakuloa (180–130 ka), Wāihu (80–60 ka) and Mākanaka (40–13 ka) series.These have extensively sculpted the summit, depositing moraines and a circular ring of till and gravel along the mountain's upper flanks.u Waiau cinder cone and is the only alpine lake in Hawaii.

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Until 1993, artesian water was not known to be present in the Island of Hawaii.

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