An erupting underwater volcano, taking place off the coast of the uninhabited Japanese island of Nishino-Shima, has created an entirely new island of its own. The news was recently reported by the Japanese government, who appears delighted by the prospect of gaining new territory.
Japanese coast guard officials and advisories from the Japan Meteorological Agency proclaim the new island’s diameter to be approximately 200 meters. However, there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to whether the nascent landmass will remain a permanent fixture. In addressing media enquiries as to what name it would be assigned, a spokesperson for the government, Yoshihide Suga, remained non-committal. Newly formed islands have a tendency to submerge below the waves and often disappear into obscurity; as a result, some suggest it would be premature to begin pitching names, just yet.
The spectacular volcanic eruption transpired in the Pacific Ocean, around the Ogasawara island chain. The Ogasawara Islands (a.k.a. the Bonin Islands) is an archipelago of more than 30 tropical and subtropical islands, stretching directly south from the Tokyo capital through Japanese territorial waters.
The archipelago, along with the rest of Japan, lies along the infamous “Ring of Fire.” The region is notorious for its frequent seismic activity, where around 90% of all earthquakes occur, and is home to intermittent volcanic eruptions. The Ring of Fire outlines much of the Pacific Ocean, at the fringes of the western coasts of North and South America, as well as east Asia.
Will the New Japanese Island be Short-Lived?
Smoke was witnessed billowing some 600 miles from Tokyo at 10:20 a.m. (local time) on Wednesday Nov. 20, prompting the coastguard to launch an immediate investigation into the incident.
Speaking to the renowned French news agency, Agence France-Presse, a spokesperson for the maritime agency explained the situation was ongoing, with smoke and ash still materializing from the volcanic island. When approaching the scene, the coastguard discovered Surtseyan activity near the volcano eruption site – where seawater and lava violently clashed – culminating in turbulent plumes of steam and ash being jettisoned into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, a warning was issued for those navigating in and around Japanese waters, addressing the issue of falling ash, as well as the heat emanating from the new island.
The spokesperson remained unsure as to the stability of the new islet, and maintains that erosion from choppy waters could force its disappearance; conversely, if the volcano spews up a sufficient amount of lava, and subsequently solidifies, it could remain a potential part of the landscape. Speaking to the FNN news network, volcanologist Hiroshi Ito reiterated this point, stating “… it also could remain permanently.”
The newly formed island consists of black tephra, ejected from volcanoes that had last erupted in the 1970s along the Izu-Bonin-Mariana (IBM) arc, which could contain rocks that are close to 1,000 degrees Celsius. However, similar tiny islets sprang up during the 70s and 80s throughout Japanese territory, only to have since retreated beneath the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Since it is comprised of a collection of fragile rock and ash, it remains susceptible to the elements. This point was recently argued by Bruce Houghton, a professor of volcanology at the University of Hawaii, during an interview with the Los Angeles Times:
“Most of the time islands like this have very short lives because they are built of ash and larger rock particles that get eroded by wave action.”
However, if it is able to expand fast enough, scientists posit that the surrounding water would be pushed away and the magma source would become protected; this would allow the magma to ooze across the region, without having to battle against the prevailing waves of water.
According to the South China Morning Post, Japan has designs on constructing new port facilities on Okinotorishima, in an attempt to stake a greater claim on these territories. However, China refutes Japan’s claim to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) over the area, categorizing the region as an atoll, which cannot be claimed as an EEZ under international law; this contention is refuted by Japan, who argue it is an islet and not an atoll.
Japan’s chief government spokesperson joked about his country potentially gaining new maritime territory – an obvious reference to their ongoing standoff with China.
By James Fenner