Lava Creates New Island

Courtesy of Marco Nürnberger (CC0)

A volcano north of Tonga’s main island has erupted eight times in the preceding 48 hours, according to the country’s geological office, which has warned ships to stay away from the area. The Home Reef volcano has erupted six times in the past 24 hours over the past ten days, sending molten lava, steam, and ash flying over two miles into the air. The southwest Pacific Ocean’s seafloor ridge that stretches from New Zealand to Tonga may contain the world’s highest density of underwater volcanoes. On September 10, 2022, one of them opened his eyes and began the process of creating a new island.

The Central Tonga Islands’ Home Reef seamount has frequently emitted ash and steam plumes, oozed lava, and colored the nearby water in the days that followed. Eleven hours after the eruption began, a new island rose above the water.

On September 14, 2022, the Operational Land Imager-2 on Landsat 9 captured this natural-color image of the developing island while plumes of discolored water swirled close by. These plumes of superheated, acidic seawater are thought to contain sulfur, volcanic rock pieces, and particle debris, according to earlier investigations.

Jim Garvin of NASA and his colleagues were remarkably well situated to observe the eruption of a volcano in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, which started erupting in late December 2021 and fiercely erupted in the middle of January 2022. Garvin and a global team of researchers have been observing changes there since new land came above the water’s surface in 2015 and connected two already-existing islands. The researchers followed the development of the quickly transforming portion of Earth using a combination of satellite data and surface-based geophysical surveys.

The topmost portion of a sizable underwater volcano, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, has undergone significant alterations, as seen in the digital elevation maps above and below. It rises from the ocean floor at a height of 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles), spans a distance of 20 kilometers (12 miles), and is capped by a submerged caldera with a circumference of 5 kilometers. The island, which is a portion of the Hunga Caldera’s rim, was the only portion of the structure that was submerged.

Courtesy of John Benwell (CC0)

In collaboration with many academics, Garvin and his NASA coworker Dan Slayback created precise maps of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai both above and below the water. They made use of high-resolution radar data from the RADARSAT Constellation Mission of the Canadian Space Agency, optical observations from the Maxar commercial satellite, and altimetry data from NASA’s ICESat-2 mission. Additionally, they made use of bathymetry data gathered using sonar by the Schmidt Ocean Institute in collaboration with NASA and Columbia University.

In the majority of Surtseyan eruptions, just a tiny amount of water comes into touch with the magma. Water trickling into the magma is similar to water splashing onto a hot frying pan. The water immediately burns off when there is a flare of steam, according to Garvin. What took place on the 15th was very unique. Since Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai lacks seismometers, we are unable to determine the cause of the partial collapse of the caldera’s northern rim. However, something must have weakened the hard rock in the foundation. Imagine that happening as the bottom of the pan opens up and enables massive amounts of hot water to flow into the deep magma chamber.

On September 14, scientists from Tonga Geological Services estimated the island to be 4,000 square meters (1 acre) in size and 10 meters (33 feet) above sea level. By September 20, the island had grown to a size of 24,000 square meters. (6 acres). The new islands are situated southwest of Late Island, northeast of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, and northwest of Mo’unga’one.

In the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zone, which is where Home Reef is situated, three tectonic plates are colliding at the fastest rate in the world. One of the planet’s deepest holes and most active volcanic arcs are created here as the Pacific Plate collides with two smaller plates and sinks.

Written By Dylan Santoyo


WION: Watch: New island formed in Pacific ocean as Home reef erupts eight times in 48 hours

NASA: Dramatic Changes at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai

IFLSCIENCE: A New Baby Island Has Just Been Born In The Pacific Ocean

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Marco Nürnberger’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of John Benwell‘s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

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