A New "Baby" Island Has Been Spotted in the Middle of the Ocean After Volcano Eruption
It grew exponentially in two weeks.
When an underwater volcano erupted in the middle of the ocean this month, it left something unexpected behind: A "baby" island scientists observed mere hours after the eruption. The toddler has continued to grow in the weeks since. But experts say it may not last. Read on to find out why.
The eruption of the underwater volcano, known as Home Reef, happened near the Central Tonga Islands in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. Experts say that lava from the volcano was cooled by the ocean water, forming the island, which grew in size as the lava continued to flow. In an update posted to Facebook on Sept. 27, scientists from Tonga Geological Services said the island had attained a total surface area of 8.6 acres (over six football fields) and a height of about 50 feet above sea level. That's quite a growth spurt from the one acre that was observed by scientists shortly on Sept. 14.
The island is "more like a large layer of ash, steam and pumice over the ocean," Rennie Vaiomounga, a geologist at Tonga Geological Services, told the Washington Post on Sept. 26. That means it may not last. "We never know when the island will appear or when it will disappear," he said.
NASA Earth Observatory also warned that the baby island might not become a permanent fixture of the planet. "Islands created by submarine volcanoes are often short-lived, though they occasionally persist for years," the agency said. "Home Reef has had four recorded periods of eruptions, including events in 1852 and 1857. Small islands temporarily formed after both events, and eruptions in 1984 and 2006 produced ephemeral islands with cliffs that were 50 to 70 meters high." They added: "An island created by a 12-day eruption from nearby Late'iki Volcano in 2020 washed away after two months, while an earlier island created in 1995 by the same volcano remained for 25 years."
The area where the volcano erupted contains the highest density of underwater volcanoes in the world, says NASA Earth Observatory. Home Reef sits within the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zone, where three tectonic plates "are colliding at the fastest converging boundary in the world."
"The Pacific Plate here is sinking beneath two other small plates, yielding one of Earth's deepest trenches and most active volcanic arcs," says the agency.
As spectacular as volcanic eruptions tend to be, this one isn't particularly dangerous. "The volcano poses low risk to the Vava'u and Ha'apai communities," Tonga Geological Services says. "No visible ash in the past 24 hours was reported. All Mariners are advised to sail beyond 4km away from Home Reef until further notice."