“Imagery captured the first clear view of the new island structure…”
Following a massive undersea volcanic eruption near the Pacific island nation of Tonga, authorities are trying to establish contact with residents and assess how badly homes and property were damaged. The world is holding its breath as authorities say they’re not sure whether there will be any casualties, but the blast also draws attention to a fascinating geological drama: the volcano is actively adding new land mass to a small and newly formed island. In other words, we’re seeing the growth of a new island in real time.
In 2015, the same undersea volcano erupted and formed a new island, although according to satellite imagery company Planet Labs, scientists thought it would erode away within months. Seven years later, however, the opposite is true. That same island has been growing and almost certainly got bigger during the weekend’s recent eruption. In fact, just last month a smaller eruption increased the size of the island by what experts believe to be nearly 50 percent.
“Imagery captured the first clear view of the new island structure on 2 January 2022,” Dan Slayback, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, told Planet Labs. “Comparing PlanetScope imagery from mid-December, before the most recent eruption began, the surface area of the island appears to have expanded by nearly 45 percent due to ashfall.”
Will It Stick?
In 2015, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that surprisingly, life was abundant on the newborn island. Gulls and other seabirds floated in the air and padded around the volcanic shore, which has since been named Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai.
It’s mind-blowing to think about a baby island being born and growing in real time, but a lack of internet and satellite connections also mean it may be harder to study it and check on the wellbeing of nearby island residents for some time. WaPo reports that in 2019, Tonga lost internet connection for two weeks after its underwater fiber optic cable that delivers internet service was severed, possibly by a ship dragging an anchor across it. Residents couldn’t even make international calls.
We’re sure to learn more about the new island in the coming weeks, but we’re just as concerned about Tonga and its people. Let’s hope people aren’t distracted by the geological news and forget the humans affected most by the disaster.
More on the undersea volcano: Hey Kids, Wanna See Satellite Footage of a Volcano Violently Erupting?
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