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Pacific Ocean: A New Island is Born after Spectacular Volcanic Eruption in Tonga

A large volcanic eruption in the Pacific region has produced a brand new island, located approximately 70 kilometers to the north-west of Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa.

Volcanic Eruption in Tonga - Photo Courtesy of AP Photo / Military of Foreign Affairs Tonga

Volcanic Eruption in Tonga – Photo Courtesy of AP Photo / Military of Foreign Affairs Tonga

A volatile volcano has presented the Pacific island Kingdom of Tonga with an unusual gift, spouting so much smoke and ash from its two volcanic vents that it seems to have produced a brand new island. If confirmed, this latest addition would bring the number of islands in the picturesque Polynesian sovereign state to an impressive total of 173.

Local media reports suggest that the eruption originated at Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano, a particularly unstable member of the highly active Tonga-Kermadec Islands volcanic arc, located just 70 km to the north-west of the Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa. Huge plumes of smoke were said to have reached heights of 4,500 meters, disrupting air travel to the region.

Despite coming more than 5 years after Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai last exploded, the warning signs were on display for all to see, according to Brad Scott, volcanologist at New Zealand’s GNS Science agency. He explained that volcanic activity had been recorded for several weeks prior to the explosion before going on to describe described a steady rumbling sound which culminated in a violent explosion on December 19th 2014.

And whilst the authorities had more than enough time to prepare themselves for the eruption, experts continued to be surprised by the sheer force of this new Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai explosion. Indeed, whilst the eruption was first reported to the Department of Lands and Resources on December 19th 2014, scientists had to wait until January 15th 2015 to receive clearance to investigate the site and safely measure the scale of its impact.

It was, by all accounts, well worth the wait. As well as being able to monitor the incredible effects to nearby flora and flora, the team of scientists was also able to confirm that a new island had been born. “A new island has been built by the eruption between the existing islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai,” explained a spokesperson from the Tongan government.

Taaniela Kula, of Tonga’s Ministry for Land, summarized the incredible geological process behind the birth of Tonga’s newest island: “Dense ash was being erupted to a height of about 400 meters and was accompanied by some large rock,” he explained. “Above about 1000 meters, the eruption plume was almost exclusively steam. As the ash is very wet, most is being deposited close to the vent, building up the new island.”

Official measurements taken earlier this week revealed the island to be approximately 1 km in length, 2 km in breadth and with an impressive elevation of roughly 100 meters. This could all be set to change however, as the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano is continuing to expel huge masses of ash and lava, with an eruption said to be occurring as often as every five minutes!

Despite its impressive size, however, there are no guarantees that the island is here to stay. As reports, “new islands are relatively common, but seldom last before being washed away by the Pacific.” Nesomaniacs might recall the case of “Jonah Lomu Island,” an island formed in 1995 as a result of eruptive activities in Tonga’s Metis Shoal Region. Born of similar circumstances to the new Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai Island, within just three weeks’ time, the island reportedly already covered an area of 280 by 240 meters and boasted an elevation of 54 meters above sea level.

Vast swathes of the sports-mad island nation called for the volcanic outcrop to be named after the country’s most famous descendent, rugby star Jonah Lomu, but before a final decision could be made, the island had already been washed away by the tides. Perhaps things will be different this time around – after all, 2014 was a good year for freshly formed islands, with the likes of “Snoopy” island in Japan and “Yaya” island in Russia all living to fight another day.

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