Watch: New island formed in the Pacific Ocean as major coral reefs erupt eight times in 48 hours

The geological office of the Pacific state of Tonga reports that a volcano north of the country’s largest island has erupted eight times in the past 48 hours and advised ships to avoid the area.

In the past 10 days, the Home Reef volcano has erupted six times in the past 24 hours, spewing molten lava, steam, and ash at least three kilometers (nearly two miles) into the air.

The world’s largest concentration of underwater volcanoes can be found in the southwestern Pacific Ocean along a ridge on the sea floor stretching from New Zealand to Tonga. One of them opened his eyes on September 10, 2022. The Hum Reef seamount in the Central Tonga islands repeatedly released ash and plumes of steam oozing from the lava, coloring the surrounding waters in the following days.

A new island appeared above the water surface 11 hours after the eruption of the volcano. On September 14, 2022, as discolored water plumes were circling nearby, Landsat 9’s Operational Earth Image-2 (OLI-2) captured this natural-color image of the nascent island. Previous studies indicate the presence of sulfur, igneous rock fragments, and particulate debris in the highly acidic seawater plumes.

The island was estimated to be 4,000 square meters (1 acre) and 10 meters (33 ft) above sea level on September 14 by Tonga geological services experts. The island had expanded to cover 24,000 square meters by 20 September (6 acres). Southwest Late Island, northeast Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, and northwest Mo’unga’one are the locations of the new islands.

Home Reef is located in the Karmadec Tonga subduction zone, where three tectonic plates collide with each other at the fastest rate of convergence in the world. Here, the Pacific Plate collides with two smaller plates and sinks, creating one of the planet’s deepest craters and most active volcanic arcs.

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Islands formed by submerged volcanoes are often transient, however, they can persist for years. There have been four reported eruption periods at Home Reef, including those occurring in 1852 and 1857. Both eruptions in 1984 and 2006 produced ephemeral islands with slopes 50 to 70 meters high. Small islands were temporarily built up after both episodes.

The island formed by the 12-day eruption of the neighboring Latiki volcano in 2020 erupted within two months, although the island formed by the same volcano in 1995 lasted for 25 years.

(with input from agencies)

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