The Earth just birthed a new island in the Pacific Ocean

The eruption of an underwater volcano just gifted the Earth a new island in the southwest Pacific Ocean. 

On Sept. 10, a submarine volcano named Home Reef — located about 150 miles north of Tonga — awoke. The eruption, still bubbling today, sent lava and plumes of steam and ash into the surrounding waters, and notably, above the ocean’s surface. 

A near nine-acre island has arisen, named “Home Reef Island” after the volcano that formed it. Satellite imagery reveals the new arrival in the Central Tonga Islands is circular, and formed of pumice, lava and ash.

Whether or not it becomes a permanent fixture in the ocean remains to be seen. 

“Eleven hours after the eruption began, a new island rose above the water surface,” NASA’s Earth Laboratory wrote in a press release, alongside images of the land formation and surrounding discolored water taken from its Landsat-9 satellite, which continues to monitor the island’s development. 

As the island falls within the Kingdom of Tonga, the Tongan government is advising ships sailing the southwestern Pacific to steer clear of the new arrival. 

“The volcano poses low risks to the aviation community and the residents of Vava‘u and Ha‘apai,” the Tonga Geological Service said in statement. “All mariners are, however, advised to sail beyond 4 kilometers away from Home Reef until further notice.”

NASA reports that the permanence of islands created by underwater volcanoes is unpredictable, and sometimes short-lived. The Home Reef seamount forms part of a highly active volcanic range stretching from New Zealand to Tonga, named the Kermadec-Tonga subduction zone, that has seen the emergence of at least five volcanic islands since records began. 

The eruption of Home Reef in both 1852 and 1857 yielded new land masses that temporarily formed before washing back into the ocean through the erosion of the lightweight, glass-like pumice. More recently, volcanic activity in both 1984 and 2006 “produced ephemeral islands with cliffs that were 50 to 70 meters high,” NASA says. 

In 1995, the Late’iki Volcano, located 10 miles from Home Reef, produced a 185-acre rectangular island that stood for 25 years. That island was destroyed in 2019 by another volcanic eruption, which, in turn, created a new island named Metis Shoal that still stands today. 

As of Sep. 26, Tonga Geological Services is reporting that the eruption is ongoing. The island now covers an area of 8.6 acres and stands at 15 meters tall. “This is the 16th day of effusive lava flow,” the agency said in a statement, with a satellite image of the new island taken on Sep. 22. 

The new island has not yet been marked on Google Maps.

Satellite imagery of Home Reef Island, formed after the recent eruption of an underwater volcano in the southwest Pacific Ocean. 

Satellite imagery of Home Reef Island, formed after the recent eruption of an underwater volcano in the southwest Pacific Ocean. 

Tonga Geological Services

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