Volcanic eruption creates new island in Tonga

A volcanic eruption in Tonga has created a new substantial island since it began erupting last month.

Last Updated: Jan 21, 2015, 17:20 PM IST
Volcanic eruption creates new island in Tonga

Wellington: A volcanic eruption in Tonga has created a new substantial island since it began erupting last month.

However according to one scientist, it could soon disappear.

The volcano has been erupting for a month in the ocean about 40 miles northwest of the capital, Nuku'alofa.

The eruption has disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days last week.

According to the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry, the volcano rumbled to life on December 20 for the first time in five years.

New Zealand volcanologist Nico Fournier said he traveled by boat to within about a mile of the new island on Saturday to take a closer look.

He said it's made mainly of loose scoria and its dimensions are about 1.1 miles by 0.9 miles, and that it rises about 109 yards above the sea.

“It's quite an exciting site, you get to see the birth of an island,” he said. “Visually it was quite spectacular, but there was no big sound coming with it, no boom. It was a bit eerie.”

Fournier, who works for New Zealand agency GNS Science, said that once the volcano stops erupting, it will likely take the ocean no more than a few months to erode the island entirely. He said it would need to be made of lava or something more durable to survive.

He said he was able to establish that the volcano was mainly belching steam into the atmosphere, and that the small amount of ash it was sending out was rising no more than about 1.2 miles.

That will come as a relief to airlines, as it is the ash that can be dangerous to planes.

According to Fournier, the ocean around the island is likely fairly shallow, perhaps only about 328-656 feet deep. He said that as of now, there is no name yet for the new island and that any naming rights will fall to Tonga's king.

Tonga lies on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates collide causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity.

(With Agency input)