New island rises near Tonga as undersea volcano erupts

Stephen Wright
New island rises near Tonga as undersea volcano erupts This handout photograph taken by Planet SkySat on September 14, 2022 and released by Planet Labs PBC shows seismic activity and venting at the Home Reef Volcano, an underwater volcano in Tonga that has formed a new island.

A new island has appeared near Tonga in the southwestern Pacific Ocean as an undersea volcano ejects lava, gas and ash. Scientists say the speck of land could quickly disappear.

The island appeared above sea level just hours after the volcano began erupting on Sept. 10, according to Tonga Geological Services and NASA Earth Observatory. Between Sept. 13 and Sept. 19 its area grew from about 4,000 square meters (43,000 square foot) to nearly 35,000 square meters. It rises some 15 meters above sea level.

Known as Home Reef, the submarine volcano has given birth to ephemeral islands in 2006, 1984 and twice in the 1850s, NASA Earth Observatory said. It’s part of an undersea ridge dotted with volcanoes that stretches from Tonga to New Zealand.

“Islands created by submarine volcanoes are often short-lived, though they occasionally persist for years,” NASA Earth Observatory said. 

Tonga’s geological service, in daily updates on its Facebook page, has said Home Reef currently poses a low risk to airplanes and the nearby Tongan island groups of Vava’u and Ha’apai. It has warned vessels to stay four kilometers away.

The eruption is a reminder of Pacific Island nations’ vulnerability to natural disasters. Ash fall and a tsunami caused by the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano in January caused several deaths in Tonga and destroyed homes and crops.


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