Space telescope captures birth of new island after underwater volcano eruption

The Copernicus telescope has captured the birth of a new island in the Pacific ocean caused by the eruption of an underwater volcano.

The Copernicus Sentinel2 telescope captured the formation of the new island between July and October 2022.

In an image acquired by one of the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites on 14 September, the eruptive activity formed a new island.

In the southwest Pacific Ocean, a seafloor ridge that stretches from New Zealand to Tonga has the highest density of underwater volcanoes in the world.

On September 10, 2022, one of them awoke.

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In the days since, the Home Reef seamount in the Central Tonga Islands has repeatedly oozed lava, ejected plumes of steam and ash, and discolored the surrounding water.

Eleven hours after the eruption began, a new island rose above the water surface.

The Operational Land Imager-2 (OLI-2) on NASA’s Landsat 9 captured the island, as plumes of discolored water circulated nearby.

The underwater volcano erupted earlier this year (Copernicus)
The underwater volcano erupted earlier this year (Copernicus) (Copernicus)

Previous research suggests that these plumes of superheated, acidic seawater contain particulate matter, volcanic rock fragments, and sulfur.

On September 14, researchers with Tonga Geological Services estimated the area of the island to be 1 acre and the elevation to be 33 feet above sea level.

By September 20, the island had grown to cover 6 acres.

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The new island is located southwest of Late Island, northeast of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai, and northwest of Mo‘unga‘one.

Home Reef sits within the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zone, an area where three tectonic plates are colliding at the fastest converging boundary in the world.

The Pacific Plate here is sinking beneath two other small plates, yielding one of Earth’s deepest trenches and most active volcanic arcs.

Islands created by submarine volcanoes are often short-lived, though they occasionally persist for years.

Home Reef has had four recorded periods of eruptions, including events in 1852 and 1857. Small islands temporarily formed after both events, and eruptions in 1984 and 2006 produced ephemeral islands with cliffs that were 50 to 70 meters high.

An island created by a 12-day eruption from nearby Late‘iki Volcano in 2020 washed away after two months, while an earlier island created in 1995 by the same volcano remained for 25 years.

The eruption has now stopped, with the last eruptions taking place on October 17.