The Earth continues to change its landscape right before our eyes. A volcanic eruption in Tonga has created a new island, but one scientist said it could soon vanish just as quickly as it formed.
The volcano, located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the capital, Nuku'alofa, has been erupting in the ocean for a month. Last week, the ash and steam it discharged into the air even disrupted travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.
New Zealand volcanologist Nico Fournier says that he traveled by boat to within a mile of the new island to have a closer look. He said it is mainly made of loose scoria and its dimensions are approximately 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometers) by 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometers) and it rises about 109 yards (100 meters) above the sea.
"It's quite an exciting site, you get to see the birth of an island," Fournier says. "Visually it was quite spectacular, but there was no big sound coming with it, no boom. It was a bit eerie."
He believes that because the new island is made of scoria and not something more durable such as lava, it will likely only take the ocean a few short months to completely erode the island out of existence.
According to Fournier, who works for the GNS Science agency in New Zealand, he was able to confirm that the volcano was mainly venting steam into the atmosphere, and the small amount of ash that it was sending into the air was rising now more than about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers). This will be a relief to airlines, as it is the ash that poses the biggest risks for air travelers.
Naming rights will fall to the king of Tonga, but none has been chosen as of yet. Fournier says that the ocean around the island is more than likely fairly shallow, measuring approximately 328-656 feet (100-200 meters) deep.
But volcanoes continue to form new land around the world each and every day. In Hawaii, the Big Island's Kilauea Volcano has been constantly erupting since 1983, dramatically creating new land as the lava falls into the ocean. One of the most famous islands created by volcanoes in recent times is the small island of Surtsey, located off the coast of Iceland in the Atlantic Ocean. The island was formed in 1963 and two years later was declared a nature reserve used for the study of ecological succession.
And this isn't the first new land mass created in Tonga either. In February and March 2009, an eruption created a new island near Hunga Ha'apai. However, by the time the eruption finished, the new land mass had connected to Hunga Ha'apai.