At the beginning of 2015, an underwater volcano erupted within the region belonging to the Kingdom of Tonga, within the Pacific Ocean. The mixture of lava and a large cloud of volcanic ash gave life to an island that they christened ‘Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai’, to which researchers gave three or four months of life due to the impacts of the ocean.
The surprise is that almost three years after its formation the island is still standing against all odds , which has caught the attention of NASA researchers who now say it could last for decades. The impressive thing of all this is that the island has been changing its form in these years and nobody knows why.
The first island of this kind in 50 years
Jim Garvin, chief scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA, recently gave a lecture to the American Geophysical Union, where he showed impressive details of this strange kind of island, something that had not happened since 1963 .
Born in 1963 Surtsey, an island located off the coast of Iceland that emerged after the eruption of a volcano and today still there. For Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai it is believed that the chemical mixture from the warm ocean water and volcanic material made rocky coastlines harden after eruption, creating a barrier that protects the impact of waves.
As I mentioned, his transformation is incredible and we can see it in the following video:
If all these assumptions turn out to be correct, we would be before the birth of a new ‘Surtsey’, which means that this new island could last for decades and even have the conditions to house life.
This has caused scientists to have begun monitoring the island through monthly satellite images to know the changes, as well as vessels that are dedicated to mapping the seabed and know how the local fauna reacts.
At first, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai had an oval shape and rose beyond 122 meters from its shores to a stone cone located in the center. With the passage of time it has been changing its shape towards a thinner and longer aspect.
In April 2015 the island presented its first major change, as the cliffs on the south edge of the crater had collapsed, and days later the remnants ended up falling to open a central lake. Before this, many thought that the waves would impact inside the crater and accelerate the collapse, but no, a few weeks later a sand bank was formed that protects the lake.
As Garvin himself has mentioned: “this island is fighting for its life”, since studies have shown that the total volume of the island has been maintained and has even increased as the material of the cone erodes and it accumulates along the coasts.
Today predictions give you a life of between six years and three decades, but seeing everything that has happened, any surprise may be possible, since everything depends on how quickly the central cone is destabilized.
According to NASA, this type of formations will help us to understand more about the history of our continents, it can even serve to try to understand what happened on Mars, since it has several surfaces that look like small volcanoes very similar to the one in Hunga. Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, the bad news is that the context in which they formed is unknown.