New island made of tuff stuff
In December 2014, a submarine volcano erupted violently in the South Pacific, sending superheated steam, ash, and rock 9 kilometres (30,000 feet) into the air. When the plume cleared and the ash settled in January 2015, a newborn island with a 120-metre (400-foot) summit was nestled between two older islands in the kingdom of Tonga.
Unofficially known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, the newly formed island was expected to last for just a few months. It now appears to have a 6- to 30-year lease on life, according to a NASA-led study.
Though the volcano is quite remote, satellite imagery has given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to observe the formation, erosion, and evolution of "surtseyan" islands. Surtsey rose from the seafloor off of Iceland in 1963 during an explosive submarine eruption. Only a few such eruptions have occurred in the modern scientific era (the past 150 years), and the 2015 event in Tonga is the first to be extensively observed by satellites. Understanding the processes that build and erode such islands on Earth could provide insights on similar features on Mars.
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