In January 2015, a new body of land formed in the South Pacific island nation of Tonga, after a volcanic eruption left a mass of terrain stretching into the ocean.
It is only the third time in the past 150 years that such an event has occurred, and lasted this long, as most formations such as this are usually eroded by the ocean in ‘a few months’.
The land is located between two islands, known as Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai, and has become known as HTHH – a combination of the two islands’ initials.
Four years since its formation, however, and scientists have only just set foot on the volcanic land, which NASA have detailed in a new blog post.
As there is no map of the new stretch of land just yet, scientists have spent the last couple of years examining it via satellite images, trying to make a 3D model of its shape, and the changes made to it by the ocean over time.
Now, however, scientists have visited HTHH, to understand more about its formation.
Research scientist Dan Slayback, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said:
Most of it is this black gravel, I won’t call it sand – pea sized gravel – and we’re mostly wearing sandals so it’s pretty painful because it gets under your foot.
Immediately I kind of noticed it wasn’t quite as flat as it seems from satellite. It’s pretty flat, but there’s still some gradients and the gravels have formed some cool patterns from the wave action.
And then there’s clay washing out of the cone. In the satellite images, you see this light-colored material. It’s mud, this light-colored clay mud. It’s very sticky.
So even though we’d seen it we didn’t really know what it was, and I’m still a little baffled of where it’s coming from. Because it’s not ash.
There has even been some vegetation beginning to grow on the land, which they suspect were seeded by bird droppings.
While it may seem exciting that we could be witnessing the birth of a brand new island, scientists are not sure how long it will stay around.
The island is eroding by rainfall much more quickly than I’d imagined. We were focused on the erosion on the south coast where the waves are crashing down, which is going on.
It’s just that the whole island is going down, too. It’s another aspect that’s made very clear when you’re standing in front of these huge erosion gullies. Okay, this wasn’t here three years ago, and now it’s two meters deep.
Scientists are hoping to return to the island next year to further study the island, such has how exactly it was created, and how long it will stick around for.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.