A submerged volcano on the seamount known as the Home Reef in the central islands of Tonga has woken up after 16 years of deep sleep to poke its head out of nowhere.
On September 10, 2022, fragments of rock and lava began to seep into the ocean. 25 kilometers (15 mi) southwest of Late Islandas plumes of steam and ash erupted across the surface of the waves.
Slowly, the debris built up on a whole new island, covering 4,000 square meters (one acre) and reaching a height of 10 meters (33 feet) in just a few days.
Although it would hardly grow much larger, on September 20 officials from the Tonga Geological Survey (TGS) Announced that the island had increased six times its size, expanding to 24,000 square meters.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this nameless and ephemeral structure will likely sink back into the Pacific Ocean’s fiery ‘Ring of Fire’ long before any sailor can hope to set foot on its rocky shoreline.
The last time Home Reef gave birth to a new island, in 2006, it took a year for ocean waves to erode its crest. This time, the crest is much shorter.
Tonga’s submerged volcano produced so much debris in the 2006 event that an expanding raft of foamy volcanic glass known as pumice drifted in the South Pacific, giving it the strange appearance of land.
You can see images of that raft below:
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The seamount responsible for these short-lived structures is located in a region of the Pacific Ocean known as the Tonga-Kermadec subduction zonehome to some of the world’s fastest converging tectonic plates.
Here, the Pacific Plate is rapidly sliding under two other plates (Kermadec and Tonga) at a rate of about 24 centimeters a year (9 inches), forming the second deepest trench in the world and an extremely active volcanic arc.
In fact, this long stretch of seafloor ridge, stretching from Tonga to New Zealand, is home to the highest density of underwater volcanoes found anywhere on Earth.
Satellite images of Home Reef’s recent eruption capture the formation of its newest island in stunning detail. The image below was released by NASA using data from the US Geological Survey on September 14.
It shows not only a long plume of smoke, but also intense discoloration of the surrounding ocean.
A follow-up image taken on September 18 with USGS data and shared by the TGS on Facebook zooms in on the volcanic fallout, as you can see below.
The cloudiness of the water is likely the result of superheated acidic seawater mixed with bits of volcanic rock and debris, according to a recent press release NASA
“The volcano poses low risks to the aviation community and residents of Vava’u and Ha’apai”, TGS Announced the 20 of September.
“However, all boaters are advised to cruise beyond 4 kilometers away from Home Reef until further notice.”
Since September 25 there has been no more sightings of volcanic ash or steam from this portion of the Pacific. Home Reef is likely done for now, leaving us to appreciate its latest gift to the sea while we can.