by Photo courtesy of NASA

The Central Tonga Islands welcomed a new island after an underwater volcano erupted earlier this month. 

The new island emerged on Sept.10 when an underwater volcano erupted, according to a statement from the NASA Earth Observatory. Eleven hours after the eruption began, a new island rose above the water surface. 

According to NASA, the Home Reef Seamount in the Central Tonga Islands has repeatedly oozed lava, ejected plumes of steam and ash, and discolored the surrounding water.

Researchers with the Tonga Geological Services on Sept.14 estimated the island's area to be roughly one acre with the elevation to be 33 feet above sea level. By Sept. 20, the island had grown to cover six acres. 

The newly born island is located southwest of Late Island, northeast of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai, and northwest of Mo‘unga‘one.

“The volcano poses low risks to the aviation community and the residents of Vava‘u and Ha‘apai,” the Tonga Geological Service said in an update issued on September 20. “All mariners are, however, advised to sail beyond 4 kilometers away from Home Reef until further notice.” The service noted that most ash should fall within a few kilometers of the vent.

According to NASA, Islands created by submarine volcanoes are often short-lived, though they occasionally persist for years. Home Reef has had four recorded periods of eruptions, including events in 1852 and 1857. 

Small islands temporarily formed after both events, and eruptions in 1984 and 2006 produced ephemeral islands with cliffs that were 50 to 70 meters high. An island created by a 12-day eruption from nearby Late‘iki Volcano in 2020 washed away after two months, while an earlier island created in 1995 by the same volcano remained for 25 years.

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