Published online 22 November 2006 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news061120-8


Submarine eruption bares volcanic island in Tonga

Newly born island may only last a month before disappearing beneath waves.

The newborn island (lower left) has been snapped by satellite.The newborn island (lower left) has been snapped by satellite.NASA

The Pacific Ocean kingdom of Tonga has a new island, but its size seems to be dwindling by the day.

In August, a passing yacht reported seeing floating chunks of pumice near the underwater Home Reef volcano. Then an entire new island emerged (lower left in the image), around 1.5 kilometres across, and complete with four peaks and a central crater. Satellite images have helped monitor the new land as it rises and recedes.

Images obtained on 12 and 14 November from NASA's Terra satellite, for instance, suggest that the island has shrunk in surface area by about a third since early October. Small volcanic lakes on the island have also disappeared.


Home Reef last erupted in 1984, when it created an island of roughly the same dimension — which also later vanished beneath the waves. Alain Bernard of the Free University in Brussels says he expects the new island to be gone within a month.