volcano tonga island
March 13, 2015

First photos of new Tongan island

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - @ParkstBrett

Thanks to volcanic activity, a new island has risen out of the waters of the South Pacific. Just don't start making Spring Break plans to go there yet. Scientists are warning that the new island is highly unstable and even boats should avoid passing too close.

Popping out of the water just 28 miles west of the tiny island nation of Tonga, the new land mass sprouted from the Hunga Tonga volcano, which became active back in December. It’s the second time in five years that the volcano has erupted.

Video of the eruption showed gasses stream out of the ocean and satellite imagery showed the emergence of new rock surrounded by plumes of sediment.

While scientists generally issue warnings not to walk on or even approach a new volcanic island by boat, on Tongan man did just that, and captured a series of photographs from the island surface.

"It's really quite solid once you are on it and it's quite high," said island explorer Gianpiero Orbassano while speaking to BBC News Asia. "It felt quite safe - the only difficult thing was getting out of the boat on to the island. The surface was hot, you could feel it. And climbing it was hard in the bright sun."

A hotel owner in Tonga, Orbassano has some experience in these matters, taking golf clubs to one another fresh, new Pacific island.

"I don't feel risk," he said. "When I am doing this kind of thing, I'm focusing on my photographs. I don't feel danger."

Orbassano should feel danger as new volcanic islands are known to be fragile and the volcano that created them might erupt at any time.

Mary Lyn Fonua, editor of the Matangi Tonga news website, told the BBC she went to see the eruption in January.

"We got to within (760 yards) of the volcano and when you're that close in a small boat, it can be quite risky,” she said. "An underwater volcano behaves quite differently - all the gas can shoot out to the side. But it was a fascinating thing to see, just to watch a whole new island being constructed."

Matt Watson, an earth sciences expert at the University of Bristol, said the new island’s surface is probably very unstable.

"It will be very loose and unconsolidated material," he said. "It's formed by fragmentation of magma, so it's basically small pieces of rock on top of each other that have formed an island.”

"You would really have to strongly convince me, with strong scientific reasons, to go on it," he said.

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