March 19, 2009

Scientists Investigate Ongoing Volcanic Eruptions in Tonga

Scientists ventured across the South Pacific Thursday with the purpose of inspecting an undersea volcano near Tonga that has been shooting steam and ash thousands of feet into the sky for days.

The area, just six miles from the main island of Tongatapu is home to about 36 undersea volcanoes, geologists said.

A government team of scientists was sent to study the volcano on Thursday, but officials have reported no apparent danger to local residents or fish and other wildlife.

Tonga's police deputy commander Taniela Faletau told the AP that coastal villages close to the roiling ocean site were not yet at risk and that no warnings had been issued.

The eruptions were first noticed on Monday following a series of earthquakes Sunday, local residents said.

"This is not unusual for this area and we expect this to happen here at any time," Keleti Mafi, Tonga's geological service head, told the AP.

Tonga is situated within the Pacific "ring of fire" "“ a hot zone for earthquakes and volcanic activity.