Hunga Tonga: New Volcanic Pacific Island Gives NASA a Glimpse of Life on Mars (Download PDF)


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NASA satellites have been observing new volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. The emerging rock offers scientists a laboratory to map rarely seen rapid geological processes, which could model the mysterious terrain of Mars.

 Map of Hunga Tonga

Map of Hunga Tonga

Map of Hunga Tonga

New volcanic island

  • The new island, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, emerged from a violent underwater eruption in late December 2014.

  • Scientists expected the island in Tonga to survive just a few months. Now they believe it could last up to 30 years.

  • Most volcanic islands disappear quickly after they are beaten down and drowned by waves. This island is one of only three in the past 150 years to survive this long and first one observed by satellites.

  • The last island to withstand the violent waves of the ocean was Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland, which emerged in 1963 and still exists today.

  • Volcanic islands are simplest landforms to be created. Scientists are calculating 3D landscape changes over time, particularly its volume.

  • It’s the first step to understand erosion rates and processes and to decipher why it has persisted longer than most people expected.

Evolution of the Island

  • The island’s shape has changed drastically over its short lifespan

  • At birth, Hunga Tonga was merged with a neighboring island to the West.

  • However, waves quickly eroded Hunga Tonga’s sediment, forming a land bridge to another neighbor to its east.

  • By 2016, a sandbar had closed off the volcanic crater from the sea stopping the island from eroding into the ocean.

  • Underlying rock beneath the tiny group of islands support this Island- two surrounding islands with pretty tough substrate help make this solidify and stay in place, chemically

- Published/Last Modified on: December 28, 2017


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