Hunga Tonga is Teeming with Life although it didn’t even Exist 4 Years Ago

Hunga Tonga is Teeming with Life although it didn’t even Exist 4 Years Ago

Hunga Tonga is Teeming with Life although it didn't even Exist 4 Years Ago

An underwater volcano in the South Pacific Ocean spawned an island called Hunga Tonga.

This rare volcanic pop-up emerged right in between the two confirmed islands of the Kingdom of Tonga. There has been no official announcement about its name but the locals like to call it Hunga Tonga, on the basis of its location. It is only the 3rd known volcanic island that has arisen in the last one and a half century. This discovery presented an amazing opportunity to learn more about the sprawling formation of such islands. Similarly, Hunga Tonga allowed the researchers to investigate its esoteric environment, which may help scientists to determine its resemblance with other rocky terrains.

Exploring Hunga Tonga on Foot

Scientists have been studying this island for years, but most of these scientific expeditions were performed through aerial or satellite surveys. Recently, a group of researchers visited Hunga Tonga by boat to observe the young island by themselves. Dan Slayback, a Remote Sensing Scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA who is considered an expert on Hunga Tonga, described his experience in the following words:

“We were all like giddy school children. Most of it is this black gravel, I won’t call it sand – pea-sized gravel – and we’re mostly wearing sandals so it’s pretty painful because it gets under your foot.”

This research expedition was organized by the Sea Education Association of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in October 2018. A group of students and scientists accompanied Slayback on this journey. The researching team conducted aerial surveying through drones and GPS measurements to gather some useful data about the landscape of Hunga Tonga. They recorded a number of geological factors including multiple erosional features and the elevation of boulders. Slayback said,

“Immediately I kind of noticed it wasn’t quite as flat as it seems from satellite. It’s pretty flat, but there’s still some gradients and the gravels have formed some cool patterns from the wave action. And then there’s clay washing out of the cone. It’s mud, this light-colored clay mud. It’s very sticky. So even though we’d seen it we didn’t really know what it was, and I’m still a little baffled of where it’s coming from. Because it’s not ash.”

Life is Spreading Rapidly on Hunga Tonga

The most impressing thing about this young island is its pace to embrace life. In addition to patches of vegetation on the land, the team found hundreds of Sooty Terns (a seabird) in the cliff gullies of Hunga Tonga. Similarly, a solitary Barn Owl was also observed on the island. Slayback was simply delighted to experience all this. He expressed his feelings by saying,

It really surprised me how valuable it was to be there in person for some of this. It just really makes it obvious to you what is going on with the landscape.

Dangerous Signs for Hunga Tonga

Despite all the promise, this life-embracing landscape is already under threat due to excessive levels of erosion. Generally, volcanic islands survive for a few months after which they are eroded back to nothingness. Although none of the scientists can accurately predict the lifespan of Hunga Tonga, the prognosis seem pretty grim. Slayback talked about the erosion on the island and explained that it is eroding much more quickly than they had imagined. They were primarily focused on the erosion on the south coast where the waves are crashing down but the whole island is going down, too.

In these circumstances, researchers are trying to extract as much information from Hunga Tonga as possible. Likewise, it is a memorable experience for the students who visited the island for this research voyage. They are not only getting some considerable knowledge with regards to their profession but are also collecting some amazing memories for themselves. Mariah Reinke, one of the researching students, acknowledged that by saying,

I climbed down into the small boat along with a few others, ready to make the short voyage to the island that is best described as a landmass similar to Mars. As I jumped out onto the pebble-like black sand beach, I questioned how I would later describe this to others.”  

Here’s a glimpse of what gave birth to this mysterious island.

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