Saturday, September 8, 2007

An Island Is Born and Dies in the South Pacific

Swedish sailor Fredrick Franson first came upon what looked like a great desert in the middle of the ocean in Home Reef. “We looked out, and in front of us it was as if there was no more sea,” he said. “It was like the Sahara, with rolling hills of sand as far as the eye could see.” But the yacht he was on, the Maiken, wasn't anywhere near land. The "desert" he was describing was actually a "sea" of floating pumice stones. Some distance away was an underwater volcano erupting and giving birth to a new island. “Then we saw a black pillar shooting up into the air, and we understood that it had to be a volcano.” He described the island as a "kind of a smoldering, smoky stuff. It looked like coal, and when there was an eruption, we could see the new material piling up on it.”
Franson reported the discovery and scientists immediately had satellites zooming in on the new island as it was being born. It was the first time that such an island birth was studied in detail. When volcanologist Scott Bryan personally visited the site, he saw that the island was gone, as it was made up only of deposited material that easily washed away. The life of the island lasted only a few months. Bryan believes that a high sea mount was all that's left of it. The pumice stones left behind by the eruption became home to animals like barnacles that hitch a ride as they float to wherever the ocean currents would take them.

Videos of an island volcano erupting in India and the science behind eruption-prediction in i-Mash, after the jump.

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