NASA revises volcanic island's timespan from six months to 30 years

Pablo Tucker
December 13, 2017

Scientists are now watching the erosion of the volcanic island very carefully, as they say they can see remnants of similar water-birthed islands on Mars.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai was formed by a submarine volcano in Tonga which left behind the 120-metre high island in January 2015.

Scientists initially expected the island - created when vast quantities of rock and dense ash spewed from the Earth's crust - to wash away within a few months.

The island of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai rose from the seabed about 65 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa in late 2014-early 2015.

The world's newest island - formed during a volcanic eruption in the remote Pacific four years ago - may offer clues to how life potentially developed on Mars, NASA said Wednesday.

"Everything we learn about what we see on Mars is based on the experience of interpreting Earth phenomena", he added.

"That will give us a window into some of those murkier times of Mars when we think there were standing bodies of water", Dr. Garvin said. "We may be able to use this new Tongan island and its evolution as a way of testing whether any of those represented an oceanic environment or ephemeral lake environment".

We know that Mars had frozen water at some point in its history, but a recent discovery of streaks on mountain slopes on the planet led scientists to believe that liquid water could have once flowed on it. At this point both Garvin and Slayback thought this might be the end of the island.

Using this imagery, the research team made three-dimensional maps of the island and studied its changing coastlines and volume above sea level.

Researchers are still working to understand the exact chemical conditions that helped the island, and its surrounding landforms, to become resilient against erosion.

Below: video of the eruption which formed Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai.

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