The fresh new land mass in the Pacific Ocean is the youngest of all its neighbors and was born from an ongoing undersea volcanic eruption that began on October 21st.
Volcanologist Setsuya Nakada from the University of Tokyo told The Japan Times that the underwater volcanic eruption that formed the island started as a “vertical jet” of solidified magma that shot high above the waves.
After that, the eruption was sustained by relatively continuous bursts.
As all that debris fell back into the ocean as lava, mixed with a porous, low-density material called pumice, the mound of rock built until it was high enough to peek out of the depths like a periscope.
Come November 3, the undersea volcano had switched gears and was spewing mostly ash, says Nakada, who flew over the site on that day.
The young land mass sits in plain sight of Iwo Jima, an island about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) south of Tokyo that currently has no permanent inhabitants. This island was once the site of a famous battle between American and Japanese forces in World War II.
Its new neighbor lies just over a kilometer off the coast, and while the fresh pumice rock does not sit far above the water line, as of Friday, it stretched about two kilometers in diameter.
The only people who can admire the new view from Iwo Jima are those stationed at a Japanese Self-Defense Force base.
The eruption is currently ongoing, although it seems to have reached its peak and is somewhat calming down.
While the new land mass may grow slightly larger in the coming days, any pumice that isn’t cemented down by lava flows would be eroded away, calling into question how much of the island could remain over time.
Nakada says submarine volcanic eruptions in this part of the world tend to only continue for a month or so.
While much is known of the active land-based volcanos that dot the Ring of Fire, an active zone that fringes the Pacific Ocean, far less is known of the vents and fissures that lie on the ocean floor.
Scientists estimate there are over a million submarine volcanoes around the world, but many of these are probably extinct and even those that are active often lie too deep to make above-water observations feasible.
In fact, one of the largest eruptions in the history of Japan was the result of an undersea eruption in 1924 – although the location of the volcano was inferred much later on.
Watching islands form from these eruptions is even rarer, although it gives incredible insight into how many such islands in the Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands, once formed, millions of years ago.
In 2015, for instance, a new island was formed in the South Pacific, creating an incredible living experiment for geologists, volcanologists, biologists, and ecologists to study.
In 2022, the island had already disappeared, destroyed by another eruption.
Who knows how long the new one in Japan will last.
“There is a possibility that the (new) island could merge with Iwo Jima if the eruption continues,” Nakada told The Japan Times.
Only time will tell.