City-Sized ‘Island’ Found Floating Across the Pacific Ocean

August 26, 2019 Updated: August 26, 2019

Photos captured via NASA satellites show what appears to be a new island floating in the Pacific Ocean.

But the space agency jokingly issued a warning not to try to step on it.

NASA’s Earth Observatory said that a large grey sheet floating on the Pacific Ocean is really a “raft” of pumice stones that are all drifting together across the ocean south of Fiji.

The rocks are filled with pumice from the underwater volcanic eruption that created them.

Volcanologist Erik Klemetti of Denison University wrote on the website: “Pumice rafts can drift for weeks to years, slowly dispersing into the ocean currents. These chunks of pumice end up making excellent, drifting homes for sea organisms, helping them spread…The erupted pumice means this volcano erupts magma high in silica like rhyolite.”

The volcano that might have produced the pumice “island” is located underwater near Tonga in the Pacific.

The raft was first discovered by sailors on the catamaran Roam and issued a report on Aug. 15

The sailors talked of a “rubble slick made up of rocks from marble to basketball size such that water was not visible,” as well as a sulfuric smell.

On Aug. 7, a sailor saw clouds of smoke on the horizon near the Fonualei volcano, according to the Volcano Discovery website.

“Recent satellite imagery from the area showed discolored sea water (by dissolved volcanic gasses in water) and steam (likely the same as reported above), suggesting that the eruption started around 6 or 7 Aug. At the same time, the pumice raft can be detected on satellite imagery, in several batches covering an area of about 400 [square] km,” the website says.

An Australian couple, Michael Hoult and Larissa Brill, said they were sailing on the catamaran when they spotted the raft on Aug. 16, the Guardian reported.

“It was quite eerie, actually,” Brill later told CNN. “The whole ocean was matte—we couldn’t see the water reflection of the moon.”

Hoult said, “The rocks were kind of closing in around us, so we couldn’t see our trail or our wake at all. We could just see the edge where it went back to regular water—shiny water—at night.”

The raft island will drift toward Australia, and it will become home to a number of marine creatures and animals, Queensland University of Technology geologist Scott Bryan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“There’s probably billions to trillions of pieces of pumice all floating together and each piece of pumice is a vehicle for some marine organism,” Bryan said. “When it gets here, it’ll be covered in a whole range of organisms of algae and barnacles and corals and crabs and snails and worms.”

Floating pumice. (Jeff Butterworth/The Conversation)
Floating pumice. (Jeff Butterworth/The Conversation)

He noted that corals have the potential of finding new homes along the coast of Australia.

The raft “is a natural mechanism for species to colonize, restock and grow in a new environment,” he added. “It’s just one way that nature can help promote regeneration.”

“Based on past pumice raft events we have studied over the last 20 years, it’s going to bring new healthy corals and other reef dwellers to the Great Barrier Reef,” Bryan told The Guardian.

Life Colonizes New Island

New vegetation and a mysterious, sticky mud were found on one of the world’s newest islands, located elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

The three-year-old volcanic island (center) as seen from the SEA drone. (Sea Education Association / SEA Semester)

The island is near Tonga in the South Pacific and is unofficially called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai (Hunga Tonga). The island was created via a volcanic eruption in December 2014.

NASA said it is the first island of its kind that has formed since satellites began taking pictures of the Earth on a regular basis.

2017, NASA said the island survived “against all odds” and may last from six to 30 years.

“There’s no map of the new land,” stated Dan Slayback of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“We were all like giddy school children,” said Slayback after visiting the island.
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