From around Christmas Day 2016 to the end of January 2017, Bogoslof Island – located at the southern edge of the Bering Sea – has expanded from just 0.293 square kilometers (0.113 square miles) to just over twice that. It’s still a tiny island, but this is a rapid reclamation of the sea by any measure.
Although activity has been registered since December, it really picked up the pace on January 18, with explosive eruptions producing 9.4-kilometer-high (31,000-foot) ash plumes that have begun blanketing other nearby islands. Spectacular volcanic lightning dancing about in the broiling ashen columns has also been spotted by pilots.
Every few days since, similar-sized plumes, with one reaching an altitude of 11 kilometers (36,000 feet) – the cruising height for most passenger jets – have been spotted. Each time, searing hot lava has effused so rapidly out of the vent that new land is being created.
The thieving back of the ocean by volcanic activity is hardly a rare occurrence. Right now, Hawaii is both collapsing into the Pacific and constructing brand new lava deltas to walk on. Across the giant blue pond, just south of Tokyo, you’ll find Nishinoshima, a previously underwater volcano that has spent the last four years rising into the sky.
Bogoslof island is rapidly changing size and shape, based on satellite imagery. Chris Waythomas/AVO/USGS
As for Bogoslof, the last time it decided to expand its territory above the waves was back in 1992, when a fresh lava dome poked its head above the surface. The island first emerged from the deep in 1796 – since then, it’s been adding land, although some weaker segments of it have eroded into nothingness.
Humans may not have much use for such a remote, frigid island, but it’s worth pointing out that over 90,000 sea birds – including tufted puffins and red-legged kittiwakes – nest here, along with a good number of sea lions. In fact, its status as a home for a plethora of flora and fauna was officially recognized in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt, who designated the island a wildlife sanctuary.
Ultimately, then, this eruption is good news. It may be freaking out the guillemots a tad, but when it eventually calms down, they’ll have more nesting ground than ever before.
Bogoslof Island, pictured here in 1994. USGS
See? Volcanoes aren’t always killing machines.