In the wake of an underwater eruption late last month, a new volcanic island has popped up along the coast of Japan, billowing smoke and slowly growing in size.
The new island can be seen from the coast of Iōtō (formerly Iwo Jima), part of the Ogasawara Islands over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean.
It was created by the eruption of an unnamed undersea volcano that began erupting on October 21. By October 30, the magma had reached the sea surface and became piling up in the form of a new island, The Japan Times reports.
“In an earlier stage, a vertical jet of black color, debris — which is a solidified magma — and water gushed upward. Since Nov. 3, the eruption started changing and the emission of volcanic ash continued explosively,” Setsuya Nakada, a professor emeritus of volcanology at the University of Tokyo, told the newspaper.
“The areas that don't have lava could be scraped away. So if more and more lava comes out, and covers the area, I think that part will remain forever."
New islands regularly form in the world’s oceans as a result of volcanic activity from beneath the waves. Underwater volcanos spew out molten material, which is rapidly cooled by seawater, solidifying and forming a solid mound that can poke above the sea surface.
For example, another new island sprung up in Japan back in August 2021 thanks to the eruption of the undersea volcano Fukutoku-Okanoba, once again close to the island of Iōtō.
Japan is a hotbed of volcanic activity as it's situated in a part of the world known as the Ring of Fire, which carves the Pacific Ocean for around 40,000 kilometers (24,900 miles) and holds two-thirds of the volcanoes active since the last Ice Age. Many independent plate boundaries meet here, causing a volatile system that generates about 90 percent of the world's earthquakes to occur there and around half of Earth’s volcanic eruptions since records began.
This is one of the geological and geographical factors that explains why Japan has so many islands. Prior to 2023, the official count was thought to be 6,852. However, a recount earlier this year revealed that it’s likely more than double that figure, with approximately 14,125 islands in total.
Perhaps they better make that 14,126 now.