NASA’s Earth Observatory just shared a rather striking image of the aftermath of a volcanic eruption taking place in Alaska. Taken on June 5, it reveals a verdant plume of volcanic sediment emerging from Bogoslof Volcano, drifting into the waters around the Aleutian Island chain.
Bogoslof has been erupting since December 2016, but at the end of May, a series of violent explosions jettisoned a significant amount of ash upward to heights of around 10,700 meters (35,000 feet), and aviation warnings were issued as the volcano put on quite the show. In the days since, the activity has died down somewhat, with steam blasts dominating the summit, and a train of sediment drifting away into the Bering Sea.
As beautiful as this photograph is – and the accompanying animation of the eruption – it pales in comparison to what happened over the New Year. From around Christmas Day back in 2016 to the end of January of this year, this island has erupted so profusely that it’s more than doubled in size.
Accompanied by volcanic lightning and enormous plumes, lava rose from the frigid depths at such a rapid pace that the sea couldn’t erode the new land fast enough. It’s the most dramatic expansion of terrain for the island since it was born way back in 1796.
The expansion of the island, apart from being rather impressive by itself, is great news for wildlife conservationists. Back in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed by the diversity of the sea lions and sea birds on Bogoslof that he declared the island to be a wildlife sanctuary.
More lava, more land, more wildlife. Everybody’s happy.
This isn’t the first time an island has been caught rising up from the bottom of the sea. Back in 1973, for example, a new island was born about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Tokyo. Named Nishinoshima, it eventually grew in size to be around 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) high and around 94 kilometers (58.4 miles) in circumference at its submerged base.
Then, in November 2013, huge explosions were seen by the Japanese coastguard to the southeast of Nishinoshima. Lava began pouring out from a new, hidden vent, and over the next three years, it would form a new island. At the time of writing, both of these volcanoes have now merged into one, and life has already begun to colonize it.
So volcanoes are not only great for fireworks displays – they’re rather marvelous laboratories for natural selection and evolutionary biology too.