Earth  ID: 4602

New island forms in Tonga

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The evolution of the newly-erupted "surtseyan" island (~ 180 hectares in area) in the Kingdom of Tonga in the Southwestern Pacific is documented in a time-lapse sequences of perspective views using a time-series of DigitalGlobe WorldView images from just after the eruption ended in late January 2015 until late September 2017. These meter-resolution views were generated using Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) created by the NASA- led science team using stereo-pairs of DigitalGlobe Worldview images, and have allowed the erosional history of this unique island to be studied from a never-before-possible spaceborne perspective. The impact of marine abrasion on the somewhat fragile volcanic-ash landscapes is evident as the southern and southeastern margins of the new island, informally known as Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai (HTHH), recede, while deposition of a widening isthmus grows to the northeast.

Research results from NASA-funded science team led by James B. Garvin (NASA GSFC), Daniel A. Slayback (SSAI), Vicki Ferrini (Columbia) recently submitted for publication in the AGU's Geophysical Research Letters journal suggest the island's lifetime may be extended for another 25-30 years if geochemical fortification continues to protect key regions. The HTHH island is the first surtseyan eruption-based island to have persisted as "new land" for more than 6 months since Surtsey erupted near Iceland in 1963. Studies of the landscape evolution of pristine volcanic islands of this variety previously relied on a combination of aerial photography, field mapping, and laboratory sample analysis, but this new work enables an optimized approach via advanced satellite optical and radar imaging in combination with ship-based bathymetric mapping. Results of this work can be applied to understanding numerous small volcanic landforms on Mars whose formation may have been in shallow-water environments during epochs when persistent surface water was present.

Field photography and sampling of the HTHH island "system" by French sailors who served as citizen geoscientists for the NASA project greatly enhanced the project and validated several key interpretations.

(Special thanks to NASA Earth Sciences RRNES program, French sailors Damien Grouille and Cecile Sabau of the sailing vessel Colibri, and to the Schmidt Ocean Institute R/V Falkor).


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Visualization Credits

Lead Visualizer:
Cindy Starr (Global Science and Technology, Inc.)

James Garvin (NASA, Chief Scientist Goddard)
Daniel A. Slayback (SSAI)
Vicki Ferrini (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University)

Ellen T. Gray (ADNET)
LK Ward (USRA)
Samson K. Reiny (Wyle Information Systems)

Project Support:
Joycelyn Thomson Jones (NASA/GSFC)
Leann Johnson (Global Science and Technology, Inc.)
Eric Sokolowsky (GST)

Technical Support:
Laurence Schuler (ADNET Systems, Inc.)
Ian Jones (ADNET Systems, Inc.)

Citizen Scientists:
Damien Grouille
Cecile Sabau

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Research was largely supported by:
NASA Earth Science Division RRNES Program
(c/o Drs. Jack Kaye and Gerald Bawden)
and the Schmidt Ocean Institute

Science Paper:

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Data Used:
WorldView-2 © 2015 DigitalGlobe
Observed Data - DigitalGlobe - 21-Feb-2015, 27-Apr-2015, 02-Sep-2015, 17-Nov-2015, 22-Dec-2015
WorldView-3 © 2015 DigitalGlobe
Observed Data - DigitalGlobe - 21-Apr-2015, 06-Jun-2015, 25-Jul-2015
WorldView-2 © 2017 DigitalGlobe
Observed Data - DigitalGlobe - 20-May-2017, 29-Jun-2017, 19-Sep-2017
WorldView-2 © 2016 DigitalGlobe
Observed Data - DigitalGlobe - 02-Sep-2016
WorldView-3 © 2016 DigitalGlobe
Observed Data - DigitalGlobe - 10-Apr-2016, 18-May-2016
WorldView-2 © 2010 DigitalGlobe
Observed Data - DigitalGlobe - 11-Sep-2010
Pléiades-1A © 2015 CNES, Distribution Airbus DS
Observed Data - Distribution Airbus DS - 19-Jan-2015, 08-May-2015
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)/High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE)/HiRISE
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

DLESE >> Geology
DLESE >> Structural geology
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Solid Earth >> Volcanoes
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Volcanic Islands
NASA Science >> Earth

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version

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New Pacific Island Could Resemble Ancient Martian Volcanoes
Byline: Kenneth Chang
Publication: The New York Times
Date: Dec. 11, 2017
Audience: 39354949
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Publication: National Geographic (US)
Date: Dec. 11, 2017
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Publication: Business Insider (US)
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Audience: 20235941
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Byline: Anna Livsey
Publication: The Guardian
Date: Dec. 12, 2017
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Publication: International Business Times
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Byline: Carolyn Gramling
Date: Dec. 11, 2017
Audience: 160000
Since January 2015, NASA satellites have tracked the island’s growth and erosion month-to-month. Scientists are using those data to estimate its life span, said James Garvin, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.