World’s newest island is covered in mysterious mud and vegetation

James Marshall
February 5, 2019

NASA researchers visited the island and now believe the island could last for up to 30 years - and also found vegetation and a unusual, sticky mud.

"Most of it is this black gravel, I won't call it sand - pea-sized gravel - and we're mostly wearing sandals so it's pretty painful, because it gets under your foot", NASA scientist Dan Slayback told the space agency's blog Earth Expeditions after his expedition to the island in October previous year.

"We were all like giddy school children", Dan Slayback of the Goddard Space Flight Centre said regarding his voyage to the island. A team from Nasa visited in October - after previously studying the island using only satellite imagery - and Slayback detailed their findings in a Nasa blog post.

Initial estimates suggest the island may survive up to 30 years, before succumbing to the pressures of the ocean.

The volcanic island was formed after an underwater eruption in early 2015 near the South Pacific island of Tonga.

Slayback and his team landed on what had looked like a black-sand beach on satellite, but was actually made up of pea-sized gravel that made walking painful.

The island pictured in 2014.

The island in 2014 compared with 2018
The island in 2014 compared with 2018

Hunga Tonga is only volcanic island to have emerged in the past 150 years, and its odd, gravel-like landscape has some scientists comparing it to Mars. It's pretty flat, but there's still some gradients and the gravels have formed some cool patterns from the wave action'.

"And then there's clay washing out of the cone".

Vegetation was discovered beginning to take root - with the seeds likely deposited by birds flying overhead - and a barn owl has begun to make its home on the young island, as well as hundreds of nesting sooty terns. "In the satellite images, you see this light-colored material", he writes.

Slayback said, 'It's very sticky.

The researchers are now busy processing the data they've obtained in a bid to develop "a more realistic 3D model of the island" and try to figure out exactly how long the island may survive.

Despite being excited by the emergence of a new and rare island, scientists are already concerned by the possibility of its extinction due to erosion.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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