So I guess you could say that just about anyone on the north side of Tongatapu who has been paying attention has noticed a huge plume of steam rising out of the ocean just to north east of A’tata. It’s pretty darn amazing and us in Nuku’alofa are about 65-70km away so imagine what it looks like up close. Well today I got to find out. I had just been visited by my friend Joe and not 10 minutes after he left several of the Geology folks came in and said “get your things together, we are going to Hunga on a Navy ship”. I jumped at the chance, but I said I needed to run home and get all my cameras and GPS, and other things I’ll need. So before I knew it I was traveling on one of the ships that we had been “encouraged” to jump off of during our water safety day during Peace Corps training. The trip takes about 4 hours each way and we spent about an hour on site and around the two islands of Hunga, Hunga H’apai and Hunga Tonga. Hunga Tonga is the one that is under current volcanic accretion, and it’s really amazing how volcanically active the island is. There are several places that are steaming on the island and most of the tall trees have died due to what I can only guess is heat.
Upon arrival, it’s amazing how huge the plume of mostly steam and some ash and smoke was and then to see that the magma was exploding out of this newly created part of the island, probably roughly a 1/4 the size of the rest of the island. The geologists Kelepi, and Apai seemed to think that the earthquake last Friday was the indication/start of the eruption. It that time the island has accreted an extra 1 km into the ocean and roughly a .5 km wide. It was amazing to see the steam rising up and then suddenly the black magma would explode from the white steam. It seemed to linger just a moment and then the heavy material started falling and the steam stayed, turning the entire mass all white again. The cloud seemed to create its own weather with a small amount of rain falling downwind, and I even saw a few water spouts form. There was a large amount of pumice on the water between the two islands and it looked like at one point you might even be able walk across. In the evening as we were returning you could see the cloud creating its own lightning.
We leave for New Zealand tomorrow, so look for updates of south island goodness coming soon!
check out the pics!