NASA reveals new island that appeared in Pacific could uncover Mars’ volcanic past

Nearly three years ago a new island came into existence in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, nestling between two older islands.

The new island eventually settled in January 2015 after it initially emerged following the eruption of submarine volcano in the region.

However, while scientists initially thought the island would last no more than a few months, a new NASA study suggests it could remain in place for up to 30 years.

The evolution of the island could also help explain some of Mars’ volcanic features, the researchers have revealed.

Jim Garvin, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: “We think there were eruptions on Mars at a time when there were areas of persistent surface water.

“We may be able to use this new Tongan island and its evolution as a way of testing whether any of those represented an oceanic environment or ephemeral lake environment.”

The island, known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, first became visible to satellites in 2015.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai is also the first island of its kind to emerge and survive in the modern satellite era, NASA has explained.

The research team has explained that there are two potential scenarios that could occur.

Firstly, they have said the island could experience accelerated erosion by wave abrasion.

This would destabilise the tuff cone in roughly six to seven years, and leave behind a land-bridge between the two neighbouring islands.

Alternatively, according to the researchers, erosion could occur at a slower rate, which would leave it intact for 25-30 years.

The researchers say this uncertainty boils down to the lack of information on the initial volume of the island tuff cone immediately after the eruption before the first images were acquired at the three-month mark.

Mr Garvin said: “Everything we learn about what we see on Mars is based on the experience of interpreting Earth phenomena.”