New Japan Island Has No Name: Country Waits For It To Cool Off Before Naming; Ocean Could Still Swallow It
There's that old quote from Mark Twain: "Buy land; they aren't making it anymore." But Japan is. An underwater volcano there spawned earth's first new land mass in a while, at least since September, when a a major earthquake in Pakistan raised rocks in the Arabian Sea.
After the sea began to issue thick smoke and steam near the Ogasawara, or Bonin Islands, a Japanese government spokesperson, Yoshihide Suga, was quoted in the Associated Press saying, "If it becomes a full-fledged island, we would be happy to have more territory." But they aren't getting too excited yet, and they haven't even named it. After all, tiny volcanic islands have a tendency of being washed away by the tides. "This has happened before and in some cases the islands disappeared," said Yoshihide. Apparently that hasn't happened in many decades, however. According to several reports, the last time a volcano erupted in the Ring of Fire, which circles the Pacific Ocean, was in the 1970s.
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Aerial photographers for Reuters swooped in, and Japan's FNN News station captured live footage of the eruption Wednesday. It shows rocks and debris blasting upward under pressure as the ocean vaporizes in the heat. For now, the island is reported to be about 660 feet wide and roughly circular. It sits amidst a far-flung island chain roughly 620 miles south of Tokyo. Below it is the Izu-Ogasawara Trench, a six-mile-deep extention of the famous Mariana Trench. The area is part of a band of volcanoes and tectonic joints known for its seismic activity and called the Ring of Fire, which extends from New Zealand up to Alaska and down to Chile. Three-fourths of the world's volcanoes are there.
But volcanoes aren't the only things that can create new land. On September 24, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck southwestern Pakistan, killing more than 800 people. But an island called Zalzala Koh popped up out of the Arabian Sea just off the coast. In the last month it has begun to sink, and reports suggest it may not last long.
Politically, new islands create interesting problems as nations stake claims on swaths of oceans and the minerals underneath them. But scientifically, they present fascinating insights, as well. Consider the case of what is perhaps the most famous relatively new island, Surtsey. Surtsey is in the Atlantic Ocean, several miles off the coast of Iceland. "When it became clear that Surtsey would endure as a permanent island," says the Surtsey Research Society, "a group of enthusiastic researchers got together and founded a committee that later became a society whose aim was to organize and promote research carried out there." No one lives on Surtsey — purposefully. The island will be preserved and populated completely naturally with flora and fauna. Since a volvano spawned Surtsey in 1963, wind, sea, and birds have carried varieties of grasses, ferns, mosses, and small animals on to the island, and it has developed its own thriving ecosystem.
It's not yet clear what plans Japan might have for its new island, if it hangs around. But efforts to develop ports and coral redoubts around other small, rocky Japanese islands may be a clue. The Associated Press reports that in Okinotorishima, hundreds of miles to the southwest of this new outcropping, Japan is developing the desolate area "to boost its claim in a territorial dispute with China."
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