The turquoise plume of water in the satellite image above is coming from an underwater volcano in the midst of an eruption. The plume appears to have originated from a seamount that geologists call “Submarine Volcano III”, located 33 kilometers (20 miles) from Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu.
The satellite images above were captured on January 27, 2017. Other satellite images suggest that the eruption began on January 23, 2017. The discolored water was likely caused by the underwater release of gases, rocks, and volcanic fluids. The eruption also may have disturbed sediment on the seamount.
Martin Jutzeler is a University of Tasmania geologist who studies underwater eruptions. He said in a statement:
It may continue for some days or weeks, and an island may form temporarily. However, new volcanic islands are easily eroded by wave action.
Ash from volcanic eruptions on land are a well-known threat to airplanes, and underwater eruptions can likewise pose a hazard to ships. Some underwater eruptions produce rafts of light, porous rock called pumice that float on the sea surface and can clog ship engines.
Bottom line: Satellite image of undersea volcano eruption near Tongatapu.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.