When a volcano in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga began erupting in late-December 2021 and then violently exploded in mid-January 2022, NASA scientist Jim Garvin and colleagues were unusually well positioned to study the events. Ever since new land rose above the water surface in 2015 and joined two existing islands, Garvin and an international team of researchers have been monitoring changes there. The team used a combination of satellite observations and surface-based geophysical surveys to track the evolution of the rapidly changing piece of Earth.
The digital elevation maps above and below show the dramatic changes at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai, the uppermost part of a large underwater volcano. It rises 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) from the seafloor, stretches 20 kilometers (12 miles) across, and is topped by a submarine caldera 5 kilometers in diameter. The island is part of the rim of the Hunga Caldera and was the only part of the edifice that stood above water.
Now all of the new land is gone, along with large chunks of the two older islands.