Japanese researchers land for the first time on what used to be a rocky outcrop called Nishinoshima in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after two years of spectacular eruptions created an island 12 times its size.
Researchers from Japan’s environment ministry, who swam the final distance from a small boat to the island to minimize biological contamination, were the first people to step foot on the island in recent history.
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Until 1973, the rocky outcrop was barely 650 metres long and 200 metres wide, and had experienced little volcanic activity, researchers say.
But a spectacular eruption nearby in November 2013 spewed out ash and rock for two years, creating an island spanning 2.68 square kilometres, bigger than the city-state of Monaco in Southern France.
Researchers landing on the island, also called Rosario, collected rock, plant and insect samples for ecological research. They also observed the first colonization of the island by masked gannets, a large seafaring bird.
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But one of their main goals, the head of the research party said, was to learn how volcanic islands are created.
“We hope to gather those different lava samples, and accumulated volcanic ash, to study the process of growth of a volcanic island,” said Takeo.
Researchers also planted several seismic monitors around the uninhabited island to record future geological activity.
Nishinoshima, located nearly 1,000 kilometres south of Tokyo, is part of the Ogasawara archipelago which is administratively part of Tokyo. Still, it takes nearly a day by boat to travel to Ogasawara, the closest inhabited island.
Studying volcanoes is high priority in Japan which lies on the “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped band of fault lines and volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean that is home to more than 100 active volcanoes.