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Volcanic Vista: A New Japanese Island Formed by a Volcano

Nov 13, 2016 09:34 AM EST

A country doesn't just expand by acquiring new territory as Japan has just shared with the world. You can make new territory if you have enough volcanoes. Japanese coast guards and earthquake experts are finally going to visit an island in the waters to the far south of Tokyo that a volcanic eruption has raised.

For the first time since monitoring the volcano's eruption in 2013, Japanese researchers landed for the first time on what used to be a rocky outcrop called Nishinoshima. Found in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the incredible eruptions had formed an island 12 times its size.

Researchers from Japan's environment ministry swam the final distance from a small boat to the island so as to minimize biological contamination. They were the first people to step foot on the island in recent history. With little volcanic activity until 1973, the rocky outcrop was just a mere 650 meters long and 200 meters wide based on the researchers' data.

But a spectacular eruption nearby in November 2013 caught the attention of local scientists. Television footage had shown heavy smoke, ash, and rocks exploding from the crater and the coast guard had issued an advisory warning of heavy black smoke from the eruption. At the time, the volcanologist with the coast guard, Hiroshi Ito, did not discount the possibility that it was possible the new island might be eroded away. "But it also could remain permanently," he said.

But this particular eruption spewed out ash and rock for two years, creating an island that spanned 2.68 square kilometers. For comparison, that land mass is larger than the city-state of Monaco in Southern France.

Having given the island the name Rosario, researchers then collected rock, plant and insect samples for ecological study. Masked gannets, a large seafaring bird, were observed to have made the new island their home. One of the main goals of the research party was to study the process of growth of a volcanic island by analyzing different lava samples and accumulated volcanic ash for clues. Researchers had also installed several seismic monitors around the uninhabited island to record future geological activity.

Japan's chief government spokesman welcomed the news of, however tiny, new territory. "If it becomes a full-fledged island, we would be happy to have more territory," Yoshihide Suga stated.

Rosario Island is just off the coast of Nishinoshima, an unpopulated island in the Ogasawara chain or the Bonin Islands. Amounting to approximately 30 islands, they could be found 1,000 kilometers or 620 miles south of Tokyo. This new potential territory, along with the rest of Japan, makes up the seismically active Pacific "Ring of Fire" with more than 100 active volcanoes.

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