Volcano (not to scale)

By Mike 

I always get a little bit excited when a geology-themed story ends up on the BBC’s top ten trending articles, especially given the amount of people I used to talk to in my home land of England who still weren’t quite clear what geology even is. Today’s contribution regarding the rapid change in height of an underwater volcano over by Tonga is no exception. It sits comfortably at number 8, beating an unfortunate plane crash and the poor diet of my countrymen (no surprises there) within the top ten. Whether this represents real interest or whether it’s just a coincidence of the mouse-click of thousands of procrastinating civil servants is unclear, but I will take the popularity over at least 2 human-interest stories as a good sign.

The science behind the article relates to some time-lapse sonar images of Monowai volcano (taken only a couple of weeks apart) showing a decrease in height as a landslide caused a huge slab of the volcano to fall off. More importantly, though, the images also show a big increase in height where lava flows had stacked on top of one another, raising the height of the mountain by around 80m and even creating a whole new volcanic cone.

As you can imagine, this is an absolute NIGHTMARE for underwater orienteering, and will almost certainly render sat navs useless in the area as soon as they build roads. Navigation’s loss, however, is science’s gain; this huge growth rate adds new information to our knowledge of the speed at which geological processes may occur. We geos are used to thinking in time scales of millions, hundreds of millions or billions of years (a common excuse for being late) but this is a nice reminder that we have to look into the present to gain insight into the future and the past.