Lama, vegetation in new scientists confusers Pacific island


Scientists who visited one of the world's newest and most unique islands last year discovered a mysterious, sticky mud, NASA said.

The island is located in the South Pacific, near Tonga and is officially called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (Hunga Tonga). It emerged after a volcanic eruption in late December 2014, connecting two older islands. NASA says it is the first island of its kind formed since satellites began taking photos consistently from Earth.

Scientists initially predicted it would be for only a few months. But a NASA study released in 2017 found that the island survived "against all odds" and could last from six to thirty years.

Scientists have mapped Hunga Tonga closely since its formation using aerial and satellite surveys, but it was not until a team traveled to the island by boat in October last year that researchers became aware of its unique vegetation.

"We were all like school children," said Dan Slayback of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in a NASA Earth Expedition blog post Jan. 30 detailing the research trip.

"Most of it is black gravel, I'm not going to call it pea-sized gravel – and we're wearing sandals, so it's really painful because it's under your foot."

Slayback said the "light-colored clay mud" was one of the most intriguing surprises he encountered on the island.

"It's very sticky. So even if we did, we did not really know what it was, and I'm still a bit confused where it's coming from. Because it's not gray, "Slayback said.

Slayback was also surprised that the vegetation was beginning to grow on an isthmus in Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai.

NASA said the vegetation was probably fertilized by bird droppings. The animals probably lived on the older neighboring islands, which have an abundance of plants.

The researchers used a high precision GPS unit and a drone to create a higher resolution 3D map of the island.

"It really surprised me how valuable it was to be there personally for some of these things. It really makes it obvious to you what's going on with the landscape, "he said.

Slayback said the island seems to be wearing out faster than previously thought due to rain.

"The island is wearing out in the rain much faster than I imagined," he said.

"We were focused on erosion on the south coast where the waves are falling, which is happening. It's just that the whole island is falling too.


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