An island that emerged from a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific Ocean has turned out to be a unique study opportunity for geologists and volcanologists. However, biologists also had the chance to study a new environment, with life forms never seen before in such conditions.
- Life may originate from deep-sea hydrothermal vents, study concludes
- New Island Appears in the Pacific Ocean — But It Won’t Last Long
This landmass on Tonga was the result of the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano in 2015. In fact, its existence was brief—another eruption, this time in 2022, destroyed the island. This seven-year interval, however, was enough to carry out research on how a microbial community colonizes such an environment.
In a newly published study, scientists report discovering organisms that metabolize sulfur and atmospheric gases, as do bacteria in hot springs and fumaroles — crevasses in the sea floor whose proximity to Earth’s mantle causes them to emit steam. water with substances such as sulfates.
Plants soon took over the island, probably from seeds carried by birds. These seeds also carry various microorganisms that end up populating the environment. But in areas without vegetation, the population of bacteria was quite different from expectations.
“We didn’t see what we were expecting”, says Nick Dragone, a researcher at the University of Colorado, in the United States. The result surprised the scientists because they thought they would observe beings similar to those found when a glacier melts or, then, cyanobacteria.
It is not always possible to investigate the emergence of a new ecosystem like this. In the last two centuries, the island formed by Hunga Tonga was only the third to appear in this form and last more than a year. In addition, she was the first in the tropics region.
The record eruption of the same volcano in 2022 destroyed the environment, preventing future studies of the site, at least directly. There are still samples collected, such as those that made these discoveries possible. In any case, scientists are prepared if another opportunity arises. If another island forms in a future eruption, “we have a plan of action to study it,” concludes Dragone.
Source: mBio Via: University of Colorado