March 19, 2009

Tonga Underwater Volcano Erupting

ENVIRONMENT - The eruption began Monday after a series of magnitude 5.0 earthquakes near Tonga, a 170-island archipelago between Australia and Tahiti, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Yesterday a plume of ash rose about 5 to 8 kilometers in the sky. "It's a very significant eruption, on quite a large scale," Tonga's chief geologist, Kelepi Maf says.

Authorities have issued an ash advisory for the area, and so far nearby fish and other animals are fine, but the plume of ash might endanger Tonga residents if the wind shifts. 112,000 people live in the Kingdom of Tonga. The volcano is approx. 10 km off the main island, Tongatapu.

There is also concern another earthquake could cause a tsunami as the eruption continues.

Tonight a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit the region, and scientists did issue a tsunami warning but luckily there was no major shift in sea level.

The Kingdom of Tonga has 36 undersea volcanoes in the region and is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones surrounding the Pacific Ocean. It is possible this volcano could become significantly worse. "Underwater volcanoes can be violent, and have a strong climatic effect," said Simon Turne of Macquarie University in Sydney.

Normally earthquakes in the region rarely go above 2.0 magnitude, so a 7.9 is almost unheard of.

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