The Earth's New and Disappearing Islands

August 20, 2019

Surtsey, a volcanic island located off the southern coast of Iceland. It was formed in a volcanic eruption in 1963.

Islands come and go. That may seem like a strange statement, given that most can be considered long-standing and permanent outcroppings of the Earth's above-sea-level surface. Nevertheless, volcanic activity, rising sea-levels, and human intervention has eliminated some islands and caused others to appear as brand new landmasses.

Located at the junction of two tectonic plates, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai is a tiny island that popped up around 2014. It's a volcano situated 19 miles away from Fonuafoʻou island in Tonga.

Another new island, Zalzala Koh, made its appearance in 2013 during a 7.7-magnitude earthquake that struck the area near Gwadar in Balochistan, Pakistan. Experts believe it's a mud volcano.

Shelly Island, historically just a sandbar in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, began forming around April 2017. The area, near Hatteras Island, is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, with the frequent appearance and disappearance of small landmasses being responsible for numerous shipwrecks over the years.

Gone now, Shelly Island measured around one mile long and was remarkable because of its size and how fast it formed. Its landmass was reduced by 70 percent after the passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017, and, by 2018, Shelly Island was completely underwater.

Shelly Island, North Carolina.

Thirty years ago, Rokkō Island in Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Japan did not exist. Now, the 1,400-acre man-made island features apartment buildings and single-family homes, a green belt, and two international schools.

Rokkō Island, Kobe, Japan.

In the South China Sea, China has been building artificial islands. They're adding sand to reefs and rocks to create new land, and it's been going on since 2014.

Unfortunately, the islands are in a heavily contested territory, and, while Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stated that they are not intended for military purposes, the US government has doubts about that. A standoff has begun, with the US currently only arguing against the islands' existence as a violation of “freedom of navigation” principles defined under international law.

South China Sea

So, new islands can pop up as a result of man's intervention, or due to natural forces. Considering the coastal encroachment that's being caused by climate change, it seems that islands will also disappear for the same reasons.

Rest assured, here at Seterra, we're keeping an eye on new and disappearing islands, ready to update maps and quizzes right away when the Earth gains or loses even the smallest amount of its dry land.