Despite all the scientific research that goes on in today’s technical world, nature still manages to surprise scientists sometimes. That is precisely what happened when a floating island of rock, approximately the size of the country of Belgium, or 26,000 square kilometres, was spotted off the coast of New Zealand, approximately 1,000 kilometres northeast of Auckland. It was first spotted by a New Zealand air force pilot as he flew over it. Subsequent investigation by the New Zealand navy discovered that the rock was actually a mass of pumice rocks, each approximately the size of a golf ball. From a distance, the pumice looked like a shelf of ice because of its pale colour.
Pumice is an igneous rock and forms above the surface of the earth when a volcano erupts and the lava solidifies. Due to the frothy nature of the lava, when it hardens, it is made up of cavities, which is what makes it so light and thus able to float on the surface of the sea. Pumice has a number of uses commercially; for example in the beauty business as an exfoliator, the cement and concrete industries and the textile industry to stonewash jeans.
Scientists have since stated that they believe the rocks were probably the result of an underwater volcano. According to the New Zealand Herald, the pumice “came from Havre Volcano, near Curtis Island at the south of the Kermadec Islands.” However, because of the depth of the volcanoes, of which there were approximately 157 over the course of two days in July, there is very unlikely to be any effect on the New Zealand mainland. Fortunately, because of the light weight of pumice stone, the shipping industry doesn’t need to be concerned either.
LiveScience suggests that scientists will continue to research the occurrence, which will involve studying the actual source of the eruption underwater. However, due to the danger and the technology involved, it is likely to be some time before the results of that research can be announced.
By coincidence, another New Zealand volcano, Mount Tongariro had erupted a few days before. However, scientists don’t believe that the two eruptions have anything in common. The New Zealand Herald states that scientists are more concerned about Mount Tongariro, which exploded and released magma gas and ash. Fortunately, the rocks that were thrown from the volcano were not fresh magma and could be lava from the last time Mount Tongariro erupted way back in the 1890s. Nevertheless, scientists are still concerned about what the volcano could do next and, as such, are monitoring the situation carefully.
The good news is that, although volcanologists are unable to predict exactly when, or how, volcanoes are due to erupt, every time that it happens, more and more knowledge is added to the body of information that already exists.