TONGA – An underwater volcano off the coast of Tonga is spewing ash high into the air – causing air travel chaos and turning the surrounding ocean the color of blood. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano is around 40 miles (65km) north of Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa. Its ash plume has reached heights of more than 14,765ft (4,500 meters) and the eruption has disturbed algae in the region, causing what’s known as a red tide. The volcano, which first erupted in 2009, had been rumbling in recent weeks before exploding violently in the past few days. Brad Scott, a volcanologist at New Zealand agency GNS Science, said volcanic activity had been recorded for several weeks in a stretch of ocean and small islands around 35 miles (60km) north of Nuku’alofa. He believes the volcano may have started beneath the ocean and grown until it reached the surface, essentially creating a new island. But he said details of the eruption still remain unclear. The Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) confirmed the height of the volcanic ash plume earlier today. A short-lived but powerful eruption of the volcano, in March of 2009, lasted for almost a week. At the time, geologists said the eruption originated from two volcanic vents. One was located on Hunga Ha’apai, while the other was around 330ft (100m) offshore. The two vents spewed so much debris, however, they created a new land mass. And now scientists want to establish whether the latest eruption is related to this. Mr. Scott continued that Tonga has asked New Zealand for technical assistance, and that GNS plans to send two volcanologists to assess what’s happening as soon as flights resume. More
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