The powerful eruption of the Tonga volcano destroyed unique, never seen before life forms.

An enlarged image of the eruption taken by Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite in January. December 15, 2022, about 100 minutes after the eruption began. (Image credit: Simon Proud/Uni Oxford, RALSpace NCEO/Japan Meteorological Agency)

A new study has found that an island near Tonga that emerged from the ocean in 2015 was teeming with unique life forms, but the largest volcanic eruption of the 21st century completely destroyed it.

The island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai emerged from the Pacific Ocean due to a volcanic eruption. (will open in a new tab) activity in 2014 and 2015. Its short, seven-year existence gave scientists a rare opportunity to study how life evolved on new land masses before Tonga’s devastating 2022 eruption wiped it out.

And the scientists were surprised by what they found. instead of bacteria. (will open in a new tab) families that they expected would be the first to colonize the island, the researchers discovered a strange group of microbes that likely came from the deep underground. The researchers published their findings in January. 11 in mBio magazine (will open in a new tab).

On the subject: scientists have found deep-sea bacteria invisible to the human immune system (will open in a new tab)

“We didn’t see what we expected.” – Nick Dragon (will open in a new tab)lead author of the study and a doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, the statement said. (will open in a new tab). “We thought we would see organisms that you would find when the glacier retreats, or cyanobacteria, the more typical species of early colonizers, but instead we found a unique group of bacteria that metabolize sulfur and atmospheric gases.”

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, named after the two islands it grew up between, began forming underwater in December 2014 following the eruption of the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and emerged above the ocean in January 2015. eventually forming an island 0.7 square miles (1.9 square kilometers) wide. According to the researchers, Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai was the third land mass in the last 150 years to appear and last for more than a year, and the first in tropical regions, giving them a rare opportunity to explore further.

To find out which microbes made the new island their home, the researchers collected 32 soil samples from a variety of unvegetated surfaces – from sea level to the top of the island’s 394-foot (120-metre) crater – before extraction and analysis. DNA (will open in a new tab) found inside.

Typically, scientists expect new islands to be colonized by bacteria found in the ocean or in bird droppings. But the most common bacteria around the cone of the volcano were those that fed on sulfur and hydrogen sulfide; and they may have drifted to the surface of the island through underground volcanic networks. Of the top 100 bacteria found by sequencing, the researchers were unable to assign 40% to a known bacterial family.

“One of the reasons we think we’re seeing these unique microbes is due to properties associated with volcanic eruptions: high amounts of sulfur and hydrogen sulfide, which likely feed the unique taxa we’ve discovered,” Dragone said in a statement. “The microbes were most similar to those found in hydrothermal vents, hot springs such as Yellowstone, and other volcanic systems. Our assumption is that the microbes came from such sources.”

In the end, the volcano that gave birth to the island became its destroyer. Jan. On February 15, 2022, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga-Hunga Haapai volcano erupted again, exploding with a force exceeding 100 simultaneous Hiroshima bombs. (will open in a new tab) send a column of ash, chunks of the island and steam halfway into space.

The eruption ended exploration of the island, but the short-lived landmass gave scientists a blueprint for future research.

“We all expected the island to stay. In fact, a week before the island exploded, we started planning our return trip,” Dragone said. “Of course we are disappointed that the island is no more, but now we have a lot of predictions about what will happen when the islands form. If something forms again, we would like to go there and collect more data. how to study it.

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