Volcanic activity in the Red Sea is causing the formation of a new island in the Zubair archipelago as lava is cooled by the surrounding seawater and solidifies. The underwater volcano responsible is located on the Red Sea Rift, where the African and Arabian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart.
Yemeni fishermen first spotted lava spewing 30 metres into the air on 19 December and this was later confirmed by satellite observations. Ash plumes were detected by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard its Terra and Aqua satellites and NASA’s Advanced Land Imager aboard its Earth Observing One satellite, which produced this image. Elevated levels of sulphur dioxide in the region were also recorded by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard NASA’s Aura satellite.
By 23 December, the lava mass had broken the water’s surface and the new island had begun to take shape. The island is currently around 500m wide and is still growing. The question now is whether or not it has staying power. It may continue to grow significantly as volcanic activity continues, or the fragile lava mass may be broken up by the action of the sea’s waves.
Whatever the outcome, volcanic activity in the Red Sea region appears to be on the rise. This is the first time the volcano has erupted in over a century and follows recent eruptions in the Afar Triangle in Eritrea and Ethiopia and the volcanic fields of southern Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In 2007, the nearby Jabal al-Tair volcanic island also erupted for the first time in over a century, killing 8 people.