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This article is from the In-Depth Report A Guide to Volcanoes

Tonga volcano spews spectacular plume into South Pacific sky

An undersea volcano in the South Pacific is spewing stunning columns of smoke, steam and ash thousands of feet into the air.

 

The eruption began Monday after a series of earthquakes near Tonga, a 170-island archipelago between Australia and Tahiti, residents told the Associated Press. There were magnitude-5.0 quakes there Sunday night and Monday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Though the Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) issued an advisory for the area, the plume isn’t endangering* island residents and so far hasn’t hurt fish or other animals, according to the AP.

Yesterday a plume rose to between 15,000 and 25,000 feet (4.6 to 7.6 kilometers), the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program reported. "It's a very significant eruption, on quite a large scale," Tonga's chief geologist, Kelepi Maf, told the Times of London. This is not unusual for this area and we expect this to happen here at any time."

It’s unclear whether the earthquakes are linked to the eruption. Sally Kuhn Sennert, who writes the weekly volcano report for the Smithsonian, didn’t immediately return a call and email for comment.

But Simon Turner, a geochemist at Macquarie University in Sydney, told the Times that the quakes and volcano eruption probably aren’t linked. "If this eruption was caused by the earthquake, it would mean magma coming 110 kilometers (68 miles) to the surface in a few days," Turner told the newspaper. "I think that would be fairly unlikely."

Tonga is part of the ''ring of fire,” an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones in the Pacific. We’ve got more on what causes a volcano to erupt and the ring of fire.

*Updated at 3:40 p.m. to correct typo from engendered to endangered.

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