Underwater volcanoes push up rock, wet ash and magma which build new islands. Surtsey island emerged in 1963, about 30 kilometers from the coast of Iceland. The time it would take for a volcano island to become habitable is the time it would take for the rock to weather and form soil and for plants and animals to colonize the island.
From a barren piece of land, the island had by 2004 around 60 vascular plants together with 75 bryophytes, 71 lichens and 24 fungi. Eighty-nine species of birds have been recoded on Surtsey. The Unesco World Heritage spot is known globally as an example of a pristine natural laboratory, free from human interference. Researchers have been able to observe the evolution of a habitat.
Another island emerged in 2013 in a part of Japan’s Ogasawara island chain, 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, when lava from an active underwater volcano cooled to form the patch of bare land. It has since merged with the larger Nishinoshima island to form a new piece of land which is 2.46 sq km wide. Japanese biologists are very much focusing on the new island to observe the starting point of evolutionary processes.
The researchers speculate that after volcanic activity calms down first to arrive will be the plants brought by ocean currents and attached to birds’ feet. Bird waste and dropped feathers, regurgitated bits of food and rotting corpses will enrich the soil and prepare it for seeds brought in by wind and ocean as observed on Surtsey.
Nishinoshima Island might take longer than Surtsey to teem with life as it is a longer way from mainland and not too close to its neighboring islands, which limits the number of birds and seeds that will make it that far.
(Floro Mercene )