At first it looked like an ugly oil slick.
But as they crew of the yacht Maiken sailed closer to brown patch on the ocean near Tonga they realised they were observing something far rarer and far more beautiful.
What looked like a brown stain on the South Pacific turned out to be a spectacular drift of floating pumice stones stretching more than 16 km – and an indication an island was being born nearby.
After navigating a course towards steam clouds on the horizon, the crew of the yacht was treated to the sight of lava spewing up from the ocean to create new land where previously there had been none.
One of the few people to witness first hand volcanic activity creating an island, crew member Frederik Fransson last week told of his experience during a stop-over in Brisbane.
His account has excited volcanologists.
Fransson, a Swede who lives in the United States, was travelling from San Francisco to Australia in August when the Maiken chanced upon the floating pumice which was later photographed by a NASA satellite.
The pumice initially appeared to be an oil spill but as the yacht drew closer proved to be thick and at least 16 km across.
“The sight was unbelievable,” Fransson said.
“It looked like rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see.”
After clearing the drift Fransson and crewmate Hakan Larsson grew curious. Realising pumice – a light, frothy rock – was created by volcanoes they decided to head towards Metis Shoal and Home Reef, two areas known for volcanic activity.
At the southern end of Home Reef they sighted massive clouds billowing onto the horizon and, as they drew nearer, an island being born from a live volcano.
“The closer we came to the island the clearer the smoke stood out from the surrounding clouds, and every so often a massive black pillar shot upwards toward the sky,” Fransson said.
To view Dr. Fransson’s blog and photos see this link.