The World's Youngest Island

Surtsey on November 30, 1963, 16 days after the beginning of the eruption.
Surtsey on November 30, 1963, 16 days after the beginning of the eruption.

A volcanic eruption which took place off the southern coast of Iceland on October 14, 1963 led to the formation of the island of Surtsey. Islands are formed through geological processes such as volcanism, glacial retreat, and erosion. Yemen, Tonga, and Japan are the top countries with the bulk of the world’s youngest islands. The young islands refer to those islands formed in the 20th century. In addition to Surtsey, other famous young islands include Anak Krakatau, formed from volcanic activity in Indonesia and Hunga Ha’apai in Tonga which is also a volcanic island.

Formation Of The Surtsey Island

The volcanic eruption that led to the island’s formation began at 426 feet below sea level. The eruption became noticeable upon arrival at the surface on November 14, 1963. By the time it ended on June 5, 1967, an island measuring 0.50 square miles had been created. The island’s name was inspired by Surtr, a fire god in Norse mythology. Surtsey attracted a lot of attention from volcanologists and subsequently biologists and botanists as various life forms began to thrive on the island.

Flora And Fauna Of Surtsey Island

Surtsey Island has been a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, recognized for the flora and fauna it sustains. It had previously been designated as a nature reserve in 1965, and it remains well protected from outside interference. A vascular plant was the first plant life to be sighted on the island in 1965, following which colonies of mosses, lichens, and fungi were observed. Over time, more and more plant species have been recorded on the island. Currently, about 70 plant species thrive on the island, including a tea-leaved willow, which reaches heights of 13 feet. The bird species on the island have been instrumental in the spread of plant life by spreading seeds, fertilizing the low-nutrient soils with their guano, and nesting. Three years after the island was formed, the guillemot and Fulmar have been sighted nesting on the island. 12 avifauna species are well established on Surtsey, the most abundant species being gulls.

The island also serves as an important resting point for birds migrating between Europe and Iceland. Examples of these species include common ravens, whooper swans, and geese. Seals were the first marine species to be observed around the island. The species basked and began breeding in the region. Both gray and harbor seals have become well-established on the island. The marine predator, orcas, has been attracted by the presence of seals around Surtsey’s waters. Other marine life on the island’s submarine area includes limpets, starfish, and sea urchins. The island also supports populations of invertebrates like slugs, beetles, and spiders,

Human Presence On Surtsey Island

Human entry into the island is strictly regulated. The only sign of human presence on Surtsey is a prefabricated hut used by researchers, a weather station, and webcam. Extra care is taken to ensure no seeds are brought to the island by humans. Only a few scientists gain entry to the island.

Recent Development And Future Plans

Subsequent measurements taken since the island was formed have established that Surtsey has been gradually subsiding due to wave erosion. The rate of subsidence was initially high, at between 8 inches annually but it has since slowed down. Surtsey currently loses about 2.5 acres of its size annually. It is projected that Surtsey is unlikely to disappear completely in the near future as hard lava caps, which forms most of the land is not easily eroded. It is predicted that sea level will reach the island by 2100.

Which Is The Youngest Island Existing Today?

RankName of the islandCountryLand formation year(s)
1Hunga Ha'apai Tonga2014–15, 2009
2Nishinoshima Japan2013–15, 1973–74
3Zalzala Koh Pakistan2013
4Jadid Island Yemen2013
5Yaya Island Russia2013
6Sholan Island Yemen2011
7Peer Ghaib, Balochistan Pakistan2010, 2004
8Home Reef Tonga2006, 1984
9Kavachi Solomon Islands1999–2003, 1991, 1986, 1978, 1976, 1969–70, 1965, 1963–64, 1961, 1958, 1952–53
10Norderoogsand Germany1999
11Metis Shoal Tonga1995, 1979, 1967–68
12Fukutoku-Okanoba Japan1986, 1974–75, 1914, 1904–05
13Kuwae Vanuatu1974, 1971, 1959, 1949, 1948, 1923–25
14Surtsey Iceland1963–67
15Ilha Nova (Capelinhos) Portugal1957–58
16Myōjin-shō Japan1952–53, 1946
17Anak Krakatau Indonesia1927–30
18Fonuafo'ou Tonga1927–28
19Banua Wuhu Indonesia1918–19, 1904

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