The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Underwater volcano in ‘Ring of Fire’ erupts off Vanuatu

Vanuatu is in the South Pacific. (Helivideo/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
2 min

An underwater volcano off the archipelago nation of Vanuatu erupted on Wednesday, sending a cloud of ash some 300 feet into the air and prompting officials to warn residents to stay away.

Locals on Epi island — part of the small South Pacific nation to the east of Australia — reported seeing the eruption early Wednesday morning, with some posting pictures of a large column of sulfurous smoke on social media.

“Due to ongoing volcanic activity at East Epi sub-marine volcano with phreatic explosions, light degassing and emissions of ash, the danger zone is at 10km radius around the East Epi sub-marine volcano,” Vanuatu’s Meteorology and Geo-hazards Department posted on Facebook. “Latest observations confirmed that the volcanic cone is building up with the continuous ash emissions.”

Tonga volcano eruption blasted millions of tons of water into space

The department said there was no indication of a tsunami but warned islanders to stay alert for a possible large earthquake linked to the volcanic eruption that might trigger destructive waves.

Last year, an underwater volcano erupted near another Pacific island nation, Tonga, that was by some measures the largest ever recorded. It created a shock wave that reverberated around the world and sent a cloud of aerosols, gas, steam and ash 36 miles high. The blast, which blew out 2.3 cubic miles of rock, unleashed a global tsunami, damaged dozens of homes and took at least three lives on Tonga.

Tonga and Vanuatu sit along the “Ring of Fire,” a highly volcanic horseshoe-shaped region from the southern tip of South America, along the West Coast of North America, across the Bering Strait, down through Japan and into New Zealand. It is where the Pacific Plate meets many surrounding tectonic plates.

The U.S. Geological Survey describes the ring as the “most seismically and volcanically active zone in the world” and home to about 75 percent of the Earth’s active volcanoes. It is the source of about 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes.

The volcano that erupted Wednesday off Vanuatu is one of the active cones and a caldera that last erupted in 2004, according to Radio New Zealand.