Image courtesy EO-1/NASA

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The "newborn" island (middle) is seen in a January 15 satellite image.

Image courtesy EO-1/NASA

New Island Born—Future Tourism Hot Spot?

A Red Sea volcano created a new landmass in December, experts say.

A volcano beneath the Red Sea has given Earth a New Year's gift: a new island about 40 miles (60 kilometers) off the coast of Yemen.

The currently unnamed landmass first appeared in NASA satellite photos taken on December 23. By January 7, it had grown to a size of 1,730 by 2,300 feet (530 by 710 meters). By January 15, the volcano had stopped erupting, NASA's Earth Observatory reported.

The new island is the first permanent island to be formed since an eruption in Iceland created the island of Surtsey in 1963. But while Iceland is a known volcanic zone, the eruption in the Red Sea was more of a surprise, experts say.

"We tend to forget that the entire floor of the Red Sea is a plate boundary, and that submarine volcanism here is probably very frequent," said Haraldur Sigurdsson, a volcanologist at the University of Rhode Island.

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Hot, Barren Island a Tourism Draw?

The volcano is part of the Zubair island group, a chain of volcanoes whose last known eruption was more than a hundred years ago, Sigurdsson said. (Related: "Pictures: 7 Volcanoes Erupting Right Now.")

Even though these islands aren't very active volcanically, "they are rather small, relatively barren, very dry, [and] very hot," he said by email.

Hot and barren enough, in fact, that all are currently uninhabited.

Iceland's Surtsey "has a great deal of precipitation, and plant life, birds, insects, and seals are thriving there," Sigurdsson said. "I doubt that the Zubair islands will ever reach that stage, given the current climate."

Rather, he predicts the new island will become a site for tourism, offering the unique attraction of walking on Earth's youngest landmass. (See "Photos: 65-Story Eruption Spurs Explosive New Adventure.")

"The tourists will find barren, unspoiled, and rugged terrain where dark gray to brown dunes of volcanic ash and rough and rocky lava flows dominate the landscape," he said.

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