Big Ben erupts on subantarctic Heard Island | Polarjournal
A lava flow is visible in satellite images of Heard Island from 25 May (Photo: Sentinel Hub / Camille Lin)

News from one of the most unknown and isolated sub-Antarctic islands: Heard Island’s Big Ben volcano has been spewing lava again since the end of May

Lava from the Big Ben volcano is melting ice and snow on Heard Island. Images of the sub-Antarctic island taken by the Sentinel-2 satellite on 25 May clearly show an 800-metre river of molten rock flowing down the slopes of the volcano. The European Space Agency operated Sentinel-2 orbits Earth from pole to pole, and images and measurements taken on a second pass, on 28 May, confirm the eruption.

The Kerguelen Plateau links Heard Island (white point to the south-east) and the Kerguelen archipelago via an underwater isthmus (Illustration: Google Earth)

Heard Island is an Australian-administered territory located 1,500 kilometres north of Antarctica. Difficult to access and unpopulated, it is only rarely visited. At an altitude of 2,750 metres, Mawson Peak is the highest point of the 20km Big Ben volcano, which dominates the island.

Activity at Big Ben was first registered in 1881. The most recent period of activity began in 2012. The current episode is the latest in a series of eruptions documented by the Smithsonian Institution starting in May 2021. Big Ben was active during the summer of 2021-2022, and on 5 January 2022, a large lava flow stretched several kilometres along the mountain’s southwest flank.

Australian research vessel Investigator witnessed a rare eruption of Big Ben in 2016 (Video: YouTube / IMAS)

The island shares the same sunken continental shelf as the French-administered Kerguelen archipelago. Its main settlement, Port-aux-Français, is the closest populated place to Heard Island,, but Big Ben’s eruption was not felt by base personnel and no tsunami alert has been declare, according to Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises, which administers France’s sub-Antarctic and Antarctic territories.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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