What Happens When Natural Disasters Instantly Change Our Maps?
However, before you begin planning your own vacation to scenic New Pakistan, keep in mind that this is less of an island and more of a "mud volcano": a thick smoothie of sand, dirt and rock that was forced to the surface by seismic pressure less than a mile from shore. But that doesn't mean you can't take a day cruise out to visit it , says local journalist Bahram Baloch. He reports that the island is nearly 250 feet long and 60 feet high, and it even emits flammable gases . "There were dead fish on the surface. And on one side we could hear the hissing sound of the escaping gas," he told BBC News .
This same phenomenon has actually happened before in Pakistan, but the island didn't stick around. After an earthquake in the 1940s, the British Indian Geological survey recorded a new island off the coast of Karachi, according to seismologist John Armbruster in an interview with NBC News . Since it was mostly sediment, it began to erode in the ocean waves and "within days, weeks, it washed away." The same thing happened again in 1968.
While we certainly can witness dramatic changes to the planet in real time-hurricanes redesign our coastlines, volcanoes blow their tops off-it's not as often that a brand new island suddenly pokes its head above water. But
Although Pakistan's newest island might disappear faster than you can say Oceanic Flight 815, there's
On a smaller scale, a 7.5 earthquake near Yellowstone National Park in 1959 resulted in a landslide which poured 80 million tons of mountainside onto the Madison River, creating a natural dam. Within a few weeks, the blocked river had filled a lake 180 feet deep. When you visit Quake Lake, as the new lake is now called, you can see the skeletons of
The shifting boundaries between land and water can transform an area's fortunes in an instant. When a coastline is altered, the habitats of the existing
But the most interesting issue for an instant island is the political implication: Who owns it?
Large rivers routinely reroute during flooding, of course, creating
Since this week's tiny new island off Pakistan is less than a mile from shore, it's safely within the nation's maritime boundary (generally 12 nautical miles). But what if it was discovered to be resource-rich and laid just outside that boundary? What are the protocols or precedents for making an international claim?
Ferdinandea , for example, a seamount off the coast of Sicily, achieved island status in 1831 after a volcanic eruption shoved its elevation 200 feet above sea level. Its appearance set off a four-way battle as Sicily, France, Spain and England all laid claim to the square-mile island. Tourists sailed over from the mainland for a peek, and a hotel was planned. Thankfully, Ferdinandea eroded below sea level, avoiding an international incident. But all it would take is another similar eruption for this ephemeral island to resurface the disputes about its sovereignty.
This will become a bigger issue as rising sea levels threaten to change our coastlines and transform the way we measure our geographic boundaries. Many islands will disappear completely and new islands will appear more often-not from earthquakes or volcanoes, but as even the highest ground becomes completely surrounded by water.
[Top image: AP Photo/Gwadar local government office