Geology in Real Time: Meet Sholan and Jadid


Most geological processes happen too slowly for brief human life spans. The Rocky Mountains will erode down to a plain eventually, but not while we are watching. As a result, geology is largely a matter of inference.

There are exceptions. There are geological processes that happen at speeds humans can appreciate. Volcanoes, earthquakes and flooding, to name three. The first two have acted to create two of the newest islands on our planet, Sholan Island and Jadid Island, in the Red Sea.

The Red Sea is an active rift zone; it’s where the Arabian Peninsula is separating from Africa, at the rate of amount 5-6 millimeters a year.

Southern Red Sea, showing location of new islands

Southern Red Sea, showing location of new islands

Rift zones are places where tectonic plate are spreading apart. Plumes from deep in the mantle force the continental plate apart, like a wedge splitting wood. Some of the rising mantle forms underwater volcanoes, and a few of those underwater volcanoes rise above sea level and create new land.Here’s video footage of the early-stage eruption that created Sholan Island:

The Red Sea Rift has created a small chain of such volcanic islands, the Zubair Archipelago. The newest members of the Zubrai Archipelago are Sholan Island and Jadir Island.

The top row of images shows the evolution of Sholan Island, while the lower images are of Jadid Island. The right-most images show elevation in meters above sea level. Xu et al., Nature Communications

The top row of images shows the evolution of Sholan Island, while the lower images are of Jadid Island. The right-most images show elevation in meters above sea level.
Xu et al., Nature Communications

Sholand and Jadir are unusual in that they are the first islands to be monitored and studied with newer, higher precision gear from their initial undersea eruption to their current status as newest land on the planet. New satellite technologies – specifically, something called Interferometric synthetic aperture radar – allow geologists to detect much more detail and even some underground structures.

The process is very similar to the creation of the better-known Surtsey Island, off the southern coast of Iceland. Surtsey emerged from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge from 1963 to 1967. Improvements in technology over the last 50 years have greatly improved geologists’ understanding of many aspects of the process.

Most volcanically-generated islands in oceans don’t last long; Surtsey is predicted to vanish beneath the waves in 2100 if there aren’t more eruptions. The Red Sea is a calmer body of water than the North Atlantic, but eventually erosion always wins.

Join WC in welcoming Sholan Island and Jadir Island to the neighborhood. A nice illustration of geology in human time.

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2 thoughts on “Geology in Real Time: Meet Sholan and Jadid

  1. I’ve always found Surtsey and the like to be fascinating, and appreciate learning of two more new islands. Someday, I’d love to get out to Bogoslof Island, our Alaskan version that emerged in recorded history, and indulge my geology nerdiness.

  2. There is also another Hawaiian Island forming from an underwater volcano south of the island of Hawaii (the Big Island). Fascinating stuff. Welcome to the newest islands.

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