|A part of the pumice raft|
Photo from CNN.com
***Note added on August 11: Scientists initially (as of yesterday) thought that the eruption was from Monowai, a volcano that I posted about an eruption a year ago. However, as of today, they have determined that the raft was spotted first on July 19, whereas Monowai didn't erupt until August 3. They now believe that the eruption was from an unknown volcano about half way between New Zealand and Tonga. There were more than 157 earthquakes between magnitude 3 and 4.8 in this area between July 17 and 18. This information is from Stuff.co.nz. There is also a 36 second video from the air of the raft on this site. My guess from looking at the video is that my estimate above of an aerial coverage of 1% may be high by as much as an order of magnitude because the still photo in the upper left is definitely one of the highest density areas. So, perhaps a few hundreths of a cubic mile equivalent magma volume, with a few tenths as an upper bound.
Pumice rafts have been observed before. There has been speculation (sorry, I don't have a reference) that they could have been a platform on which life originated on earth--a platform on which a soup of organic chemicals from hydrothermal vents in the ocean could have accreted, been zapped by lightning to form the complex organic molecules leading to life. It has also been proposed that life could have migrated from island to island in the Pacific, or from continent to island, e.g., South America to the Galapagos, on such rafts.
More recently, Scot Bryan of Queensland University of Technology, has studied pumice rafts from the 2001 and 2006 eruptions in Tonga, and suggested that they could have been crucial in the formation, evolution, and future of the Great Barrier Reef off of northeast Australia. Bryan's studies showed that the initial 440 square kilometer floating mass of pumice broke into streaks on which "millions to billions" of marine organisms such as cyanobacteria, barnacles, molluscs, corals, anemones, and crabs, started hitchhiking. As the fragmented raft wandered more than 5000 kilometers over 8 months, 80 species of plants and animals journeyed along with it. When the corals, coralline algae, anemones, and other reef dwellers that were hitchhiking got the the Reef, they simply decided to call it home (well, a bit of an anthropomorphism!!).
Bryan views this as a positive thing because it may indicate that volcanic activity in the Pacific can replenish the Reef, which is stressed and dying in the warming waters around it. On the downside, however, there are some marine pests such as sponges and mussels that journey along as well.
Bryan's research is featured in this Phys.org article from which I obtained this information, and in the technical article by Bryan et al., "Rapid, Long-Distance Dispersal by Pumice Rafting," in PLOS-ONE, a peer-reviewed, open access journal.