Tonga volcano eruption, strongest in over 100 years, reaches space

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The volcanic eruption that erupted near Tonga in January – which destroyed the nation and was felt by other countries along the Pacific Ocean – was one of the most powerful eruptions of the past century and reached the outer reaches of space, according to new research.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano, about 40 miles north of the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa, erupted on January 15, creating powerful tsunami waves and blanketing much of the Pacific nation. to ashes, destroying houses and killing at least three people.

The impact was so strong it severed the only undersea fiber optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world, and US officials have warned west coast residents of tsunami waves hitting beaches of the Pacific.

The eruption also sent atmospheric shockwaves and sonic booms across the world, but a new study published Tuesday in Geophysical Research Letters showed the effects reached into space as well.

Using data from NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer and European Space Agency satellites, researchers found that in the hours following the eruption, it generated hurricane-like winds and ” unusual electrical currents” in the ionosphere, Earth’s upper atmospheric layer more than 60 miles in the air. at the edge of space.

“This is something we’ve only seen before with strong geomagnetic storms,” ​​Joanne Wu, study co-author and physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcano:Tonga Volcano’s Huge Explosion and Impact, Explained

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Volcanic effects: Before and after images show Tonga smothered in ash after a volcanic eruption caused a tsunami

The volcanic eruption pushed a huge plume of gas, water vapor and dust into the sky, creating strong winds in the Earth’s atmosphere. As the winds rose, they became faster due to the thinning of the atmospheric layers. By the time the winds hit the ionosphere, they were moving at 450 miles per hour, well above the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane.

“The volcano created one of the greatest spatial disturbances we’ve seen in the modern era,” said Brain Harding, lead study author and physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Not only was it one of the biggest disturbances in space, but also on Earth, as a separate study published in the journal Science on Thursday said the Hunga eruption was the strongest volcanic eruption since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

The eruption of Krakatoa off the Indonesian islands in 1883 is one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in history, as more than 36,000 people were killed.

The researchers compared the two eruptions by measuring the behavior of Lamb waves, which are the most dominant atmospheric pressure waves created by volcanic eruptions. These are low frequency waves that travel at the speed of sound and, depending on the size of the explosion, they can last for up to several hours.

The data revealed that Lamb waves from the Hunga eruption circled the planet four times in one direction and went in the opposite direction three times, similar to the Krakatoa eruption.

“This atmospheric wave event was unprecedented in modern geophysical records,” Robin Matoza, lead author of the study and associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in a statement.

The researchers said the findings would lead to further studies of the eruption’s effects, as the Hunga eruption gave them the first modern data set for such a massive explosion.

“The 2022 Hunga event provided an unprecedented global dataset for an explosion event of this size,” Matoza said. “As a community, we will continue to work on this event for years to come.”

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

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