Explainer-Scientists struggle to monitor Tonga volcano after massive eruption


SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Scientists are struggling to monitor an lively volcano that erupted off the South Pacific island of Tonga on the weekend, after the explosion destroyed its sea-level crater and drowned its mass, obscuring it from satellites.

The eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, which sits on the seismically lively Pacific Ring of Fire, despatched tsunami waves throughout the Pacific Ocean and was heard some 2,300 kms (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand.

“The concern in the intervening time is how little data we’ve and that is scary,” mentioned Janine Krippner, a New Zealand-based volcanologist with the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program.

“When the vent is beneath water, nothing can inform us what is going to occur subsequent.”

Krippner mentioned on-site devices have been possible destroyed within the eruption and the volcanology group was pooling collectively the perfect out there knowledge and experience to evaluation the explosion and predict anticipated future exercise.

Saturday’s eruption was so highly effective that area satellites captured not solely big clouds of ash but additionally an atmospheric shockwave that radiated out from the volcano at shut to the pace of sound.

Photographs and movies confirmed gray ash clouds billowing over the South Pacific and metre-high waves surging onto the coast of Tonga.

There are not any official experiences of accidents or deaths in Tonga https://www.reuters.com/enterprise/surroundings/impact-assessment-aid-efforts-underway-world-responds-tonga-tsunami-2022-01-16 but however web and phone communications are extraordinarily restricted and outlying coastal areas stay lower off.

Experts mentioned the volcano, which final erupted in 2014, had been puffing away for a couple of month earlier than rising magma, superheated to round 1,000 levels Celsius, met with 20-degree seawater on Saturday, inflicting an instantaneous and massive explosion.

The uncommon “astounding” pace and pressure of the eruption indicated a higher pressure at play than merely magma assembly water, scientists mentioned.

As the superheated magma rose shortly and met the cool seawater, so did an enormous quantity of volcanic gases, intensifying the explosion, mentioned Raymond Cas, a professor of volcanology at Australia’s Monash University.

Some volcanologists are likening the eruption to the 1991 Pinatubo eruption within the Philippines, the second-largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century, which killed round 800 folks.

The Tonga Geological Services company, which was monitoring the volcano, was unreachable on Monday. Most communications to Tonga have been lower after the primary undersea communications cable misplaced energy.


American meteorologist, Chris Vagasky, studied lightning across the volcano and located it rising to about 30,000 strikes within the days main up to the eruption. On the day of the eruption, he detected 400,000 lightning occasions in simply three hours, which comes down to 100 lightning occasions per second.

That in contrast with 8,000 strikes per hour throughout the Anak Krakatau eruption in 2018, induced a part of the crater to collapse into the Sunda Strait and ship a tsunami crashing into western Java, which killed lots of of individuals.

Cas mentioned it’s troublesome to predict follow-up exercise and that the volcano’s vents may proceed to launch gases and different materials for weeks or months.

“It would not be uncommon to get just a few extra eruptions, although perhaps not as huge as Saturday,” he mentioned. “Once the volcano is de-gassed, it is going to cool down.”

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Jane Wardell and Michael Perry)

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