Tonga volcano released enough water into the atmosphere to fill 58,000 Olympic swimming pools - which could warm the Earth

Tonga volcano released enough water into the atmosphere to fill 58,000 Olympic swimming pools – which could warm the Earth

When the Tonga Tonga-Hung Hapai volcano in Tonga erupted violently earlier this year, it released an unprecedented amount of water vapor into the atmosphere – potentially having noticeable effects on Earth’s temperatures.

The January 15 eruption of a volcano near the Pacific archipelago nation caused a tsunami and a sonic boom that circled the Earth twice, described by the local government as “An unprecedented catastrophe. ”

Feel not only stratospheric ash, but enough water vapor to fill 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to NASA. Scientists said it has broken “all records” for water vapor injection since satellites began recording such data.

Images from drones, flights, and even the International Space Station captured the remarkable scale of the explosion.

This recurring video clip shows a parachute cloud created by the underwater eruption of the Hange Tonga-Hungia Hapai volcano on January 3. 15, 2022.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens using GOES images courtesy of NOAA and NESDIS

Microwave Limb Sounder instrument found on NASA’s Aura satellite, which measures atmospheric gases blast It transported approximately 146 teragrams of water into the stratosphere, between eight and 33 miles above the planet’s surface. One teragram equals one trillion grams, and this maximum amount increased the total amount of water in the stratosphere by about 10%.

This is nearly four times the estimated amount of water vapor that entered the stratosphere from the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. Scientists say that an unprecedented plume, which Dwarfed the power of the Hiroshima atomic bombcan temporarily affect the global average temperature.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Luis Millan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose team said the water vapor readings were “off the charts.”

This satellite image shows the intact Hongja Tonga-Hangai Happi region in April 2015, years before an explosive underwater volcanic eruption devastated much of the island of Polynesia in January 2022.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the USGS

“We had to carefully check all the measurements in the shaft to make sure they were trustworthy,” Milan said.

Since NASA began taking measurements 18 years ago, only two other eruptions, the 2008 Casatucci eruption in Alaska and the 2015 Calbuco eruption in Chile, have sent large amounts of water vapor to high altitudes. Both dissipated quickly – and neither of these events compared to the massive amount of water released by the Tonga event.

Powerful volcanic eruptions usually cool Earth’s surface temperatures because the resulting ash reflects sunlight. However, the Tonga volcano eruption It represents a stark contrast, because the water vapor it releases can trap heat.

This may be the first volcanic eruption observed to affect the climate not through surface cooling caused by volcanic sulfate aerosols, but rather through surface warming, researchers said.

Photo from the International Space Station from January. On the 16th, 2022, an ash plume appears from the eruption of the Hongga Tonga-Hung Hapai volcano that occurred the day before.


Experts say this water vapor can remain in the stratosphere for several years, which could temporarily worsen ozone depletion and increase surface temperatures. Water can stay for decades, but it shouldn’t have permanent effects.

“The effect will dissipate when the excess water vapor exits the stratosphere and will not be enough to significantly exacerbate the effects of climate change,” the scientists say.

Experts point to the volcano’s underwater caldera, a basin-shaped depression about 490 feet deep, as the cause of the record eruption. If the caldera were shallow, the seawater would not be hot enough to account for water vapor measurements, and if it was deeper, intense pressures might have dampened the eruption.

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