Tuesday, September 27, 2022

EXPLAINER: Scientists struggle to control Tonga volcano after massive eruption

Scientists are scrambling to monitor an active volcano that erupted off the South Pacific island of Tonga over the weekend after an explosion shattered its sea-level crater and flooded its mass, hiding it from satellites.

The eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, located in the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, generated tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and was heard about 2,300 km (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand.

“At the moment, it’s worrying how little information we have, and it’s scary,” said Janine Krippner, a New Zealand volcanologist with the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program. “When the vent is under water, nothing can tell us what will happen next.”

Krippner said tools at the site were likely destroyed during the eruption, and the volcanology community has combined the best data and experience available to study the blast and predict expected future activity.

Saturday’s eruption was so powerful that space satellites recorded not only huge clouds of ash, but also an atmospheric shock wave that emanated from the volcano at a speed close to the speed of sound.

Photos and videos show gray ash clouds billowing over the South Pacific Ocean and meter-long waves crashing against the coast of Tonga.

There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga yet, but internet and phone service are extremely limited and remote coastal areas remain cut off.

FILE: White gaseous clouds rise after the eruption of the Hunga Ha'apai volcano, seen from the Patangat coast near Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital, in December.  21, 2021.

FILE: White gaseous clouds rise after the eruption of the Hunga Ha’apai volcano, seen from the Patangat coast near Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital, in December. 21, 2021.

Experts said the volcano, which last erupted in 2014, erupted for about a month before rising magma, superheated to around 1,000 degrees Celsius, met 20-degree seawater on Saturday, causing an instantaneous and powerful explosion.

The unusual “astounding” speed and force of the eruption point to more force than just magma meeting water, scientists say.

As the superheated magma rapidly rose and met cool seawater, a huge volume of volcanic gases also rose, amplifying the explosion, according to Raymond Kas, professor of volcanology at Australia’s Monash University.

Some volcanologists compare this eruption to the 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, which killed about 800 people.

The Tonga Geological Services agency, which monitored the volcano, was unavailable on Monday. Most communications with Tonga were cut off after the main submarine communications cable went down.

lightning strikes

American meteorologist Chris Wagasky studied lightning around the volcano and found that the number of lightning strikes increased to 30,000 in the days before the eruption. On the day of the eruption, he detected 400,000 lightning strikes in just three hours, which is 100 lightning strikes per second.

This, compared to the 8,000 beats per hour during the 2018 Anak Krakatau eruption, caused part of the crater to collapse into the Sunda Strait and triggered a tsunami that hit western Java, killing hundreds of people.

FILE - Anak Krakatoa volcano spewing hot ash as it erupts, as seen from the Indonesian naval patrol boat KRI Torani 860 in the Sunda Strait in Banten, Indonesia, December 28, 2018.

FILE – Anak Krakatoa volcano spewing hot ash as it erupts, as seen from the Indonesian naval patrol boat KRI Torani 860 in the Sunda Strait in Banten, Indonesia, December 28, 2018.

Cus said it was difficult to predict subsequent activity and that the vents could continue to release gases and other materials for weeks or months.

“It would not be unusual for there to be a few more eruptions, although maybe not as strong as on Saturday,” he said. “Once the volcano is degassed, it will calm down.”

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Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Deskhttps://nationworldnews.com
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