Debris from the January eruption of the Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in the South Pacific was hurled through the air with such force that it actually reached the mesosphere, according to the results of a new scientific study.
On January 15 earlier this year, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano erupted with cataclysmic force, about 65 km (40 miles) off the coast of the Kingdom of Tonga. The violence of the explosion threw a huge cloud of debris skyward and caused a gigantic tsunami that tragically claimed the lives of six people.
According to the results of a new scientific study published in the journal Science, the plume of ash and gas from this powerful explosion could be the highest of its kind since records began.
Accelerated Google Earth – 1985 vs 2020
Volcanic eruptions are known to spew out vast clouds of debris capable of causing widespread disruption and damage, halting air travel and, in extreme events, significantly affecting the climate.
While there have been many eruptions powerful enough to hurl volcanic material high into the sky, very few were powerful enough to launch debris as high as 30 km (19 miles) above Earth. According to the new research, the plume ejected from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano was blown much higher than that, and may even have reached the mesosphere.
Usually, scientists are able to determine the height of a plume by taking measurements of its temperature and comparing it to the temperatures of air pockets at different altitudes. This method works because the gas in Earth’s atmosphere is known to get colder at higher altitudes.
However, when material is pushed high into the atmosphere, this method ceases to be effective, as the air temperature actually begins to increase with altitude.
In order to accurately measure the height of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai plume, the scientists behind the study instead turned to data collected by a trio of satellites in geosynchronous orbit.
Each of the weather satellites observed the eruption from a vantage point about 36,000 km above the Earth’s surface. Despite sharing similar orbital heights, each spacecraft imaged the cloud from a different angle. Images were captured at 10 minute intervals throughout the eruption.
By observing the cloud from multiple angles and combining the images with known quantities such as the distances between points on the planet’s surface, the team was able to determine the true height of the plume, through a phenomenon known as parallax effect.
Analysis revealed that the power of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption sent volcanic material hovering 57 km (35 miles) above the planet’s surface. That means the debris was blasted into the third layer of Earth’s atmosphere known as the mesosphere, where fast-moving meteorites end their lives in fiery displays like shooting stars.
In the future, the team hopes to find out why the underwater eruption created a plume at such an altitude and to develop an automated system to determine the height of volcanic plumes via the parallax effect.
Stay tuned to IGN for all the weirdest and most important developments in the science world.
Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and gaming news for IGN. He has over eight years of experience covering groundbreaking developments in multiple scientific fields and has absolutely no time for your shenanigans. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer.
#Powerful #Undersea #Volcano #Sets #Record #Highest #Debris #Cloud #Recorded #History #IGN