Giant volcano eruption brings never-before-seen tsunami and satellite images

A massive volcanic eruption, one of the most intense in years on the planet, was recorded in the early hours of Saturday, Brasília time, in the South Pacific. A giant explosion occurred at the submarine volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai, in the Polynesian nation of Tonga.

Massive explosion in volcanic eruption in the Pacific earlier this Saturday captured by satellites | Tonga Weather Service

The shock wave and explosion were perceived over a thousand kilometers away. The massive eruption generated a tsunami with destructive waves in Tonga and put parts of the region on alert.

Due to the giant eruption, large waves are making landfall in Tonga after another violent volcanic eruption hit the island nation and government officials issued a second tsunami warning in two days.

Images circulating on social media show waves passing through homes, properties and a church in Tonga. A tsunami warning has been issued for Fiji and American Samoa. Residents of low-lying areas were urged to move to higher ground.

Australia went on alert for the massive eruption and New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency sent out a national alert to notify tsunami activity. “We expect New Zealand coastal areas on the north and east coast of the North Island and Chatham Islands to experience unusually strong currents and unpredictable shoreline waves,” he tweeted.

Satellite images of this morning’s giant eruption of the Polynesian volcano are among the most impressive and shocking science has seen since the planet was monitored from space.

The images give the dimension of the massive explosion and the shock wave expanding for hundreds of kilometers and recall scenes from fictional movies of an explosion on Earth following the fall of an asteroid.

The shock wave hit New Zealand. Preliminary analysis of the ash column height shows it reaching 30 kilometers, an intermediate height between the Santa Helena and Pinatubo eruptions in the past, both gigantic of VEI-5

After almost two weeks of lull, activity resumed with a high phreatomagmatic eruptive phase at the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano. A spectacular explosion occurred at 15:14 UTC on Thursday, characterized by dark, dense masses of pyroclastic material. An ever-larger, denser plume sent ash up to 55,000 feet (17,000 meters) altitude.

According to lightning sensors, 86,000 volcanic lightning bolts were detected in Thursday’s eruption column, which reached a rate of 10,000 lightning strikes per hour. Such volcanic “storms” are often seen during explosive eruptions that produce large amounts of ash, although the details are still poorly understood.

In a simplified model, lightning is the result of electrical charges accumulating in different parts of the eruption cloud, where friction between ash grains rips electrical charges (electrons) from each other. The greater the amount of ash emitted, the faster and more turbulent it moves, and the finer the ash grains, the more likely this process is to occur.

On March 16, 2009, an underwater eruption near Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai began spewing steam, smoke, pumice and ash thousands of feet into the sky above the ocean. The eruption created new land surface measuring hundreds of square meters. The eruption devastated Hunga Ha’apai, covering the area in ash and stripping it of vegetation and fauna.

In late 20145 and early 2015, the undersea volcano in the South Pacific erupted explosively, forming a new island within the Polynesian nation of Tonga. Scientists initially thought the island would disappear in a matter of months, which is usually the case for small volcanic islands due to the erosive power of ocean waves. But seven years later, the island is not only still standing, it has grown dramatically.

In late December, the island now called Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai began to erupt from a new volcanic vent. Dan Slayback, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, has studied this island since its formation. “[A erupção] destroyed a large part of the 120-meter high tephra cone left by the last eruption and completely filled the crater lake with new material,” says Slayback, based on analysis of satellite data.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have been studying the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai using models for volcanic shapes on Mars. In a paper published in late 2017, scientists concluded that Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eroded in ways remarkably similar to the erosion patterns seen in similar landforms on Mars. Scientists noted that this suggests that Mars was once inundated with water briefly, but that the water quickly receded.

In October 2018, scientists visited the island and found that its surface is covered in gravel, sticky mud and vegetation. The island was also populated by a variety of birds. They also found that the island appears to be eroding faster than previously thought, due to the rains.

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