Scientists say the eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano was the largest explosion documented by researchers since 1883.
Most important points:
- An article published in Science found that Tonga’s volcanic eruption was similar to Krakatoa’s eruption
- The Tonga explosion generated Lamb waves that traveled horizontally along the Earth’s surface for days
- It also produced audible sounds that could be heard up to 10,000 kilometers away
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption, which is responsible for only six deaths, was comparable in size to the Krakatoa explosion in Indonesia in 1883, according to the findings. published in Science†
The Tonga explosion generated pressure waves called Lamb waves, which traveled horizontally along the Earth’s surface for more than six days, according to the paper.
Those Lamb waves are usually associated with large, atmospheric explosions, such as other volcanic eruptions and nuclear tests.
The volcanic eruption in Tonga produced similar Lamb waves to the Krakatoa eruption that killed more than 30,000 people.
Scientists said nuclear explosions that also created Lamb waves — such as the largest nuclear test in the USSR in 1961 — had a similar amplitude but lasted a shorter period of time compared to large volcanic explosions like the one in Tonga.
That’s because volcanic explosions are much more complicated and not as pointed as nuclear explosions.
The January eruption also produced audible sounds that could be heard up to 10,000 miles away in Alaska, and generated infrasound — sound that cannot be heard by humans — that reverberated around the world.
Professor Corentin Caudron – who co-authored the paper – told the ABC that researchers had used more than 3,000 sensors and instruments around the world, often used to detect earthquakes and tsunamis, to arrive at their findings.
“Essentially what we did was compare what we’ve gathered, in terms of information, about all these waves that spread across the globe, [and] compare that eruption with others that have occurred in the past,” said Professor Caudron.
He said that although instruments used in 1883 had a lower resolution than instruments used today, they detected the same thing.
“It’s probably one of the first times we can see a Lamb wave related to a volcanic explosion, and Krakatoa did the same… it’s the first time we can see those Lamb waves in a very detailed way.” .”
University of Melbourne volcanologist and deputy associate professor Heather Handley said the paper confirmed what was observed after the eruption.
dr. Handley said the Tonga explosion showed how the international community needed to work together to prepare for a potentially worse volcanic eruption.
†[Another eruption] will happen. The world will have to be willing to work together globally, to ensure that when that … magnitude of an eruption occurs, we are ready and best prepared, because it could affect the global food supply, network chains and communication systems,” Dr Handley said.
Fallout from Tonga eruption and tsunami continues
The January 15 explosion triggered a tsunami that destroyed large parts of Tonga and covered volcanic ash over the kingdom.
The Pacific Island nation was isolated from the rest of the world for over a month when the eruption and tsunami cut the country’s only undersea internet cablepreventing people abroad from contacting family and friends in Tonga.
Tsunami waves were observed over the Pacific Ocean and reportedly damaged moored boats in New Zealand and caused an oil spill in Peru caused by declared an ecological emergency†
The World Bank estimated that the Tonga disaster loss account will cost more than $125 million, equivalent to about 20 percent of GDP.
About 600 buildings in Tonga were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami – half of those houses – and an estimated 1,525 people were displaced.
The tsunami most devastated the country’s tourism industry as it damaged resorts and natural attractions, while the agricultural sector was hit hard by volcanic ash.
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