The Tonga eruption was the highest recorded volcanic plume
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When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano erupted underwater in January, it created a plume of ash and water that breached the third layer of Earth’s atmosphere.
It was the tallest recorded volcanic plume and reached the mesosphere, where meteorites and meteorites normally break up and burn up in our atmosphere.
The mesosphere, which is about 31-50 miles (50-80 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface, is troposphere and stratosphere and under two other layers. (Stratosphere and mesosphere are dry atmospheric layers).
The volcanic plume reached its highest level at 35.4 miles (57 kilometers). It surpassed previous record holders such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines at 24.8 miles (40 kilometers) and the 1982 eruption of El Chichon in Mexico, which reached 19.2 miles (31 kilometers).
The researchers used satellite images passing over the eruption site to confirm the height of the plume. The eruption occurred on January 15 in the South Pacific near the Tongan Archipelago, an area covered by three geostationary weather satellites.
A study detailing the findings was published in the journal Thursday Science.
The tower plume was sent up into the upper atmosphere contained enough water to fill 58,000 Olympic-sized swimming poolsaccording to previous NASA satellite findings.
Understanding the height of the plume can help researchers study the impact of the eruption on global climate.
Determining the height of the plume was a challenge for the researchers. Normally, scientists can measure the height of a plume by studying its temperature; the colder the plume, the higher it rises, said lead study co-author Dr. Simon Proud of RAL Space and a researcher at the National Earth Observing Center and University. Oxford.
But this method could not be applied to the Tonga event due to the violent nature of its eruption.
“The eruption pushed through the layer of atmosphere we live in, the troposphere, into the upper layers, where the atmosphere warms again as you go up,” Prude said via email.
“We had to come up with a different approach, using different views from weather satellites on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean and some pattern matching techniques to determine the altitude. This has only become possible in recent years because even ten years ago we didn’t have the satellite technology in space to do this.”
The research team relied on the “parallax effect” to determine the height of the plume by comparing the difference in the appearance of the plume captured by weather satellites from multiple angles. The satellites took pictures every 10 minutes, recording the dramatic changes in the plume rising out of the ocean. The images reflected the differences in the position of the branch from different viewpoints.
The eruption “went from nothing to a 57-kilometer tower of ash and cloud in 30 minutes,” Proud said. The team also noticed rapid changes in the top of the eruption plume that surprised them.
“After the initial big burst, up to 57 kilometres, the central dome of the plume collapsed inwards before another plume emerged a short time later,” Prade said. “I didn’t expect something like this to happen.”
The amount of water released into the atmosphere by the volcano is expected to temporarily warm the planet.
“This technique not only allows us to determine the maximum height of the plume, but also the different levels of the atmosphere where the volcanic material was ejected,” said study co-author Dr. Andrew Prata, a postdoctoral research assistant at the Clarendon Laboratory Subdivision. of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics at the University of Oxford, e.
Knowing the composition and height of the plume can tell how much ice was sent into the stratosphere and where the ash particles were released.
Altitude is also important for aviation safety, as volcanic ash can cause jet engine failure, so avoiding ash plumes is important.
The height of the plumes is another visible detail in what has become known as one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions on record. When the underwater volcano erupted 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Tonga’s capital, it triggered a tsunami as well as shock waves that rippled around the world.
Research is ongoing to determine why the eruption was so powerful, but it may be because it occurred underwater.
The heat of the eruption vaporized the water and “created a steam explosion that was much more powerful than a typical volcanic eruption,” Prude said.
“Examples such as the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai eruption show that magma-seawater interactions play a significant role in producing highly explosive eruptions that can inject volcanic material at extreme altitudes,” Prata added.
Next, researchers want to understand why the plume is so high, as well as its composition and ongoing effects on the global climate.
“Often when people think of volcanic plumes, they think of volcanic ash,” Prata said. “However, preliminary work related to this case reveals that there was a significant amount of ice in the plume. We also know that fairly modest amounts of sulfur dioxide and sulfate aerosols were formed quickly after the eruption.”
Proud wants to use multi-satellite altimetry techniques in this research to create automatic warnings for severe storms and volcanic eruptions.
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