Towering plume of Tonga eruption reached third layer of Earth’s atmosphere

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When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted underwater in January, it created a plume of ash and water that pierced the third layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.

It was the tallest volcanic plume ever recorded and reached the mesosphere where meteorites and meteorites normally break up and burn up in the atmosphere.

At a distance of about 31 to 50 miles (50 to 80 km) from the Earth’s surface, the mesosphere lies above the troposphere and stratosphere and below the other two layers. (The stratosphere and mesosphere are dry atmospheric layers.)

The volcanic plume reached altitudes of up to 35.4 miles (57 kilometers). The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines was 24.8 miles (40 kilometers) and the 1982 El Chichon eruption in Mexico reached 19.2 miles (31 kilometers), surpassing previous record holders.

Researchers used images taken by satellites passing over the eruption site to determine the height of the volcanic plume. The eruption he occurred on January 15 in the South Pacific off the Tonga archipelago. The region is covered by three geostationary weather satellites.

A study detailing the findings published Thursday in the journal Science.

Earlier detections from NASA satellites showed that the towering plume pumped into the upper atmosphere contained enough water to fill 58,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Understanding plume heights will help researchers study the effects eruptions may have on global climate.

Determining plume height has been a challenge for researchers. Scientists can usually measure plume altitude by looking at the temperature of the plume. The colder the plume, the taller it will be, says Simon Proud, Ph.D., of RAL Space, a co-author of the lead study and a fellow at the National Earth Observation Center and the University. of Oxford.

However, due to the violent nature of the eruption, this method was not applicable to the Tonga event.

“Eruptions are pushed upward through the layer of the atmosphere we live in, the troposphere, and as altitude increases, the atmosphere warms up again,” Proud said in an email.

“We had to come up with a different approach, using different views from weather satellites on the other side of the Pacific and pattern matching techniques to calculate altitude. Since then, even 10 years ago, we didn’t have the satellite technology in space to do this.”

This satellite view shows what the plume looks like 100 minutes after the eruption began.

The research team used the ‘parallax effect’ to determine the height of the plume and compared the appearance of the plume from multiple angles captured by weather satellites. The satellite took him an image every ten minutes, recording dramatic changes in the plume that erupted from the ocean. The images reflect the difference in plume position from different lines of sight.

The eruption went “from nothing to a tower of ash and clouds 57 kilometers high in 30 minutes,” Proud said. Team members also noticed a sharp change in the top of the plume that spooked them.

“After an initial large burst of up to 57 km, the plume’s central dome collapsed inward, and another plume appeared soon after,” Proud said. “I didn’t expect something like that to happen.”

The amount of water released into the atmosphere by volcanoes is expected to temporarily warm the Earth.

“With this technique, we can identify not only the maximum height of the volcanic plume, but also the different levels in the atmosphere where the volcanic material was released,” said study co-author Andrew, a postdoctoral research assistant in the deputy division of the Clarendon Institute. Dr Prata says Atmosphere, Ocean and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, by e-mail.

Knowing the composition and height of the plume can tell us how much ice was pumped into the stratosphere and where the ash particles were ejected.

Height is also important for aviation safety, as volcanic ash can cause jet engine failures. Therefore, it is important to avoid plumes.

The plume height is yet another new detail in what has come to be known as one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions recorded. When a submarine volcano erupted 40 miles (65 km) north of Tonga’s capital, it sent tsunamis and shock waves around the world.

Research is ongoing to figure out why the eruption was so powerful, but it may be because it occurred underwater.

The heat of the eruption vaporized the water, “creating a phreatic explosion much more powerful than a normal volcanic eruption,” Proud said.

A global image taken by Japan's Himawari-8 satellite shows an eruption in the lower right corner of the globe.

“Examples like the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai eruption show that the interaction of magma and seawater can cause highly explosive eruptions and inject volcanic material to extreme altitudes,” Prata added. rice field.

Next, researchers want to understand why the plume was so high, its composition, and its continued impact on global climate.

“When people think of volcanic plume, they often think of volcanic ash,” Prata said. “However, preliminary investigations in this case revealed that the plume contained a significant proportion of ice. It is also known that it was formed in

Proud hopes the research will use multi-satellite advanced technology to create automated warnings for severe storms and volcanic eruptions.

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