A powerful volcanic eruption triggers unprecedented events

On January 15, 2022, the world witnessed a historic volcanic eruption at Hanga Tonga–Hunga Hapai, a submarine in the South Pacific Ocean, about 65 km north of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu.

The eruption, the largest since 1883, caused a series of unusual events, including a tsunami that reached as far as Japan and the United States and a mind-blowing steam plume in the Earth’s stratosphere — enough to fill more than that. 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

„We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Louis Millan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California who led the study analyzing the volcano’s steam. Said in August 2002.

The sheer force of the explosion broke many lightning records, and was documented New paper appear in the magazine Geophysical Letters.

NASA – Gray Plum

Jan. 16, 2022, shows the ash plume from the previous day’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’pai volcanic eruption. An astronaut took a photo of Bloom from the International Space Station. (Photo and caption: NASA)

An unprecedented height

The volcanic eruption sent an ash plume 40km higher than a typical thunderstorm, creating ideal conditions for lightning at higher altitudes. Researchers have documented the highest lightning flash rates ever observed, surpassing even thunderstorm-induced lightning rates.

Lightning has been documented at stratospheric altitudes between 19 and 28 km, where the air pressure is generally too low to support thunderstorms.

The study authors believe that the powerful plume may have created a localized, high-pressure zone and activated high-altitude lightning triggered by the explosion.

NASA - Gray Plum

NASA – Gray Plum

NASA satellites captured the explosion on January 15, 2022. (NASA)

Lightning intensity never seen before

At its peak intensity, the eruption produced 2,615 lightning strikes per minute, lasting approximately five minutes. This replaces the previous record set in 1999, where 993 flashes per minute occurred in the southern United States.

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Impressive „Lightning Holes”

Following a volcanic eruption, ash particles rapidly expand outward in circular ripples called gravity waves. These waves trigger the formation of donut-shaped lightning rings that surf along their crests, some rings as much as 280 km in diameter.

„The scale of these lightning rings blew our minds,” said Dr. Alexa Van Eaton, a volcanologist at the US Geological Survey. said in a statement.

„We’ve never seen anything like this before, and nothing comparable in weather storms. Single lightning rings were seen, but not multiples, which were small in comparison.”

A unique observation

A team of researchers led by the United States Geological Survey used advanced sensors that measure light and radio waves to map the eruption. This type of volcanic event, a Frodopilnian, only occurs when magma erupts through water.

This is the first time scientists have had the opportunity to observe and measure the Frodopilnian explosion using modern technology.

„It was like finding a dinosaur and walking around on all fours. It takes your breath away,” Van Eaton said.

„These findings demonstrate a new tool that can track volcanoes at the speed of light and help deliver ash hazard advisories to aircraft.”

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Caption Image: Hanga Tonga in June 2017 – View from the top of Hanga Hapai. (Damien Gruel/Wikipedia) CC BY-SA 4.0

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