Space & Science

Giant volcano eruption did something unprecedented, NASA says

The explosion was amazing.

When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on January 15, it sent shockwaves around the planet. The images impressed Earth scientists. And now researchers have found the rash pumped enough water vapor into the atmosphere to fill a whopping 58,000 pools — an amount never seen before.

The water has reached a layer of the atmosphere called the stratosphere, higher than where the big airliners fly. The stratosphere exists between about eight and 33 miles above the Earth’s surface.

“We have never seen anything like it.”

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Luis Millán, an atmospheric scientist at Nasa‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory which conducted the new search, said in a statement. Millán and his team used NASA observations Will have satellite, an instrument that tracks gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, to confirm the extreme injection of water into the atmosphere.

an ash plume from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcanic eruption


Credit: NASA

All that water from a single eruption will have a planetary climate impact, albeit small and temporary. This is because water vapor is a greenhouse gas, which means it traps heat on the planet, like carbon dioxide, soaring through the earth’s atmosphere. This impact of water vapor “will not be enough to significantly aggravate climate change effects,” NASA said.

(Today climate change is largely induced by human actionsnot natural events like volcanic eruptions.)

Where did this abundance of water come from – which was nearly four times the amount that the colossal eruption of Mount Pinatubo blew into the stratosphere in 1991? Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai is a submarine volcano, which means that the basin where the eruption occurs is under water. It sits nearly 500 feet below the surface, giving the eruption large amounts of water that blow violently into the sky.

Had the eruption occurred deeper, the huge mass of seawater would have “smothered” this immensely explosive eruption, NASA noted. But all the right elements came together, creating an explosion that continues to amaze scientists.

The land is wild.



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