The eruption of the Tonga volcano spewed millions of tons of water into space

Suspension

An undersea volcano eruption in the Pacific Ocean early this year was so powerful that it sent a huge plume of water vapor into space, research released on Monday said. Volcano erupting with water outside the atmosphere has never been seen by scientists. The research underscores the extraordinarily violent nature of the eruption – and highlights the broader risks from undersea volcanoes.

Satellite observations show that the January 15 eruption propelled water vapor 93 miles from the planet’s surface, exceeding generally accepted space limits. 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles, according to one study Presented in Chicago at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The eruption sent up to 4 million metric tons of water vapor into space, according to Larry Paxton, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“This is a really unique event,” Paxton said. “In the 20 years that we’ve been doing observations, we’ve never seen anything like this.”

The event caught the attention of scientists who use satellites to monitor “space weather”. Scientists track space weather because of the risk of a catastrophic solar storm that would send a plume of charged particles crashing down on Earth, interacting with the planet’s magnetic field in a way that could damage satellites in orbit or even affect the power grid on the surface.

Just before the eruption (and by pure coincidence), a modest-sized solar storm sent a burst of charged particles toward Earth. But the volcano had a stronger effect on the ionosphere, according to Claire Jask, a doctoral student in space physics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Among the shocking effects: a current known as the tropical electric current, which normally runs west-to-east in the ionosphere, reversing direction, she said.

“This was moderate [solar] A storm vs a very powerful volcano. “It doesn’t mean that the volcano will always win,” said Jask.

She said in an email that the data could help scientists improve their understanding of space weather: “This explosion is a good event to help us understand what a sudden burst of energy in the lower atmosphere might do to our space environment, which we hope will improve space weather forecasting capabilities in the future.” .”

Volcanologists have been busy in recent weeks due to the eruption of Mauna Loa, on the Big Island of Hawaii, and experts will also discuss these observations this week at the AGU meeting. Mauna Loa is a relatively predictable volcano in the grand scheme of things, and it’s been closely watched for decades.

By contrast, volcanoes such as Hongga Tonga subs They are often in very remote locations, and the potential for major eruptions remains largely unclear. In January, the record-breaking eruption of Tonga sent a tsunami across the Pacific Ocean and created a sonic boom that could be heard in Alaska. Experts estimate that the amount of energy released by the eruption was up to 60 megatons, roughly equivalent to the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated.

“One of the most fascinating things about this volcano is how explosive it is,” Sharon Walker, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Ocean Environmental Laboratory, said at Monday’s news conference.

She said that hot lava in contact with sea water fueled these eruptions. Moreover, the calderas of the submerged volcano were relatively close to the surface compared to many of these peaks, meaning less water pressure from above to suppress the violence of the eruption, she said.

“There are places in the South Pacific that could really use more study,” Jessica Paul, a volcanologist with the USGS, said in a recent interview. “There are thousands of volcanoes under the sea. Not all of those will be active. Sometimes we don’t know they’re active until they start erupting.”

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