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Hunga Tonga volcano set a world record, spewed ash 61 kilometres high

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Hunga Tonga volcano eruption off Tonga.

TONGA: NASA has confirmed that the January 15 eruption of Hunga Tonga, an underwater volcano in the southwest Pacific, spewed ash 38 miles (61 kilometres) high into the atmosphere. That staggering figure sets a world record and indicates that volcanic material made it into the third layer of Earth’s atmosphere – the mesosphere.

The agency called it “likely the highest plume in the satellite record,” surpassing what many volcanologists and atmospheric scientists had known was physically feasible. The findings open the door to new studies on the dynamics of volcanoes and the mechanisms of transport of the particles, or aerosols, they emit.

The eruption of Hunga Tonga produced a tsunami that devastated parts of Tonga and even reached the US Pacific coastline. Sound from the volcano’s explosive eruption was heard more than 8000 kilometres away in Alaska, and air pressure perturbations rapidly radiating outward from the volcano were picked up by weather stations around the globe.

When a volcano erupts, it releases ash, smoke, steam, heat, gases and fine particulates into the atmosphere. The exceptional amount of heat within the plume causes it to rise. Air will ascend so long as it is warmer than its surroundings. As a plume entrains cooler air from the surrounding environment, its upward motion tends to slow.

Using data from the GOES-17 weather satellite and the Japanese satellite Himawari-8, which operate in “geosync” at 22,236 miles above Earth’s surface, scientists at Nasa’s Langley Research Centre were able to estimate the height of Hunga Tonga’s plume.

The plume sparked prolific lightning, producing 200,000 lightning strikes in just an hour’s time. It was the tallest thunderstorm ever directly observed on Earth. According to NASA, a staggering 95,000 square kilometres was covered by the resulting plume cloud, an area the size of Georgia. –

Thursday, March 10, 2022 – 01:00

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