In late 2021, an underwater volcano within the Tonga island chain woke up and commenced belching ash into the sky. The eruption culminated with an infinite explosion on January 15, 2022, and scientists are nonetheless working to know the affect of this cataclysmic occasion. A brand new examine from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory means that the eruption might have despatched a lot water vapor into the ambiance that it might injury the ozone layer and exacerbate Earth’s already harmful warming.
The brand new evaluation was led by NASA atmospheric scientist Luis Millán, discovering that the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai eruption despatched round 146 teragrams (146 trillion grams) of water into the ambiance. That’s sufficient to fill 58,000 Olympic swimming swimming pools, or about 10 % of the whole water already within the ambiance. “We’ve by no means seen something prefer it,” stated Millán. That is by far the biggest explosion recorded with trendy devices, surpassing all Twentieth-century eruptions and even nuclear weapon checks. You’d have to return to the 1883 Krakatoa eruption to seek out one thing larger.
Millán and his staff reviewed knowledge from the NASA Aura satellite tv for pc’s Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) instrument. NASA designed this orbiter to measure atmospheric gasses, together with water vapor. It exhibits that Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai injected most of that water vapor into the stratosphere. That’s the layer of the ambiance between 8 and 33 miles (12 and 53 kilometers) above sea stage. Most volcanic eruptions cool the planet by blasting particulates and aerosols into the sky, however the Tonga occasion didn’t do this.
The eruption was an ideal storm of kinds. The underwater volcano’s caldera was about 490 ft (150 meters) under the floor, which was good to launch the utmost quantity of water into the ambiance. If it was shallower, there wouldn’t have been sufficient superheated seawater to affect the planet. If it was deeper, the water would have muted the eruption. The MLS was in a position to calculate the quantity of vaporized water as a result of it depends on pure microwave alerts emitted by Earth’s ambiance. Whereas different devices had been blinded by the volcanic ash, MLS might see all of it.
The examine, revealed in Geophysical Analysis Letters, says that each one the surplus water vapor will have an effect on atmospheric chemistry within the brief time period. It could exacerbate the depletion of the ozone layer, which might enhance ultraviolet ranges on Earth. As well as, water vapor traps warmth and can doubtless contribute to increased temperatures. The excellent news is that water vapor cycles out of the ambiance over time. Any enhance in temperatures needs to be short-term, however it’s not like Earth must get any hotter. Scientists warn that we’re on the precipice of catastrophe if carbon emissions are usually not introduced underneath management.