The massive eruption of the submarine volcano Tonga in the Pacific earlier this year generated an explosion so powerful it sent massive pressure waves through the atmosphere and around the globe. These waves were the fastest ever seen in our atmosphere, reaching speeds of 720 miles (1,158 kilometers) per hour, according to a new study.
“It was a truly huge and truly unique explosion in terms of what has been observed by science to date,” said study lead author Corwin Wright, a Royal Society University researcher based at the Center for Space, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science at the University of Bath in the UK, said in a statement (opens in a new tab). The atmospheric waves triggered by the volcano traveled at unprecedented speeds, “very close to the theoretical limit”, he said.
Wright and his colleagues published their findings Thursday, June 30 in the journal Nature (opens in a new tab).
The volcano – known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, or simply Hunga – lies about 65 kilometers northwest of the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa and sits in a line of volcanoes called the Arc Tonga-Kermadec volcanic. On January 15, Hunga erupted and sent a huge plume of gas and particles into the mesosphere, the third layer of the atmosphere above. Earththe surface. The plume reached 36 miles (58 km) high at its highest point, making it the largest volcanic plume in the satellite record.
Related: Dramatic Photos Show Horrific Aftermath of Massive Tonga Eruption and Tsunami
Various ground and space-based monitoring systems recorded the eruption as it unfolded, and after the event, scientists around the world immediately began sifting through this wealth of data.
A research team found that the atmospheric waves produced by Hunga rivaled those produced by the eruption of Krakatau in 1883 in Indonesia, one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The waves produced by the two volcanoes were similar in that they reached similar amplitudes and hit the planet the same number of times: four times in one direction and three times in the other. Another research team found that Hunga’s eruption sent ripples across the ocean, producing tiny, fast-moving meteotsunamis – that is, a series of waves driven by atmospheric pressure disturbances – which appeared in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
And way above the Earthbeyond the so-called Karman line which marks the limit of space about 100 km above our planet, the shock waves triggered by the eruption caused powerful winds with speeds of up to 450 mph (720 kph), Space.com reported (opens in a new tab).
Now, using similar satellite data and ground-level observations, Wright and his co-authors have confirmed that the Hunga eruption was one of the most explosive volcanic events in modern history. Their results suggest that atmospheric waves produced by the volcano passed through Earth at least six times and reached speeds of up to 1,050 feet (320 meters) per second.
“The eruption was an amazing natural experience,” Wright said. “The data we’ve been able to gather on this will improve our understanding of our atmosphere and help us improve our weather and climate models.”
Originally posted on Live Science.