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Rising plume of Tonga eruption reaches third layer of Earth’s atmosphere

Rising plume of Tonga eruption reaches third layer of Earth's atmosphere
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When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted underwater in January, it created a plume of ash and water that broke through the third layer of Earth’s atmosphere.

This was the highest recorded volcanic cloud and reached the mesosphere, where meteorites and meteorites often disintegrate and burn in our atmosphere.

About 31 to 50 miles (50 to 80 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface, the mesosphere is above the Earth’s surface. troposphere and stratosphere and below the other two layers. (The stratosphere and mesosphere are dry atmospheric layers.)

The volcanic plume reached its highest elevation of 35.4 miles (57 kilometers). The 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines surpassed previous record holders reaching 24.8 miles (40 kilometers) and 19.2 miles (31 kilometers), such as the 1982 El Chichón eruption in Mexico.

The researchers used images taken by satellites passing through the eruption zone to confirm the plume’s height. The eruption occurred on January 15 in the Pacific Ocean south of the Tongan archipelago, an area covered by three geostationary weather satellites.

A study detailing the findings published Thursday in the journal Science.

Rising plumes sent to the upper atmosphere It contained enough water to fill 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.according to previous detections from a NASA satellite.

Understanding the plume’s height could help researchers study the impact of the eruption on global climate.

Japan's Himawari-8 satellite captured this image about 50 minutes after the explosion.

Determining the height of the feather posed a challenge for the researchers. Typically, scientists can measure a feather’s height by examining its temperature — the colder a feather is, the higher it is, said lead study co-author Dr. Simon Proud is a research fellow at RAL Space and the National Earth Observation Center and University of Oxford.

However, this method could not be applied to the Tonga event due to the violent nature of its eruption.

“The explosion pushed the layer of atmosphere we live in, the troposphere, into the upper layers, where the atmosphere warms up again as you ascend,” Proud said via email.

“We needed to find another approach, using some pattern-matching techniques, to calculate the different views and altitude given by weather satellites on opposite sides of the Pacific. This has only been possible in recent years, because even a decade ago we didn’t have the satellite technology in space to do this.”

This satellite image shows what the cloud looks like 100 minutes after the eruption started.

The research team relied on the “parallax effect” to determine the cloud’s height and compared the difference in the plume’s appearance from multiple perspectives, as captured by weather satellites. The satellites took images every 10 minutes documenting the dramatic changes in plumes as they rose from the ocean. The images reflected differences in the position of the feather from different viewing angles.

Proud said the explosion “turned from nothing to a 57-kilometer-high tower of ash and cloud within 30 minutes.” Team members also noticed rapid changes in the top of the erupting plume, which surprised them.

“After the first major eruption, 57 kilometers away, the central dome of the plume collapsed inward, before another plume emerged shortly after,” Proud said. Said. “I didn’t expect something like this to happen.”

The amount of water the volcano releases into the atmosphere is expected to temporarily warm the planet.

“This technique allows us to determine not only the cloud’s maximum height, but also the various levels in the atmosphere at which volcanic material is released,” he said. Andrew Prata, postdoctoral research fellow in the atmospheric, oceanic and planetary physics subdivision of the Clarendon Laboratory at the University of Oxford, via email.

Knowing the composition and height of the cloud can reveal how much ice was sent into the stratosphere and where the ash particles were released.

Elevation is also critical to aviation safety as volcanic ash can cause jet engine failure, so avoiding ash clouds is crucial.

The plume height is another emerging detail of what’s known as one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions ever recorded. When the submarine volcano erupted, 65 kilometers north of the capital of Tonga, it triggered a tsunami and shock waves that engulfed the world.

Investigations are ongoing to reveal why the explosion was so powerful, but it may be because it took place underwater.

The heat of the explosion evaporated the water and “created a steam explosion that was much more powerful than a normally volcanic eruption,” Proud said.

A full Earth image taken by Japan's Himawari-8 satellite shows the eruption in the lower right of the world.

“Examples such as the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption show that magma-seawater interactions play an important role in producing highly explosive eruptions that can inject volcanic material at extreme altitudes,” Prata said.

Next, the researchers want to understand why the cloud is so high, its composition and its ongoing impact on global climate.

“Often when people think of volcanic plumes, they think of volcanic ash,” Prata said. Said. “However, preliminary studies in this case reveal a significant amount of ice in the cloud. We also know that there are relatively modest amounts of sulfur dioxide and sulfate aerosols that form rapidly after the eruption.”

Current wants to use the multi-satellite altitude technique in this study to create automatic alerts for severe storms and volcanic eruptions.

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