Tonga volcano eruption could warm atmosphere for 5 years

Tongan rash
The explosion was equivalent in power to more than 500 atomic bombs like the one dropped on Hiroshima.

On January 15, the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano became the largest explosion on Earth in the modern eracataloged as one of the most powerful ever observed.

The explosion was equivalent in power to more than 500 atomic bombs like the one dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War, injecting gases and particles into more than 50 km altitudegenerating atmospheric waves that circled the globe four times in one direction and three times in the other.

Today, a new study highlights billion liters of water vapor injected into the atmosphere by this eruption, and the consequences it could have on global climate.

The water vapor released into the atmosphere is equivalent to… 58,000 Olympic swimming pools!

As indicated by National geographicthe study titled “The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Hydration of the Stratosphere” concludes that the effects of historic and recent volcanic eruption could alter the planet’s climate to the point of heating it for at least the next 5 years, also affecting the ozone layer.

in recent history never before has an event of such magnitude been recorded to the point of injecting huge amounts of water vapor into the atmospherea primary gas in the concept of the greenhouse effect that makes life possible on Earth.

Space technology has been instrumental in unraveling the mystery of water vapor in the atmosphere: thanks to the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS), a device aboard NASA’s Aura satellite that measures a variety of Earth’s atmosphere at 100 kilometers high, the authors of the study they were able to analyze the amount of water and sulfur dioxide that the eruption expelled into the atmosphere.

Luis Millán, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the research, researched these two compounds in particular because of their ability to influence the weather.

The study estimates indicate that 146 billion liters of water reached the stratospherewhich is equivalent to 58,000 Olympic swimming pools or, which comes to the same thing, 10% of the water that was already in the stratosphere.

Water vapor could heat Earth’s atmosphere

It is well known and documented cooling effect on global climate of major volcanic eruptionsdue to the injection of sulfur dioxide which favors the reflection of solar radiation towards space.

tonga volcano
The amount of water vapor injected into the atmosphere during the January 15 eruption is unprecedented in the modern era.

While the amount of sulfur dioxide injected into the atmosphere is of a similar magnitude to past eruptions, and is estimated to dissipate within a few years, the amount of water vapor ejected is unprecedented and could remain so for at least 5 years, reinforcing the greenhouse effect by absorbing energy from the Sun.

The water vapor expelled into the atmosphere could remain there for several years, reinforcing the greenhouse effect.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption represents a key natural experiment on how the atmosphere reacts to a sudden change in state caused by a point source. This will be invaluable over the years for improving weather and climate models.

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