- BBC News World
Since the beginning of the year, the Earth’s atmosphere has contained more water vapor than usual.
On January 15, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano erupted near the island of Tonga, creating a tsunami and sonic boom whose waves traveled twice around the globe.
It was considered one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions recorded on the planet and now a group of scientists have discovered that its impacts have gone beyond the lava, ash and sonic boom it generated. .
A study of jet propulsion laboratory Nasa in California published in the most recent issue of the magazine Geophysical Research Letters shows that the volcano also released a gigantic amount of water vapor into the atmosphere.
It was so hot that scientists fear it was warming the Earth’s surface more than expected, albeit temporarily.
“This eruption could affect the weather (…) rather by surface warming due to radiative forcing from excess stratospheric water,” the research says.
The study explains that this is an anomalous effect, because usually what happens with large volcanic eruptions is that the planet’s climate cools, since ash clouds cover the sun. .
This is called the “volcanic winter” and an example of this occurred after the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, which triggered the “year without a summer” in 1816.
A huge amount of water
The study indicates that the amount of sulfur and other substances released by the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai was insignificant compared to the amount of water.
Scientists believe volcanic activity initiated 146 teragrams of water to the stratosphere, which is between 12 and 53 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
To give you an idea, one teragram is equal to one thousand billion grams, which implies that the amount of water vapor expelled could fill 58,000 Olympic swimming pools.
This, according to research, is equivalent to 10% of the water already present in the stratosphere.
“This is not surprising since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai caldera was located 150 m below sea level. The massive explosion injected water vapor at altitudes of up to 53 km “, indicates the study.
Records suggest that this this is the largest amount of water ever injected into the stratosphere, “by a volcano or otherwise”, since the beginning of the “satellite era”.
And it is that the detection was made by an instrument called Microwave Limb Sounder which is located on NASA’s Aura satellite.
This satellite measures water vapour, ozone and other atmospheric gases.
“We had never seen anything like it. We had to carefully inspect all the measurements to make sure they were reliable,” study author Luis Millán of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. .
The study predicts that this increase in the amount of water vapor could potentially heat the Earth’s surface, since one of its functions is to trap heat from the Sun.
Researchers believe that excess water vapor could stay in the stratosphere for several years and could also lead to chemical reactions that deplete the ozone layer protector of the earth.
However, they point out that these effects will be on a smaller scale and temporary and will dissipate as the extra steam wanes, so they don’t think this will be enough to worsen the human-induced climate change the planet is already suffering from.
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