A new study by Nasa It showed that the eruption of the Tonga volcano, one of the most powerful ever recorded on Earth, expelled so much water vapor into the atmosphere that it could temporarily heat the Earth’s surface.
Scientists were able to establish it by analyzing satellite images of this underwater eruption that surprised the world on January 15 with a tsunami and a sonic boom that circled the planet twice.
“The submarine eruption in the South Pacific Ocean also released a huge plume of water vapor into Earth’s stratosphere, enough to fill more than 58,000 Olympic swimming pools. The large amount of water vapor could be enough to temporarily affect Earth’s global average temperature.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory atmospheric scientist Luis Millán explained that the planet had never seen a natural phenomenon of such magnitude.
The first data establish that this eruption of the Tonga volcano injected approximately 146 teragrams (1 teragram equals one thousand billion grams) of water vapor into the Earth’s stratosphere, a figure equivalent to 10% of the water already present in this layer. of the atmosphere.
What effects could this have?
NASA pointed out that volcanic eruptions very rarely inject much water into the stratosphere and that is why when analyzing data from this underwater eruption, they were surprised.
Appreciable amounts of water vapor sent by eruptions into the atmosphere have only been recorded twice, experts said: the 2008 Kasatochi event in Alaska and the 2015 Calbuco eruption in Chile.
However, the study points out that what happened with the Tonga volcano was so important that it would have several implications for the earth, since this water vapor could remain in the stratosphere for several years and affect the climate.
“This extra water vapor could influence atmospheric chemistry, causing certain chemical reactions that could temporarily worsen ozone depletion. It could also influence surface temperatures,” NASA said.
According to scientists, massive volcanic eruptions like those of Krakatoa and Mount Pinatubo typically cool the Earth’s surface by expelling gases, dust and ash that reflect sunlight back into space.
But in this case, the Tonga volcano has not injected this material but water vapor and this could have the opposite effect since it would trigger a temporary heating due to the fact that this gas traps heat.
“The effect would dissipate as additional water vapor leaves the stratosphere and would not be enough to significantly worsen the effects of climate change,” the space agency said.
The study also established that this huge injection of water vapor into the atmosphere would have been generated by the characteristics of the Tonga volcano since, being under water and having its caldera 150 meters below ocean level, he found favorable conditions to have this explosive eruption.
Another NASA study also succeeded in establishing that the eruption force of the volcano in Tonga exceeded hundreds of times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb due to its large scale.
The researchers managed to show that the amount of energy released was between 4 and 18 megatons of TNT, which considerably exceeded the power of the atomic bomb dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima (Japan).
Scientists estimated that this atomic bomb had a yield of 15 kilotons (0.015 megatons) so the eruption in Tonga had an energy of between 4,000 and 18,000 kilotons.
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