Volcano Eruption in Tonga the Pacific Island Nation Causes Chaos!


Photo Courtesy of nationalgeographic.com

Chloe M. Liles, Staff Writer

On January 15, a volcano in the Pacific Island Nation of Tonga had one of the strongest eruptions to ever be recorded. The islands were covered in a thick cloud of ash and encountered a tsunami that reached North and South America, Australia, and Japan.

According to nesdis.noaa.gov, the volcano was displaying some activity in late December and has erupted irregularly since 2009. The activity began after a series of eruptions manipulated and reshaped the island while also sending ash and gasses into the air. This type of activity is considered to be a Surtseyan eruption, which is a volcanic eruption underwater that’s sporadic and violently explosive.

“…the involvement of water in the Tonga eruption may have increased the explosivity compared to a purely magmatic eruption…” illustrated Simon Carn, a Michigan Tech volcanologist.

The first eruption occurred on January 13 that sent ash and gas 12.4 miles into the air. The most volatile eruption, however, happened on January 15 that created atmospheric shock waves, tsunamis, and a sonic boom. The eruption sent debris into the stratosphere and covered the surrounding islands in an umbrella cloud. The shock waves from the eruption event even triggered a series of lightning strikes.

“…the volcanoes around the Pacific rim are much more powerful and explosive than Hawaiian-type volcanoes, mostly because of the volatile content and magma compositions in them,” stated Andreas Kronenberg, a geology professor at Texas A&M.

On today.tamu.edu, it said that the eruption was heard by New Zealand and seen from space. The underwater volcano is 40 miles away from Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, and is home to about 105,000 people. The eruption killed 3 people and the tsunami caused significant damage along the coast of the island; the people are now battling with the toxic air and large amounts of debris. There has been a rising concern over drinking water since it can easily become contaminated by volcanic material.

Nesdis.noaa.gov states that the explosion triggered large tsunami’s that reached Japan, the Americas, and Australia. It was reported that Japan saw waves that were as tall as nine feet and the west coast of the U.S saw waves that were four feet tall. Peru was also significantly affected, the waves killing two people and triggering an oil spill.