More than eight months after the underwater volcano erupted near Tonga on January 14, scientists are still analyzing the impacts of the violent outburst and finding it could be warming the planet.
Recently, researchers calculated that the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apa eruption spewed 50 million tons (45 million metric tons) of water vapor into the atmosphere, in addition to huge amounts of ash and volcanic gases.
This massive injection of steam increased the amount of moisture in the global stratosphere by about 5% and could trigger a cycle of stratospheric cooling and surface warming – and these effects could persist for months, according to a new study.
Tonga’s eruption, which began on January 13 and peaked two days later, was the strongest seen on Earth in decades.
The explosion spread 162 miles (260 kilometers) and sent pillars of ash, steam and gas hovering more than 12 miles (20 km) in the air, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ).
Large volcanic eruptions typically cool the planet by spewing sulfur dioxide into the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere, which filters solar radiation.
Rock and ash particles can also temporarily cool the planet by blocking sunlight, according to the National Science Foundation’s University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
In this way, widespread and violent volcanic activity in Earth’s distant past may have contributed to global climate change, triggering mass extinctions millions of years ago.
Related: Huge underwater volcanic eruption in Tonga captured in stunning satellite video
Recent eruptions have also demonstrated the cooling powers of volcano planets. In 1991, when Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines exploded, the aerosols spewed by this powerful volcanic explosion lowered global temperatures by about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) for at least a year, Live previously reported. Science.
Tonga expelled about 441,000 tonnes (400,000 metric tons) of sulfur dioxide, about 2% of the amount spewed from Mount Pinatubo during the 1991 eruption.
But unlike Pinatubo (and most large volcanic eruptions, which occur on land), Tonga’s underwater volcanic plumes have sent “substantial amounts of water” into the stratosphere, the area that extends from ‘about 31 miles (50 km) above the Earth’s surface to about 4 to 12 miles (6 to 20 km), according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
In submarine volcanoes, “submarine eruptions can derive much of their explosive energy from the interaction of water and hot magma”, which propels huge amounts of water and steam into the eruption column, the scientists wrote in a new study published Sept. 22 in the journal Science.
Within 24 hours of the eruption, the plume expanded 28 km into the atmosphere.
The researchers analyzed the amount of water in the plumes by evaluating data collected by instruments called radiosondes, which were attached to weather balloons and sent aloft in the volcanic plumes.
As these instruments rise through the atmosphere, their sensors measure temperature, atmospheric pressure and relative humidity, transmitting that data to a receiver on the ground, according to the NWS.
Atmospheric water vapor absorbs solar radiation and re-emits it as heat; With tens of millions of tons of moisture from Tonga now drifting into the stratosphere, the Earth’s surface will warm up – although it’s unclear by how much, according to the study.
But because the vapor is lighter than other volcanic aerosols and is less affected by the force of gravity, it will take longer for this warming effect to dissipate, and surface warming could continue “for years to come.” coming months,” the scientists said.
Previous research into the eruption revealed that Tonga had ejected enough water vapor to fill 58,000 Olympic swimming pools, and that this prodigious amount of atmospheric moisture could potentially weaken the ozone layer, Live Science previously reported. .
In the new study, scientists also determined that these huge amounts of water vapor could actually alter the chemical cycles that control stratospheric ozone, “however, detailed studies will be needed to quantify the effect on the amount of ozone because other chemical reactions can play a role too.”
This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.