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It's official: Tonga's volcano was the largest explosive eruption of the 21st century

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It's official: after some careful data analysis, the Tonga volcano eruption of 2022 has been confirmed as the largest explosive eruption of the 21st century, and on par with the biggest eruptions ever recorded.

Having ejected material around 10 cubic kilometers (more than 2 cubic miles) in volume, generating an atmospheric shock wave that circled the world several times, and producing an ash plume half the size of France, the eruption was equivalent in strength to the cataclysmic 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.


The research has been published in Geophysical Research Letters.




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An underwater volcano erupted in January near the Pacific nation of Tonga and sent massive pressure waves racing through Earth's atmosphere, where they lapped the planet several times. The last volcano to generate such large ripples in the atmosphere was Krakatau in 1883, during one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions in recorded history, a new study shows. This atmospheric wave event was unprecedented in the modern geophysical record," said first author Robin Matoza, an associate professor in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The research, published Thursday (May 12) in the journal Science, revealed that the pressure pulse generated by the Tonga volcano was "comparable in amplitude to that of the 1883 Krakatau eruption and over an order of magnitude greater than that of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption," Matoza told Live Science in an email. The higher the amplitude of a wave, the more powerful it is. The amount of energy released in the eruption was comparable to what might be generated by 4 to 18 megatons of TNT exploding, or more than 100 Hiroshima-scale bombs detonating at once.



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Explosive Tonga volcano 'surprisingly intact'

The Tonga underwater volcano that produced a spectacular eruption in January remains astonishingly intact.

A New Zealand-led team has just finished mapping the flanks of the seamount, which many people thought might have been torn apart in the ferocity of the event.

But structurally, Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha'apai hasn't changed that much.

New Zealand's National Institute for Water and Atmospheric (NIWA) Research has now managed to get in close with a ship to map the post-eruption shape of Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha'apai (HTHH) and of the surrounding seafloor.

Although there's clearly been a lot of ash deposition and movement of sediment, the volcano continues to stand tall.


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