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Pacific News Minute

Pacific News Minute: Scientists confirm Tonga eruption was the largest in the 21st century

Tonga Volcano Eruption
Japan Meteorology Agency
This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

Scientists have confirmed that the January eruption of the volcano in Tonga was the largest explosive eruption of the 21st century. They say it was equal to the biggest eruptions ever recorded.

January’s volcanic eruption in Tonga produced an ash plume half the size of France.

A new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters gives more details on its size and power.

The eruption was equal in strength to the catastrophic 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

NASA later determined it was "hundreds of times more powerful" than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Researchers used a newly developed algorithm to identify the scale of the Tonga eruption. This reduced the amount of fieldwork and direct measurements usually needed to measure an eruption.

The Volcanic Explosivity Index rating for the blast was 6. An eruption with that rating happens once every 50 to 100 years.

The VEI can go as high as 8 — that’s for eruptions that occur every 50,000 years or so.

Scientists say those explosions can produce as much as 240 cubic miles of ejected material.

The eruption in January destroyed 90% of the uninhabited island of Hunga Tonga Ha'apai, which only emerged in 2015 after another, smaller eruption.

Government officials say four people died and 80% of Tonga's population was impacted in some way.

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