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Pacific News Minute: Tonga volcano eruption reached the mesosphere

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.

When a volcano in Tonga erupted at the beginning of the year, it created a massive plume of ash and water. Researchers say it extended more than halfway to space.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted underwater on Jan. 15.

It was the highest-recorded volcanic plume and reached the mesosphere, about 31 to 50 miles above the Earth’s surface.

That’s where meteors usually break apart and burn up in our atmosphere.

A study on the findings was published last week in the journal Science.

The volcanic plume reached an altitude of just over 35 miles at its highest point. It exceeded the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, which reached about 25 miles.

Six people died as a result of the eruption in Tonga. The damage was relatively low due to its remote location, although it did destroy a small uninhabited island.

The eruption also triggered a tsunami as well as shock waves that rippled around the world.

Scientists used images captured by satellites passing over the eruption site to confirm the plume’s height.

Research is ongoing to unlock why the eruption was so powerful, but it might be because it occurred underwater.

Scientists also want to understand why the plume was so high, as well as its composition and ongoing impact on the global climate.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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