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Pacific News Minute: Atmospheric debris found months after Tongan volcano erupted

Tonga Volcano
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New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupts near Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean on Jan. 14, 2015. The volcano shot millions of tons of water vapor high up into the atmosphere according to a study published Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in the journal Science.

When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted in January, the blast was estimated to be hundreds of times stronger than the Hiroshima nuclear explosion.

A plume of ash, smoke and volcanic matter shot 36-miles above the Earth’s surface.

New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, or NIWA, conducted detailed mapping work in the area of the volcano, CNN reported last week.

The scientists discovered that nearly 4 square miles of seafloor was removed. That equals 2.6 million Olympic swimming pools — a third more than earlier estimated.

But NIWA found that only three quarters of this material was deposited in an area within 12 miles of the volcano, leaving a large amount unaccounted for.

The researchers say this missing debris was shot into the sky, remained in the atmosphere and circulated for months. That explains why it wasn’t on the seafloor.

NIWA adds the information gathered can also help aid in the recovery of the surrounding ocean and marine environment.

For Tonga, where around 80 percent of the population fishes for personal consumption, understanding the impact of eruptions on the sea is important.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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