When the volcano tonga erupted, on January 15, sent a tsunami that traveled around the world and caused a sonic explosion that went around the planet twice, revealed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
According to NASA, this underwater eruption, in the South Pacific Ocean, it also released a huge plume of water vapor into Earth’s stratosphere, enough to fill more than 58,000 Olympic swimming pools. However, the large amount of water vapor ejected by the volcano could be enough to temporarily affect the Earth’s temperature.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. Louis Millan, atmospheric scientist of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
In the study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, Millán and his colleagues estimate that the Tonga eruption sent about 146 teragrams (1 teragram equals one trillion grams) of water vapor into Earth’s stratosphere, equivalent to 10 percent percent of the water already present in that atmosphere.
This is nearly four times the amount of water vapor that scientists estimate the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed into the stratosphere in 1991.
How could the eruption of the Tonga volcano harm the Earth?
Volcanic eruptions rarely inject much water into the stratosphere. In the 18 years than the NASA has been taking actionOnly two other eruptions—the 2008 Kasatochi event in Alaska and the 2015 Calbuco eruption in Chile—sent appreciable amounts of water vapor to such high altitudes.
However, those were flashes compared to the Tonga event and the water vapor from the previous two eruptions quickly dissipated. Excess steam injected by the Tonga volcano could remain in the stratosphere for several years.
This additional water vapor could influence atmospheric chemistry, driving certain chemical reactions that could temporarily worsen ozone layer depletion. It could also influence surface temperatures.
Massive volcanic eruptions like Krakatoa and Mount Pinatubo they generally cool the Earth’s surface by expelling gases, dust, and ash that reflect sunlight back into space. In contrast, the Tonga volcano did not inject large amounts of aerosols into the stratosphere, and the huge amounts of water vapor from the eruption may have little temporary warming effect, since the water vapor traps heat.
The great amount of water injected in the stratosphere was probably only possible because the submarine volcano’s caldera, a basin-like depression that usually forms after magma erupts or drains from a shallow chamber beneath the volcano, was at the right depth at the ocean: about 490 feet (150 meters) down.