from National Geographic

Tonga’s strange volcanic eruption was even more massive than we knew


Photo from space of the eruption over the ocean.
This photograph, taken by an astronaut on board the International Space Station, shows clouds of ash lingering in the atmosphere a day after the intense explosion of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai PHOTOGRAPH BY NASA

Crimson hues flushed across the early morning skies over the Kingdom of Tonga as Grace Frontin-Rollet spotted a pair of small rocky islands from the bow of the RV Tangaroa. Though the scene was picturesque, a tinge of sulfur in the air reminded the marine geologist what she and a team of scientists had traveled for six days over rough waters to see. In the expansive gap between the two bits of land, hidden on the ocean floor, lay the crater of a massive volcano that erupted just months before in one of the largest and strangest blasts ever seen.

“I don’t think the scale of what had happened hit us until we reached the site,” says Frontin-Rollet, who is from New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

In December 2021, the volcano—called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai after the two islands that sit on its rim—awoke in a series of tantrums that turned into outright turmoil on January 15, 2022. The peak unleashed a blast so loud it was heard in Alaska, some 6,000 miles away. But much of what happened that day has remained a mystery, until now. Scientists, including the team aboard the RV Tangaroa, are finally putting together the pieces, and the picture that has emerged is mind-boggling.

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