Volcano eruption will help scientists chart weather and climate

While captivating people around the world, January’s eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano gave scientists a unique chance to study how the atmosphere works, unlocking keys to better predict weather and climate change.

The volcano, located in the South Pacific nation of Tonga, became active on December 20, 2021 and erupted on January 15, 2022. The explosion wiped out one of the country’s many islands and has been described by NASA as more powerful as an atomic bomb.

UMass Lowell’s Mathew Barlow, a professor of environmental, earth and atmospheric sciences, was part of an international team of scientists who studied the atmospheric response to the eruption, including never-recorded reactions previously. The group’s findings were published in Nature.

As part of his work, Barlow created an animated video from satellite data that shows the dramatic effects of the eruption. The event saw atmospheric waves pulse multiple times around the globe and stretch from Earth to the far reaches of space, some at speeds of 720 mph. The eruption also threw a plume of water vapor, along with volcanic ash, soil and smoke, 31 miles into the air. A short video made by the researchers summarizes the effects.

“Some of the types of waves generated by Hunga Tonga are very important to understanding how the atmosphere works and our ability to create effective computer models for weather forecasting and climate projections,” said Barlow, a faculty member at UMass Lowell’s Climate Change Initiative. “Through the expulsion of particles into the upper atmosphere, some strong eruptions can also have a cooling effect on the climate, although the amount produced by Hunga Tonga does not appear to be sufficient for a noticeable climate effect, unlike other volcanic eruptions. over the past century, such as the Pinatubo eruption in Alaska in 1991.”

According to Barlow, the Hunga Tonga explosion appears to be the strongest burst of volcanic energy released in 140 years since the eruption of Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia in 1883. Coupled with advances in satellite imagery, the strength of the Hunga Tonga’s eruption has given scientists a never-before-seen view of atmospheric waves. Barlow said he and his fellow researchers were able to analyze its effects in near real-time communication with agencies around the world.

Researchers from the University of Bath led the team, which included researchers from 10 institutions.

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Materials provided by University of Massachusetts Lowell. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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