GEOGRAPHY

The volcanic eruption of Tonga injected 146 billion kilograms of water into the atmosphere


On January 15, the Tonga volcano erupted, sending shock waves across the globe and sending a stream of water vapor high into the sky, pumping billions of kilograms of water into the stratosphere. Image credit: MAXAR VIA GETTY IMAGES

On January 15, The Hong Aha Apayee Island volcano in Tonga erupted at the bottom of the ocean, battering the South Pacific nation hard and triggering a global tsunami. It was one of the most intense volcanic eruptions ever recorded, causing an atmospheric shock wave to circle the earth 4 times and erupt plumes at an altitude of more than 50 kilometers. However, it didn’t end there.

Recently, a new study found that volcanic ash and gases rushing into the sky also spray about 146 billion kilograms of water into the atmospheric stratosphere, which may stay in the stratosphere for 5 years or more, and erode the ozone layer, possibly even warming the planet. The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Luis Millán, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the study’s corresponding author, said 146 billion kilograms of water is equivalent to the amount of water held in 58,000 Olympic-standard swimming pools, or about 10 percent of the total water content of the stratosphere.

Matthew Toohey, a physicist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada who was not involved in the study, said: “As far as I know, the idea that volcanic eruptions can directly inject large amounts of water vapor into the stratosphere has not been directly observed, at least not on this magnitude.” ”

It is understood that the study was completed with the help of NASA’s Aurora satellite-mounted Microwave Edge Detector (MLS). The instrument, which entered service in 2004, can measure various compounds in the Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of 100 kilometers. The researchers are interested in the water and sulfur dioxide released by volcanic eruptions, as these compounds can affect the climate. On and in the days following the eruption, through repeated observations by the MLS, researchers were able to learn how the jet and its water content grew and distributed around the world.

Millán said other eruptions also inject large amounts of water vapor into the Earth’s atmosphere, but the scale of water injected by the Tonga eruption is unprecedented. This may be determined by the size of the eruption and the location of the underwater.

In general, large volcanic eruptions cool the climate because the sulfur dioxide they release forms compounds in the atmosphere that reflect sunlight. But because so much water vapor is being sprayed into the atmosphere, a Tonga eruption could have a different effect. Water absorbs energy from the Sun, making it a powerful greenhouse gas. Sulfur dioxide dissipates in just a few years, while water may persist for at least 5 years or more.

In addition, above Earth, water may react with other chemicals, destroying the ozone layer that protects the planet from ultraviolet radiation, and even altering the circulation of airflow that controls weather patterns.

Toohey said this could accelerate the warming effect of greenhouse gases, allowing the planet’s temperature to rise further over several years.

But Allegra LeGrande, a physicist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Research, believes that the actual impact of the volcanic eruption in Tonga on the climate may take longer to understand. “The new observations are exciting, and they may bring more new inspiration to future climate research.” (Source: China Science Daily Xin Yu)

Related paper information:https://doi.org/10.1029/2022GL099381



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