On January 15th 2022, an underwater volcano erupted in the South Pacific Ocean blasting steam, ash, and sulfur dioxide to record heights. The explosive eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai created a sonic boom heard as far north as Alaska. It also triggered a tsunami that destroyed homes on nearby islands before crossing the ocean to the coasts of Japan and North and South America. The Hunga-Tonga eruption was so powerful that it sent a rare pressure wave rippling around the world.
NOAA’s GOES-17 and Japan’s Himiwari-8 geostationary satellites were perfectly positioned to observe and document the historic event. A team of scientists used the satellite data to determine that the volcanic plume soared through the troposphere and stratosphere into the mesosphere to a height of 36 miles, or 58 kilometers high. That’s two and a half times higher than any thunderstorm ever observed. Even satellites in the ionosphere – which borders on the edge of space – detected unusual electric currents and hurricane-speed winds associated with this intense volcanic event.
The atmospheric pressure wave generated by the Hunga-Tonga eruption circled Earth for several days. This model animation shows the shock wave pattern as it propagated around the planet.
Satellite sensors detected the travelling pressure wave via temperature changes in mid-level atmospheric water vapor imagery, seen in this animation that stitches data together from multiple geostationary satellites.
The reverberating shock waves were unlike anything seen in the modern satellite era. They spread outward in concentric rings from the South Pacific volcano and crisscrossed the globe multiple times.
Pressure sensors on the ground also captured the passage of the wave. Similar to satellites, surface observing systems measured changes in pressure for several days as successive waves rippled and crossed in their journey around the planet.
From below the surface of the sea to the edge of space and every layer of the atmosphere in-between; the vast amounts of data collected from the 2022 Hunga-Tonga volcano eruption ensure that scientists will be studying this historic event for years to come.
How to Use in Presentation
This video provides the foundation for any Earth orientated Science On a Sphere presentation on volcanoes and satellites, or may be used as a stand-alone in automated SOS programming.
Length of dataset: 2:50 minutes
If the mp4 movie isn’t in you SOS EarthNow category, you can download the SOS movie from https://bin.ssec.wisc.edu/pub/earthnow/2022_tonga/
Science On a Sphere Dataset Link: https://sos.noaa.gov/catalog/datasets/hunga-tonga-hunga-ha-apai-2022-volcano-eruption/
This video was a collaborative effort between NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS), the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) and NOAA’s Advanced Satellite Product Branch (ASPB) co-located at the at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with support from the GOES-R Program.