Scientists say Tonga eruption hit with the force of a billion ton "magma hammer"

"It's like a train hitting the base of the wall," said the lead scientist.
Stephen Vicinanza
Plume from large volcano
Plume from large volcano


There were some startling developments in the on going research into the eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano on January 15 of this year.

Scientists from around the world are meeting in Chicago at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) for a Fall Meeting, happening December 12 - 16. They will be sharing the results of research into the massive eruption that countries all over the world are now studying.

This was outlined in the reporting by BBC Science.

In our earlier reporting on the massive event, the scientists had concluded that the plume had risen so high, it reached space. The comparison was made to the plume being taller than 68 Burj Khalifa stacked one on top of the next.

The researchers then studied the flow of rock, ash and debris out to the 80 KM mark in the surrounding Pacific Ocean.

The sea floor was changed, an enormous crater formed and still the scientists were discovering new and astounding events related to the explosion and flow of rock.

The most recent discovery has to do with the force with which the waves of seismic activity generated over the first 10 minutes of the full eruption on January 15.

There were a series magnitude 5.8 seismic waves during the first few minutes of the cataclysmic explosion. The signals from these waves were picked up by 400 monitoring stations all over the world.

Dr Yingcai Zheng from the University of Houston said of his team's analysis of the waves, that they came up from below the mountain as a pulse of magma colliding with the Caldera, or mouth of the volcano.

"I think it could be like a new batch of magma suddenly just reaching into the magma chamber and over-pressurizing the chamber," he said. "The pulse of the magma is travelling up at high speed and it's like a train hitting the base of the wall. It hammered four times within 300 seconds," Zheng said in a statement.

The scientists likened the waves to a "magma hammer" that hit with a billion tons of force.

Ash from the Hunga-Tonga was estimated to have gone as high as 57KM (35.42 miles) above the Earth's surface. It was considered the highest ever recorded plume. There is now new data saying the plume reached higher than that lofty region, all the way to space. It has been likened to a shotgun blast into space, by geologists, at the AGU meeting.

Scientists say Tonga eruption hit with the force of a billion ton "magma hammer"
Inner Workings of a Volcano

Satellites from the US Air Force and the US space agency, measure radiation from the Sun in the ultraviolet spectrum. On the day of the eruption, they noticed a strong absorption feature at an altitude above 100km mark, the correlated data showed. This altitude is known at the Karman Line, the accepted boundary to space.

Dr. Larry Paxton of the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University explained that when a something reaches the boundary to space, his sensors will see that as a hole in the overall picture of the planet. Something large is blocking the photons that would normally reach the satellites sensors.

On the day of the Hunga-Tonga eruption a hole appeared that was the size of Montana, or Germany. From the light signature what was blocking the view was water vapor. He was also able to calculate the mass of that water vapor somewhere between 20,000 and 200,000 tons.

The size and shear force of the eruption was indeed something that had never been seen before, and all the data collected is proving that fact conclusively.

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