An underwater volcano erupted Saturday near the remote Pacific nation of Tonga, triggering tsunami warnings in Australia, Japan, and the west coast of the United States.
The eruption was enormous and was probably the largest seen in 30 years. A huge cloud of ash formed into the sky, reaching about 19 miles above sea level.
Initially, reports suggested no mass casualties on the main island, and only two people were reported missing, but then the shock waves caused a tsunami that pummeled the island.
Look at these devastating videos and pictures that we posted on our Instagram account:
The Tsunami Aftermath
The colossal eruption that spawned the tsunami that hit the island of Tonga sent shock waves traveling thousands of miles. Communication lines were destroyed and Tongans around the world have been concerned, waiting for any news about loved ones. Understandably, families feel helpless as they await word on the safety of their loved ones.
Among the communication lines was a crucial submarine internet cable that was disabled in the event. Moments before the cable was destroyed, some residents were able to share footage of people running inland, searching for any place of safety.
The capital, Nuku’alofa, has been badly damaged along with homes and resorts all along the island’s western beaches.
The volcano, named Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, erupted again on Monday but thankfully didn’t trigger another tsunami warning.
The speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, Fatafehi Fakafanua, was able to get a message out on Monday and he described the impact of the tsunami on the island as devastating. He also noted that the fall of volcanic ash has affected many areas.
Due to the communication challenges the country is experiencing, it’s difficult for the outside world to know the extent of the situation. The full details of deaths, injuries, and the destruction to property is unknown. Both Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance flights on Monday to help get any useful information.
The Effect of the Explosion on the Environment
Tonga sits along a series of fault lines, known as the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are frequent.
Although the ash produced was significant, it won’t remain in the atmosphere for very long.
Environmental scientists are concerned about a second substance that the eruption released into the atmosphere which is called sulfur dioxide, or SO2. This substance is important to track because there is a layer of atmosphere known as the stratosphere and aerosols can be caught in this layer for years.
When SO2 reaches the stratosphere, it reacts with water and creates a layer of gas that prevents sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface. If enough SO2 gets caught, it can significantly affect the global climate.
Scientists used satellite data to determine the amount of SO2 that was released in the explosion and thankfully, they don’t think it’s enough to cause huge concern. According to their calculations, 400 million kg was released, which is well below what would cause alarm, globally. The region may experience an impact on their temperature, but experts aren’t sure how much and for how long.
If the volcano decides to add a number of explosions and release more SO2 in the atmosphere, however, experts say this could change things for the worse.
At Karmagawa and SaveTheReef, we are praying for all the families that have been affected by this devastation. Tongans overseas have organized their own prayer circles and vigils to support one another during this difficult time. We hope that communication gets restored quickly so that more help and aid can come for those in need. Please feel free to join us as we keep the country of Tonga in mind.
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(Cover Image: mTaira/Shutterstock)