Tonga Volcano Eruption Seen From Space, NASA Scientists Weigh in on the Power of the Volcanic Blast

Tonga Volcano Eruption Seen From Space, NASA Scientists Weigh in on the Power of the Volcanic Blast

By now, you have seen the images and video of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano explosion in the Pacific Ocean. Geostationary weather satellites in space captured some of the first images of the eruption.

The Himawari-8 satellite operated by the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) captured this view directly overhead of the eruption. Satellite based data showed the eruption lofted volcanic ash as high as 19 miles into the atmosphere! At its greatest extent, the ash cloud reached a diameter of about 300 miles.

Sequence of images captured by the Himawari 8 satellite. Credit: Japanese Meteorological Agency

The GOES-West satellite operated by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could also see this eruption. Its infrared images detected waves or ripples in the top of the volcanic ash cloud caused by upper atmospheric winds blowing over the dense cloud. GOES-West could also measure the temperature of the top of the volcanic cloud at approximately -157 degrees Fahrenheit.

GOES-West infared image showing the almost 300 mile wide ash cloud. Credit: NOAA/CIMSS

Additionally, the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai eruption was so powerful that it created a massive shock wave that circled the globe! Scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center estimate the volcanic blast was equivalent to 10 megatons of TNT, that’s about 500 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Japan during World War II!

The volcanic blast was heard as far as Alaska, about 5,000 miles away and, the pressure difference from the shock wave registered on weather instruments across the globe. Here in Chicago, National Weather Service (NWS) instruments detected the blast as it moved through the area on the morning of January 15.

Credit: NWS Chicago
Pressure reading from a buoy in Calumet Harbor showing the two spikes (red arrows), caused by the pressure wave from the Tonga volcano eruption. Credit: NOAA/NWS/NDBC

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