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January's Historic Eruption Will Heat Things Up On Earth

by Jason Ray Morton 4 days ago in Science
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Scientists have spent the better part of the year studying the effects of the Tonga volcanic eruption. The historic eruption will leave us a little hotter under the collar.

Image by Alexander Antropov from Pixabay

Clouds of ash and glowing lava are spewing from not one but two volcanoes on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Scientists are warning that there could be a major eruption at any time. The activity follows a strong earthquake that happened on November 19th.

Hours ago, the Russian Academy of Sciences vulcanology institute reported that Klyuchevskaya Sopka is recording as many as ten explosions per hour. Klyuchevskaya Sopka is Eurasia’s tallest active volcano at nearly 16,000 feet. Lava was flowing and spewing ash out at the Shiveluch volcano.

Lilpanadero, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kamchatka Peninsula extends outward into the Pacific Ocean. It’s about 4,000 miles east of Moscow and is one of the most concentrated places in the world for geothermal activity. In the red area on the map, there are about 30 active volcanoes.

Months ago, there had already been 48 volcanoes slipped into a continuing eruption status. Looking back at the data compiled by the Smithsonian since 1968, there doesn’t appear to be a rise in volcanic eruptions. The fact that the earth averages between 50 and 60 volcanic eruptions each year and that we live in an age of information spreading at hyper-speed averages a near-weekly occurrence because that’s about what volcanic eruptions are, near weekly.

Effects of Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanoes, like most natural disasters, are to be feared. The best way to prepare for one is to leave when warned to leave. They are an inherently dangerous event due to the emissions from them erupting.

Volcanoes spit out hot and dangerous gases, ash, and lava and expel rocks that can strike with the force of a large explosion. People die from the blast, and those caught in the blast zone don’t fare much better the closer they are. Volcanoes have other effects on human health.

Floods, mudslides, power outages, contaminated water supplies, and wildfires are the effects of eruptions. The health concerns include infectious disease, respiratory illness, burns, assorted injuries, and accidents due to the slick conditions and poor visibility from the ash.

NOAA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tongan Eruption Presents A Different Problem

Unlike other volcanoes, the Tonga-Hunga eruption presents different problems, some of which may take years to understand. The Tongan eruption created the highest-recorded volcanic plume in history, reaching the mesosphere. The plume reached high enough that it topped out at the height where meteors and meteorites burn up in our atmosphere, or between 31 and 50 miles above the surface.

The volcanic plume took enough water into the atmosphere to fill 58,000 Olympic-sized pools, according to NASA satellite information. An Olympic-sized swimming pool holds about 660,000 gallons of water, so nearly 40 billion gallons were vaporized and shot into our atmosphere.

Near 40 Billion gallons of water vaporized and shot into our atmosphere may lead to increased global warming effects, albeit temporarily.

Dr. Simon Proud of RAL Space and research fellow at the National Centre for Earth Observation co-authored the leading study into the Tongan eruption. He believed that the eruption vaporized the water, creating a steam explosion more powerful than a volcanic eruption would be normally.

Nearly 40 billion gallons of water vapor in the atmosphere are now expected to raise the temperature on earth, albeit temporarily.

TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Tonga Islands Volcano Effects

Tonga is located about 2,000 miles east of Australia. It’s a chain of about 170 islands, many of them uninhabited. The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai is 40 miles north of the capital, Nuku alofa.

When the volcano erupted it set off an atmospheric shockwave that traveled at 1000ft per second. Pressure changes were detected in Europe, on the other side of the world, 15 hours later. The explosion was heard by people in Fiji, nearly 500 miles away.

The Tsunami from the Tonga eruption spread rapidly across the pacific. Waves take less than 5 hours to reach New Sealand and 10 to reach the coasts of Alaska, nearly 6,000 miles away. Tsunami waves from an event with such force travel at 500 miles per hour, or more.

What Makes Volcanoes Like Tonga Erupt

Rajneesh Kumar Thakur, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Deep beneath the surface, the temperatures are hot enough that rocks slowly melt. Melted rock becomes what we see as magma. Being lighter than the rock around it, magma works its’ way up toward the surface and pools in magma chambers. Eventually, it pushes through vents and fissures to the surface. Some of these chambers are quite massive and known as supervolcanoes or calderas.

There are six types of volcanic eruptions. They are, in increasing order of power:

  1. Icelandic
  2. Hawaiian
  3. Strombolian
  4. Vulcanian
  5. Pelean
  6. Plinian

Icelandic: This type is recognized by lava flow coming through long, parallel fissures.

Hawaiian: Hawaiian eruptions are similar to Icelandic except that in this case, lava flows out of a volcano’s summit and radial fissures to form shield volcanoes, which get large and have soft slopes.

Strombolian: The strombolian eruption includes moderate bursts of expanding gases that shoot incandescent lava in a cycle of continuing small eruptions.

Vulcanian: Named for the Vulcano Island near Stromboli Italy, this generally involves moderate explosions of gas laden with ash. The effect is black and turbulent eruption clouds that ascend and expand in convoluted shapes.

Pelean: These are known for the strong explosive outbursts and pyroclastic lava flows, dense mixtures of fragments, and gas. These are eruptions with a lava flow that flows with great velocity, and as a result, cause mass devastation.

Plinian: This is an intense and violent eruption, characterized by the power of the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE. Plinian eruption clouds can rise into the stratosphere and sometimes last for hours. Lightning strikes due to a build-up of static electricity are common close to the ash clouds, making them all the more terrible.

Photo by Toby Elliott on Unsplash

Tonga Eruption To Russia And Beyond

Volcanoes are an extremely powerful way for the earth to remind us how small we are. We have only begun to fathom the raw and destructive power of the volcanoes, and how long the effect of an eruption might be felt. When looking at the Tongan eruption, the effects won’t be fully understood for a while as it was a historic eruption, shooting water vapor 35 miles into the air, into our atmosphere. That vapor will have started to combine with the atmospheric effects of other gases and vapors, further blanketing the earth, and holding in heat, leading to a raise in temperatures. Tonga’s volcano won’t have near the effect on our world as if Yellowstone’s Caldera was to erupt.

Science

About the author

Jason Ray Morton

I have always enjoyed writing and exploring new ideas, new beliefs, and the dreams that rattle around inside my head. I have enjoyed the current state of science, human progress, fantasy and existence and write about them when I can.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  • Babs Iversona day ago

    Fantastic and informative💕😊💖💕

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