Satellites capture stunning imagery of the Hunga-Tonga volcano eruption

An underwater volcano located near the Tonga Islands recently became active. Early this morning, a major eruption took place. Multiple satellites captured it as it happened.

Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai is an underwater volcano located near Tonga in the South Pacific. Activity began picking up in late December 2021 with smaller eruptions, sending smoke and ash upwards of 12 km into the atmosphere. One of the larger eruptions caused the size of the volcanic island to increase its size by ~45%.

Things progressed quickly and around Jan. 15, 4 a.m. UTC, a major eruption took place. Multiple weather satellites captured images showing the eruption progressing.

GOES-17 (West) ProxyVisible | Image Credit: NOAA – CIRA/RAMMB

NOAA’s GOES-17 (West) satellite captured these pictures showing the power of this eruption. Along with NOAA’s satellite, the Himawari 8 satellite that is operated by the Japan Meteorological Society also captured images of the eruption.

Himawari-8 ProxyVisible | Image Credit: JPA – CIRA/RAMMB

In both of these gifs, you can see the shockwaves created by the eruption. These shockwaves traveled across the world and the sound could have been heard from as far as 6,000 km away! These satellites are now monitoring the site with images being updated every minute or so. This is an evolving situation, so scientists need to get as up-to-date information as possible. This eruption created a tsunami that impacted Tonga and effects have been seen in Hawaii and the west coast of the United States.

While we may sit here and be amazed by these images, we must not forget the real impact this event has and will cause for locals in the area and the long-term impacts this could have. This is still an active volcano and more eruptions are possible. Hopefully, this is the worst of whatever remains. We will update this post with more information as more comes out. Keep an eye on Planet Lab’s Twitter for more imagery from their satellites!

Featured Image Credit: JMA – CIRA/RAMMB

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