NEW YORK — When an undersea volcano erupted in Tonga in January, its watery blast was big and strange — and scientists are nonetheless making an attempt to know its impacts.
The volcano, often called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, shot tens of millions of tons of water vapor excessive up into the environment, in keeping with a research revealed Thursday within the journal Science.
The researchers estimate the eruption raised the quantity of water within the stratosphere — the second layer of the environment, above the vary the place people dwell and breathe — by round 5 p.c.
Now, scientists try to determine how all that water may have an effect on the environment, and whether or not it would heat Earth’s floor over the subsequent few years.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion,” stated lead writer Holger Voemel, a scientist on the Nationwide Heart for Atmospheric Analysis in Colorado.
Huge eruptions often cool the planet. Most volcanoes ship up giant quantities of sulfur, which blocks the solar’s rays, defined Matthew Toohey, a local weather researcher on the College of Saskatchewan who was not concerned within the research.
The Tongan blast was a lot soggier: The eruption began beneath the ocean, so it shot up a plume with rather more water than normal. And since water vapor acts as a heat-trapping greenhouse fuel, the eruption will most likely increase temperatures as an alternative of reducing them, Toohey stated.
It’s unclear simply how a lot warming could possibly be in retailer.
Karen Rosenlof, a local weather scientist on the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was not concerned with the research, stated she expects the results to be minimal and non permanent.
“This quantity of enhance may heat the floor a small quantity for a brief period of time,” Rosenlof stated in an e-mail.
The water vapor will stick across the higher environment for just a few years earlier than making its method into the decrease environment, Toohey stated. Within the meantime, the additional water may additionally velocity up ozone loss within the environment, Rosenlof added.
But it surely’s onerous for scientists to say for certain, as a result of they’ve by no means seen an eruption like this one.
The stratosphere stretches from round 7.5 miles to 31 miles above Earth and is often very dry, Voemel defined.
Voemel’s crew estimated the volcano’s plume utilizing a community of devices suspended from climate balloons. Often, these instruments can’t even measure water ranges within the stratosphere as a result of the quantities are so low, Voemel stated.
One other analysis group monitored the blast utilizing an instrument on a NASA satellite tv for pc. In their research, revealed earlier this summer time, they estimated the eruption to be even larger, including round 150 million metric tons of water vapor to the stratosphere — 3 times as a lot as Voemel’s research discovered.
Voemel acknowledged that the satellite tv for pc imaging might need noticed components of the plume that the balloon devices couldn’t catch, making its estimate increased.
Both method, he stated, the Tongan blast was not like something seen in latest historical past, and learning its aftermath could maintain new insights into our environment.