Tonga volcano ejected unprecedented amount of water into the atmosphere

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The Hungama Tonga-Hunga Hapai eruption lasted less than a day, but it removed the most water vapor into the atmosphere by a volcano on record. Researchers say the eruption could temporarily warm surface temperatures in the coming years and even deplete stratospheric ozone.

On 15 January, the underwater volcano erupted and shock wave sent Which resonated all over the world. The powerful explosion ejected aerosols, gas, steam and ash up to 36 miles high, probably highest volcanic plume in satellite records. The explosion damaged more than 100 homes and claimed the lives of at least three people on the island of Tonga. a new study It also shows that the volcano released unprecedented amounts of water vapor, a strong greenhouse gas that traps heat on Earth.

NASA satellite data shows the volcano has launched more than 146 teragrams of water – enough to fill 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools – in the second layer of Earth’s atmosphere, known as the stratosphere , where the ozone layer is located and just above it. Airplanes fly. The amount released is equivalent to 10 percent of the water already in the stratosphere, the study said.

“This is the first time this type of injection has occurred throughout the satellite era,” said lead study author and atmospheric scientist Louis Milne of NASA, which includes water vapor data dating back to 1995. “We’ve never seen anything like this before, so it was quite impressive.”

Volcanic eruptions eject many different types of gases and particles. Most eruptions, including Hunga Tonga, release particles that cool the Earth’s surface by reflecting sunlight back into space, but they usually dissipate after two to three years. However, very few people explode that much of water vapor. This water vapor can remain in the atmosphere for much longer – five to 10 years – and trap heat at Earth’s surface.

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Milne hypothesized that the water vapor could begin to exert a warming effect on the planet’s surface temperature after the extinction of the accompanying cooling particles in about three years. He is unsure how much the temperature will rise, as it depends on how the water vapor plume develops. The team suspects that the increased warming will last for a few years, until the circulation pattern in the stratosphere causes water vapor to flow into the troposphere, the layer where Earth’s weather occurs.

“It’s just a temporary warming, and then whatever was supposed to go back, will go back,” Milne said. “It’s not going to accelerate climate change.”

NASA atmospheric scientist Ryan Kramer said that, given the many factors that drive temperature changes on the time scale of years, the warming effect from a volcano could also be lost in the noise depending on its magnitude.

on small On a time scale, an increase in water vapor could also worsen ozone depletion in the stratosphere, said Susan Strahan, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and NASA.

Stratospheric ozone protects the Earth’s surface from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Chemicals that destroy the ozone layer were largely eliminated through the 1987 Montreal Protocol and subsequent amendments.

Strahan, who was not involved in the study, explained that the excess water vapor would affect many of the chemical reactions that control stratospheric ozone concentrations. NASA satellite data in July already shows a decrease in ozone levels compared to previous years in the location where excess water vapor is most concentrated. He added that a complete analysis would need to be done to find out the cause.

“Maybe there are effects right now, but what do we need [is] There is a model to tell us by what mechanism(s) the effects occurred. Meteorology and chemistry will almost undoubtedly play both roles — the question is how much, where, when?” Strahan said in an email.

Strahan also noted that the additional water vapor could increase the formation of characteristic nocturnal clouds, which appear like shimmering, ghostly clouds in the night sky. They are about 50 miles higher in the atmosphere, higher than the stratosphere, and are some of the rarest, driest and tallest clouds on Earth. For many people, clouds are remarkable skies. Although, researchers think Any noticeable changes in these clouds will not be visible until later, depending on how long it takes for the water vapor to travel upward in the atmosphere where the clouds form.

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Overall, Milne said the excess water vapor in itself is not much to be concerned about, but “something that is interesting that is happening.” He and his colleagues are using this opportunity to test their computer models that help us understand climate change and weather forecasting in general.

“We have a huge amount of water vapor moving in the stratosphere, and we can test how well the models reflect their movements within the atmosphere,” Milne said. “This volcano is going to give a lot of researchers a lot of work.”

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