Tonga volcano unleashed underwater flows that reshaped the seafloor

Satellite tv for pc picture of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano on 15 January 2022, about 100 minutes after the eruption began

Simon Proud/Uni Oxford, RALSpace NCEO/Japan Meteorological Company

The large eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano final yr triggered a robust underwater volcanic stream that destroyed lots of of kilometres of telecommunications cables and reshaped the seafloor.

The blast in Tonga was essentially the most highly effective eruption of the 21st century, capturing ash 57 kilometres into the sky and inflicting 90-metre-high tsunami waves. “It was a very distinctive occasion,” says Michael Clare on the Nationwide Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK.

The atmospheric impacts of the eruption have been properly documented. “However one thing actually profound had occurred on the seafloor and we didn’t know what it was,” says Clare.

Quickly after the explosion, Clare and his colleagues determined to research the eruption’s impression on the underside of the ocean.

Volcanic eruptions launch an enormous quantity of fabric into the air, corresponding to ash and lava. A few of this materials rapidly falls again down and types what is named a pyroclastic density present. “You’ll have seen a great deal of movies of it – think about large clouds of actually sizzling rock rolling down hillsides,” says staff member Isobel Yeo, additionally on the Nationwide Oceanography Centre.

Within the case of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai eruption, the fabric plunged straight into the ocean, producing a damaging underwater density present.

By mapping the areas of underwater telecommunication cables and after they have been destroyed, the staff calculated that the present should have travelled at 122 kilometres per hour.

The staff additionally in contrast the map of the seafloor earlier than and after the eruption and located that the density present travelled greater than 100 kilometres throughout the underside of the ocean, carving deep grooves alongside the way in which.

“That is the primary time these underwater flows have ever been noticed with fashionable know-how,” says Clare. “The insights from the research have helped us to find out a hazard which wasn’t beforehand recognised as being doubtlessly as large and important as it’s.”

Although it’s exhausting to forestall the injury attributable to volcanic eruptions, a greater understanding of the resultant underwater density currents could assist the telecommunications trade put together for future occasions.

“The documentation of the impression of the Hunga-Tonga eruption to the seafloor geomorphology on the flanks of the volcano is a exceptional achievement,” says Charles Paull on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Analysis Institute in California. “The paper will possible be highlighted in geology textbooks for generations, each because it serves as a reminder of the size of geologic hazards and as an finish member [extreme example] of the sorts of sediment flows that happen on Earth.”