The Sciences

Details on the Tongan Eruption

Rocky Planet iconRocky PlanetBy Erik KlemettiMar 20, 2009 12:46 PM


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Now that people have been able to get a better look at the are about Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai, we've been able to get a better idea of what sort of eruption occurred. The explosions and ash/tephra from the eruption have all but wiped out life on Hunga Ha'aapai, as the island contains one of the vents, while the other is only 100 meter off shore of the island - although the tephra erupted so far have joined the new vent and the island. You can clearly see ash mixing with the water around the island and the island itself has been blackened by the coating of ash. This is a classic volcanic [strike]atoll[/strike] island-building event and the question will be how long will the enlarged Hunga Ha'apai last and how last will the eruption continue.

Of course, with any large eruption, there are a lot of, well, questionable things that go along with it, such as:

  • From the AFP report linked above: A local airline was reportedly planning to fly sightseers near the eruption site Friday. Probably not the best idea when other airlines are rerouting away from the volcano. As long as you stay below the ash, a plane should be OK (be it jet, turboprop or helicopter), but still, it doesn't seem like a good idea, unless you're into dodging flying boulders

  • The BBC is touting the idea that the earthquakes in the Tongan arc are directly connected to the volcano. This is absolutely terrible "science" journalism, only referring to "officials" who, on the basis of, well, nothing that I can tell, connected the earthquakes before the eruption with the volcano and adding a silly note of dread claiming the M7.7 earthquake hundreds of kilometers to the south could cause the eruption to intensity. Until someone can directly show me the volcanic tremors that followed the tectonic earthquakes, this is all conjecture.

Hopefully the media won't lose interest in this island-creating event if the eruption goes on for days as it is a wonderful opportunity to see the birth of a South Pacific island (or at least the growth of one) in action.

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