February 28, 2022

from SpaceWeather Website





The plume from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai

behaved like a mega-thunderstorm that rose

58 kilometers (38 miles) into the atmosphere.





When a volcano exploded out of the Pacific Ocean near Tonga on Jan. 15th, scientists immediately realized they were witnessing something special.


Little did they know how special...


A new analysis of images from Earth-orbiting satellites shows that the plume punched a hole in our atmosphere all the way up to the mesosphere.

"The intensity of this event far exceeds that of any storm cloud I have ever studied," said Kristopher Bedka, an atmospheric scientist at NASA Langley who specializes in studying extreme storms.

Kristopher Bedka and colleagues combined images from two satellites:

...both of which observed the eruption using similar infrared cameras from different points in geosynchronous orbit.


Using the mathematics of stereo geometry, the team calculated that the plume rose to 58 kilometers (36 miles) at its highest point.



For comparison, the largest known volcanic plume in the satellite era before Tonga came from Mount Pinatubo, which spewed ash and aerosols up to 35 kilometers (22 miles) into the air above the Philippines in 1991.


The Tonga plume was 1.5 times the height of Pinatubo, making it the tallest of the Space Age.

The extreme height of the Tonga plume means it could potentially affect space weather phenomena such as sprites, airglow, and noctilucent clouds, which also occur in the mesosphere.


Indeed, there was a surge of noctilucent clouds after the eruption (possibly coincidental) as well as ripples in the airglow layer over the Pacific Ocean.


Tonga was truly out of this world...