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How Powerful Was the Eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'Apai Volcano?

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption was a colossal force of nature, unleashing energy equivalent to megatons of TNT. Its shockwaves circled the globe, affecting air pressure and generating tsunamis. This event redefined our understanding of volcanic impacts. Wondering how this eruption compares to historical blasts? Join us as we examine its place in volcanic history.

All volcanoes are awe-inspiring in their destructive power, but nearly everything about the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on January 15, 2022 was off the scale. For starters, the violent eruption of the underwater volcano had an explosive force equivalent to 10 megatons of TNT, making it 500 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

According to satellite data, the ash plume from the Polynesian volcano shot into the stratosphere to a height of 19 miles (30 km) or more in some places. The sonic boom from the eruption was heard as far away as Alaska.

The plume of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano reached a height of 19 miles (30 km) after its Jan. 15 eruption.
The plume of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano reached a height of 19 miles (30 km) after its Jan. 15 eruption.

After several days without communication, the Prime Minister's office released a statement calling the eruption an "unprecedented disaster." At least three people in Tonga were killed, and the post-eruption events included a massive cloud of ash and tsunamis across the Pacific region – including waves that caused the drowning deaths of two people in Peru.

Volcanic facts:

  • At least 80 percent of the surface of the Earth is volcanic in origin, and our early atmosphere was formed by gas emissions (water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ammonia) from volcanoes.

  • There are around 1,500 potentially active volcanoes on Earth; over half make up the so-called "Ring of Fire," which circles the Pacific Ocean.

  • Volcanic eruptions occur when magma in the Earth's mantle rises up through cracks in the surface, becoming lava.

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    • The plume of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano reached a height of 19 miles (30 km) after its Jan. 15 eruption.
      The plume of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano reached a height of 19 miles (30 km) after its Jan. 15 eruption.