A new study shows that when an underwater volcano in Tonga erupted in January, it released enough water vapor into Earth’s atmosphere to fill 58,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. According to research, this water vapor may be a component of volcanic eruptions that cause the most damage as it has the potential to accelerate global warming and damage the ozone layer.
Hengja Tonga-Hangi Habai volcano erupted on January 15 with a force equivalent to 100 Hiroshima bombs, making it the most powerful volcanic eruption on Earth in more than 30 years. The explosion shook the entire world, causing the wind to ring like a bell and forcing a tsunami to hit the nearby beaches. The eruptions triggered more than 590,000 lightning strikes over three days, with clouds of ash and dust rising into the atmosphere higher than any previous eruption in history.
The results indicate that since the volcano erupted, an additional 160,900 tons (146,000 metric tons) of water vapor entered the stratosphere, and rose 33 miles (53 km) into the stratosphere, the layer of the atmosphere that makes up the stratosphere. It stretches at an elevation of 53 miles (85 km).
This made it the largest and highest water injection into the stratosphere since NASA’s Aura satellite began taking measurements. Given that the eruption occurred 492 feet (150 meters) below sea level, the researchers say it’s not entirely surprising that the Tonga eruption sent large amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere. mentioned by the page Live Science They claim that when the volcano erupts, the temperature of the sea water in contact with the erupting magma rises rapidly and produces a large amount of “explosive steam”.
This is one of the main reasons for the high intensity of the explosion. The amount of water was accurately measured for the first time, but it was much higher than scientists expected. Large-scale volcanic eruptions often produce reflective compounds in the atmosphere by releasing large amounts of ash and gases such as sulfur dioxide. By preventing sunlight from reaching the planet’s surface, these volcanic byproducts can cool the atmosphere.
However, compared to eruptions of similar size, the Tonga eruptions produce very little sulfur dioxide, and most of the ash released from them falls quickly to the ground. Experts initially predicted that because of this, the underwater eruption would have little effect on the Earth’s climate. However, this calculation only takes into account the ash and gases emitted by the volcano, which leads to an increase in water vapor that can be just as dangerous.
Researchers warn that this extra water could warm the atmosphere as much as a greenhouse gas. The effect of water heating is likely to eliminate the cooling effect caused by the gas because it is expected to last longer than other volcanic gases such as sulfur dioxide, which typically falls from the atmosphere within two to three years.
According to geologists, this suggests that the Tonga eruption may have been the first known eruption to have a global warming rather than a cooling effect. The scientists also noted that such a rapid rise in water vapor would deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, which could lead to a weakening of the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Over time, stratospheric water, or H2O, can disintegrate into OH ions. These ions can combine with three oxygen atoms to form ozone to produce water and oxygen.
Scientists say it is uncertain how this might affect the ozone layer as a whole. However, scientists also believe that increased water vapor could reduce atmospheric concentrations of methane, one of the major greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
The same OH ions that react with ozone can also react with methane to form water and methyl radicals, which maintain a much lower temperature in the atmosphere than methane. Methyl radicals are formed when methane contains less hydrogen atom than water.
The researchers say they hope this expected drop in methane will partially dissipate the heat from the water vapor. According to the study authors, the exact climatic impact of the Tonga eruption is still not expected. To more accurately estimate the many functions of volcanic gases in the climate, the researchers note that it is important to constantly monitor gases from current and subsequent eruptions.