(Opens in a new tab)When an underwater volcano in Tonga erupted in January, it produced more ash and volcanic gases. A new study finds that the water also released the equivalent of 58,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water vapor into the Earth’s atmosphere.
This water vapor can be the most destructive part of the volcanoBecause it might get worse Global Warming and drain ozone class according to the study.
When Henga Tonga-Hung Hapai volcano erupted on January 15, it became the most powerful eruption in a land In more than 30 years, with the presence of Power equal to 100 Hiroshima bombs. The explosion sent shock waves around the planet, causing the atmosphere rang like a bell A tsunami is born that Hitting the neighboring coasts. A plume of ash and dust has reached the atmosphere higher than any other recorded eruption and caused it More than 590,000 lightning bolts In three days.
In the new study, the researchers used data collected by NASA’s Aura satellite to assess how much water has been pushed into the stratosphere, the second layer in the world. a landThe planet’s atmosphere, which extends 4 to 12 miles (6 to 20 kilometers) and up to 31 miles (50 kilometers) above the planet’s surface. The results revealed that 160,900 tons (146,000 metric tons) of additional water vapor has entered the stratosphere since the eruption, reaching a maximum height of 33 miles (53 km), which is located in the mesosphere, the layer of the atmosphere that extends from the atmosphere. The top of the stratosphere is 53 miles (85 km) high.
This makes it the largest and highest water injection into the stratosphere since satellites began taking measurements.
Related: The eruption of the “Shark” volcano under the sea was captured in stunning satellite images
“We estimate that the excess water vapor equates to about 10% of the amount of water vapor normally present in the stratosphere,” researchers write in the new research paper published online July 1st, the largest increase ever seen by scientists. Geophysical Research Letters. The researchers wrote that water vapor may remain in the stratosphere for about half a decade.
It’s not entirely surprising, the researchers said, that the eruption of the Tonga volcano pumped a significant amount of water vapor into the atmosphere, considering that the eruption ignited 492 feet (150 meters) below the ocean’s surface. They wrote that when the volcano erupted, the sea water that had come into contact with the explosive magma heated up very quickly, producing large amounts of “explosive steam.” This is one of the main reasons behind the force of the explosion. However, this is the first time that the amount of water has been accurately measured, and it turns out to be much more than scientists expected.
(Opens in a new tab)
Large volcanic eruptions typically release large amounts of ash and gases, such as sulfur dioxide, which can create reflective compounds in the atmosphere. These volcanic by-products can block sunlight from reaching the planet’s surface, which could cool the atmosphere. However, the Tonga eruption produced surprisingly low levels of sulfur dioxide compared to explosions of similar size, and soon most of the ash emitted from it fell to Earth.
As a result, experts initially estimated that the explosion was underwater It will have little effect on the Earth’s climate. But those estimates were based on the amount of ash and gases the volcano released and didn’t take into account all of the extra water vapor, which can be a similar problem.
The researchers warned that this extra water could have a radiative effect that could heat the atmosphere just as much greenhouse gases an act. Since water is likely to survive longer than other volcanic gases, such as sulfur dioxide—which typically falls from the atmosphere within two to three years—the effect of warming water will likely continue to outlast any cooling effects the gases create.
This means that the Tonga eruption will likely be the first recorded volcanic eruption that causes a warming of the planet, rather than a cooling effect, the researchers wrote.
The researchers also noted that such a sharp increase in water vapor could reduce the amount of ozone in the stratosphere, thus potentially weakening the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from UV damage. the sun. Stratospheric water, or H2O, can degrade into OH ions over time. These ions can react with ozone, which is made up of three oxygen atoms, to form water and oxygen. However, the researchers wrote that it is unclear how this will affect the ozone layer as a whole.
(Opens in a new tab)
However, the researchers also believe that increased water vapor could reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. The same OH ions that react with ozone can also react with methane to produce water and a methyl radical (methane with a lower hydrogen atom), which traps much less heat in the atmosphere than methane. It is hoped, the researchers write, that this potential reduction in methane will offset some of the warming caused by water vapor.
However, the study authors believe that it is still too early to predict the exact climate effects of the Tonga eruption. “It is critical to continue monitoring volcanic gases from this eruption and future gases in order to better define their different roles in climate,” the researchers wrote.
Originally published on Live Science.