The island of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano has almost completely disappeared. The eruption recorded on Saturday in the Pacific Ring of Fire has destroyed the land that before showed above sea level. It was not just any eruption. Scientists already consider it the most explosive of the last 30 years, according to the first estimates, after that of Pinatubo, in the Philippines, in 1991.
The force of the event sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and heard at about 2,300 km away in New Zealand. It has also left Tonga practically incommunicado, where the first death was confirmed this Monday. Meanwhile, scientists struggle to obtain data from the volcano.
“The concern right now it is the little information we have and that is scaryJanine Krippner, a New Zealand-based volcanologist with the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program, told Reuters.
Satellite measurements are facilitating the work of experts, although according to the volcanologist of the National Geographic Institute, Rubén López, “We do not know what situation the volcano is in as we do not have seismic data”. Information arrives by the dropper, from agencies in the Pacific or from Japan. “It is more complicated than if it were in Iceland or Latin America,” he exemplifies.
After the recent Spanish experience, the scientific coordinator of the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (Involcan), Nemesio Pérez, tells ABC that the Hunga Tonga volcano cannot be purchased with any of those registered in the Canary Islands, for its character and its level of explosiveness. While the Cumbre Vieja volcano reached an explosivity index (VEI) of 3 out of 8, the Pacific one has registered a value of 5-6.
López also points out that the height of the column may have reached 30 km, while the maximum height of the column on La Palma reached 8 km. The amount of sulfur dioxide expelled by the detonation of January 15 was 450,000 tons, which was expelled by the La Palma volcano “in its 85 days, the Hunga Tonga expelled it in minutes”, with an atmospheric pressure wave at 7000km/hu shock wave that “has been felt throughout the planet, including in North Africa, which is the diametrically opposite point (the antipodal)”, Australia.
Now that the crater has fallen below sea level, monitoring is “more difficult,” says Pérez, although according to the expert, “all or almost all parameters can be monitored, albeit in a more complex way.” Difficulties or not for follow-up monitoring will be marked by the depth of the volcanic system, he points out, because “the larger the water column over the crater, the more difficult it will be to measure.”
The magnitude of the eruption indicates, however, that it is not as long lasting as those that the islands have experienced, the two experts agree.