More than eight months after the underwater volcano erupted near Tonga on January 14, scientists are still analyzing the effects of the massive blast and discovering it could warm the planet.
Recently, researchers calculated that the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apa ejected a staggering 50 million metric tons (45 million metric tons) of water vapor into the atmosphere, along with massive amounts of ash and volcanic gases.
This massive steam injection increased the amount of moisture in the global stratosphere by about 5 percent and could trigger a cycle of stratospheric cooling and surface warming — and those effects could continue for months, according to a new study.
Tonga’s eruption, which began on January 13 and peaked two days later, was the strongest seen on Earth in decades.
The blast extended 162 miles (260 kilometers) and ejected columns of ash, steam and gas more than 12 miles (20 km) into the air, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Large volcanic eruptions typically cool the planet by spewing sulfur dioxide into the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere, which filters solar radiation.
Rock and ash particles can also temporarily cool the planet by blocking sunlight, according to the National Science Foundation’s University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
In this way, widespread and violent volcanic activity in Earth’s distant past may have contributed to global climate change and triggered mass extinctions millions of years ago.
See also: Huge eruption of Tonga’s underwater volcano captured in stunning satellite video
Recent eruptions have also demonstrated the planet-cooling power of volcanoes. When Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines blew its summit in 1991, aerosols emitted by that powerful volcanic blast lowered global temperatures by about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) for at least a year, Live Science previously reported .
Tonga emitted about 441,000 short tons (400,000 short tons) of sulfur dioxide, about 2 percent of the amount that Mount Pinatubo spewed out during the 1991 eruption.
But unlike Pinatubo (and most large volcanic eruptions that take place on land), Tonga’s underwater volcanic plumes sent “significant amounts of water” into the stratosphere, the zone that extends from about 50 km above the Earth’s surface down to about 4 to 12 miles (6 to 20 km), according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
In underwater volcanoes, “submarine eruptions can derive much of their explosive energy from the interaction of water and hot magma,” throwing huge amounts of water and steam into the eruption column, scientists wrote in a new study published Sept. 22 in diary was published Science.
Within 24 hours of erupting, the cloud extended 17 miles (28 km) into the atmosphere.
The researchers analyzed the amount of water in the plumes using data collected by instruments called radiosondes, which were attached to weather balloons and sent up into the volcanic plumes.
As these instruments rise through the atmosphere, their sensors measure temperature, barometric pressure and relative humidity and transmit that data to a receiver on the ground, according to the NWS.
Atmospheric water vapor absorbs solar radiation and emits it again as heat; With tens of millions of tons of Tonga’s moisture now floating in the stratosphere, the Earth’s surface will heat up — although by how much, the study says is unclear.
However, because the vapor is lighter than other volcanic aerosols and less affected by gravity, this warming effect will take longer to dissipate, and surface warming could continue “for months to come,” the scientists said.
Earlier investigations into the eruption found that Tonga emitted enough water vapor to fill 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools and that this staggering amount of humidity could potentially weaken the ozone layer, Live Science previously reported.
In the new study, the scientists also noted that these massive amounts of water vapor could actually alter chemical cycles that control stratospheric ozone, “however, detailed studies are needed to quantify the effect on ozone levels because other chemical reactions play a role.” can also play a role.”
This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.