A four-foot tsunami wave was reported to have hit Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa on Saturday, forcing people to rush to higher ground. Witnesses say ash fell from the sky after an underwater volcano erupted near the remote Pacific country.
The volcano, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, is located about 40 miles north of the main island of the Pacific archipelago, Tongatapu.
Australian Bureau of Meteorology reports tsunami on twitter. But communication with Tonga was interrupted, according to the Associated Press, so there were no immediate official reports of injuries or damage.
The Tonga Meteorological Service issued a tsunami warning for the archipelago on Saturday evening. Weather services in nearby Fiji and Samoa also posted tsunami warnings on their Facebook pages advising people to stay away from low-lying coastal areas.
The National Tsunami Warning Center in the United States issued a tsunami warning for the West Coast on Saturday morning PT, including the coasts of Washington and Oregon. The National Weather Service in Portland is already reporting waves one to three feet high. on twitter in Newport, Oregon, Long Beach, Washington, and Seaside, Oregon. “The first wave may not be the highest, so subsequent waves may be larger,” the tweet reads.
The volcano was relatively dormant for several years, but in December it began to erupt intermittently. According to a report from the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, by January 3, activity had dropped significantly.
According to the BBC, a volcanic eruption occurred in 2014, giving birth to a new island that eventually became home to flowering vegetation and barn owls.
Satellite images of Saturday’s eruption, tweeted by New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, showed “a brief spike in atmospheric pressure as an atmospheric shock wave pulsed across New Zealand.”
Other recent infrared satellite images have shown that the underwater volcano is still erupting, and despite Tonga’s geographic isolation, a booming sound was heard after the initial eruption as far as New Zealand (which is 1,100 miles northeast of Tongatapu), according to Weather Watch. private forecaster in the country.
Saturday’s eruption sent a column of gases and ash about 20 kilometers into the atmosphere, according to early reports.
New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency issued a tsunami warning statement on Saturday, advising coastal residents to expect “strong and unusual currents and unpredictable waves onshore.”
In a tweet, Dr. Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at the Smithsonian Institution, said that “most of the volcano is underwater.”
The strength and potential impact of an eruption is estimated using the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI, which takes into account the volume of material ejected during the eruption and plume height. The VEI of Saturday’s eruption has not yet been assessed, but prior to the eruption, the volcano was assessed as capable of producing an eruption with a maximum VEI of 2.
Eruptions with a VEI of 6 or higher blast so much gas and particles so high into the atmosphere that they can have a cooling effect on the climate for several years by reflecting more sunlight off the Earth’s surface. But eruptions of this magnitude are very rare. The last was Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.
Henry Fountain made a report.