Record-breaking Tonga volcanic eruption sent atmospheric waves hurtling around Earth

An undersea volcano erupted in January near the Pacific nation of Tonga and sent massive pressure waves through Earth’s atmosphere, where they lapped the planet multiple times. The last volcano to generate such large ripples in the atmosphere was Krakatoa in 1883, during one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions in recorded history, a new study shows.

“This atmospheric wave event is unprecedented in the modern geophysical record,” said first author Robin Matoza, an associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The research, published Thursday (May 12) in the journal Sciencerevealed that the pressure pulse generated by the Tonga volcano was “comparable in amplitude to that of the 1883 Krakatau eruption and by an order of magnitude greater than that of 1980 Mount Saint Helena eruption,” Matoza told in an email. The larger the amplitude of a wave, the more powerful it is.

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