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Surface-to-space atmospheric waves from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption

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Abstract

The January 2022 Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai eruption was one of the most explosive volcanic events of the modern era1,2, producing a vertical plume which peaked > 50km above the Earth3. The initial explosion and subsequent plume triggered atmospheric waves which propagated around the world multiple times4. A global-scale wave response of this magnitude from a single source has not previously been observed. Here we show the details of this response, using a comprehensive set of satellite and ground-based observations to quantify it from surface to ionosphere. A broad spectrum of waves was triggered by the initial explosion, including Lamb waves5,6 propagating at phase speeds of 318.2±6 ms-1 at surface level and between 308±5 to 319±4 ms-1 in the stratosphere, and gravity waves7 propagating at 238±3 to 269±3 ms-1 in the stratosphere. Gravity waves at sub-ionospheric heights have not previously been observed propagating at this speed or over the whole Earth from a single source8,9. Latent heat release from the plume remained the most significant individual gravity wave source worldwide for >12 hours, producing circular wavefronts visible across the Pacific basin in satellite observations. A single source dominating such a large region is also unique in the observational record. The Hunga Tonga eruption represents a key natural experiment in how the atmosphere responds to a sudden point-source-driven state change, which will be of use for improving weather and climate models.

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Correspondence to Corwin J. Wright.

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Supplementary Video 1

GOES-derived animation of initial Lamb wave release from Hunga Tonga.

Supplementary Video 2

GOES-derived animation showing reflection of initial Lamb wave from Andes.

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Wright, C.J., Hindley, N.P., Alexander, M.J. et al. Surface-to-space atmospheric waves from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption. Nature (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05012-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05012-5

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