It only takes one uncooperative volcano to ruin all our plans to save the planet, no matter how many of us go vegan, compost our food waste and buy electric cars. Scientists are now saying that the enormous January explosion of an underwater volcano in Tonga may have really messed up Earth’s ozone layer.
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Quick review: The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on January 15 of this year, sending shock waves around the planet. It caused tsunamis and sent up an awesome ash plume that triggered 590,000 lightning strikes over three days. It was the planet’s most powerful explosion in three decades.
Related: Tonga volcanic eruption largest explosion in modern history
According to a new study published online July 1 in Geophysical Research Letters, the volcano spat out enough water vapor to fill 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Which was very bad for the atmosphere. This maverick vapor could further deplete the ozone layer and speed up global warming.
Since the volcano is underwater, its eruption 492 feet below the sea’s surface meant seawater clashed with erupting magma, causing explosive steam. All this water could further warm the atmosphere. Plus, water will probably stick around longer than the usual volcanic gases, which fall out of the atmosphere within a few years. The researchers estimated that the excess water vapor equaled about 10% of the typical amount of water already residing in the stratosphere.
Usually large volcanic eruptions have a cooling effect on the atmosphere, rather than a warming one. This is because the ashes and gas often create reflective compounds that block sunlight, preventing it from reaching the planet’s surface. But not this time. Most of the Tonga ash fell quickly to the ground. The researchers posited that January’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai explosion will probably be the first recorded instance of an eruption warming, rather than cooling, the planet. That’s a first we humans could really do without.
Via Live Science
Lead image via Pexels