Tonga Volcano Eruption: A Brief Overview of What Happened

By Sydney Joa, 11th Grade

The undersea Tongan volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai erupted this past January 15th, leaving thousands of people without houses, supplies, and connectivity. The eruption produced a huge cloud of ash, earthquakes, and tsunamis that made it all the way to Peru’s coasts, Alaska, the United Kingdom, Russia, as well as the shores of Australia. With NASA stating that the volcanic explosion was hundreds of times more destructive than the atomic bomb unleashed on Hiroshima by the United States during World War II, the consequences of this eruption leave little to the imagination.

Three days after the volcanic explosion, the Tongan government confirmed that three people died as a result of it, two of whom were Tongans and one of whom was a British resident. With a population of a little over 104,000 people, Tonga is made up of 176 islands, just 36 of which are inhabited, and there have been over a dozen people injured all throughout a few of them.

The enormous eruption coated Tonga in ash, and for two days, it rained like dark snow, covering the airport runway and rendering aid operations inaccessible. Because heavy equipment was unavailable, locals came out in droves to clear the runway by hand, and a couple of days later, allowed cargo planes from Australia and New Zealand to make contact-less drops with much-needed supplies. Despite this, the volume of ash released by the volcano has poisoned the islands’ waters, and scientists believe it will continue to produce acid rain in the coming months. Additionally, the amount of ash will very likely affect local seas–leading marine species to die or relocate to safer waters–and damage the Tongan fishing sector.

Moreover, after an underwater communication cable was severed during the explosion, Tonga was cut off from the rest of the globe, which means that there’s still a lot left unknown about the state of Tonga’s many islands. Though some phone carriers have managed to restore international calls from select locations, many all over the world are still anxiously waiting to hear from their loved ones that inhabit these islands.

On another note, people were left wondering why scientists weren’t able to predict the eruption. Dr. Samuel Mitchell, a volcanologist at the University of Bristol, explained that while certain volcanic explosions can be anticipated, not all will display warning flags. What’s more, most of the data used to warn scientists of an upcoming eruption is acquired by devices around the volcano and it’s much harder to acquire such data with the volcano being underwater. The subsequent activity is also influenced by the eruption’s trigger. Although scientists are still unsure of why the volcano erupted because it’s underwater, “it’s likely to have been an instantaneous reaction, not something that had been bubbling under the surface for some time,” according to Amy Barrett from BBC Science Focus.

Governments have offered Tongan citizens relief and assistance in the aftermath of the eruption and tsunami. Evacuations have begun in the islands that have been most devastated, and relief that had been delayed by the massive ash blanket is currently being organized, though the Tongan administration has requested that supplies be delivered without coming into contact with locals as the islands have prevented Covid-19 breakouts and don’t want aid workers to arrive on the islands and potentially affect their Covid-free status.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s