The Hunga Tonga eruption captured from space. Credit: John Michaelson/Youtube

Hear the “Sound” of the Largest Volcanic Eruption of the 21st Century

The volcano’s eruption spewed volcanic material more than fifty-eight kilometers into the atmosphere.


A year ago, one of the largest eruptions of the 21st century took place as the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano blasted a massive plume of water vapor into the planet’s atmosphere. This plume of water vapor was enough to fill at least 58,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The volcano’s eruption spewed volcanic material more than fifty-eight kilometers into the atmosphere. The eruption also created a 15-meter tsunami that destroyed villages along the coast. Seismometers worldwide recorded the sonic boom that sent ripples around the world not once, but twice. As the explosion happened, satellites orbiting the plant were busy shaping images of the catastrophic event.

Now, a year after this massive eruption, you can hear the sound of the disaster. Scientists created a sonification of the event that is referred to by experts as the most powerful eruption of the 21st century. The “sound” was created thanks to data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Aeolus mission. The Aeolus mission is the first satellite that acquires profiles of our planet’s wind on a global scale. The satellite orbits the planet in a geocentric orbit at an altitude of 320 kilometers above the surface.


Speaking to Wild Alchemy, Tommaso Parrinello from the European Space Agency explained, “One of the most impressive aspects of the Aeolus mission is how quickly the data is with scientists—almost all of it in less than three hours. The data is displayed on a beautiful and user-friendly interface virtual research environment called ViRES, from which we can easily detect trends.”

As explained by the European Space Agency, the eruption was so powerful that the plume booked the satellite signal in the area of the eruption as the material made its way into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. As the event unfolded, mission scientists recorded a huge drop in the Aeolus signal just over the region of the eruption. This told scientists that the massive plume of volcanic ash reached an altitude significantly above Aeolus’s range. In January 2022, scientists raised the range of the Aeolus measurements from 21 to 30 kilometers. This allowed the satellite’s cloud observation to reflect the location of the ash plume within the planet’s stratosphere. Now, using data gathered by satellites, a sound artist has recreated the sonification of the explosion using the Rayleigh wind intensity signals provided by the ViRES platform. Here is what the explosion sounded like.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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