In January 2022, an underwater volcano erupted off the coast of Tonga, sending shockwaves through the ocean and causing a tsunami that devastated nearby islands. The force of the wave was more powerful than the largest nuclear blast in U.S. history.
Discover the unparalleled power of the underwater volcano eruption in Tonga, and its impact on the islands and their inhabitants.
Unleashing a 15-Megaton Explosion: The Volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai
The underwater volcanic eruption in Tonga in January 2022 surpassed the strength of the largest U.S. nuclear explosion, according to a study led by researchers from the University of Auckland and the University of Miami. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano produced a megatsunami with waves reaching 45 meters high along the coast of Tonga’s Tofua Island.
The Effects on Tonga’s Most Populated Island, Tongatapu
The simulation, created using satellite imagery, drone mapping, and field observations, revealed waves up to 17 meters high on Tongatapu, the country’s most populated island. The study’s authors attribute the limited death toll of six people to Tonga’s urban center, Nuku’alofa, being located in a sheltered lagoon.
The Volcano’s Blast: One of the Largest Natural Explosions in Over a Century
Researchers found that the eruption’s most significant blast was equivalent to 15 million tons of TNT exploding simultaneously, making it one of the largest natural explosions in more than a century. Immediately after the explosion, the simulation showed waves reaching 85 meters high on the north side of the volcano and 65 meters high on the south side.
Factors That Limited the Impact of the Megatsunami
The power of the tsunami waves was diffused by the shallow waters surrounding many Tongan islands, and tourist resorts were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the death toll remained low.
Tonga’s Long Tsunami History and Its Connection to Submerged Volcanoes
Tonga is located in a zone with the highest density of submerged volcanoes and has a long history of tsunamis. The main island, Tongatapu, experienced a major tsunami in the mid-15th century, which heavily impacted the powerful Tu’i Tonga kingdom.