The massive eruption of an underwater volcano caused tidal waves in the Pacific Ocean. It remains unclear how hard the island nation has been hit.
Thomas Hahn, Tokyo, David Pfeiffer, Bangkok, and Oliver Claassen
the A massive volcanic eruption from a submarine near the island of Tonga has sent tidal waves across much of the Pacific Ocean.. It was recorded not only in Tonga, but also in New Zealand, Japan and Fiji. Flooding in Santa Cruz, California, has also been attributed to the outbreak.
The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) has given all the clarity for now and the Japan Meteorological Agency has also lifted its earlier tsunami warning. However, it is currently not entirely clear what damage the underwater earthquake has caused in Tonga.
According to the Australian Meteorological Service, the wave that hit Nuku’alofa, the capital of the archipelago, was about 120 centimeters high. The British BBC, citing images from social networks, reported that water was flowing through a church and several houses in Nuku’alofa. In addition, residents of especially low-lying areas tried to save themselves from the tsunami with their cars. According to media reports, the sixth king of Tonga Tubu. Brought to safety by the royal palace.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned”. The United Nations is monitoring the situation closely and is ready to help at any time. “The United States stands ready to provide support to our Pacific neighbors,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken wrote on Twitter.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, which is located about 2,400 kilometers south of the archipelago, reported the situation at a press conference. We still know very little, the prime minister said. Tonga was covered in volcanic dust as a result of the volcanic eruption, and connection to the island kingdom in the South Pacific was restricted due to damage to one of the undersea cables. There were major blackouts on the island, and cell phones only worked intermittently.
It is clear, however, that the tsunami “hard hit” the capital of Tonga. Boats and rocks drifted ashore and buildings were damaged. The New Zealand Army will attempt to launch a reconnaissance flight on Monday. Flying is currently considered extremely unsafe because the ash was seen at an altitude of approximately 20 kilometers.
Tonga is located on the so-called Ring of Fire, which is formed about 40 thousand km in a circle around the Pacific lake region, where there are 450 spit craters, which is about 75 percent of all known volcanoes around the world. Contiguous tectonic plates push the Pacific lake plate into the Earth’s interior. There the rock warms up and turns into magma.
The volcano has been named Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, and has been active since December. It is located about 30 kilometers southeast of the island of Fonuafo’ou in Tonga, also known as Falcon Island. Saturday’s eruption was apparently so violent that tremors can also be felt up to 800 km away in the Fiji Islands. As a tidal wave reached there, ash fell.
“What happened there is what we call an offensive eruption. When magma meets a large amount of water, the resulting water vapor can be up to a thousand times the volume of water and cause massive pressure waves,” explains volcanologist Tim Yilmaz from Munich.
In Japan, the eruption of the Hong Tonga volcano triggered the first tsunami warning since 2016. Since the underwater volcano is located about 8000 kilometers to the south, the Tokyo Meteorological Agency initially had no concerns. But that changed very early Sunday morning. She added that the tsunami waves on the coast of Japan could reach a height of three meters. According to the Office of Fire and Disaster Management, 210,000 people have been asked to leave their homes to higher ground.
Fukushima was instantly remembered in Japan
Many of those called to safety on Sunday morning suffered from the devastating tsunami on March 11, 2011. This sent waves up to 40.5 metres. 20,000 people were killed in Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. A giant wave caused the collapse of three reactors at the Fukushima-Daichi Nuclear Power Plant. Even for Japan, which was used to earthquakes, it was a shock. That’s why no one underestimated the danger when the Met Office issued its tsunami warning. Late at night, people moved to escape points with signs.
The relief should be greatest when the waves remained relatively low. Amami-Oshima Island, located in the south of the Japanese island chain, recorded an elevation of 1.20 meters, and the city of Koji in Iwate recorded 1.10 meters. The waves stayed below a meter in most places. Some boats capsized in Kochi and Tokushima prefectures. No serious injuries were reported as of Sunday evening. However, this night set a mark: in Japan, nature can strike at any time.
Extreme ash expulsion
Earthquakes and tsunamis are common around the Pacific lagoon region, and entire tectonic movements are constantly in motion. The Fukushima disaster is as much a result of tectonic activity as the tsunami in the Indian Ocean that devastated many islands from Thailand to the Philippines in 2004.
It is known, as volcanic researcher Tim Yilmaz explains, that Hong Tonga also erupted in 1912, 1937, 1988 and as recently as 2014. Subsea eruptions often produce only mud, but this time there has been an intense ejection of ash, similar to a volcano. Eyjafjallajökull, which paralyzed air traffic in Europe in 2010. “The ash not only increases the cost of kiwis in the supermarket due to disruptions in supply chains, it can also lead to acid rain, which destroys agriculture and possibly causes Lung damage.
The last natural disaster on the Pacific Ring of Fire was just a month ago. Semeru erupted in Java in Indonesia; More than 30 people died. It remains unclear how many people died when the Hong Kong Tonga explosion erupted. In 2014, during the last eruption, the underwater volcano created a new island. “Usually, such islands are quickly eroded by the sea, but it seems that they remained and also increased due to the new eruption,” explains volcanologist Yilmaz. Now plants will grow there and birds will nest there. New life emerges from the black ashes.