The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha-apai volcano is located near the archipelago of Tonga, which consists of 169 islands, out of which only 36 are inhabited.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’pai volcano is located in a region known as the Ring of Fire.
According to National Geographic, more than 450 active volcanoes are located in the Ring of Fire, making up 75%of the volcanoes on Earth.
On December 20, 2021, the volcano started to erupt after being dormant for 6 years, as covered by The New York Post.
Katie Tamulonis, assistant professor of geology at Allegheny College, spoke more about the reason why the region, known as the Ring of Fire, is more susceptible to volcanic eruptions.
“The Ring of Fire is a tectonically active region where volcanoes and earthquakes occur due to subduction (or when one tectonic plate sinks beneath another),” Tamulonis said. “It rims the Pacific Ocean.”
She also contextualized why these volcanoes erupt.
“Volcanoes in the Ring of Fire erupt due to magma generation initiated by subduction and the associated increase in pressure,” Tamulonis said.
Following the explosion that occurred between 2014 and 2015, a new island was formed, connecting the Hunga-Tonga and Hung-Ha-apai islands.
The volcano erupted once more earlier this month. According to the New York Post, plumes of smoke reached to heights of at least 12 miles above sea level, tsunamis felt from as far away as North America devastated the Pacific, and evacuations in many of the Pacific Islands occurred following the eruption. During this time, this volcano became increasingly more explosive, resulting in lighting that set new records.
A meteorologist from the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program, Chris Vagasky spoke about how the levels of lightning near the volcano increased the levels of electricity in that region.
“I couldn’t believe the numbers I was seeing,” Vagasky said. “You don’t usually see that with a volcano. This is something else. There was nowhere else that was that electric on the planet last night.”
A CNN article on the volcanic eruption mentioned that this particular eruption was the biggest recorded since 1991.
Shane Cronin, a volcanologist based out of New Zealand spoke to Radio New Zealand about the record-breaking nature of this eruption.
“The large and explosive lateral spread of the eruption suggests that it was probably the biggest one since the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo,” stated Cronin.
However, Tamulonis explained that the severity or significance of volcanic eruptions is not entirely predictable.
The natural disasters that occur in the aftermath of eruptions can, however, be predicted, resulting in more warnings and alerts.
Since the United States and other nations are within the vicinity of the Ring of Fire, various ways of detecting a tsunami or earthquake have been developed to prevent high casualty counts.
Visiting Instructor of Geology Kris Carter spoke in more detail about how the United States has prepared for natural disasters following a volcanic eruption in the Ring of Fire or elsewhere.
“The United States has warning systems for various geologic hazards, including tsunamis generated by subsea volcanoes and/or earthquakes,” Carter said. “Seismic monitoring networks are located around the globe, so geologists can study earthquakes associated with volcanoes.”
In the aftermath of the volcanic eruption, aid organizations started to worry about whether the residents of the outlying islands of Tonga would be able to access clean water.
Following the eruption, a statement was posted to social media by Tonga’s Speaker of the House Lord Fakafuna spoke about the necessity of aiding the country.
“Tonga needs immediate assistance to provide its citizens with fresh drinking water and food,” the statement read.
The eruption occurred 40 miles north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, where citizens could not be contacted, as telephone and internet links were severed in the aftermath.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, spoke to reporters following the eruption.
“Nuku’alofa is covered in thick plumes of volcanic dust, but otherwise conditions are calm and stable,” Ardern said. “There are parts of tonga where we just don’t know yet … We haven’t established communications.”
However, there are reports that power has been restored to some of the islands in the archipelago, and mobile phones are starting to work once again.
In Peru, two people were killed after being swept into the ocean from the tsunami waves that resulted from the explosion.
Despite the severity of this volcanic eruption, there is no current concern that any of the other volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire” will erupt in the near future.