Major eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, Tonga expels ash up to 15 km (50,000ft) altitude in amazing pictures and videos – First eruption since 2015

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021 video, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021 pictures
Large eruption column from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano. Picture by @MichaelFieldNZ/twitter


An intense powerful explosion took place from the volcano at around 20:30 local time today as reported Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) Wellington.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021 video, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021 pictures
The eruption column as seen from the plane between Tongatapu to Vava’u Picture via @CultureVolcan/twitter

A spectacular ash plume rose several kilometers above the summit and given the submarine volcano’s summit elevation (149 m), the eruption sent a tall ash cloud up to 15 km (50,000 ft) altitude.

Sentinel-5 and TROPOMI satellite-based measurements of SO2 concentrations in the atmosphere detected about 9 kilotons extended to the north of the volcano.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021 video, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption 2021 pictures
SO2 emissions detected by TROPOMI and Sentinel 5

The loud explosion at the uninhabited island was heard about 170 km away from nearby islands as reported in social media.

From available satellite images and pictures, the presence of water is likely causing significant explosive interaction (phreatomagmatic activity) of water and magma. The eruption is continuing today!

Flights canceled

Air New Zealand cancelled its flight from Auckland to Tonga late this morning due to concern over volcanic ash clouds close to Tongatapu, following a high level eruption at Hunga Tonga- Hunga Ha’apai detected over the last two days.

Tonga’s head geologist Taaniela Kula, confirmed this afternoon that an ash eruption started at about 9:35am yesterday, Monday, 20 Dec., and continued to 2:00am today from Hunga Ha’apai, located about 65km from Nuku’alofa.

At 9:40am the eruption had reached 6km and continued to rise to 16km.

The ash eruption ceased at about 2:00am last night, and gaseous emissions have continued intermittently,” he told Matangi Tonga.

We issued monitoring advice to civil aviation and stake holders on what we were observing from the satellite and then from there the airport towers decide,” he said.

Taaniela said they were continuing to see cloud from the eruption this morning but no ash was detected. His initial analysis was based on the quality of images they were receiving from Japan’s Himawari 8 satellite.

NASA I think pinpointed that it is from the 2009 vents on the flanks of Hunga Ha’apai, the western one, and we are looking for a clear image of that.

He said the eruption would come from the magma just beneath the vent.

Shane Egan, at the Blue Banana Beach House, at Kanokupolu Beach said this afternoon he could see the eruption of steam was continuing

The clouds have now merged into the vapour trail but looking through the binoculars the eruptions are still very dramatic. The steam is shooting in wide columns rather than rising in puffs,” he said.

Aviation code orange

Meanwhile, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) Wellington reported at 8:09pm yesterday, 20 Dec., that a high level eruption was observed on satellite imagery at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, and issued an aviation colour code orange.

This means the volcano is exhibiting heightened unrest with increased likelihood of eruption or, volcanic eruption is underway with no or minor ash emission. The cloud from the eruption moved away from Tongatapu and toward Ha’apai and Vava’u.

This morning, from 10:10am a cloud plume at the same area drifting toward Ha’apai, was visible on the Himawari 8 satellite imagery, shortly before the flight was cancelled.

Kingdom Travel, the agent for Air New Zealand in Tonga, confirmed that the cancellation of flight NZ1172 from Auckland was due to the volcanic cash eruption in Tonga. “So at this stage the airline is looking at a recovery flight for the future but nothing is confirmed,” said the agent.

Brian Meikle in Vava’u shared a satellite view at 4:10pm 20 Dec., and another taken by Kimberlyn Hoyla on the domestic flight from Tongatapu to Vava’u yesterday.

The eruption was so violent and loud that several people here in Vava’u heard them,” he said. Vava’u is located 261 km to the north east of Hunga Tonga.

Steve Pond in East Grinstead, UK, shared a breathtaking view of the eruption taken by Korea’s GeoKompsat weather satellite, reporting a volcanic cloud almost 16km high, at around 20:30 UK time 19 Dec. (9:30am Monday).

Funeral postponed

The cancellation of the flight this morning means that the funeral programme for Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister the late Hon. Lord Ma’afu is postponed. He was Tonga’s Minister of Lands. Flight NZ1172 was scheduled to arrive in Tonga at 12:30pm with the funeral cortege received by Queen Nanasipau’u and VIPs.

Taaniela Kula, the Deputy Director Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, said that this morning staff of the ministry had been at the airport waiting for the funeral cortege to arrive, when the cancellation was announced. [Matangi Tonga, News Hub, Volcano Discovery]

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1 Comment

  1. amazing how dead on ben Davidson has been over the years following the reversal and approaching minimum. glad to see you (like me) paying attention.

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