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Tonga Volcano Was Equal to 1,200 Hiroshimas

Tonga volcano hiroshima
The aftermath of the Hiroshima bombings during World War II. Credit: U.S. National Archives/Public Domain

The undersea volcanic eruption that took place in the Pacific Island nation of Tonga from January 13-15 was the equivalent of 1,200 Hiroshima bombs.

The South Pacific kingdom was rocked by the massive eruptions earlier this month after the volcano began showing signs of an impending event in late December 2021.

“This is a preliminary estimate, but we think the amount of energy released by the eruption was equivalent to somewhere between 4 to 18 megatons of TNT,” said Jim Garvin, NASA’s chief scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

“That number is based on how much was removed, how resistant the rock was and how high the eruption cloud was blown into the atmosphere at a range of velocities,” he explained.

The space agency’s post compares the volcano’s eruption to historic blasts for perspective: “the (volcano) released hundreds of times the equivalent mechanical energy of the Hiroshima nuclear explosion. For comparison, scientists estimate Mount St. Helens exploded in 1980 with 24 megatons and Krakatoa burst in 1883 with 200 megatons of energy.”

The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during the Second World War in July 1945, releasing 15 kilotons of TNT. This differential between Hiroshima and the Tonga eruptions makes January’s explosion equal to roughly 1,200 Hiroshima bombings.

Tonga eruption believed to be the largest in three decades

Experts believe that the eruption may have been the largest such explosion on the planet in three decades, according to a report on CNN. The massive eruption occurred underwater but spewed ash, pulverized rock, and detritus far up into the atmosphere, with ash blanketing every living and inanimate object on all the Tongan islands.

The explosion of the volcano sent ash, steam, and gases an incredible 12.4 miles (20 km) into the sky, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The event was seven times more powerful than the previous eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, which occurred on Dec. 20, 2021.

Adding to the great concern over the people of Tonga and how many were able to survive the blast and tsunami, damage to an undersea communications cable led to a complete communications blackout, for a time making it impossible to analyze the extent of the damage other than visually, from photos and footage taken by satellites.

The volcano and the tsunami that resulted from it destroyed every single home on Mango island, one of Tonga’s outer islands, according to the office of the Tongan prime minister. Additional islands also experienced widespread damage, and three people have been reported dead so far.

In addition, every living thing on all the Tongan islands has been coated with ash and soot, making the landscape look dead and barren, stopping any sunlight from reaching leaves for photosynthesis.


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