The eruption of the Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano is the most powerful ever observed, unleashing waves of atmospheric gravity that reached the edge of space, 100 km into the ionosphere.

The Kármán line, the boundary between the atmosphere and outer space, for aviation and astronautical purposes, is established at 100 km above sea level. So the shock wave that triggered Tonga hit the edge of space, where the atmosphere ends.


Atmospheric gravity waves are similar to the waves we see on the surface of the oceans, but instead of moving through the water, they move through the air. Tonga generated “waves” that reached the edge of space.

Changes in surface atmospheric pressure can be recorded at various Catalan meteorological observatories. One of them was the Fabra Observatory in Barcelona, ​​whose manager, Alfons Puertas, registered on social media the anomaly registered in the pressure of the Catalan capital after the violent eruption.

The most explosive eruption of the modern era

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga submarine volcano was one of the most explosive volcanic events of modern times, a new study has confirmed.


The volcanic eruption in Tonga was hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima during World War II, NASA said.

The eruption caused a powerful tsunami that “blotted out” a volcanic island north of the Tongan capital.

Led by researchers at the University of Bath and published in the journal Naturethe study combines satellite data with ground-level observations to show that the eruption was unique in magnitude and speed, as well as the atmospheric waves it created.


After a series of events starting in December 2021, Tongan Hungarian erupted on January 15th of this year, producing a vertical column that stretched over 50 km above the Earth’s surface.

The heat released by the water and the hot ash in the plume generated the largest source of gravity waves on Earth in the next 12 hours.

waves around the earth

The eruption also caused ripples in our atmosphere that reverberated around the planet at least six times and approached their maximum theoretical speeds, the fastest ever seen in our atmosphere, at 320m per second.


The fact that a single event dominates such a large region is described by the paper’s authors as unique in the observational record and will help scientists improve future climate and atmospheric climate models.

The Doctor. Corwin Wright, a researcher at the Royal Society University based at the Center for Space, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Bath, is the lead author of the paper. He said: “It was a genuinely huge explosion and truly unique in terms of what science has observed to date. Never before have we seen atmospheric waves circling the entire world at this speed and traveling very close to the theoretical limit, the edge of the universe.”

“The eruption was an incredible natural experiment. The data we are able to collect will improve our understanding of our atmosphere and help us improve our climate and climate models.”


Coauthor Dr. Scott Osprey, from the National Center for Atmospheric Sciences, based at the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, expects to see more impacts from the Hunga Tonga eruption: “Our study shows very well how the surprising global wave is displayed. by the huge amounts of seawater vaporized during the eruption. However, my hunch is that there is more to come from this eruption. As the exceptional amount of water vapor spreads through the stratosphere, eyes will turn to the Antarctic ozone hole and how severe it will be in the spring.”