Last year we reported on the explosion of the submarine volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, which reached tallest dust plume ever recorded and triggered tsunamis all the way to the Caribbean. In short, the event was certainly a record-breaker (it was considered the most powerful natural explosion in more than a century) but there’s more.
Scientists have discovered that the atmospheric waves caused by the eruption, or fluctuations in atmospheric pressure, have been powerful enough to disturb the ionosphere, one of the highest layers of the earth’s atmosphere. In the equatorial areas of the ionosphere holes can form which can disrupt satellite communications and GPS signals.
Researchers have long wondered whether volcanic eruptions and other events on land could generate these so-called ‘equatorial plasma bubbles’. In the new study, insiders used the Japanese satellite Arase to detect them. Scientists have found that after the shock wave from the Tonga eruption hit the ionosphere, bubbles of equatorial plasma have been detected “which extended into space at an altitude of at least 2,000 kilometers.“
The latter, when they occur, can cause severe effects on satellite communications and GPS signals. Researchers can’t prevent collateral damage, but”we will be able to alert operators of airplanes and ships that are expected to pass through the region where plasma bubbles occur in the future‘ said Atsuki Shinbori, an atmospheric scientist at Nagoya University in Japan.