WELLINGTON: A deadly volcanic eruption near Tonga in January was the largest ever recorded with modern equipment, a New Zealand-led team of scientists revealed on Monday.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted underwater with a force equivalent to hundreds of atomic bombs, unleashing a 15-metre (50-foot) tsunami which demolished homes and killed at least three people on the Pacific island kingdom.

The natural disaster also damaged undersea communication cables, cutting Tonga off from the rest of the world for weeks and hampering efforts to help the victims.

A detailed study by New Zealand’s national institute for water and atmospheric research shows the eruption blasted out almost 10 cubic kilometres of material — equivalent to 2.6 million Olympic-sized swimming pools — and fired debris more than 40 kilometres into the mesosphere, the level above the Earth’s stratosphere.

“The eruption reached record heights, being the first we’ve ever seen to break through into the mesosphere,” said marine geologist Kevin Mackay. “It was like a shotgun blast directly into the sky.”

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2022

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