Volcanic Shocks

The January 15th explosion of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai as observed from space.

A violent underwater eruption at the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai caldera on January 15th sent literal shock waves around the world. This animation, based on satellite images from Japan’s Himawari 8, shows the fast-moving shock waves and the growing ash plume coming from the uninhabited island. Although most recent eruptions from this volcano have been small, experts suspect that this latest eruption is part of a major event, similar to the volcano’s last big eruption about 1,000 years ago.

The explosiveness of the eruption comes from the interaction of seawater and fresh magma. When the magma erupts quickly underwater, the hot liquid contacts seawater directly rather than forming a protective layer of vapor (as in the Leidenfrost effect). The resulting explosion tears the magma apart, exposing more hot surfaces to the cold water and further driving the chain reaction. (Image credit: S. Doran/Himawari 8; submitted by jpshoer; see also S. Cronin)

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