Volcanic Eruption in Tonga Was A Once-In-A Millennium Event

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Why the Eruption in Tonga Was a ‘Once-in-a-Millennium’ Event for the Volcano

by Corryn Wetzel/Smithsonianmag.com

A massive underwater volcano near the South Pacific island nation of Tonga erupted on January 15, spewing smoke into the sky and triggering tsunami advisories across the Pacific. Now, thousands of Tongans are without power and water, and disrupted communication and air travel have made it difficult to assess where help is needed most. It is still too early to assess most of the damage on the ground.

The blast and associated tsunami caused “significant damage” along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, according to the New Zealand High Commission in Nuku’alofa. “A thick layer of ash remains across Tongatapu,” the Commission said in a statement.

The blast was a “once-in-a-millenium” event for the volcano, explains Shane Cronin, a professor in volcanology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, for CNN.

“It takes roughly 900-1000 years for the Hunga volcano to fill up with magma, which cools and starts to crystallize, producing large amounts of gas pressure inside the magma,” Cronin writes for CNN. “As gases start to build up pressure, the magma becomes unstable. Think of it like putting too many bubbles into a champagne bottle — eventually, the bottle will break.”

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