Scientists are baffled by never before seen “spectacular” ripples in Earth’s atmosphere created by the Tonga volcano eruption.
Scientists are baffled by never before seen massive “spectacular” ripples in Earth’s atmosphere created by the Tonga volcano eruption on January 14.
Previous volcanic eruptions have not produced such ripples, leaving experts confused.
Lars Hoffmann, an atmospheric scientist at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre in Germany, said: “It’s really unique. We have never seen anything like this in the data before.”
Images collected by Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) mounted on Nasa’s Aqua satellite, following the eruption show these incredible ripples. Dozens of concentric circles can be seen, each representing a fast-moving wave in gasses in the atmosphere stretching over 16,000km.
Researchers believe these waves probably passed around the Earth several times.
“This instrument has been operating for something like 20 years now and we have never seen such nice concentric wave patterns,” Hoffmann added.
In theory, the rapid updraft of ash and hot air into the upper atmosphere from an erupting volcano could trigger gravity waves on a much bigger scale, however, nothing like this has been observed with previous volcanic eruptions analysed since the AIRS instrument was launched in 2002.
Corwin Wright, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Bath, said: “That’s what’s really puzzling us.”
“It must have something to do with the physics of what’s going on, but we don’t know what yet.”
— Scott Osprey (@sosprey) January 15, 2022
Wright and his colleagues suspect that a “great big, messy pile of hot gases” in the upper atmosphere might be what causes the waves. The hot gas is “going up high into the stratosphere and knocking the air around,” he said.
Wright was the first to notice the wave patterns in the data provided by Hoffman and said that the images show what appears to be a mixture of wave types and sizes.
The convection in the atmosphere seems to be “very complicated and bumpy, and it’s generating a whole family of things at the same time,” he said.
“That is what we currently think is going on, but we’ve only been looking at it for a few hours.”
A climate scientist at the University of Oxford, Scott Osprey, Tweeted Wright on January 15 asking: “Wow, I wonder how big the atmospheric gravity waves are from this eruption?!”
Osprey explained that the eruption may have caused these unique waves due to the speed at which the eruption occurred compared to others.
“This event seems to have been over in minutes, but it was explosive and it’s that impulse that is likely to kick off some strong gravity waves,” he said.