On Jan. 13, 2022, NOAA’s GOES West satellite captured another explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, located in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga. According to local officials, the eruption had a radius of 260 km (161.5 miles), and sent ash, steam, and gas 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) into the air. It was also about seven times more powerful than the previous eruption on Dec. 20, 2021. Additionally, a tidal gauge in Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tonga, measured a 30 cm (one foot) tsunami wave that resulted from the blast.
In the above visible imagery from the satellite, we can see the extent of the ash plume as well as multiple rippling gravity waves emanating outward. This type of imagery from the “red” visible band has the finest spatial resolution of all the bands on the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager, making it ideal to identify small-scale features.
This Ash RGB imagery above shows the eruption in a different way, using infrared channels to detect volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide gas.
The Himawari-8 satellite, operated by our partners at the Japan Meteorological Agency, also captured this GeoColor imagery of the eruption as the sun rose over the region.
The island first formed between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015, when an underwater volcano explosively erupted. When all the dust, rock, and ash settled, a newly-formed island remained between two older islands, with a summit reaching 400 feet high. It was the first of its kind to form in 53 years—as well as the first to form during the modern satellite era. Thus, scientists have been able to study its birth and evolution in vivid detail from space. Since its formation, the island has erupted intermittently.
The GOES West satellite, also known as GOES-17, provides geostationary satellite coverage of the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, the Pacific Ocean, Alaska and Hawaii. First launched in March 2018, the satellite became fully operational in February 2019.