New eruption at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, Tonga

A new eruption started at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, Tonga on December 19, 2021, with a volcanic plume rising up to 6 km (20 000 feet) above sea level at 21:41 UTC, according to the Wellington VAAC. The Aviation Color Code was raised to Red.

Satellite imagery acquired at 22:09 UTC indicates steam plume with no ash identifiable, Wellington VAAC reported in VA Advisory issued at 22:09 UTC on December 19.

The last eruption of this volcano started on December 19, 2014 and ended on January 23 (± 3 days), 2015 (VEI 2).

The eruption created a new island, about 65 km (40 miles) NW of Nuku’alofa, Tonga, still there today.

As of January 15, 2015 the island was more than 1 km (0.6 miles) long, about 2 km (1.2 miles) wide, and around 100 m (330 feet) high, Tonga’s Lands, Survey and Natural Resources Ministry deputy secretary Taaniela Kula said.

“A new island has been built by the eruption between the existing islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai, and is now joined to Hunga Ha’apai,” he said.

“During our observations the volcano was erupting about every five minutes to a height of about 400 m (1 300 feet), accompanied by some large rocks. As the ash is very wet, most is being deposited close to the vent, building up the new island.”

Hazardous surges of ash and steam were seen to spread out horizontally during eruptions, and these extended more than 1 km (0.6 miles) from the erupting vent.

Leaves on trees on Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai have died, probably caused by volcanic ash and gases.

No large rafts of pumice or other floating volcanic debris were observed. Strong smells of volcanic gases were noticed on a few occasions.

This eruption was similar to that at Hunga Ha’apai in 2009, but produced a larger volume of materials building the island, Kula said.

Ash and acid rain was falling within 10 km (6.2 miles) of the eruption.

The image below shows the eruption area on April 28, 2015, four months after the eruption.

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