Record-shattering Tonga volcanic eruption sent atmospheric waves zipping around the Earth

An underwater volcano erupted in January near the Pacific nation of Tonga and sent massive pressure waves racing through Earth’s atmosphere, where they lapped the planet several times. The last volcano to generate such large ripples in the atmosphere was Krakatau in 1883, during one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions in recorded history, a new study shows.

“This atmospheric wave event was unprecedented in the modern geophysical record,” said first author Robin Matoza, an associate professor in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The research, published Thursday (May 12) in the journal Science, revealed that the pressure pulse generated by the Tonga volcano was “comparable in amplitude to that of the 1883 Krakatau eruption and over an order of magnitude greater than that of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption,” Matoza told Live Science in an email. The higher the amplitude of a wave, the more powerful it is.

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