Early last year, a massive underwater volcano erupted, creating a powerful shockwave of plasma bubbles that were strong enough to disrupt radio communications in space, a new study has revealed. The 2022 Tonga eruption occurred in January, when the undersea, large cone volcano erupted violently.
The eruption generated massive, record-breaking volcanic plumes, one of which Space.com reports reached over 35 miles tall. It also caused a tsunami to sweep across the Caribbean and other oceans. The explosion is considered to be the strongest natural event in the past century. It was compared with the power of an American nuclear bomb.
While prior research into the 2022 Tonga volcano eruption found that it created atmospheric waves powerful enough to disturb the ionosphere, this new research showcases just how far those waves reached, and just how devastating they were to satellite signals orbiting our planet.
It has long been speculated that powerful volcanic eruptions and other volcanic activity could disrupt the F-region of the ionosphere. The highest concentrations of ions are found in this region. When the Tonga volcano erupted last year, it appears the eruption was so strong it created “equatorial plasma bubbles” in the ionosphere, essentially creating holes GPS and communication signals couldn’t break through.
This new research, which is published in the journal Scientific Reports. But the researchers didn’t just prove that eruptions like the 2022 Tonga volcano eruption can create these bubbles in the atmosphere. They also showcased that these bubbles can extend far beyond what was previously speculated, with the researchers noting that they reached an altitude of at least 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles).
The scientists also discovered that the eruption created a sudden rise in the density of electrons and an increase in the ionosphere’s height, which appeared hours before the initial shockwave hit. This fast response, they believe, may be tied to the atmosphere waves created from the eruption interacting with the electrically charged ions found within the ionosphere.
As such, it’s possible that the 2022 Tonga volcano eruption led to a blackout within GPS and even communication signals, something we’ve become accustomed to seeing from solar flares.
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