Given the force of the explosion and the fact that it produced a series of deadly tsunamis, the eruption of the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, which reached its climax on January 15th, resulted in surprisingly few deaths compared to other similar events in the past.
The Krakatoa eruption, for instance, which took place in 1883, most likely rivalled or exceeded the size of the atmospheric disturbance produced by the Tonga eruption but was many times more deadly, resulting in the deaths of more than 30,000 people.
Even so, the effects of the Tonga eruption were felt around the world and the atmospheric explosion was so significant that it has since been confirmed to be the biggest ever recorded by modern instruments.
“Tonga was a truly global event, just as Krakatau was, but we’ve now got all these geophysical observation systems and they recorded something that was really unprecedented in the modern data,” said study lead author Dr Robin Matoza from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
16,500km away in the UK, the effects were picked up around 14 hours after the event itself.
“At the time, we had a laser cloud-base recorder looking at the cloud base and as the wave went through the cloud was perturbed,” said atmospheric physicist Prof Giles Harrison.
“If ever you wanted evidence that the atmosphere is a remarkably interconnected thing, this was it. And what happens on one side of the planet can propagate around to the other side at the speed of sound.”