First tsunami wave in Tonga was higher than a 27-story building

(ORDO NEWS) — An analysis of this catastrophic event in January reveals just how terrifying the tsunami was.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai volcano on January 15 in the Kingdom of Tonga was incredibly powerful.

The explosion produced the loudest sound in more than a century, propelled a column of matter into the stratosphere and set off a tsunami that spread across the Pacific Ocean. The height of the initial wave is estimated at 90 meters.

The study is published in the journal Ocean Engineering and focuses on barometric pressure waves and ocean oscillations. The tsunami in Tonga was a volcanic tsunami and it had two components.

The first waves were created by atmospheric pressure waves that circled the globe several times. And the second surge was caused by the displacement of water about an hour later, with the initial wave reaching an incredible height and length of 12 kilometers.

“This was a gigantic, unique event that highlights that internationally we must invest in improving volcanic tsunami detection systems, as they are currently about 30 years behind the systems we used to monitor earthquakes.

We are not sufficiently prepared for volcanic tsunamis,” said lead author of the study Mohammad Heydarzadeh.

The very first wave was nine times higher than after the Tohoku earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. Only due to the geographical remoteness of the explosion, the list of victims turned out to be much smaller.

First tsunami wave in Tonga was higher than a 27 story building 2
First wave after the eruption

“The tsunami in Tonga killed five people and caused widespread destruction, but its effects could have been even worse if the volcano had been closer to settlements.

The volcano is located about 70 kilometers from the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa – this distance has significantly minimized its destructive power,” explained Dr. Heydarzade.

The study shows that tsunami waves spread not only across the Pacific Ocean, but throughout the world. This tsunami is one of the few recorded capable of this, and the waves even reach the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

“The volcanic eruptions of Anak Krakatoa in 2018 and Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai in 2022 clearly showed us that coastal areas surrounding volcanic islands are at risk of devastating tsunamis,” explained Aditya Gusman, tsunami modeling specialist at GNS Science.

“While it may be preferable that low-lying coastal areas have no residential buildings, such a policy may not be practical for some locations, as volcanic tsunamis can be considered infrequent events.”

Study co-author Jadranka Šepic from the University of Split (Croatia) added:

“It is important to have effective real-time warning systems. In addition, monitoring of volcanic activity should be organized in volcanic areas.”


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