(ORDO NEWS) — The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano last month triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages, resorts and cut off communications for a local population of about 105,000.
The resulting shock wave propagated at close to the speed of sound, propelling large waves across the Pacific Ocean to the coasts of Japan and Peru, thousands of miles away.
Prediction models and warning systems designed to estimate the waves generated by a seismic event did not take into account the amplifying effects of the shock wave.
According to experts, this was a critical flaw in these systems, due to which they could not accurately predict when the waves would reach the ground.
The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano caused a tsunami that left the village unturned and cut off communications for 105,000 people.
However, the small island nation is considered one of the most prepared for natural disasters, with years of tsunami training under its belt, and many people knew what to do and where to run.
“We need to assess the tsunami hazard to other volcanoes around the world,” said civil engineer Herman Fritz of Georgia Tech.
Tsunami warning systems are known to be programmed to prioritize seismic events, with scientists assessing the risk of how large an earthquake is above 7.5 on the Richter scale to trigger a devastating tsunami.
Instruments on the seafloor also monitor irregular changes in wave height, sending the information via a surface buoy and then satellite to a warning center for evaluation.
Tsunami waves, driven by gravity, move at a speed of about 200 meters per second. But the shock wave from the Tonga volcano was moving at over 300 meters per second and, according to scientists, was so strong that the atmosphere rang like a bell.
Through the transfer of this energy from the atmosphere to the ocean, the shock wave strengthened ocean waves around the world, pushing them further and speeding up their travel time.However, tsunami warning centers were not set up to track these dynamics.
Now, Fritz said, the barometric wave capability needs to be “added to the tsunami warning center modeling and forecasting toolkit.”
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